June Bugs

(My brother Mike wrote the following piece on growing up in the Ozarks and living with June Bugs. I liked it and thought I'd share it with you. Enjoy!)

Video games these days are incredible. The shear complexity and realism can make you feel like you are in the game yourself. Kids and young adults now play over the web, against others clear on the other side of the world! It's too bad that international conflicts can't be settled over a good old fashioned game of Halo. What technology, but what a loss........

Now, as youngsters, we didn't have such technological opportunities to burn our summers away with. However, we did have our own toys to do battle with. Showing up, ironically in early July versus their name, were the June bugs. A stout-bodied flying beetle not quite the size of a quarter, the June bugs would hover around one particular tree in our front yard. I don't recall the name of the tree, but the leaves were large and pear-shaped, and formed a very dense canopy. In the mornings before the heat of the day would set in, the June bugs would circle around the tree with a rythmic buzz, literally by the dozens, often about the height of our heads. With their dense bodies, they were not very quick or agile, and were thus pretty easy to catch. Very docile by nature, and plentiful in numbers, these goofy beetles lend themselves as pawns to some very creative games. I warn you now, if you are sensitive towards the treatment of bugs, you might want to move on to some other reading material. Please don't send any lawyers my way...

Bugs on a leash: We would take roughly 6 feet of mom's sewing thread, looping one end around one of the back legs of a selected June bug and have our own flying pet on a leash. At least until one of the brothers would "take him deep" with a swing of a wiffle ball bat... We learned not to get too attached to our personal June bug pets.

Bugmitten: This was the classic game of kings to us. Parked under the tree with our badmitten rackets, we became quite skilled with powerful forehand volleys of said Junebugs, timing their circular flights around the trees with powerful smashes that would send the critters flying the opposite direction for grand distances. I give the bugs credit. After a few wacks the Junebugs would make temporary adjustments, raising the height at which they would loop around the tree, climbing to altitudes just out of our reach. However, being beetles, after a couple of minutes, they would forget and drop back down to "swinging" height again. The only danger of this game was to catch a June bug line drive from a clean volley from one of the brothers. We would typically start out with ourselves spread apart equally around the tree to avoid such "line shots", however, the objective of the game would soon evolve from just hitting a bug to smacking a bug into a brother. How one of us didn't become a tennis pro, I don't know....

Chicken Frenzie: My favorite!! Our great grandparents, Pa and Ma, lived down the road and kept a coop of chickens. June bugs to a coop of chickens is like a package of fresh Oreo cookies to a cluster of 10-year-olds. You grab as many as you can as quickly as you can!! We would catch a coffee can full of bugs, walk down to Pa and Ma's, empty the can of flying beetles in the coop, and watch 30 seconds of absolute mayhem!! Chickens would be flying everywhere, snatching the poor June bugs in mid flight in a fashion that would make a falcon jealous. We did this a couple of times before I made the mistake of telling my cousin Billy about it. He made the trek with myself and Larry, my best friend, down to Pa and Ma's one time. Billy had a bit of an onery streak in him. Inside the coop, he asked for the honors of opening the coffee can, at which point he proceeded to turn the can of bugs towards myself and Larry. Needless to say, we were both covered in pecking chickens for what seemed like an eternity. We banned Billy from the coop after that.

Revenge: I remember riding my bike back home one summer morning after hanging out at Larry's for a bit. I was cruising down the hill towards our house at a pretty good clip when "BANG" a June bug had a literal "head on" collision with me, popping me squarely in the forehead. I barely kept control of the bike, almost crashing and burning right there on the black top. Can you imagine trying to explain to my brothers, a massive bike crash due to a head on collision with a June bug? It wouldn't have gone well. Later on, I figured that particular June bug was selected by the others, to "Kamakazee" me in retaliation for the 185 of their kindred lost in battle with me the day before with the badmitten racket. I bet they honor him to this day....

Come July, I may see a few June bugs in my yard. They don't come by the dozens like they did with the old tree in the front yard of my Dad's house that is now long gone, replaced by a tulip tree. I may pick one up once in a while and look at him. After that, I open my hand and let him go. A combination of a peace treaty I made with them after the head on attack and also a way of saying thank you for many good memories...