C.W. Gusewell


Kids had cicada skin in this game

The longtime sleepers have awakened and mostly left. But the full chorus of summertime singers is yet to be heard from.

It’s two varieties of cicadas I refer to here.

The periodic ones spend 13 to 17 years maturing underground, then surface in stupendous numbers from May through June to fly and feed and mate.

Then there’s the annual species, whose appearance begins in the blistering midlands heat of late July through August.

That second kind is emerging now, and they’re the ones I remember from boyhood. Tunneling up to daylight, they shed their outer skins and leave those abandoned exoskeletons clinging as crisp relics to the twigs and trunks of trees.

I find it reported in the literature that some people like to cover cicadas in chocolate and eat them, pronouncing them quite tasty. Anyone who would do that is nobody I want to know.

But children’s appetites are less depraved. It’s the empty bug-shaped shells of the departed insects that they find fascinating.

Standing outside just at dusk one recent evening, I heard the clicking cicada serenade begin. It took me back, not all the way to childhood but to an event some 20 or so years ago.

Friends from Ohio were visiting. The man was the editor of a literary journal in which he’d published some work of mine – a fiction story and a long narrative essay.

With his wife, their two small daughters and a Great Dane, he was bound for California to assume the top editorial job at a major U.S. monthly magazine. And they interrupted their journey to spend the night with us.

There was a famous Kansas City barbecue establishment he’d read about and wanted to visit.

So, leaving their two girls and ours – all youngsters 8 or 10 years old – in the care of a trusted sitter, we left to satisfy his appetite for that celebrated fare.

It was a merry and successful evening. The place was crowded.

The lively conversation ran late. They tucked in their daughters in our girls’ room. We wished them goodnight and all retired.

The bedspread in our guest room then was a handsome, brocaded fabric – its background deep maroon, a flowered pattern repeated throughout the design, with a little tan center in each blossom.

“Did you sleep well?” we inquired at breakfast.

“Fine,” they replied.

Talk at the table went oddly silent.

“And did you notice anything funny?” asked one of their daughters.

“As a matter of fact…”

Then they and all four girls erupted in laughter. The youngsters, it seems, had spent the evening collecting.

What our guests had found waiting on their bedspread was a crisp little cicada shell in the center of each of the spread’s small flowers.

“I didn’t know him very well,” the visiting editor said of me. “But I guessed maybe you were a little strange.”

Then they loaded their children and dog and headed on west. And the friendship survived undamaged.