Gazing at Firelies

Posted: January 23, 2018 in Life and Memories
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When I was a child growing up in Middle Tennessee during the sixties, one of the things I really loved to do on a summer evening after supper was finished and the chores were done, was to go outside into the magical back yard of our neighborhood home and crawl up onto the white, wooden picnic table that ruled the middle of the yard and lie there on my back and allow the exquisitely dazzling night to envelop me. There was very little light pollution in our small town in the 1960s and as I lay there, I would first watch the lightning bugs dance and flicker about as I would attempt to follow the trail of a particular one, endeavoring to guess where they would suddenly next appear in a flash of light in this secret hide and seek game we were playing together. Soon however, I would tire of that and turn my attention to the main attraction, the gloriously magnificent stars in the heavens! I learned early on that as I watched other thing at night, the stars would seem to grow brighter and brighter and many more would suddenly seem to start appearing, as if adjusting a light from very dim to dim to bright. All these beautiful celestial objects arrayed themselves from horizon to horizon while twinkling and dotting the inky canvas high above and were always a pleasure and joy to simply study and watch.

In this time period of my life during the sixties in Tennessee, life was blissfully lazy and safe. In our neighborhood, if the weather permitted, our moms would often kick us out of the house in the morning so we kids weren’t in their way as they went about their home-keeping duties, and we would have the day to romp and wander and play, always with one ear cocked, listening for the familiar sound of our mothers calling us home for lunch or supper. I also loved reading in these idyllic years, and every so often, I might earn a dime or even a quarter to spend on candy or comic books that I could open and escape into far away countries or even space as a superhero or a fearless adventurer. Usually sprinkled about throughout within the pages of these comics were ads and one of the ads, in particular, attracted me and I was allowed to snip it out and write to the owners of the ad, the American Seed Company. It just so happened, according to the ad, the American Seed Company would send me seeds to sell at a small profit as well as earning points that were redeemable from their catalog. The more seeds I acquired from them, the more point I accumulated, toward the wonderful prizes they listed in their catalog. Looking though the list of prizes in their big prize book, I quickly spotted what was the best prize of all…a telescope! Oh my…I imagined all the wonderfully, glorious things I could see with that marvelous device!

Momma loaned me the money to get started on this enterprise (15 cents a pack) and when my flower seed packets and the instructions for selling and marketing them arrived, I started canvasing the neighborhood, knocking on doors and touting the beauty of these seeds. I would find myself going back and looking in the prize book at that telescope as I continued to sell my little seed packets, afraid that it would somehow disappear from the pages, for with that telescope, worlds unknown would open up to me and ever-so-more increase my ability to explore the stars. I quickly sold out and ordered more and more seeds and even though it took me all summer, I finally had enough points accumulated to receive what I had been diligently slaving for…the telescope! The telescope ultimately arrived and even though it didn’t quite match the picture from the list, it was still a wonderful thing, for with that small, flimsy paper-tubed telescope, I discovered planets, craters on the moon, moons around Jupiter, Saturn’s rings, the milky way and so, so much more. I would sit or lie out on that picnic table gazing through my telescope and I was instantly out there floating among the stars. I recall staying out there for what seemed like hours evening after evening until Momma would eventually call me back from my adventures to reality, bidding me inside to get ready for bedtime.

Some of those memories came flooding back to me last night as I dutifully went down to the chicken yard located in the field next to the woods of our farm in rural Tennessee to secure the hens in their house. As I started walking back up toward my home, I paused at the edge of the woods in the moonlight and just stood there in the gentle night breeze gazing up and watching the lightning bugs flickering and flashing as they performed for potential mates, attempting to impress them with their aerial phosphorescent displays whilst the clouds and the stars high above were doing a hide and seek dance of their own. After a bit, I continued up toward the house smiling as I remember the old pleasant memories of a childhood long ago and started wondering what ever happened to the little telescope that allowed me to romp among the stars, night after night…

Jim Bussell


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