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Tales of Little Ruthie: My Insect Collection

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            When I was about eight years old, I had an insect collection. My daddy built me a couple of little tables on the side of the house. I would catch them and put them in Mason jars, or whatever jar I could find. I punched holes in the lids so they could get some air.

            I would put grass or whatever I thought they liked to eat in the jar. Some were easy to figure out what they ate, but some were not so easy. Say for instance I found a potato bug on the leaves of a potato plant in the garden. Well, any dummy could figure out they must like leaves from the potato plant.

            I would go out every day looking for new bugs or for bugs to replace the ones that died. In Oklahoma there are these big red ants. They were really some mean ants. Once when I was about five years old, I sat down on one of their hills and got stung two or three times on my legs. I never did that again. Experience is a great teacher. I kept a few of those in a jar just for payback.

            Every morning I would eat breakfast and go outside to check to see if one a bug had died or to try to figure out what they liked to eat. Some of them died because I didn’t know what to feed them. I went out that day to see what I could catch. Maybe I would find something new. I really wanted to get a bumble bee, but I did not want to get stung.

            Bumble bees are real pretty, all yellow and black. Margie wanted to go with me. I told her she could, but she had to be still and quiet.

            “What are we going to look for, Ruthie?”

            “We are looking for a bumble bee today.”

            “Won’t we get stung?”

            “I hope not. Remember how I told you to hold the jar and the lid.”

            We got the jars and walked across the road to a big open field. I had seen bumble bees there before. We both had the jars ready. We had quart-sized Mason jars. I gave Margie her instructions again.

            “You have to have the jar in one hand and the lid in the other hand. When you see the bumble bee getting nectar out of a flower, you have to move real fast and line up with the bee, then you slam the lid and the jar together and hope that you get and that you don’t get stung.”

            Margie did what I said and held her jar just right. There were quite a few bees that day. I tried a few times and missed. Margie had missed a couple, too.

            I saw a great big one on a sunflower. I sneaked as quietly as I could towards it. When I was close enough, I slammed the lid on the jar. I looked at the jar.  I could not believe I actually got him!

He was mad, too. I had even caught the flower he was on!

            “I got one, Margie! Look I got a great big one!”

            “How did you do that?”

            “I just slammed the lid on the jar, and when I looked he was in there.”

            “You’re lucky you didn’t get stung.”

            “I know,” I said.

            We had to take him back to the house and get another jar to catch something else. On the way back I was wondering what I could feed him. Then, it just came to me like a bolt of lightning. I should feed him honey. All bees liked honey. They made honey all day, so they must like it.

            When we got back to the house, I went inside to see if we had some honey. I found some in the pantry. I had already punched some holes in the lid so he could get air. I made one hole bigger so I could drip the honey in the jar. I had a little stick, and I dipped it in the honey and let it drop into the jar.

It went right to the bottom of the jar and landed on the sunflower.

            “This was a big catch, Margie. Bumble bees are hard to catch.”

            “What are we gonna catch now?” she asked.

            “I think we will just go out in the garden and look. There are always bugs in the garden.  You can catch these bugs. They’re not mean like bees are.”

            We walked out to the garden and started going row by row looking for bugs. Margie found a little beetle and put it in her jar.

            “You can put more than one of them in a jar,” I said.

            “Won’t they bite each other?” she asked.

            ‘No, but whatever plant you find them on, you have to break off some of the plant leaves and put them in the jar so they have something to eat.”

            I caught a black spider with white on its back. Daddy had told me to be careful catching spiders. He said I had to always show them to him so he could tell me if they were dangerous, but I had caught several of these before so I knew it was all right to keep but not touch it.

            It was starting to get hot, so I told Margie we better quit for the day.

            “But, I’m not hot. Let’s look a while longer.”

            “Are you sure?”

            “Yeah I wanna find something good.”

            “Okay, if that’s what you want to do.”

            I was going down the rows of corn looking for anything when I saw a daddy long legs spider. I wanted Margie to catch a good one, so I hollered at her.  She came running over to where I was.

            “Look in the corn. Sometimes you find good bugs in there.”

            “Look, look Ruthie. A big spider with long legs.”

            “Get your jar ready. That is a daddy long leg. They won’t hurt you.”

            She had the jar ready and slammed the lid on him real fast. She got him. She was really proud of herself. Margie did not usually do things like that. She was a real girly girl. She was scared of bugs and creepy crawlers. I couldn’t believe she was even out there and doing it. It was not like her at all.

            “Look how big he is. What do they eat?”

            “Well, since we found him in the corn, we will give him corn. Then we will ask Daddy tonight.”

            We took her spider to the table by the house, and I found him a spot for him. Sometimes it seemed like I was older than Margie. She was two years older than me, but there were times when she acted younger than me. Today was one of those days. She had never done this before, and she got really excited when she found that spider and caught him. I guess of all my sisters I did more with Margie. We were closer to the same age and had more things in common. We decided to quit for a while and eat lunch. We went in the house and washed our hands. We had bologna and mustard again. That was something we had a lot. To this day I still like bologna and mustard sandwiches.

            “Are we going back out to get more bugs after lunch?” Margie asked.

            “If you want to.”

            Junior walked into the kitchen. He had just got up, and it was noon. I don’t see how anyone could sleep that much.

            “Fix me a sandwich brat,” he said to me.

            “Fix it yourself, dummy,” I answered.

            “You better do what I say, or I’ll tell Mother.”

            “Tell whoever you want. I’m not gonna wait on you.”

            “Fix me a sandwich, Margie.”

            “Margie is not gonna wait on you either, dummy.”

            “I’ll do it, Ruthie. I don’t mind.”

            “No, you’re not. He is so lazy. He can wait on himself.’

            He grabbed me by my arm and pulled me out of the chair. Then he twisted my arm behind my back. I was getting ready to start kicking him when Daddy walked in the back door.

            “What’s going on here? Turn her arm loose, Junior. What the hell are you doing?”

            “He is trying to break my arm because I won’t fix him a sandwich.”

            “What’s wrong with you, Junior? She’s just a little girl.”

            “I just asked her to fix me a sandwich.”

            “He’s been sleeping all day. He can fix his own.”

            “Don’t let me see you put your hands on your sisters ever again.”

            “Yes, sir,” Junior said.

            Daddy was really mad. He didn’t like for Junior to hit us girls. He never even gave any of us girls a spanking. He left that to my mother. I had such a kind daddy. He was never mean to anyone. He tried to help people if he could. He always treated his family good. He was an alcoholic, but he was the nicest and kindest man I ever knew. I would not have traded him for anyone in the world.

            After lunch, Margie and I went outside to hunt for more bugs. Junior fixed his own sandwich, and Daddy went to clean out the chicken house and drink Progress beer. We were in the garden looking for bugs, and I heard Daddy holler for us. We went running to see what he wanted.

            “Come here, girls, and let me show you something.”

            “What is it, Daddy?” Margie asked.

            “It’s a stinging scorpion. It was here in the chicken coop.”

            I looked in the jar he was holding, and I saw the ugliest, meanest looking thing I had ever seen. He had a long tail, and it was sticking up in the air. It looked like he had a sharp point on the end of his tail. That thing looked like something out of a scary movie.

            ‘What are you gonna do with him, Daddy?” I asked.

            “Do you want him for your bug collection?”

            “No. I’m scared of him. Let’s kill him.”

            “Well, we are gonna kill him. I wouldn’t let you have him alive.”

            “How will you kill him?’ Margie said.

            “We will pour some alcohol in this jar, and that will kill him. The alcohol will keep him preserved for you. Then you can show him to your friends.”

            “I think that is a good idea, Daddy. Let’s do it,” I said.

            I ran in the house to get the alcohol. I was back in a hurry. I wanted to see this. I gave Daddy the alcohol, and he poured it through the holes in the jar. I could see right away that the scorpion didn’t like alcohol. It took a while for it to kill him, but it finally did.

            Daddy said, “Don’t open the jar or touch him. When it needs more alcohol, you tell me.”

            He handed me the jar, and we took him to the table beside the house. We watched that ugly thing for a long time. Margie and I had never seen a scorpion before. I just knew one thing for sure; when I went in that chicken coop to gather eggs, I would keep my eyes open just in case there were more. That was just great!  I would have to watch for snakes and scorpions to get eggs. It was getting pretty scary.

            I collected bugs for a couple of summers. They would all die in the winter time, and I would start all over in the spring. I kept the scorpion for a long time. Every winter I would take him in the house and put him on the dresser. Margie and I would look at him all the time. Mother didn’t like it being in the house, but Daddy told her we could. I learned a lot about bugs while I was collecting. The main thing I learned was they sure would die if I didn’t know what to feed them. Then I’d have to go look for replacements. This was a good adventure in the life of little Ruthie – and for Margie, too.