(taken from the short story "Kissing Cousins and Lightning Bugs")
by Randy Hill
The family reunions were all night, weekend affairs, held at Grandma and Grandpa's place in Singer, a produce community that dozes in East Texas. Nobody in Singer gave a damn about the "New South" . . . and it was still a sin to kill a mockingbird.
I don't have to say much about the food at a family reunion. The heavenly smells of frying sneak out of the house and tempt you long before it is time to eat. Yet it wasn't just the scents of chicken and okra, black-eyed peas and greens coming out of grandma's kitchen. On this late afternoon, every kitchen in the community put out its own wonderful scents which lingered over the whole of Singer. They mixed and complimented each other and made a mouth-watering feast of their own.
After supper, and the women cleared away the paper plates, it was time to grind the home-made ice-cream--a chore (and treat) which, by virtue of some unexplained tradition must be reserved for the front porch during the early evening. Afterwards, the musically inclined relations brought out the guitars and went into those old-time country and gospel favorites. Others, meanwhile, settled onto the porch and into the lawn chairs to listen, talk, or just enjoy the finest part of the day . . . because the coming of night-time is a natural poetry in the rural communities of the American South.
Near the horizon, the glowing orange sun turned some lingering evening clouds into pastel ribbons of color. The air itself became color-tinted and silky to the touch, while far off in the distance, across the railroad tracks and beyond, dogs barked. And every once in a while you would catch snatches of other lazy front porch conversations drifting in on whimsical breezes, their origins secreted by the whispering trees.
While the men inhaled smokes over drawled, easy topics, we kids played in the deepening twilight. The twilight finally gave way to night, and on this night, in harmony with the awakening of the warm summer stars, came the lightning bugs. They skipped among us, just a few here and there at first. Then, as if they wanted us to play with them, more came, until we forgot what we had been doing moments before and started to wander after them.
About that time, Grandma came out front and instructed all of us to come around the house and meet her at the back porch -- she had something she wanted to show us. Once there, she held out several Mason jelly jars.
"Now, why don't you young'uns go catch some lightning bugs?”
She pointed off across the property where the land was dotted with oaks and magnolias, peach and pecan trees, beyond to where the pine forests began. But our eyes never go that far.
It was a spectacle to stagger the most cynical of those who doubt the existence of a God who loves children. If you could have counted them, you could have counted the stars. Tiny sparks of gold fired everywhere, as if stardust itself had fallen to earth and come to life. Floating, winking and blinking, they looked to number millions. Multitudes of them visited among the peach trees while glowing clusters illuminated Grandma's garden. Swarms of them rode the gentle night winds and entertained us by making twinkling loops and swirls, glittering streamers and blazing comets. They exploded the crape-myrtle bushes into flames, turned the magnolias into huge glorious sparklers, and decorated the live-oaks like pin-lights on a Christmas tree.
We chased the lighting bugs as if it were the most natural thing in the world. Off we went, trying to capture yellow dots whose illusive nature added to the dream-like quality of the hunt. A grab here, only to have it appear there. Not mocking, but playing the game with us. All of us young and kin, born and living in the sweet essence of summertime in the South.
Some hour later -- who knows just when? -- the fun ended. The lightning bugs had to go home and mothers called their children for bedtime. We set the jars on the back porch steps -- the jars so full they appeared natural lanterns of fiery, molten gold, the light glowing on our faces with the hypnotic quality of a country campfire or the amber caboose lamp of a night-bound freight train.
Finally, we shook the lightning bugs into freedom, watching as they left us and flashed off into the night forever.
Kinfolk slept on throw-down mattresses and cots strewn throughout the house and about the property. Many of the grownups would be up most of the night (some of the men slipping away occasionally to take a sly snort on the side). As I settled in between a couple of cousins, the guitars made music with the frogs and the crickets. And the last thing I remember was the far-off notes of a train whistle -- and the lonely whine as a long-distance trucker shifted gears on the country highway.
BIO: Randy Hill is a fourth generation Texan of Deep Dixie ancestry, and he bleeds Confederate Gray with Lone Stars. He lives in Wichita Falls, Texas, holds a BA degree with a major in political science and a minor in journalism. He's a public school teacher (asking that such not be held against him). His interests include all things Texan and Southern, his kids, hunting, fishing, camping, cold beer, and severe weather. He dabbles in writing--with file folders full of scribblings too sophomoric to submit for publication--and is a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. He also believes passionately that a Southern birthright is a gift from God.
Texas and the Deep South
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