In the spring of 1939, it was my job to pick the potato beetles and their offspring off the potato plants in our garden. In the hot Montana spring, the bugs quickly multiplied and would destroy the plants we needed for our main meals.
My dad’s idea was that I should walk up and down between the rows, turning the leaves carefully to see that larvae weren’t hiding underneath. Then, with one deft pinch I would pick up the bug and drop it in a coffee can full of kerosene, which would cause an immediate and humane demise.
It was economical. You could discard the late bugs and use the kerosene again, if you caught any.
Which I never did.
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There were two flaws to the plan. I was terrified of the beetles and I was only 5 years old.
They looked to me like lady bugs gone horribly wrong and wearing striped pajamas. When I managed to pick up a beetle, it made awful scrabbly motions between my fingers, signaling its general unwillingness to cooperate. I’d shriek and drop it on the ground, or my foot, anywhere but into the appointed receptacle. I walked up and down the rows, clutching the coffee can, weeping and dropping beetles which promptly scurried back onto the nearest potato plant.
After several traumatic but unproductive days, Dad offered a bribe. If I would collect a can of lifeless beetles, he would send away to the Montgomery Ward mail order catalog to order the purse I was longing to have in time for Easter.
I struggled but the beetles kept climbing back over the sides of the can. Finally, my mother gave my father one of her patented black looks and he sent for the purse. Right away.
When the purse came, I was ecstatic. It was a lovely black patent with a silver chain for carrying and a Scotty dog with a red tongue printed on the side. It had just room to carry a stick of Wrigley’s Spearmint gum and a cotton handkerchief printed with violets.
Somewhere in our great land, people had begun using a new disposable product called Kleenex. In Warland, Montana, we’d have none of that foolishness. You used your sleeve for everyday and carried a pretty handkerchief on special occasions.
I also carried a penny for Sunday school in case the minister came. Church services were held in the same building that was the dance hall on Saturday night, and the minister, who sometimes doubled as the bartender, didn’t always make it back for church. Fine with me. I could spend the penny for candy.
The beetles continued to munch on the potato plants, but it was my father’s turn to dispatch them while he waited for my mother to stop giving him black looks and let him back in the house. I had a wonderful Easter.
It’s that season again. Priorities change with the passing years but for me, this is still the season of dreams; and anything is possible.
My neighbor has half a car in his driveway. It’s not even the front half. It’s all hollowed out. Just a shell, really. Maybe he’s planning to make a planter out of it or a really big open-flame barbecue.
He’s doomed to disappointment, of course. Everybody knows you can’t keep a hollow car half in your driveway when you live in a condominium. There’s a whole book of rules and bylaws forbidding it. Still man must reach for the stars, or in this case, the acetylene torch.
Daily, we turn to the news to be horrified over and over by assaults and beheadings. It’s important to realize that if we look around us, people are pushing through their fears and prejudices to try to make the world a better place.
From St. John Bosco and Cabrini churches in Lakewood, for instance, parishioners traveled to Haiti to do what they could and work with children in an orphanage. “We can help people,” says the Rev. Peter Mactutis, pastor of both churches. “It’s important to step out of our comfort zone.”
Many readers sent emails that they’re trying for five smiles from strangers after last month’s column. Add just one step out of your comfort zone every day.
Author’s note: No potato beetles were harmed in the creation of this column.