Seventeen Year Locusts
Granny had said that people say it happens about every seventeen years, the coming of locusts. “They swarm and hatch their young.”
Is this the only time they reproduce? Jenny asked.
Granny’s reply was only, “I don’t know, Baby…..”
“I wonder how long locusts live?”
“I don’t know?” Granny said, wondering too…..”The Lord works in mysterious ways, and his wonders never cease,” she answered with a playful lilt in her voice and a cheerful smile.
That evening, when it had cooled down a little, the trip to town was still hot, since Jenny’s car had no air-conditioning. The locusts were loud in the trees behind the small-town version of the mega-store chain. Customers were exiting and entering the air-conditioned doors, some shiny and frizzy-haired from the heat. But all had grown accustomed to the humming.
As they entered the store, wisps of chilled air pushed past them, causing their pores to constrict.
“Welcome to Wal-Mart!” the elderly lady smiles and greets them. She eases the shopping cart toward them.
“Granny, do you think we might need two buggies?”
“We might had, hadn’t we? I might need one to lean on,” she replies. She steps over and slowly backs out another one.
Granny has already proceeded to the small grocery area of the department store, and begun her slow perusal of items that “might be cheaper here than at Mac’s Big Star next door” before Jenny has even had time to flip the flap of the child’s seat up in the buggy to hold her purse and shopping list in place.
On Friday evenings, Jenny usually drove over about thirty miles to the country to take Granny to town. Granny was in her ninety-second year and loved her trips to town. These trips were not so much a necessity, but an act of independence—a ritual in defiance in an effort to remain actively a part of life as she had always known it, a denial of the inevitable. And Jenny made every effort to do it as often as possible. Being with Granny had a magical quality that Jenny could neither explain nor resist. She felt attracted as if by duty to participate in this ritual, as if she knew that time was short, and that before long, she would ache to be with her. As if Granny embodied the very essence of light and love and she had to be with her as much as possible to store it within her forever…
She had experienced this sensation throughout her approximately thirty-year life, from time to time. A sort of timelessness and extreme significance simultaneously. Jenny called it “suspended.” It was an awareness that she was both somehow part of it and witness to it, whatever it was. Perhaps privy to an awareness that held some sense of responsibility. Whatever that responsibility was, always seemed to be hovering behind a thin, nearby curtain—just out of reach. And, somehow, Granny was connected…..
She had gone to get the paper products, and when she returned, she finds Granny, one aisle over, staring at an item on the top shelf.
“Are you finding everything you need, Granny?”
“Honey, I am, but does that say, ‘Coffee Mate Lite, French Vanilla’?” I had some at Irmarie’s last winter, and I thought it was soooo good! Reach me one of those, and we can have it in our morning coffee—”
“Hey, ‘Ain’t’ Dee! comes a voice from behind them.
“Heeeyyyy, Baby!” Granny sings and shines a bright smile to a pretty young woman who approaches them.
Jenny knows it is a distant cousin, one of Granny’s many great-nieces who live in the surrounding area. A warmth washes over her as she watches the scene.
Everybody loves her. She brings the “glow” out of everyone she encounters.
“How are you doing, Baby?” Granny asks and tilts her head.
“Fine, Ain’t Dee! Are you doing ok?”
“Jenny’s visiting me this weekend, and I’m so happy to have her.”
“Well, that’s good, are you feeling alright?”
“Oh, Baby, I just keep on going…I say, ‘I don’t know why the Lord keeps me here, but he must keep me here for a reason. So, I just say as long as he keeps me here, I’ll keep on goin’…how’s your mother?”
“She’s fine, Ain’t Dee…”
“Okay, Honey, give everybody my love, and you come by and see me….”
Back at the house, the rising and waning sound of the katydids joins the constant hum of the locusts in musical counterpoint.
The tires of the car crunch the sandy gravel of the driveway. When Jenny gets out and circles the car to open the door for Granny, she feels that the air is much cooler at her ankles, right near where the thick St. Augustine grass skirts the driveway, in sharp contrast to the concrete parking lots of the town. The grass gets thicker as it flanks the giant old moss-and-ivy-covered pecan trees across the yard.
On this very acre of land she entered the world, very close to one hundred years ago. And on this very spot she approaches the twilight of her years….
“Ooooh, thank you, Baby. Just let me rest a minute, and I can help you carry those groceries in….”
“No. You just sit on the porch, Granny, I can get them.”
“Thank you, Baby. I’ll carry in the milk and put it in the fridge, and then we can sit on the porch and enjoy the beautiful sunset together…”
They sit together in silence, gazing at the red, orange, and pink colors as they fade behind the wooded hill directly across the highway. Lightning bugs begin to sparkle, and still the locusts sing, although they seem to be tiring, and the song of crickets takes over…. Granny and Jenny sit on the porch, Granny in her old rocking chair in the corner, and Jenny on the old swing at the other end of the porch. They watch the sky grow orange, then gray, then dark-blue/black. They breathe in the smell of Manifest—that sweet natural spring water smell of rain, and grass, and trees, and flowers, and earth, and sand, and rocks, and moss.
“Granny, do you think we can communicate with the people we love after we die?”
Granny is quiet for a while. She cocks her head as if listening for an answer. She begins to speak slowly, with care.
“Well, Honey, the Bible doesn’t really say much about that.” “We just don’t know. There are some things we just don’t know. God doesn’t give us all the answers. But I can’t really see how it would hurt.”
“Well, Granny, let’s make a deal. If you can, when you die, I want you to come to me…..but don’t let me see you. It would scare me if I see you. Just let me know you are there….”
“Okay, Jenny, I will.”……..She smiles….
In Loving Memory of Lucy Dee Wright LaPrarie (1911-2005)
She made the world a brighter place just by being in it.