It was a beautiful summer day and there was not a cloud in the sky. A perfect day to spend the night sleeping outside and this is exactly what Julianne and her siblings all had in mind. They grabbed the blankets off their beds and headed out to the long clothesline that was strung up between the plum trees, not too far from the house.
Their makeshift “tents” were easy to set up. Two tents; one for the girls, Louisa, Chloe, Aude, Mildred, and I, Julianne Marguerite, and the other tent would house the boys, Gabriel, Alan, Matthew, Collin and Christopher.
Using the clothespins, we attached one of the army blankets on each side of the clothesline and then we would pull them out as far as we could stretch them. We then used some large rocks from the field nearby to seal the bottoms so that no unwanted night critters would be tempted to join us. (I laugh at this one today as I envisioned the memories of the tents in my mind.) Of course we used more blankets to close off the front and the back openings, and after laying down blankets for our “beds,” we would later use any remaining blankets to cover our bodies during the night.
Next we would then go through the trash buckets near the fire barrel looking for unbroken jars that still had their covers. We were usually able to find several and carefully we would then hurry over to the shed and with a hammer and nail in our hands, we punched several holes into the covers so that any Lightening Bugs we would manage to catch later would have air to breathe. We also added clumps of grass blades to these jars for them to eat. (Did they really eat grass?) It was our hope that they would still be alive in the morning when we knew we would have to set them free.
After the supper dishes were put away, we got into our pajamas and brought our pillows out to the tents and finalized our sleeping arrangements. To this day, I am not sure how five girls and six boys managed to squeeze into the small spaces and still be comfortable enough to sleep?
With great anticipation for the good times to begin, we sat and waited to welcome the night when darkness would take away what was left of the daylight. Then carefully carrying the jars in our hands, we headed into the hay field to collect our “blinking” night lights. When we had an ample supply in each jar, we would then head back to our tents. Sealing the front and back openings once more it was now time for us to settle down for the night under the protection of our makeshift tents. Before Louisa, the oldest of the children told us her made up stories we set the Lightening Bugs free to fly around in the tent, blinking their light for us to enjoy watching. These bugs were undisturbed by our giggles and screams, depending on the type of story Louisa chose to tell us. They just kept blinking and blinking their yellow/greenish neon lights.
These were the good old days; the times when children used the resources of their homes, the great outdoors, and their imaginations to entertain themselves. We didn’t need to buy video games, have internet or cell phones to provide us with fun and adventure, which was good, because these things did not exist in our world yet! What we found to “play” with was usually free. On the nights that we slept in our tents in the backyard, the fresh night air, the bugs and children huddled in their tents together would provide the free entertainment. Was there a need for anything more?
When I think back on these good times, I can still smell the dampness of the ground when the morning’s dew showered the hay field with refreshing droplets. I can almost reach out and grab a clump of the green grass for the glass jars and imagine the blinking lights as if I was truly there now. These times were priceless and the memories will last a lifetime.