Saturday, May 23, 2009

Catching Fireflies

Repeated from July 30, 2008:

My sister Lisa called last night and, while we were talking, she mentioned that our nephew Thad who is 11 is staying with her this week. She said her boys, Cal and Patrick, love it when Thad --- or either of his siblings, CJ and Mia --- come to stay. They live in Pittsburgh and think staying at Aunt Lisa's, in the rural environs of Coudersport, PA, is a great adventure.

“What are the boys doing?” I asked.

“Well,” she said, “right now they are outside catching fireflies. I told them I'd come out in a little while and build a fire. We're going to toast marshmallows and make 'smores. The kids across the road are coming over.”

Well, no darn wonder Thad loves to stay at Aunt Lisa's house! What is a more perfect way to spend a summer evening than catching fireflies and toasting marshmallows? Lucky boys. “I know they are,” Lisa said. “I've tried really hard to give them a real childhood --- as much like ours was as possible. Not many kids get that anymore.”

She's right about that. Despite the usual childhood complaints of sibling rivalries and neighborhood bullies and parental ineptitudes, our childhood was certainly a way of life that has gone by for far too many children. We lived out of doors. There were woods all around us. In the summer when we went flying out of the house at 8 a.m. Chances were slim we would come back inside all day long other than to eat a quick meal and go to the bathroom --- the boys didn't even bother with that.

I wonder how many people today even know how to make 'smores. You can buy 'smore candy bars but eating one of those is about as much like eating a real 'smore as watching a television program about the ocean is like swimming in a real ocean. When I was a kid the way to make a 'smore started with a properly toasted marshmallow. You had to cut long, slim branches from a tree, peel and sharpen the tip, and secure the marshmallow on the end.

Now there is a lot of controversy on how to properly toast a marshmallow. Some people are of the evenly-toasted-brownness school of marshmallow-toasting thought. This requires restraint and vigilance. You have to keep your marshmallow a proper distance from the flame and keep turning the stick until the correct degree of brownness covers the entire outside of the marshmallow. I personally have always found the folks who do that to be very annoying. I am of the burn-the-sucker-to-a-crisp-so-the-inside-runs school of thought. This has the benefit of giving you a two-fer in the treat department. First you stick the marshmallow directly into the flame until it catches fire. Then you pull it out and let it flame for a minute or so like a small torch. This is the proper time, while the marshmallow sizzles and pops, to use it to take swipes at your brother until you mom yells at you that you are going to poke his eye out. Which is sort of what you had in mind but hoped she might not notice.

So when the outside of the marshmallow is a crispy, crunchy black, you blow out the flame and prepare your 'smore (while carefully holding you marshmallow stick between your knees while it cools a tad). You take a graham cracker and place 4 squares of Hershey's (it HAS to be Hershey's --- no imitations accepted) chocolate on the cracker. Now here's the good part: You gingerly pluck the charcoaly coating off of the marshmallow and pop that in your mouth while you gently ease the gooey, creamy white inside onto the chocolate. When it is properly positioned and the stick withdrawn, you smoosh a second graham cracker down on top of it. Of course while you are doing this you are chewing that crunchy, chewy, hot thing in your mouth while sucking air trying not to burn your tongue. By the time that is eaten the hot gooey marshmallow will have melted the chocolate so you get to try to eat that without most of it winding up running down your arms. Is this fun or what?

So, I hope my nephews had some proper instruction on 'smore making. I'm sure they did. Afterall, I was the one who taught Lisa how to toast marshmallows and make 'smores. And I hope they caught a lot of fireflies. I wonder if they even have fireflies in Pittsburgh.

Thanks for reading.


  1. I remember when I was younger catching fireflys in Iowa. Those are some of my favorite memories...thanks for the s'more lesson, I'm sure it will come in handy. ^___^

  2. I just got back and spent this morning catching up on your blog. Lovely post, and excactly how we like to spend our summer evenings.

  3. Thank you. What is a summer evening without fireflies and 'smores???

  4. That was my childhood in southern Oklahoma too- a lake close enough to walk or ride one's bike too, woods, out all day and not coming home until it was dark... what fun.

    A few years back, I was living in Italy.. on top of a small mountain.. right on the ocean. I had moved in to the house late Novemeber... and one May as I walked home up the mountain.. darkness fell before I could get home..(no car) There weren't any street lights or any other man-made lights until I got to my rental home. I kept walking listening to the gravel under my feet.. to make sure that I stayed on the road.. and didn't accidently go into the brambles and trees along the roadside, and as I turned the corner on the narrow gravel road.. there in front of me.. was the largest colony of firefires that I had ever seen in my life. So many that I could actually see the road under my feet.

    I just stood there... amazed.


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