Ever since my dad died almost two years ago, my mother has been on a cleaning out and purging mission. In that time she has emptied two outdoor sheds, the basement, the attic, and numerous drawers, closets, and cabinets.
While some of the more meaningful family heirlooms have been parceled out to kids and grandkids, she has advertised her treasures and trinkets by way of radio, newspaper, and phone calls to unsuspecting second-hand store proprietors. In addition, she has had six or seven two-day garage sales in an effort to disperse some seventy years' worth of collectibles, each object somehow representing both a moment in time and a memory.
For me, this process has been like watching my own life rewind in slow motion. As we have dug more and more deeply into the bowels of the house and outbuildings, I have stood at the curb of a nostalgic parade of photographs, keepsakes, and mementos.
The top layer of objects recalls events my own children shared with their grandparents. Further excavation reveals the stuff, some of it long forgotten, of my teen years and childhood--for instance, old glass Pepsi bottles like the ones we used to cash in, at two cents apiece, for a candy bar down at Mary's corner store.
As Mom opened the garage door at her most recent sale, I was just settling myself into the official cashier's chair when an especially unusual object caught my eye:
It was an old Bosco chocolate syrup jar, and just the sight of it triggered a flood of memories and a sweet return, however brief, to the late 1950s. It opened some long-forgotten door to a room where lived a little girl, who, with hair in a ponytail and bare feet, rode a red Schwinn with saddle baskets over the back fender down an uneven brick sidewalk.
She would spend lazy summer days playing paper dolls on a blanket spread in the grass or knocking locust shells from tree branches with a broomstick. Toward evening she would wait patiently on the front porch for the first firefly to flicker, her cue to grab a hammer and a nail to poke holes in the lid of an empty jar--like this one--and prepare for the night's catch.
With nightfall she would perch on an old tree stump, unscrew the jar lid, and watch her orange-bellied quarry take off, one by one, from the open jar's glass lip. Once airborne, each one would give a final flicker and buzz away into the vast, open arms of the night.
They disappeared so quickly, I remembered, like the smoke from a blown-out paper match--there one second and gone the next. Like the last ray of sunlight from beneath the horizon. Like childhood itself.
Maybe this is why I savor this time with the kids--the parties, the stories, the make-believe games. Right now, they can't fathom a time when we won't have these.
But I know that fireflies climb up the inside of Bosco jars and take flight. Their lights grow gradually fainter as they fly further away. You get to have them for only a little while.