When it first happened in 1949, I had recently turned 9 years old. It was a hot and lazy summer day in the high deserts of Eastern Oregon. School was out, and my siblings and I were looking for something to do.
Our older sister, Dee Dee, asked me and Dave, my younger brother, if we wanted to play in the vacant lot next to our house. The dry wild grass was very high, perfect for games of hide-and-seek, cowboys and Indians, or tag.
We decided on hide-and-seek, and I lost the draw. I counted to 10 and then hollered, “Ready or not, here I come.”
I bounded into the tall grass with five giant steps — only to stop short. The stalks were as high as my forehead and crackled like Rice Krispies with every move. I stood still and listened for a sound that would give away someone’s hiding place. Everything was eerily quiet except for a low mysterious buzz. A hot breeze swayed gently through the straw with a dry rustling sound. A creepy feeling touched the pit of my stomach.
I did a quick turn-around to retrace my steps. Suddenly, the grass trembled and came alive. I squealed. Insects landed on my legs and arms and across my bare midriff, tangled in my hair and skittered across my scrunched-closed eyes and mouth. Blindly, I ran … the wrong way, of course, spitting and sputtering. When I gulped for air, a new fear surfaced: What if they crawled up my nose?
I kept on moving and finally bolted out of the tall grass. I shook with a full-body shudder. Dee Dee and Dave stood at the back door, grinning. I scowled and stomped toward them: “All right you guys, I’m telling Mom.”
Dee Dee slowly pulled her hands from behind her back and thrust the biggest, ugliest grasshopper I’d ever seen into my face and tittered, like an evil witch, “Hee hee hee!” Dave whooped and chanted, “You’re a scaredy cat. You’re a scaredy cat!”
I ran, circling the house. They followed close behind, thrusting lime-green, giant-pincered grasshoppers at me. Two things were in my favor — long legs and a huge dose of fright! I came to the back door, ran inside and slammed it shut with a thwack. Every ounce of my skinny weight braced against the barrier while my heart thumped. When I finally peeked outside, there stood Dee Dee and Dave — snickering, snorting and cackling.
Yep, I knew I’d made their day and would probably be the joke of the month — naw, more likely all summer, by the time they finished telling it. And worse yet, I had to face the fact that at every possible opportunity, they were going to chase me with grasshoppers. And they did.
Now 71 years young, I’ve long since made peace with my siblings. But I never will make peace with insects that jump.
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