The flies were swarming. On the outside of the screens. Stuck in the screens. Some even squeezed through holes in the screens and now were dive bombing us in the house.
In the summer, Tidewater Virginia is ground zero for the mosquito and fly invasion.
None of the five children wanted to be outside in the summer heat or to be eaten alive by flies. We were all inside, in the air conditioning, playing hard and loud.
Mom thought she could kill two things bugging her with one stone. “Hey, kids. I will pay a bounty of five cents for every fly you find inside the house and kill.”
We swarmed after the few unfortunate flies that had made it inside. Quickly it became clear our zeal for mosquito mayhem reached well beyond the bugs available inside the house.
I won’t rat out which sibling figured out that if we just opened the screen door and the screen windows, we could rapidly replenish our supply of targets. A nickel a piece — we were making a killing.
After two hours, we tired of the game and triumphantly showed Mom our 40 flies. She paid us $2, split five ways, and we never told her how we had pulled the big con.
We should have kept that secret.
Many years later, at a family gathering, the children were in our forties recounting childhood adventures, including the story of the flies. My brother said to our mom, “Mom, I guess you are old enough now and enough time has passed, we can tell you about how we conned you out of $2. We let those forty flies into the house.”
My mother smiled with a twinkle in her eye. We knew her well enough that smile should have been the tip-off.
She said, “I am so glad you told me that story. I guess you are old enough, and enough time has passed, I can tell you how paying $2 to keep five children busy and entertained for two hours was the best babysitting money I spent.”
Wait — the kids with the con had in reality been outmaneuvered by the master? Sigh. You just can’t outsmart mama. No matter how old you are.
I think about our childhood adventures, some which still must remain a secret, as I visit with my mom at her home during the week. She’s 92.
Unfortunately, she is bedridden and frail. Alzheimer’s is a constant companion. The wicked quick wit and smiling smarts are only the occasional visitor.
I often gently touch her arm and tell her I love her. Sometimes she tells me she loves me too. I’ll give her a kiss on the forehead and say, “I love you lots and lots.” Sometimes she’ll say, “I love you lots and lots” in return.
Recently I decided to be a little playful in how I expressed my love. I said, “I love you more than ice cream.”
The twinkle in the eye returned, along with her smile. She said to me, “I love you more than doing laundry.”
No matter how old we get, still can’t outsmart Mama.
David Dunn-Rankin is CEO of D-R Media, which owns the Winter Haven Sun, Polk News-Sun and Four Corners News-Sun, as well as additional newspapers in Lake, Highlands and Sumter counties. He can be reached at David@D-R.Media.com.