Doodlebug, Doodlebug…

Fly away home! Yer house is on far (fire) and yer children are gone! Appalachian Rhyme

Oh, the things we did to engage ourselves and forgo boredom when we were children. Boredom?  I don’t remember being bored as a child.  The days were filled with activities, many forced upon us, but boredom is not a word I would have used. Most days we were allowed to be creative…sometimes to our own distress.

I also don’t remember being very successful chanting Doodlebug, Doodlebug, either, which considering the little insect we were attempting to vacate from his abode might have been fortuitous. Behold! The Doodlebug.

Antlion larva…a doodlebug. Looks like something out of a 50s horror flick on its way to attack Tokyo.

At this point, unless you are of a certain age, you may be asking, “What in the heck is a doodlebug?” I doubt kids today have a clue about doodlebugs.

So, what’s a doodlebug? It depends kiddies and I’m going to further confuse the issue.  A doodlebug is, according to 1: the larva of an antlion also: any of several other insects. 2: a device (such as a divining rod) used in attempting to locate underground gas, water, oil, or ores. 3: a buzz bomb.

You might still be confused.  Let me clarify.  The doodlebug of rhyme is the larva of the antlion, an insect that primarily subsists on ants.  Divining, also called dowsing, or water witching uses a forked tree branch, called a doodlebug, from a witch-hazel bush, or metal rods to find water or certain minerals.  Finally, a buzz bomb was a World War Two unguided flying bomb used by Nazi Germany to bomb London.  The British called it a doodlebug because of the sound it made. Still, confused? Me too! I’ve never heard a doodlebug make a sound.

The adult antlion: It eats ants.

The divining rod, dowser, or water witch. It finds water…maybe. I’m a bit doubtful of the science behind it…there is none, but the site of our well was found using one.

And finally the Buzz Bomb or the doodlebug as the British called it because of the sound it made. Over ten thousand were launched toward England, six thousand or so landed in London. It goes boom.

Enough! Back to the rhyme.  As a child, I was instructed to find a moon crater-looking depression in dry sandy soil.  Sitting next to it I, along with my brother and cousins, would all chant, “Doodlebug, doodlebug, fly away home. Your house is on fire and your children are gone.”  Because of my Southern Appalachian accent, it might have come out of my mouth differently and there are many other variations of the chant, some not very cheery. 

“Doodlebug doodlebug, come out of your house; it’s burning up with your wife and all your children, except Mary-she’s under the dishpan.” What are we teaching our children? It has no rhyme and the rhythm is awful.

The chant, along with dropping grains of sands down its hole, supposedly caused the critter to come out.  If that didn’t work a small twig was inserted for the larva to latch onto.  That didn’t work either.  I have a lifetime batting average of zero enticing doodlebugs.  My guess is it was a ploy to keep the young ’uns occupied while the adults kept busy with their chores.

My friends and I did a good job of keeping ourselves busy without assistance from a doodlebug…or our parents. We played other childhood games, mostly made up games played from TV shows we had seen or books we had read. We fought and refought battles with corncobs, created pirate ships from a treehouse thrown together with scrap lumber, used my grandmother’s front porch as Fort Apache, although Trixie looked nothing like Rin Tin Tin, and swung from “vine” ropes screaming our best Tarzan yells.

There was one little issue when a friend tried to jump off the hayloft imitating Roy Rogers jumping out of a second story window onto Trigger’s back. Problem was, my friend’s steed was his Schwinn bicycle. He missed the first time and only tried once more. It was a success…maybe. Don’t know if he was ever able to “go forth and multiply.”

We also learned we could fling a Chinese orange a country mile by stobbing (stabbing) it onto the end of a slender sapling and whipping it through the air. We inadvertently on purpose bounced one off the top of Mr. Jimmy’s ’49 Chevy as it motored down the highway. Didn’t hurt anything but gave the old man a bit of a start. Also got our hides tanned.

I know, I know. Some of you of a certain age are wondering, “Did you tie thread around the legs of a June bug and fly it in circles?” No but I know some who did. Always felt it was cruel treatment even for a bug.

Speaking of cruel treatment. The only deed I am truly embarrassed about was strapping a tin can to several large bottle rockets taped together and putting a frog in it. Honestly, it was Mickey Morris’ idea and I really thought the rocket would reach escape velocity. First Frog on the Moon! It may have been the first, we never found the frog.

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July Flies and June Bugs

I noticed last night before the mosquitoes drove me in, the July flies have made their emergence.  The males are singing their little hearts out attempting to attract their life partner.  “Go forth and multiply!”  I understand the mating period for a July fly is short.

Last night was the second of two cooler and less humid nights in a row.  Cooler and less humid by July, South Cakalacky standards.  I stood outside listening while enjoying a cigar.  Wish the mosquitoes had thought it was too cool, little vampires that they are.

I’m not a fan of many of our local insects but look forward to the emergence of “lightnin’ bugs” in May, then June bugs and finally July Flies.  I never look forward to the emergence of mosquitoes…not that they ever really emerge, they never seem to disappear.

I remember during the BAC period of our lives, before air conditioning, listening to their mating calls through the open windows.  So many singing at once.  Their chorus reminded of the sounds a distant freight train made during the days of my youth.  Not the “clackity, clackity” but the cycling sound as the trains retreated.  Young Ashley, three or four at the time, even asked me to turn down their volume one night as they interfered with her sleep.  “Can you make them stop?”  Sorry, love of my life, I still haven’t found their volume knob.

We call them July flies here in the southern foothills of the Blue Ridge and the South in general, don’t know about in the North.  They are cicadas, big fly looking insects with clear, iridescent wings and big ole…well…bug eyes.

They emerge in July after thirteen or seventeen years spent underground and their singing seems to be a celebration of sorts.  I would be happy too I guess. To be free of a life underground living off root sap, even if their life above ground is brief.  Their singing makes me smile.

Their songs of joy led me down a pathway to an earlier time.  Not as humid June days from sixty years ago and tying threads around the legs of June bugs.  No, they aren’t related to the July fly, but I never know where my mind might take me.

My grandmother was never happy about beetles chewing on her greenery, especially Japanese beetles.  June bugs to her were just big, neon green “Japanese” beetles, something to be crushed between thumb and forefinger and kept off her okra and roses.

One of my childhood “jobs” was to pick the Japanese beetles off her okra and place them in a jar of soapy water.  I don’t think I was old enough to realize I was drowning them.  I was paid by the number I picked.  I now pick them off myself, but the payoff isn’t pennies to buy Bazooka bubblegum.  It’s the okra for frying or gumbo.

I feel a bit cruel.  Tying thread around the legs of June bugs and flying them in circles around my head.  I can hear their soft drone as their wings beat the air.  I don’t know what we did with those who quit flying but I have an idea…I guess I have effectively purged their demise from my memory.

I haven’t seen any June bugs this year…they tend to appear late in the foothills of the Blue Ridge.  Maybe I’ve been too successful purging grubs from my soil.  No, I’m still battling Japanese beetles in my garden.  Maybe it’s because I just haven’t been looking or avoiding the heat and humidity sitting in my air-conditioned den.  It’s time to slow down and look…and listen…or at least go outside.

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