Our friend Charlie was visiting with Mr. Fix-It and me one evening recently after the guys’ regular trip to the Y to work out.
It’s never been made totally clear to me exactly what they do on their exercise dates. But they always drag in worn slap out and they talk about how much better they feel for having spent an hour or so using the various apparatus. Then they pop the top on a couple of libations undoing 2/3 of what they just accomplished.
On this particular evening, Charlie joined us for supper and the three of us dined with the mosquitoes on the deck: we ate the chicken while the mosquitoes feasted on us. A couple of squirts of Bug-Off later, we recalled glowing long ago nights spent under the stars – a time when swatting insects was relegated to the past. We had one of the most marvelous of all inventions, second only to a Veg-O-Matic valued at $28.99 unless we ordered two within the next fifteen minutes when we could also get a set of Ginsu knives and a Chia pet, all for only $19.99. We had – a bug zapper.
Like most anything else, The Bug Zapper came in several models: Basic, Deluxe, and The Eradicator that fried anything that came within 30 yards. We had to unplug ours when my brothers came over with their kids. The Parental Units ran through several Bug Zappers, actually, not because they gave out. One grandchild or another would develop an affinity for the z-z-z -t-z-z-t-z-z-z-z-z-z-t-t-t made every time something winged ventured into its electro-charged grid. The value of the zapper was directly associated with the amount of noise it made when something flew near.
One summer, C.H. had double hernia surgery rendering him more sedentary than normal for about six weeks. He had approached his surgery with the wild idea that it would be outpatient - as though stitching up one’s popped innards was on a line with getting a tooth filled. He spent a couple of days in the hospital begging for mercy.
Fast forward about three weeks. The pain was much more bearable and C.H. had discovered the daytime airwaves had been commandeered by syndicated nighttime shows – Gunsmoke, Gilligan’s Island, Maverick, Hogan’s Heroes, and Perry Mason to which he became addicted. Couldn’t watch enough of it. For six weeks, this man who had never watched anything for longer than fifteen minutes without dozing off was suddenly and inexplicably riveted to decades-old television programs that offered momentary respite from the cares of recovery. He was hooked.
At that time, my daughter was small and I was helping Daddy at the drug store downtown. The mail had a tendency to pile up when he wasn’t in the store, though C.H. already had a great propensity for ignoring all but the most time-sensitive. So I started putting mail in boxes to take home for him to go through. One evening after the store closed, I arrived just as my mother was taking their supper out to the patio behind the kitchen. They had set up trays and were about to dine under the waning sun and invited me to join them for what had become their evening routine.
A couple of weeks before, a large pine tree beside the patio had begged removal from the premises leaving only its stump. Daddy had me set the mail down beside his chair while we ate supper.
As Mother and I cleared the supper dishes, Daddy began going through the mail throwing the discards onto the tree stump. When he accumulated a stack about three inches high, he would squirt lighter fluid on the pile and pitch a lighted match on top. Whoosh.
I was waiting for the S’mores when my mother returned and plugged in their new toy – The Bug Zapper. For hours they sat on the patio beneath the oddly purple glow of The Eradicator and burned the junk mail from the drug store. This went on far beyond the sixweek recovery period. The other pharmacist had to threaten to quit before Daddy left his glowing cocoon of pyromania to resume the helm at City Pharmacy. This ritual ranked right up with Daddy sitting with an air rifle in the office waiting for a bead on a bird that had gotten into the store and was dive bombing the Pepto Bismol.
These are the stories that will live in the annals of family lore for generations: My parents sitting for hours torching the mail and listening to the z-z-t, z-z-t lullaby of the bug zapper, the solitude interrupted only by the occasional z-z-z-t-z-z-t-z-z-z-z-z-t when a particularly large critter met his fate. “Oooweee, Evelyn, that was a big’n”.
Helen Person is a Winder resident and columnist for the Barrow Journal. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.