Saturday, December 22, 2007

June Bugs

So I called my 85-year-old mother yesterday to see how she was. “I’m fine,” she said, “just as happy as a June bug.” I smiled. I hadn’t heard that country expression in over 40 years.

Explanation of the idiom - When June visits the hill country of Eastern Tennessee the sweet scent of early summer strikes some kind of chord within the "Phyllophaga" a genus of the beetle family, AKA “June Bug”. They cover the lawns and fields like an undulating bug blanket, hovering above things that are ripe and sweet. They love overripe fruit, particularly apples. Their name, "Phyllophage", actually means "loves figs".

This little six-legger is emerald green and about the size of a dime. He can fly, yes, but seems to accomplish this task reluctantly and with considerable effort.. He buzzes about about slowly, like a C-5 cargo plane loaded with tanks.

WARNING: This next paragraph is off limits for animal rights activists who think insects should be afforded the same status as mammals. As kids we would go out with a jar and capture a few “June Bugs”. Then we would tie a string to one of their back legs and fly them like living kites. (OK, ok... I said we were kids, didn't we? It's not like we were dragging puppies around.) The fun was to watch these green little guys buzz around like drunken pilots. I remember that just the right size of string had to be used. Too fine a thread could sever a leg. Too thick and heavy a string would slow the them down. It had to be extra-light cotton kite string.

When we had about a 8 or 10 of the little critters aloft we would tie the strings to a bush and watch them tangle their lines. Sometimes we would tie them to a piece or notebook paper and release them as a squadron. Yeah, I know. It really wasn't such a nice thing to do to a bug, was it? But those were the halcyon days of summer in the 1950's, when clouds were white crayon smudges against an azure sky, afternoons were eons and, for two weeks anyway, "June bugs" ruled..

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