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On warm summer nights, the lightning bugs would blink under the mimosa tree in our backyard. The bugs had romance in their minds – adult fireflies have a lifespan of about ten days, and need to find a mate in that brief time.
My brothers and I saw gold in their romantic glow. We hoped fireflies would make us rich beyond our wildest dreams. We might even get five or six dollars.
Lightning bugs were used in medical research, and a St. Louis chemical company used to buy them. We didn’t realize they wanted fireflies by the tens of thousands. We also expected Mom to drive us across town to deliver our lightning bugs.
We’d try to make our fortune from May to August, the prime firefly season. At dusk, we’d see the fireflies. That was the signal to get out our mayonnaise jars. We’d punched in the tops with a beer-can opener. We put grass inside the jar to make the lightning bugs feel at home. And then we’d start catching.
Fireflies were easy targets. They were slow and they didn’t bite. By bedtime, we’d have seven or eight fireflies. We’d put the jars on our dressers, and watch them glow in the dark bedroom.
By morning, the fireflies were dead, and so were our dreams of wealth.
The fireflies still put on their show on summer nights. It doesn’t cost anything to watch.
(The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. Louis Public Radio.)
Elaine Viets is a freelance writer.