A Bit Longer

Mom stirred the contents of a kettle on the stove, then turning to face me, she scolded reproachfully, “You should get up earlier in the morning. It’s ten o’clock.”

Clumsily cutting myself a thick slice of freshly baked homemade bread, I protested, “I was awake earlier. I just didn’t come downstairs right away.” As a small child I had never liked taking naps or going to bed at night. Now, at age ten, nothing had changed. Every night I put off going to bed for as long as Mom’s patience held out. Predictably, in the mornings I never wanted to get up when everyone else did.

Watching me slather a generous smear of butter onto the soft, slightly warm bread, she advised, “I know you’re hungry, but don’t ruin your appetite. In an hour and a half Daddy will be done with his mid-morning chores and we’ll be having dinner.”

My mouth was full, so I nodded and turned to leave. When I stepped out the back door of the farmhouse, sunshine blinded me. Chewing the last bite of bread, I listened to a red winged black bird’s distinctive call and the bawl of a calf in the barn.  

Sniffing the fresh, sweet-scented spring air, I marveled at how the trees and grass were so brightly green. School would be out for the summer in just one more week. In my mind a whole, beautiful, flawless summer stretched endlessly ahead.

I loved visiting the old house my family had lived in until a year before I was born. It stood set-back, between the new house and barn. Daddy used its old living room and downstairs bedroom as a granary. Nearly empty now, I tiptoed through the rooms, wondering as I always did, what life had been like in it. Now it was just a sad, dirty, empty old house. But once, it had been clean and cozy, full of chattering children, a home.

I found a squeaking mouse trapped in an empty water tank stored in the old kitchen. I backed away. Daddy would take care of it.  From the upstairs bedroom that my brother had turned into a dovecote, I could hear birds cooing conversationally. In the entrance were sacks of ground seashells. Daddy gave it to the chickens because calcium makes egg shells stronger. One sack was open, so I started to dig through it, hoping to find a small intact shell like my sister once had.

Giving up, I wiped my white, powdery hands on my shorts and went to stand on the old house’s front steps. A towering cottonwood tree stood to one side. The ground under the tree was covered with blossoms. I had always called these strange blossoms worms, because they were all several inches long and reddish in color.

I couldn’t resist playing with them. Scooping up a handful, I lined them up on the old house steps. A June bug hiding in the bunch suddenly decided to cling to one of my fingers. I jumped back and yelled, “Ack! Get off me!” Its sticky little feet clung to my skin as if it had suction cup shoes. With a shudder, I pulled it off and dropped it on the ground. I curled a lip with disgust and stared at the offensive large brown beetle. It resembled a dried date.

I heard the farmhouse’s back door slam and Mom call, “Kathy, dinner is ready!” My belly rumbled. The slice of bread I’d had for breakfast hadn’t stuck to my ribs. I happily trotted to the house.

That evening I was still playing in the backyard when the sun went down. In the afterglow we could see bats who lived in the orchard swoop through the yard eating small bugs. Nighthawks called. Fireflies blinked. My brother finished mowing the lawn and the smell of grass was sweet in the air. Mom finished weeding a flowerbed and said, “It’s time for us to go in.”

Inside the lighted house, the dusk looked darker than it actually was. June bugs banged and scrabbled against the screens. Mom said, “I’ve never seen so many June bugs as this year.” I sat by a window looking out at the flashing fireflies, thinking about the disgusting June bug that had clung to my finger before dinner. Mom said, “Kathy, go to bed.”

I looked over my shoulder to beg, “Please let me stay up just a little bit longer, Mom.”

Mom sighed and muttered to herself, “Here we go again.”

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