As I sat to write in my home office one recent bright afternoon, a procession of small yellow butterflies passed just outside the window, traveling from my wife’s flower garden to some other destination of their preference.
That moment called back a distant but quite clear memory of a time when, as a boy age 7 or 8, I lived a winter and spring with my grandparents in a country neighborhood some distance from the city, attended a one-room rural school and occupied my days with wonderful new activities.
That was in a year when my mother was recovering from serious, but successful, surgery. And my father, during the depth of the Great Depression, was laboring at whatever odd work he could find to keep the family afloat and pay the house mortgage.
I understood little of their struggles. My childish life was filled with a richness of minor adventures. Among those was fishing for perch and small catfish in the pool below a culvert along the road.
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My grandmother Sue Middleton was a prodigious gardener whose beds of blooming plants filled what would have been the space of two or three city yards. That abundance of blossoms attracted a constant patronage of colorful flying insects.
Most common were the yellow ones, like those that I saw go by my window the other day.
Yellow sulphurs, we called them, though their proper name, I now know, is clouded sulphurs. And being the most plentiful, they were the easiest to catch.
A wire coat hanger, bent into a loop and covered with a discarded nylon stocking, made an ideal net.
The variety of their markings gave the larger swallowtails their names: tiger and zebra, for example.
And by spreading a sweet but sticky band around the trunk of a tree, it was occasionally possible to find in the morning — trapped but uninjured — one or another of the larger and rarer moths: with luck, a cecropia or a luna.
These were the memories evoked by that cluster of little creatures that fluttered past my window just the other day — letting me recall, as if it were yesterday, childhood moments that I thought were gone for good.