I grew up in the south but I don’t miss it. Actually I miss some of the people – a lot – but I don’t miss the summers. Everybody talks about the heat and the humidity, but the bugs are what did me in.
I’ve been afraid of anything buzzing or crawling all my life. If a bee, just minding his own business, flew too close to me I took off screaming into the house.
The boys knew I hated bugs so they made a point of catching every one they could when I was around. They’d hold a big, squirming beetle with all 6 or 20 legs swimming through the air and slowly come right at me. I’d run screaming with that little girl shriek that could break windows. The boys would be right behind me laughing their spiteful heads off with that beetle held out in front of them.
That’s how I got to be so fast. None of them could catch me. Just when they were too tired to run any further they’d fling that beetle through the air and I’d feel it bounce against my back. I screamed like the tall actor in the first Home Alone movie. If you’ve never seen that guy scream, you’ve missed out on one of the funniest moments in movie history.
The boys used to catch June bugs. They were big, green flying beetles about the size of a 747. Somehow they tied a string to the June bug’s back leg (I was never around to see that part), then they’d let it go. It would fly off until it reached the end of the string, and then climb as high as it could and fly in a circle as the boy held onto the other end of the string. They would fly in circles as long as anyone cared to keep holding them. I only ever saw this last part because the minute one of them said, “Let’s catch us a June bug,” I warped into the house and cowered behind a grown up.
I had no curiosity about any of it. I knew I’d end up running a foot or two in front of a June bug that would fly down my shirt if I slowed down or fell. All I saw through the screen door was the boys huddled around working with their hands, and then the bug flying in a circle.
In the absence of a real bug, boys would pretend to catch one and chase me with it. I could have called their bluff, but if I was wrong, and they had a real bug, I’d be at the mercy of the giant spider they’d fling at me.
In the south they also have horseflies that would buzz your head like a kamikaze pilot. They would bump you in the ear or back of the neck to see if you were a fast swatter. If you didn’t swat right away, they knew they could get in there, chomp down on you, and buzz off before you knew you were being attacked. They drew blood and their bites hurt like a son of a gun. Whenever one started dive-bombing my head, I’d grab a limb full of leaves or pine boughs and swish it all around my head. Sometimes when they came in really close I’d slap my own face with a scratchy pine bough and end up with scratches everywhere, but it was better than getting bit.
They have very, very tiny mosquitoes in East Tennessee with lethal venom. When the sneaky little mosquito got done having its way with you, you had a giant red welt the size of a quarter that itched three times worse than poison ivy.
No, I don’t miss the bugs down there. The boys, either.