Butterfly Kisses

1955, San Jose, California ~ Reading was good company and I read whatever was in front of me. I read all four sides of the milk carton, Cheerios box, and C&H container. I read the editor’s notes, publication dates, and fine print in the front of True Detective, Reader’s Digest, and whatever other magazine Mom left on the table. If I’d finished my last stack of 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 on its slick and shiny pages until I knew them by heart.

cathy-clemens-6When I got bored reading inside I went outside and read, or lay in the yard in the afternoon sun. I remember the heat warming my face and body. I kept my eyes closed (no way was I going to go blind looking directly into the sun), dreaming of angels. I floated with the cotton-ball clouds. The long, fair baby-hair on my arms stirred in the breeze; my hair was the grass and I was the earth. Listening to the grasshoppers rasping in my ears, feeling the small brown butterfly kissing my arm with its tiny eyelash feet, breathing in the loamy odor of dirt hidden beneath the green-grass smell, and chewing on a long stem of sour grass, I talked to myself. I also talked to God, and kept an eye out for the mangy dog next door and the honeybees hovering over the white clover and alyssum nearby, having made sure there were no bees buzzing beneath me before I settled down. I‘d been stung before, when I was maybe four and we still lived in our white, two-story house in Sonora. It’s my first memory. Running to the store screaming for Daddy, he caught me, told me to calm down, pulled the stinger out of the back of my shoulder, and said it was only a bee sting and that I would survive. I wasn’t so sure.

Flipping over, I dug my elbows and knees and wiggled my toes into the dark cool dirt, scratching my bare legs where the rocks and stickers poked up through the patch of razor-edged Bermuda grass. Beneath my nose I studied an army of black ants scurrying with their top-heavy loads, building cities of tunnels and pyramids, one procession transporting a dead roly-poly, another dragging an earwig behind 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. Lovely memories! They trigger some of my own, thanks to your wonderful sensory descriptions of sights, smells, feelings, etc. And how I loved to read… it saved my life in those early years. Thanks, Catherine!

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