It’s still summer in New Zealand.
Every now and again, when I have a wander into the primordial jungle out back, I find a locust husk (or shell… what do you call those things they hatch from?).
And every time, my childhood memories come pouring back.
We had a mimosa tree in the front yard, and half a dozen in the back.
Every summer, the locusts would try to suck them dry and, boy, would they sing loud and long while slurping up the sap.
It has to be said that, as young rascals, my neighbor Eddie and I were not especially kind to the *locusts.
There was probably nothing wrong with collecting their old husks from the trees, and feeding them to Lady Dog, our beagle.
She thought they were better’n pork rinds.
But the other uses we had for locusts were not something that make for particularly sanctifying stories during Lent.
Eddie and I became experts at sneaking up on the locusts.
We were like Ninjas, stopping dead in our tracks if they quit singing.
Then slowly, silently, moving in.
Eddie would creep me out every time by just grabbing them like he was picking an apple.
I fully expected one day for a locust to jam that sucker spike thing directing into one of Eddie’s major arteries and bleed him dry.
It never happened, but it sure could’ve.
My approach to locust hunting was to sneak up from behind, then pinch both of their wings together as they SCREAMED like crazy.
After we had captured them, they were normally used for one of two things:
- As airplanes — you could tie thread around a few of their legs and then fly them around like tiny planes until their “landing gear” would snap off;
- As bombs — during countless epic battles in BUG WARS
I preferred flying the locusts, but that required being able to sneak into Mom’s sewing room and escape with a spool of thread. (Getting caught in the act could ruin your whole day.)
So we probably had more BUG WARS than locust flying lessons.
To prepare for battle, you had to capture as many locusts as you could over, say, two or three days.
You’d store them in a small glass jar, hopefully, out of direct sunlight, we learned pretty quickly.
During early summer in Norman, the locusts would all be small and green.
Come August, if they were tough enough to have survived a brutal Oklahoma summer, they’d creepy red eyes and dark crusty skin.
Then, on the appointed day, and at the agreed time, Eddie and I would face each other on the field of battle (my front yard).
And stare each other down.
Then, at the agreed signal, we’d race crazily at each other, hurling one or more unhappy locusts as we galloped by.
It was sort of like jousting, but with locusts instead of lances.
Normally, the locusts would bounce right off your opponent’s head and fly away. No points for that.
If the locust got caught in the other guy’s hair, and somewhat freaked him out, that was good for five points.
You got 10 points, and pretty much won the war, if you chucked one or more locusts down the other guy’s T-shirt collar, and they started crawling and flying and screaming up and down the opposition guy’s T-shirt.
Trying to jam the **sucker-spike right into their human heart. To suck it dry.
I don’t recall that ever happening, but it could have.
We were pretty resilient kids, so nobody would have been dead very long.
When we got tired of BUG WARS, if there was any locust ammo left, we’d just open the jars and let them happily fly away.
Sure we did.
Actually, we’d hurl them with all our might either at trees or the side of my brick house or right in the middle of Nebraska Street.
If you chucked them down just exactly right, they made a very distinct thud/squish.
And Lady Dog thought they were better’n Milk Duds.
As I mentioned, this was not the best Lenten story. Sorry, Lord.
But I suppose it’s a good enough Okie boy story.
*Yes, I know Yankees and Scientists call them cicadas. Okies do not care. We call them locusts.
**The technical name “stylet” does not do that scary sucker-thing justice.
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