Bee Sting and a Dead Roly-Poly

1955, San Jose, California ~

Nancy DrewI read whatever was in front of me. I read all four sides of the milk carton and the Cheerios box and the C&H container. I read the editor’s notes and publication dates and fine print in the front of True Detective and Reader’s Digest and Cornet or whatever Mom left on the table. If I’d finished my last stack of Nancy Drew mysteries from the library, I read our new four-inch-thick 1955 Webster’s Combined Dictionary and Encyclopedia that Larry gave us for Christmas. I studied the colored pictures of the plants and animals until I knew them by heart.

When I got bored reading indoors, I went outside and read, or lay in the yard in the afternoon sun, warming my face and body, feeling the heat on my cheeks, keeping my eyes closed (no way was I going to go blind looking directly into the sun).  The long fair baby hair on my arms stirred in the breeze; my hair was the grass and I was the earth. Listening to grasshoppers rasping in my ears, feeling a small brown butterfly kissing my arm with its tiny eyelash feet, I breathed in the loamy odor of dirt and chewed on a long stem of sour grass. I talked to myself and to God, and kept an eye out for the mangy dog next door and the honeybees hovering over the white clover and alyssum making sure no bees buzzed under me before I settled down. I‘d been stung before, when I was four, when we lived in our white two-story house in Sonora. It was my first memory. Running to the store screaming for Daddy, he caught me, told me to calm down, pulled the stinger out of my back, and said it was only a bee sting and that I’d survive. I wasn’t so sure.

Cathy Clemens 1st gradeI flipped over and dug my elbows and knees and wiggled my toes into the dark cool dirt, scratching my bare legs where the rocks and stickers poked through the razored Bermuda grass. Beneath my nose I studied an army of black ants scurrying with their top-heavy loads, building cities with tunnels and pyramids. One procession transported a dead roly-poly, another dragged an earwig to feed their industrious six-legged troops. I was most careful not to squash them or breathe too hard and wreck their work. I did however put a twig in their way to make their lives more interesting. I was pretty sure that wasn’t a sin.

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  1. Jeff Elliot says:

    The thing I love about your writing is how it triggers my memories. (and I think it might do that for many of your readers) I also was a milk carton cereal box reader, and, although I never admitted it to my friends, I read as many Nancy Drews as I did Hardy Boys! In contrast, I had no moral objections to frying a few ants with my magnifying glass.

  2. Sure can relate to times in the grass, insects, and contemplating whether it was a sin to harm an ant.

  3. Catherine. I’m in the spell of Mary’s chapters on Grasslands and when I read about your attention to the world of the dirt and grass, I was right there with you. Love how you captured the mind of a child noticing everything we someday don’t notice anymore. The twig for a more interesting adventure delighted me ~ and also the Nancy Drew mysteries. I sometimes wonder if there are a vast group of us who love mystery shows on TV today because we loved the world of Nancy Drew.

  4. Juliette Andrews says:

    Such a comfort read.

  5. I swear to God I feel like some of your adventures were mine too. Such a fun walk down memory lane with you to MY childhood.

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