My Father-in-law and the Fireflies

Fireflies don’t live in the western United States, and I never encountered them growing up in Washington State. I didn’t see my first firefly until after I was married and moved to Missouri.

We were in my in-laws’ backyard on a hot, humid evening in June.  It might even have been Father’s Day weekend when my husband and I went to visit.

I saw lights flickering across the lawn.  At first I thought something was wrong with my eyes, then I realized – fireflies! Just like I had read about in books growing up. I knew they existed, but they were magical, fantastical creatures to me, part of fiction, not real life.

On. Off. On. Off.  I marveled at the regularity of the flashes and at nature’s folly in creating such a whimsical insect.

“I’ve never seen fireflies before!” I exclaimed.

My father-in-law, born and raised in the same small town in Missouri where he still lived, couldn’t believe I’d missed out on lightning bugs all my life.

He went into the house, found a Mason jar, then chased around the yard until he caught me a firefly.

I’d caught butterflies and moths with my brother when we were children, feeding them grass and other delicacies until they died a day or two later. I didn’t want the firefly to suffer the same fate, so after watching my father-in-law’s quarry switch on and off and on and off for a few minutes, I persuaded him to let it go.

The firefly was more miraculous in the wild than in the jar.

Every summer since, I have waited for the first flash of the season. This year, I saw the first bug last week, in early June. I remembered that long-ago summer when my father-in-law let me examine the firefly up close in his Mason jar.

My father-in-law will be 94 in just a few weeks.  He is blind, and can no longer see the luminescence of lightning bugs.  He is bedridden, and would be unable to catch them if he could see them.

But as Father’s Day approaches, I remember his kindness and imagination that long-ago June evening, when he captured the delight of his childhood for a new daughter-in-law whose experiences were different than his.

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0 Comments

  1. What a beautiful memory. I’ve always wondered what a firefly would look like to someone who’d never seen one. They’re magical to me, and I grew up with them. It’s nice of you to be so kind about letting it go. I’m sorry to say as a child we used to remove the light and put it on our finger like a ring. Oh, that sounds terrible. But to redeem myself I made my grandson cry for an hour because I opened the jar of his fireflies to let them go.

  2. What a beautiful memory. I’ve always wondered what a firefly would look like to someone who’d never seen one. They’re magical to me, and I grew up with them. It’s nice of you to be so kind about letting it go. I’m sorry to say as a child we used to remove the light and put it on our finger like a ring. Oh, that sounds terrible. But to redeem myself I made my grandson cry for an hour because I opened the jar of his fireflies to let them go.

  3. Theresa, I really liked this piece. Because I grew up with fireflies (lightning bugs) I took them for granted. It’s nice to see them through the eyes of someone who didn’t have them during their childhood. What a wonderful memory of your father-in-law.

    We were told that the appearance of lightning bugs meant a storm was on its way.

  4. Theresa, I really liked this piece. Because I grew up with fireflies (lightning bugs) I took them for granted. It’s nice to see them through the eyes of someone who didn’t have them during their childhood. What a wonderful memory of your father-in-law.

    We were told that the appearance of lightning bugs meant a storm was on its way.

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