Zippo Lighter

A special Labor Day watercooler:

Some of my earliest memories are sounds. The sound of my father’s worn metal Zippo cigarette lighter flopping open with a satisfying “click” is one of those distinct sounds – sounds I have treasured and have held close to myself as our years have passed. For a lifetime.

I can remember hot, humid, late summer evenings playing with my six brothers and sisters in our pajamas in the backyard under darkening blue evening skies. Slippers were aimlessly, dare I say joyfully, tossed next to the open wooden slatted garden gate because as much as we loved playing in the evening air, we loved the feel of our bare feet on and in the moist dewy, and cool grass. Robes followed slippers and were tossed into a heap next to the wooden gate. It was then off to the magic of witching hour – with no adult supervision

We all would feel a surge of energy, laughter, and speed as we glided through the evening air seeing faint glimpses of one another moving in random patterns, arms stretched out to more fully feel the evening air. Before long and long after the Tettigoniidae (or katydids as they are more commonly known) made their presence known with their melodic mating rhythms, our reason for being there, then, would always and effortlessly appear in those magical late summer nights – fireflies. They would emerge as if from out of nowhere. Whichever of us saw the first firefly would exclaim: ”I see one!” Without a beat, someone else would holler: “I see three” and so and so on. Ultimately there would be hundreds. And no sooner had they arrived flashing their exquisite summer colors, we had our glass jars in hand to catch them.

As we flew about in the darkening dusk it, toes quenched with cool dew in the grass, it grew increasingly difficult to distinguish between where the fireflies ended and the stars began.

We were a competitive lot. You had to be to survive in a family of seven children. Whoever had the most fireflies in their jar by the time dad came out the back screen door to light a cigarette and call the evening was the winner. The winner could take their firefly jar and put it on their nightstand next to their bed and watch them with the lights off. A window would inevitably be open a crack allowing a light breeze to gently dance with the light translucent window coverings and quietly cool the room down.

I never won.

I never really wanted to.

I just wanted to fly with the fireflies, the stars.

I was honestly always more concerned with the simple act of catching them. Not that it was hard to. It was simply that catching them without injuring them seemed nearly impossible – particularly in the chaos and increasing darkness. And if they were injured, how would I know? Even if I let them fly away before going inside for the night, what if they were hurt? What if they lost their ability to glow and find one another in the late summer heat in the dark, whatever would become of them? Who would fly with them? I simply could not bear the thought of that. I did not even catch them. I flew with them.

It was in those twilight summer evenings when running in the dark under the stars made us feel like mythological gods that the sound of my Dad’s lighter was most unwelcome.

We all knew our time under the stars, our time running with wet feet and small beads of clean sweat running down our smooth youthful foreheads and temples was limited. We did not want it to ever end. We were gods that flew in the dark – a darkness only interrupted by the beauty of flashing fireflies here, there, then there. And stars. And laughter.

We knew that as soon as those sounds and silent incandescent flashing of light yellowish green-winged flies under star-filled nights were interrupted by the sound of Dad’s lighter flopping open with that satisfying “click” that it was only a matter of minutes before we had to get inside, brush our teeth, say our night prayers, and go to bed – quietly and still out of breath. That flop “click” of Dad’s Zippo lighter meant the fun was almost over. We would all moan out loud at the thought of it but knew that all the protestations in the world would not change a thing. We would run faster and faster under the stars knowing our time to fly was about to come to an end. It felt wrong. It wasn’t fair that we had to return to earth.

Looking backward from the lawn and up at my Dad’s figure under the colonial copper hanging light fixture next to the back screen door made him appear even larger than he was. His Marlboro cigarette in his right hand. Smoke smoothly rose from the red tip of his cigarette and was simultaneously exhausted from his mouth creating a fog of bluish confusion of smoke and shadows. Time ran out. “Let’s go, guys! Time to hit the rack! Don’t forget to give your mother a kiss goodnight.”

Hudson, NY

Flickr photo: by daveoratox.

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