mad in pursuit memoir


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Sunday 6.12.05: Firefly Confession

Glow little glow-worm, glow and glimmer
Swim through the sea of night, little swimmer
Thou aeronautical boll weevil, illuminate yon woods primeval.
See how the shadows deep and darken
You and your chick should get to sparkin'
I got a gal that I love so -- glow little glow-worm, glow.
[Sung by the Mills Brothers, 1952]

Fireflies live dangerous, showy lives, and are easy prey for bats and spiders, as well as other fireflies. [Jessica Gorman, "Your Branch or Mine," Smithsonian, June 2005]

And for children.

Nostalgic images of summer nights show children capturing lightning bugs in jars, but the truth is crueler.

I was pulling the butts off my captured glow worms to make jewelry

Back when the Mills Brothers were harmonizing, on dark summer nights in Castlewood, Missouri, I was pulling the butts off my captured glow worms to make jewelry, the moral equivalent of killing elephants for their ivory. I would grab the unlucky beetle, pluck off his hindquarters, and stick the glower onto my ring finger.

Did it work? Did I become a human firefly brightening the night? Only momentarily and if I kept poking it with my fingernail.

Did that stop me? No. Because my mother -- the same woman who taught me to chain clover into necklaces -- told me she used to make bracelets out of lightning bug butts. As a little girl, I was sure that her life had been far more magical than mine. She grew up in the apartment over her mother's grocery store, which meant to me that she got all the candy she wanted every day of the week free of charge. She also spent summer weekends at Castlewood, but she got to swim in the Meramac River and she got to shoot off fireworks and she knew how to turn fireflies into jewelry.

She was charmed and I chased after her magic.



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