Flashing For The Good Of The Species


imagesI belong to a very social family. My brothers and sisters love to have fun, and when it came to choosing spouses they must have been drawn to those of a similar compatible genetic predisposition to do likewise—like fireflies to other equally stellar fireflies. I was thinking about why we are with who we are with, as Rolly and I sat out on our back deck, admiring the twinkling stars above and the little twinkling imitators below. Throughout the summer there have been times that the backyard looked like a gathering flash mob of impatient kids attempting to sneak into the yard from a giant Cub Scout Camporee, just too hopped up on hot chocolate and marshmallows to refrain from randomly flashing or waving their glow sticks before the appointed time.

Perhaps to describe any of our family mob as fireflies could be misconstrued as insulting. I was just trying to find some kind of  analogy for the way we all are— pretty dynamic people with fairly bright personalities…(How does one compliment a group that one is part of without either vainly complimenting oneself also by saying “we” or excluding oneself by saying “they” ?) We usually tend to draw attention to ourselves in larger groups— perhaps too much so at times. After all, if you have just dolled up the back yard with twinkle lights on every bush and branch, and even all around the patio table umbrella for a party, do you need a horde of fireflies to compete with your own light show? Or fall into someone’s drink? Or onto the canapé tray when someone swats at one of them for getting too close? (I realize that I have carried my analogy a bit too far at this point, possibly implying bad behavior on someone’s part, but as Mom would sometimes say to us: “If you’re not guilty you don’t need to worry about what people say!” Or was that Judge Judy?… same difference.)

There’s hardly a family function where one doesn’t note that several people are attempting to communicate at the same time. That is exactly what fireflies do; it’s a highly competitive form of communication of course— much like after dinner story-telling at the Hull, the Merrick or one of the Stephenson households. Granted of course, there is a difference! Sometimes their flashing (the fireflies, I mean) is done in an attempt to get themselves another tasty dinner. I’m sure there are those in our family who have noticed over the years that shining brightly socially has resulted in lots of delicious dinners in the past. Right? For some of the fireflies their reward is the same. In their case though, shining brightly may even result in dinner being delivered to their door step. Not only that, but the dinner is the deliveryman! As he approaches the light twinkling behind the shrubbery, Mr. Lightening Bug is on another mission entirely; he interprets it as the equivalent of a red light on Madame Lightning Bug’s porch. Madame, however, has other things in mind. Yumm! Of course she (or just as often he, just pretending to be she) while awaiting Mr. Lightening Bug’s approach, will justify the entrapment and ensuing cannibalism by saying “Well, he’s just not a member of my tribe. He’s from that Photinus bunch and I am a Photuris so the fact that I’m about to eat him is just the way things are! I know I’m pretending something else, by giving him all the right signals but he isn’t the brightest bulb on the tree anyway.”

This is just about the place  where I realize that I have written myself into a corner, much as my little sister Jeannie and I once painted ourselves into the basement as kids. While attempting to paint the ceiling of the basement stairwell, as a surprise for our family who had gone out for the afternoon, the oil-based paint dripped off our brushes, down our arms, off our elbows and onto the steps. So we painted those too as we went down, as we continued on with the ceiling above us. There also was no other option but to spread the many drips on the wall around, until it all matched. Eventually we realized that we were trapped unless we walked back up the stairs, painting our footprints out as best we could from the step above until we got to the very top. Just as we were touching up the last few stepped–on  stairs, Mom and Dad returned from their outing . They had come back early, anxious to see how I had made out the first time babysitting all alone. (Jeannie was supposedly too sick to go visiting that day.) If we paled at the sight of our parents’ sudden appearance who could say? We were both totally covered in beige paint, from the splats on the blue roses on our shower caps to the oily goop squishing out from between our bare toes!

I realize now that the conundrum that I have created in writing this is that I have given you a little too much information for my analogy to hold much credence. It is true that fire flies are in fact a lively addition to the convivial atmosphere of a summer evening party, as I would say is fairly true also of my extended family. I have also informed you that fireflies congregate together sometimes because it is advantageous for them in acquiring a really good meal. (Just like vegetarians at a BBQ not everyone agrees with the menu choice of course!)  In the same way, our bright and shining moments are around our dinner tables, our picnic tables, or at backyard BBQ’s with neighbours and friends. Those are times when my youngest brother Donny regales us with his funny sailors’ stories from his Great Lake freighter days, or when my sister-in-law Joanne tells the story of her run-in with Robby the car wash robot or her misadventures with my brother Jim.  And then my sister Marsha shines when she relates her tale of accidentally crossing the Saint Clair River in a sailboat and being surrounded by border patrol with guns drawn, or Kathy tells of her latest faux pas great and small. Each in turn, or several together, will generate a special kind of wonder for me that I am part of this tribe and their bright moments. So what if there is a lot of butting in? That’s what fireflies do too! When they are communicating by light signals their butts are actually used to butt-in luminescently!

But the comparison I have been attempting to make has to end somewhere. If not, it will become as embarrassing for me in its excessiveness as the entire gallon of paint I used to occupy my little sister during my first solo babysitting experience. The great divergence between the bright and shining moments in the species Lampyridae, and our own, the species Stephenson happens because the Lampyridae signals are for the most part for just one thing. ( Just hum “I’m here for a good time, not a long time.” at this point, and you’ll get the picture.)

Although some of the spouses in the family met through other family members’ introductions to the very best candidates among their own friends which then led to  very good marriages, others were not family-assisted at all. But none of the marriages were the result of anybody meeting randomly on anyone else’s back porch! You know, I’m getting just a little tired of the struggle I have had in the writing of this piece. Remind me to never try to use comparisons to wild things in nature with my family ever again!

Maybe now it’s your turn to wrack your brain for a bit to try to conclude it for me because now all I can think of is the last two lines of the Dylan Thomas poem: “Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage at the dying of the light.”

“That Yvonne! She’s really disturbed!”

“Disturbed? Don’t you mean disturbing?”

“It must have been all those paint fumes she inhaled as a kid.”


I can still hear you….

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