It was August. It was warm.Waukegan
Illinois had the warm days that became slightly chillier at night, as the summer began moving towards autumn.
The family had rented a house that was next door to the rented house where my Uncle Rick and his family had been staying. Uncle Rick was in the Navy. Father was in the Air Force. We lived out of boxes and suitcases for as long as I could recall. I later realized we were a little portable Military family. We lacked suit case handles on our backs.
There was one day where I had bumped into a lamp, and its fall created many pieces. My brother Arnold was quick to suggest: “You’d better tell Mom that you did it on purpose.”
“Why?” I asked. I was four. He was about eight.
“So she’ll know it was okay.”
“Okay?” Since my bumping into the lamp was caused by him shoving me, I thought he was protecting me.
When Mom did arrive, she saw the lamp, and said, “What happened?”
I said, “I did it on purpose.”
“I did it on purpose.”
She grabbed me by the arm and started smacking my butt and I whirled around trying to avoid the contact, while shouting “I did it on purpose!” over and over.
She stopped. I looked at Arnold, who wore a big grin.
Something was wrong, I noted. Arnold had a sense of humor that took years of therapy to appreciate.
And on one of those days where the sun was out and blazing and hot and the wind was still, Mom and Father had decided to go shopping. They also decided to leave the two of us by ourselves.
Stay out of trouble, we were told. There’s no baby sitter. Uncle Rick is gone for the day. Don’t fight. Your big brother knows how to phone the police. Don’t worry about burglars. Ann is over a friend’s house. She has a girl scout meeting. Be good. We won’t be gone long. You can make lunch. If something should happen, you know what to do.
That something should happen. When I was younger we all dreaded anything happening, because it made the adults mad, and that often meant that the belts would soon be off and used for other things than holding pants up.
At a time when they could not find a baby sitter, or want to bother neighbors they barely knew to watch a couple of nose picking brats for an hour or two, they decided to see if they could trust us. Like anyone else, they wished they could trust and believe in their own children, instead being given constant reminders that they could not.
I do not know what the inspiration was, or why. I have long suspected cookies as a motive (which we did not have), and a conversation with Arnold about food brought up a mumbling statement that sounds like…”what people over in Africa eat that are their version of candy…”
“Like what?” I asked.
“Grasshoppers,” said Arnold. “If you go out and catch some I’ll cook them up for you.”
I knew about grasshoppers. When there were guests in the house, my Father made a drink called Grasshopper. It had mint and vermouth and gin in it and it smelled bad. The grasshoppers were caught in the back yard and stuck in the drink. Father was always looking for ones about two inches long. Father made these drinks because he knew no one would walk off with his drink after they saw the insect sticking its head out between a few bits of crushed ice. Father always asked if I wanted a sip. Peering into the glass, seeing an insect surrounded by milky green puke, I always managed to say “No.”
And I began to notice that I shouldn't
get involved with Arnold’s ideas where I did all of the work.
I got a jar and I went out and caught some sizeable
grasshoppers. They spit “tobacco juice” from their mouths. This is what it was called. They ooze a lot of this dark green stuff out of their mouth parts when you catch them. I got about seven or eight.
I brought them in. They were trying to break out, leaping around.
“Okay. Here you are,” I said. I shook the jar.
Arnold had set up the frying pan, but had not
turned the gas on.
I gave the jar
to him and pulled up a chair.
He put some Crisco in the pan and turned on the burner.
He told me to get a grasshopper and pull their hind legs off. I did this to one two three four five and gave them to him and he put them in the pan. They heated up and stopped moving. They began to crisp. He pulled the pan off the active burner.
“You have to eat one.”
“Marlon Perkins eats them all the time on Wild Kingdom,” said Arnold.
“Okay.” Marlon Perkins I respected. He got to live in a zoo. He was surrounded by wild animals. I got to live in Waukegan
I got some catsup
, covered the bugs up and ate one. And two and three and four.” With my fork I held up the last one and asked “You want one?”
He turned and ran for the bathroom.
Many years later at a family dinner I told these stories to the family.
Arnold said “You lie. You’re a goddamn liar. That never happened.”
(I keep nagging myself about my childhood. Writing it is is kind of therapeutic
. One of a series. Someone inform Ray Bradbury, so he can complain. I lived in Waukegan
for a few years, so I have the right. Nyah