The Giving Light

Abbie Creed

Runner-up in the  2023 Nonfiction Animal Story Contest

© Copyright 2023 by Abbie Creed

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Some very special lightening bugs took an incredible journey on a spaceship. Many years ago, when five of my six children were attending elementary school, my oldest son had a particularly good friend who had a business catching lightening bugs for money. My son thought it would be a great idea for our family to take part in this business adventure and maybe make enough money to take a real family vacation. My husband and I were on board with the idea because the only vacations we had taken as a family were one day adventures since that was all we could afford with 6 little mouths to feed.

We had no idea what we were getting into, but it did sound interesting. Young John, the business manager, brought us a sample catching net and I soon learned that making the nets by using old curtains and a wire clothes hanger made a good replica of the sample. My husband made the handles by cutting old broomsticks in half. The bags were shaped like an hourglass with a hem at the top. He bent the wire coat hanger and ran it through the hem then attached it to a broom handle. The first leg of the mission was accomplished, and the adventure began.

We caught lightening bugs every evening, weather permitting. Soon neighborhood children and teens began to ask to join the catchers. In time, neighbors were being entertained by watching the children who were busy as bees with an old childhood adventure – catching lightening bugs!

When the night catchers tired out, they brought their nets to me – I put his or her name on the net, tied it with a twist-tie and gave him or her a new net for the next night. The night’s catch went into the basement refrigerator so that the “Night Lights” would go to sleep.

The next morning, they appeared to be lifeless, while I counted them out on a piece of newspaper and placed them in a tin container for delivering to John, the business manager. He was the boss of the business, and we were his workers.

I kept a log with each child’s name listed. Next to the names I added the number of bugs that I had counted for each catcher. This morning ritual became my first part-time job. Not only did we have our own six children catching lightening bugs but many neighborhood children and teens as well. I opened a special “Lightening Bug” account at our bank and every two weeks wrote checks to the catchers for their share of the profits.

Some nights we loaded children into our VW bus for a trip to Joe Creason Park where there were lots of trees and bushes that were excellent hiding places for the bugs. As the sun set the nightly ritual began. The bugs could be seen moving about on the leaves and could often be caught easily by brushing them into the catching net. By grasping the center of the hour-glass net, the bugs could be kept from escaping. More and more bugs could be caught after they began to light the evening sky.

After a night of catching, we often made a stop at the local Convenient Store and treated all the kids to Icies. Parents were thrilled that we were willing to take their children along. There was no seatbelt law in those days, so we had as many passengers as the bus would hold.

Some of the catchers were in high school and earning money for their book bills for school. Others were, like our children, saving for something special that they wanted to do, and others were just doing it for fun. Whatever the reason, those summers are still being remembered as special ones by all those involved. Parents were happy that their children were kept busy doing something that they enjoyed and often a few parents joined in the fun!

We didn’t realize how this actively bonded us as a family nor did we realize that it would become a special community effort. The lightening bugs, the real heroes of the story, gave their lights to help with medical research. The lights contained two chemicals that were used in cancer and cystic fibrosis research and since they didn’t produce any heat, they were valuable in space exploration.

The lights are part of the mating call. After an adult bug mates during the summer they only live a short time. Having that information made it easier to explain to the children that catching these little creatures and knowing that they were being used for a good cause was humane. This was very important.

The first year of catching didn’t prove too fruitful because we started so late in the summer. However, the next year we earned enough money to take our very first family vacation. My husband and I were active participants in this catching endeavor, so it was truly a family affair.

Our first vacation was a week-long trip. Our only daughter and the oldest of our six children became our “Tour Guide.” She was 14 years old at the time. She had the AAA book with all the vital information she needed to plan our activities. The 13-year oldest son became known as “Money Bags.” His responsibility was to pay for everything including dinners and tips. The next two who were ages 8 and 10 respectively, were responsible for keeping the cooler filled with ice and shop for all the food we would need for lunch along the way. The two youngest, ages 6 and 4, who occupied the back of the VW bus, were responsible for keeping the bus clean and trash emptied. My husband and I were the drivers and chief operating officers.  We, kept order when necessary, and gave moral support to the crew.

We headed south to Pensacola, Florida to meet up with the owners of the Neighborhood Family Grocery Store near our home when we lived in Gulfport, Mississippi. My husband was in the Air Force many years earlier and our first two children were born there. During that time, these folks were like our family away from home. They had retired in Pensacola, Florida and invited us to visit.

After leaving there, we drove toward Mississippi and traveled along the Azalea Trail passing through Biloxi, where my husband and I lived when we were first married. He was stationed at the Air Base in Biloxi. The Azealia Trail was breathtaking. We saw miles of beautiful blooming Azalais, some almost as large as trees, and were adorned with blooms of various colors. We visited Mississippi City then traveled on to Gulfport to visit the family whose apartment we rented for three years. They too, were like family and were anxious to see the children. From there we drove to Ocean Springs to see the church where we worshipped and where our first son was baptized. We drove along Highway 90 enjoying the beautiful sights on the gulf coast, with the Gulf of Mexico to our left and numerous stately mansions on our right that were nestled in yards dotted with very old trees and adorned with hanging moss. It was a picture-perfect drive!

We had a lengthy stop at an old, abandoned fort that had caught the attention of our five boys. There were huge old cannons to climb on and walls separating the chambers that were great for climbing and hiding from the imaginary enemy. That old fort was one of the highlights of the trip! After an hour or so fun-filled afternoon, we moved on to the next destination of our trip, New Orleans, Louisiana.

New Orleans was our final stop before heading back home. There was so much to see there including the French Quarter, visiting the beautiful churches, the many above-ground cemeteries, and taking a cruise on the S.S. President to see huge naval vessels and shipping ports where many food products are shipped to this country, were among some of the favorites of this trip What an exciting end to a perfect vacation!

This was the first of several summer vacations enjoyed because of our new-found adventure. We have such fond memories of that time in our lives and appreciate the important lessons we learned along the way. The lightening bug catchers are grown now, married and have little ones of their own. It still thrills me when I hear my own children telling their children the story or meet one of the catchers and am asked to tell their friends the story of catching lightning bugs for money. I have met several of the now grown children who ask if I remember them as one of my lightening bug catchers.

Each year on warm summer evenings when the lightening bugs begin to swarm and light up my front yard, I can almost hear the children’s voices as I reminisce about those delightful times that brought such fun and excitement to our family and neighbors. Those Giving Lights contributed much to scientific research for cancer and cystic fibrosis. At that time, their light was the only light that did not produce heat making them perfect specimen for this space adventure. But they gave more than their light, they also gave great pleasure and enjoyment for the untiring “Catchers” of all ages and taught a lesson to each of us about having fun while working together for a cause.

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