It has been brutally hot here the last couple of weeks and the heat wave has me thinking of my childhood in the country and how I spent the long summer days back then. First of all, it is a myth that it “wasn’t as hot back then.” Ninety-five degrees is ninety-five degrees no matter what. Also, it’s always been humid as heck around here so it was just as blazing hot; the main difference was we were younger and didn’t care as much — well, I did because I was relatively as fat then as now and summer is a skinny kid’s game — and we didn’t have the choice of staying in the house and playing video games mainly because most video games hadn’t been invented yet so we had to get outside and get used to it and as an old proverb states, you can get used to anything.
So come early morning, we were up and moving outside. Lots of days in the summer, I stayed with the Willis brothers: Scott, Jamie, and later on Timothy. They had a stream of running water behind their house snaking its way through the woods and it was a young boy’s dream place to play. It was barely ankle deep in most places, except where we managed to dam it up enough to reach the awesome depth of mid-shin. The plan was to create a bona fide swimming hole but our materials and equipment did not match our enthusiasm.
We called it a creek, but that was actually stretching it. It was a good solid stream and throughout our childhoods it never ran dry. We would go down to it in our summer gear of shorts, t-shirts, and canvas Nikes and look to see what we could find. One of our favorite pastimes was to hunt for spring lizards.
Spring lizards are not reptiles as “lizard” might suggest. Spring lizard is what we called them. I couldn’t begin to guess what a scientist might call them. They were about as long as our childish index fingers, slim, with four legs and a tail and they looked like tiny lizards. I realize now they were some kind of salamander or newt or something else amphibian that enjoyed the water.
Hunting them went as follows. One would stand still in the stream in order to let the water clear. Then Scott would bend down and cup his hands around a likely rock in the water and wait for me to slowly pick the rock up trying desperately not to muddy the water. Scott would then close up his hands into a cup and if we’d guessed right, he’d be cupping a bit of sand, a splash of water, and a spring lizard!
That was the point where we would put the spring lizard in a quart mason jar filled with a couple of rocks and spring water so we could keep count of how many we caught in the day. We always let the first one go however because we always forgot the quart mason jar. Always. In our excitement to get to the stream, we left the jar sitting on the counter every time.
What followed the inevitable recognition of having left the jar was a sibling display that made me quite happy I was still an only child in those days. Scott was older than me by eleven months. Jaime was a couple of years younger than us both. As the youngest, of course, it was his responsibility to remember the jar and since he was the one who forgot it, he was the one who had to go back and get it. Unhappily and never voluntarily. Scott, as older brothers will, always used a threat of violence to goad Jaime into making the trek back to the house and get the jar while we waited.
In our latter years of hunting, the baby Wills brother, Timothy would join us at the insistence of Mrs. Jane, the boys’ mother. He was several years younger than us and slowed us down but he would cry if he was left behind. I remember when he accompanied us the first time and we, per usual, forgot the jar. Jaime smiled an evil smile when Scott looked at him and Jaime turned to Tim and informed him that, as the baby, it was now HIS responsibility to go back to the house and get the jar. Poor Jamie. He’d waited all his life to no longer be on the bottom of the brotherly totem pole and now was his chance except Timothy did something Jaime never would have done.
He sat down in the middle of the stream and started bawling like a baby!
Scott and Jaime both looked at him. They looked at me but all I could do was shrug because I knew what they both knew. Timothy was Mrs. Jane’s baby boy with all the baggage AND all the protections that went along with it. All three of us knew if we made him — somehow — go back to the house and get the jar looking all bedraggled from sitting in the stream and with a tearstreaked face, our lives would be forfeit to the crown.
I knew I wouldn’t escape either because even though I was TECHNICALLY company and by convention should have been immune to the consequences of brotherly spats, the actual truth was I ate more meals at the Willis house in the summer and slept more nights there than I did at my own. I was family in all but the blood and in point of fact, we were all something like third cousins once removed, so I didn’t even have that thin veneer shielding me from Mrs. Jane’s wrath.
So we got Timothy back on his feet and got his crying stopped. I think an ice cream sandwich may or may not have been promised to dry the final few tears. Scott, me, and Jamie looked at each other and gave a final shrug. After all these years of having to make the trek Jaime wasn’t about to budge and Scott didn’t blame him. Fair was fair. Timothy had cheated using baby sibling perogatives. So that day we didn’t keep the spring lizards we caught and we never forgot the jar again. Jaime made sure of it.
I don’t remember the last time we went hunting spring lizards. I guess we were tweens and had our motorcycles then so we could go more places and do more things than being confined to a yard. One day we went down to the stream not realizing it was the last time we would ever do it. Funny how life is like that.
I still remember hunting spring lizards as one of the few things I truly enjoyed doing outside when I was a child. Maybe it was the surroundings, maybe it was the activity, or maybe it was the company. I guess it could have been all three.
Love y’all and keep those feet clean!
PS. You may have noticed my last couple of posts have been sans pictures. WordPress changed the editor and I can’t for the life of me figure out how to insert pictures anymore! If any one can tell me how to do it, I’d be forever grateful.