Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Closing Time: Caterpillars

That spot of frog residue had another death encounter later in the summer.

It had been mid afternoon on an overcast, warm and humid day. Even though the frog’s grease spot memorial had been erased by rain and foot traffic its memory remained, and its reputation had grown to the point that it had become a sort of gathering place for a number of the other kids in the neighborhood, including the little girl who still enjoyed pointing and laughing at the spot, or the memory of the spot.

On this day she was there as usual.

As usual she laughed toothily through her mean little mouth at my grief and at the spot.

There were several other kids there also.

There were also some tent caterpillars crawling around.

Tent caterpillars are interesting creatures. They are multi colored, usually with some blues, blacks and oranges. They have some fur-like material growing on their segmented six legged, multi pseudo podded bodies and they move fairly rapidly.

That rapid movement wasn’t lost on us kids. We liked to have races with them.

Ultimately, though, racing tent caterpillars is rather like herding snakes. One lost control and then one lost interest. Then one smashed them into the sidewalk.

Another interesting aspect of tent caterpillars is that when smashed they expose a quantity of bright green internal goo. It is probably green because tent caterpillars eat leaves. In any event green goo on the pavement was thought to be a suitable end to a relatively unsuccessful tent caterpillar race.

From my point of view it was also a suitable honor to the frog that had gone before them on the same spot.

Several of us had just executed the green goo race termination exercise when the air was split by a loud and low and distant sound. It was a sound I that was to learn as I got older was a phenomenon associated with a parallel phenomenon called an explosion. At the point that it occurred I just knew that it was a rather loud sound.

It also had an almost dimensional component.

With the sound came a feeling, an almost bump to the body.

Much later in life, when I was being trained to blow things up with nuclear devices I learned that this feeling is called a shock wave.

Also much later in life I became accustomed to being awakened from my Saigon sleep on many a morning by that same sound/feeling. Those sound/feelings were 750 pound bombs being dumped from the edge of the atmosphere on little people who were trying to get their homeland back.

B-52 bombers were the dumping mechanism..

On this day many years before my Saigon sojourn the sound and feeling caused all of us to look at one another.

After an extended silence the evil little girl said, “That’s what happens when you kill tent caterpillars. If you kill a beetle it rains; if you kill a tent caterpillar it thunders.”

It wasn’t long before I learned the real story. My mother came out of the house, and was obviously extremely upset – she was crying. She got into the car and drove off.

When she returned I was in the house. She was still crying. She turned on the radio and a news item was in progress. “At the scene of the explosion bodies are being carried out. Many are shattered by the force of the blast.”

The Halibut Oil factory had blown up on that day, and my mother’s closest childhood friend, Babe, who was a guy who had been her next door neighbor throughout her childhood, had been killed.

It seemed that the frog place on the sidewalk, and the little girl, had become inextricably linked to death.

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