Finding dead bugs was easy.
Acquiring the right size for the coffin was more a challenge. Mom bought the Diamond kitchen-sized box of matches with the red heads as big as the end of your pinkie. Those boxes were only good for mice or a small bird. But those weren’t the creatures I dealt with—they had blood and guts. Bugs, on the other hand, died without mess—dried up, weightless, brittle. A dead bug was easy to ignore. A bug cemetery seemed somehow suitable for them.
I was ten years old, bored in a small town, tired of Barbies and bordering on frantic to find anything to keep myself occupied. Finding the appropriate size box was a chore, as I’ve already mentioned, digging the hole in the baked Oklahoma dirt, making the grave marker (popsicle stick with cardboard tombstone glued to it), and laying out the cemetery boundaries took up . . . oh, at least a few hours on a long summer afternoon.
Remembering my imagination at work, I have little sympathy for my son Luke and nephew Zac who can’t seem to find enough to do on this summer trip to the ocean at Fort Morgan, Alabama. The ocean! And nothing to do there! Can you imagine?
My sisters, brother, and I—like most of our friends and relatives—could be pretty inventive when it came to finding ways to pass the time in rural land-locked Oklahoma in the ‘60s. We rode our bikes a lot. We rode our bikes everywhere we could get to and back in a day.
Once riding my bike back home after spending the day at Twin Bridges (five miles away across Spring Creek), I got dizzy from the sun and heat and fell over in the ditch. I lay there a few minutes in the weeds, hidden from traffic, then got back up and went on home.
We played army basketball (no rules) with the neighbor boys on the dirt court in our backyard, and we prayed we would survive, as the game could continue for hours or until someone’s wounds wouldn’t stop bleeding, or they broke their glasses, or one of us began sobbing uncontrollably.
We found a dried-up spring, more than ten-feet deep and full of fall leaves, and we staged Dracula scenarios and always escaped his bite by jumping at the last minute into the leaf-cushioned hole.
When we got older and didn’t play together as much, I built my great bug memorial to Forest Lawn and for days kept the house full of dead insects. I sat on the roof and wrote poetry and hid the poems under the shingles. I walked to the Corner Store for a Reeses Cup (they were a nickel then). I had Barbie beauty pageants (Francie always won because even as a child I rooted for the underdog). I went across the street and talked to Charlie and his mental brother Jerry and hoped Jerry wouldn’t kill a squirrel or pull off a bird’s head while I was there.
I listened to the Monkees and Bobby Sherman on my record player and made up songs myself. I had grape Kool-Aid and devil’s food cookies under a blanket draped over the clothesline.
The third day we were at the beach, Luke and Zac both decided they were bored. “There’s nothing to do.”
Miles of ocean shore, shells to find, crabs to watch, sea gulls flying around us, dolphins in the surf, sand castles to build, fish to catch. If we had ever had the money to come to the beach when I was a child, I would have been in heaven.
Think how easy it would be to dig a bug cemetery in cool ocean sand.