Illuminating summers of long ago

Published 5:12 pm Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Every year about this time, my mind returns to summers of long ago when the lightning bugs flitted in the dark while I chased them carrying a container with holes punched in the top. I would trap them, watch them illuminate the jar for a minute or two, but then felt sorry for the little critters and let them go.  

I recall staying with my Grandpa (my grandmother) every summer for two weeks. The smell of her hot biscuits baking in the morning, and country ham sizzling on the old stove always started my day with a smile. Many a soul have tried to duplicate Grandpa’s biscuits, but no human being has ever come close. Her soul took those ingredients and skill to heaven to gift God a bit of glory every morning.   

Outside my bedroom windows, white gladiolas bloomed in Grandpa’s garden along with watermelons, green beans, and the best corn one could slather butter on. For two weeks, I could string a bean like a pro, but couldn’t spit a watermelon seed like my talented Granddaddy. 

Something about these memories reminds me to be thankful for God’s glorious gift of these wonderful folks. Picnics were a mainstay in Grandpa’s world. Many times, my cousins and I would gather for Sunday afternoon picnics at a nearby State Park in Tennessee. We would swim in the lake, frolic on the playgrounds, and eat southern goodness all day. 

One such afternoon while at the park, Grandpa’s mama, Great Grandmother Sparks, decided at the age of 88 to get on the new merry go round with the rest of the young’uns.  She fell off, broke her hip, and as she left in the ambulance declared, “I am just spittin’ mad I didn’t get to try out that new slide!”

Something about that little adventure made me decide never to grow too old not to desire to ride a merry go round or slide down a slide.  

Fishing with Grandpa was always an adventure. I was never afraid because Grandpa had taught me that Listerine cured any hurt one could have including bites, pain when a fishhook caught flesh instead of a fish, and the common cold.  

One year, Grandpa was admitted to Vanderbilt Hospital in Nashville with kidney stones.  After a few days, the doctors told us they may need to operate. However, to their amazement, Grandpa finally passed that kidney boulder and was dismissed with instructions and a boatload of pills.  After a few days, my brother went for a visit and noticed her stash of prescribed medications were untouched. 

“Grandpa why aren’t you taking your medicine?! He was horrified! 

“Oh shoot, if I gargle with my Listerine, it’ll cure what ails me! Don’t you worry!”

He did worry, but when she lived to be 97 years old without experiencing another kidney stone, he began to worry she was right!   

Something about that little story made me believe if you believe in something you might just get healed.

Every Saturday was spent getting ready for Sunday. Grandpa would wash her hair, and I would roll it with tiny curlers. By the time I was ten, I could put those rollers in perfectly straight rows in her silver hair, and her ‘do’ would turn out ‘plum gorgeous’ every time. 

At least that is what she said. To this day, I can close my eyes and see the strands of silver tresses slide through my fingers as I made my grandmother more beautiful than she already was. 

Something about those Saturdays made me certain that beauty so fine is not so much what you see, but something you don’t.

Before one summer visit, Snowball, Grandpa’s cherished white dog, bore six puppies. The puppies were given away except for a special one named Junebug, who Grandpa just couldn’t let go.  

One morning, I was walking down the hall to the kitchen when I heard a sound I had never heard before, my Grandpa was crying. I quickly ran to her side, to learn precious Junebug was killed by a car in the wee hours of that summer morning.   

Something about that memory still makes me teary, not only because little Junebug died, but because my precious grandmother wept. There is something about those summers of long ago when the crickets chirped in harmony with the bullfrog who lived in the pond.  Summers when the family members were abundant, and all were giddy with excitement because the watermelons were ripe.

Just like the lightning bugs who lit up my jar, those who helped make my summer days perfect illuminated my life. I hated to let them go, but to this day, they still light my heart and take me back home.