Posts tagged “Nostalgia

Twinkling Twilight



As twilight falls, as we approach August, the little sparks of light appear nightly– fireflies, lightning bugs, glow worms, whatever one chooses to call them.  They start early in July– one sees a few sparks here and there but as July draws to a close, twilights dawn with a display of tiny fireworks.  Why do they hold such fascination for young and old alike?  Why do they bring us such a sense of wonder as they flicker on and off in some rhythm unknown to us but titillating in their communication with each other?


Of course I remember, like everyone else, catching fireflies.   It was a ritual my Sicilian grandfather reenacted with me every summer.  Grandma would save me a peanut butter jar, nicely washed with little holes in the top she made with an old-fashioned can opener.  Grandpa and I would go out for an after-dinner walk, a treat in itself.  It was an excursion with a purpose, a hunt to catch those bugs whose tail ends light up, on and off, I learned later, to signal mates.


Grandpa always managed to catch one and we would walk home victorious, with me clutching my precious jar with my favorite kind of bug residing within.  There was the exciting story we would tell Grandma and she would give me a lettuce leaf in case the bug should be hungry in the night.  Then to bed.  And then the real waiting began– lying in the dark with the jar on the bedside table waiting for my captive bug to alight.  I would wait and wait but no flickering light appeared and before long I would fall asleep in the arms of disappointment.


It was even worse in the morning.  The lightning bug did not look well.  His antennae would be damp and sticking to the jar in a bad way.  He was not eating the lettuce leaf.  And this was my first lesson in the perils of capturing and imprisoning a wild creature.  They did not behave like they did when free.  Finally in a child’s form of despair, I would let him go and he would leave so much the worse for wear.  What is this human quest to capture animals for our own pleasure at their peril?  Think zoos, circuses, the exotic pet trade.  It is awe gone rancid, becoming greed, selfishness, a fetid form of supremacy.


Years later, on my husband’s great aunt’s farm in Ohio, the trees would be filled with lightning bugs mating.  It was a sight I had never seen.  Whole trees would light up at once and upon close examination one would find hundreds of fireflies.  It was a cathedral of flickering lights that inspired reverence for God as we beheld the mystery with our hearts.


And now, living in a converted barn which allows many bugs to enter despite window screens, I  no longer want to capture fireflies and put them in a jar.  I am happy to see them fly freely inside and outside the house. They bring sheer delight as they light up in the darkness.  I am a child again with my grandfather, as I stay awake as long as possible, watching the little flickering lights inside the room and outside in the trees.  I think of simpler days and after dinner walks with Grandpa.  I think a lot of my grandparents with nostalgia, and the magic of this tiny bug amazes still.  But wild creatures belong in the wild.  A lesson to be learned from this Midsummer Night’s dream.

The Line is Dead

She’s finally gone

after fighting for life for

6 months of painful half-life

and multiple causes of death.


Gone is my last link

with Grandma and Grandpa

and happy days in Larchmont,

Grandpa playing the mandolin,

me dancing,

and Grandma cooking

unimaginable treats.

Happy days in Larchmont,

the Larchmont one weekend

Aunt Nina and I revisited

with our respective spouses

and cried tears of nostalgia.


Aunt Nina died Saturday,

the last of the LaMannas,

the aunt who knit the best-ever

Christmas stockings for

my brother and sister and me

which I still drag out every year.

The aunt who let me

play with her jewelry

in her blue bedroom

in Larchmont

with light that slid in

through the venetian blinds

and danced a jitterbug

atop Renoir prints,

with twin beds

covered in puff-ball bed spreads,

kept so clean by Grandma and

Aunt Nina wanting to sleep

and me pestering her to play.


Aunt Nina took me home once by taxi,

back to the city I hated

when I was sick.

She nursed me on the ride

And said “hang in there”

and held my hand

as I said to her a month ago

as she lay shriveled into a ghost

of her former self.


Gone are the days

of spaghetti and meatballs,

Arancini and sugar cookies,

wine and mandolin,

chewing gum in the desk,

watching at the windows

with Grandpa, as evening

fell all around.

Days of Big Grandma Castiglione

in her light-filled, white-tiled,

lace-curtained, one-room apartment,

with holy water font

and the smell of steam

in the yellow kitchen.


Gone are the days of

visiting Nina as she raised

her two “adopted angels”

as they were called,

and, who, with my uncle, she crafted

into two magnificent children

and later had four grandchildren

who adored them both.

Larchmont repeated.


Gone are the days of

visiting Aunt Nina in Kent, CT

and later in Danbury,

now much older and

with my husband whom

Aunt Nina and Uncle Ray

welcomed with open arms

and grew to love,

my husband of almost 24 years

who never knew this love as a child

and so does not know its loss.


Gone are the days

of a phone call

every few weeks,

Aunt Nina always seeming

happy to hear my voice as

she exclaimed “Ellen!”

as we talked about problems:

difficulties in the best of marriages

the downhill spiral of my Mom

after Dad died,

Nina giving support while

my husband and I cared for Mom

during her difficult path to death,

Aunt Nina listening to me recount

the downhill spiral of my brother

as he spent 3 years

dying of lung cancer.

And we talked of our

problems with anxiety

and later of her sorrow and fears

as her friends were dying

and she was fighting Parkinson’s,

bravely shouldering through every day.


Gone are the days

of pasta salads and olives

and prosciutto and provolone

as Aunt Nina and Uncle Ray

visited our little barn upstate,

where we laughed and laughed

in the Memorial Days sunshine.


Gone gone gone

my Italian heritage,

the last of my blood elders.

Aunt Nina was there

For 63 years,

All of my life

and all I can do

is cry

and try

to imitate

her admirable character.

For the Lord giveth and

the Lord taketh away

but why such pain

when he taketh away?


Because love grew

year by year

visit by visit

phone call by phone call.

I did thank her,

before the end began,

in a foresightful note,

telling how great an aunt she was.

God put the thought in my head,

and for that I am grateful,

for now it is too late

for now the line is dead.