English John and the Georgia Fireflies
by Fred Pruitt
(I ran across this piece this morning. I could not find anything connected with it on my computer, so I am not even certain which “John” this is addressing or when it was originally written. But I’ve had it in mind for some time to have a section on the blog which is more “personal” than what I normally write. When I re-read this, it all came back to me. This story is from the return portion of the hitchhiking trip to Colorado and back we took in 1972, just a few months before we came to know Jesus. Just a slice of “our” lives.)
July 4, 2???,
You wrote: “In my case I begin to hear the words to the music that has been around me from the beginning, and I am pleased that all these things, though unheard and unseen before were moving us to bring us this very place of recognition today.”
What more could I say to that? Thank you!
Fireflies, eh? I’ve talked a lot of times about Janis’ and my hitchhiking trip to Colorado back in our youthful days. I haven’t talked about the return trip and some of the aftermath.
When we left the Rainbow festival on top of Arapaho Mountain on the western side of the Rockies, we were nearly 24 hours in the parking lot (or sleeping nearby) trying to hitch a ride out. Eventually we were granted permission to board a big-blue Econoline-like van. It held more people than a passenger car, and the driver filled it up because he was looking for riders with money to finance his ride back east.
East was the general direction we were going, from Colorado to Georgia, and though we would have preferred a more southeasterly directed ride, any ride to any eastern destination, especially at that point, would do. Our driver was going due east all the way through Ohio and onward. Though it was far north of home, I-75 intersected with our route. That would take us down to Georgia — if we could stay on it when we got to it, which we didn’t. However that is outside this story line.
In the van with us was a really large young man, also named John, who was a Londoner hitchhiking through the United States. He was a regular working-class fellow who had saved up to spend a few weeks that summer going to anywhere in America he could get rides.
So in the way that you do, we told him if he was ever in Georgia to look us up and we gave him our phone number. When we stepped off that ride to further adventure somewhere in rural Ohio, John was still bound with the van, and I can’t say we gave much thought to ever seeing him again.
We went back to the beginning of hot July in Georgia exactly the time of year it is now, and settled back into our routine. A couple of weeks later the phone rang, and it was English John. Rome is 25 miles off I-75, and John had gotten dropped off at the exit. Nobody in rural Georgia on that road that day would give him a ride, so he walked the 25 miles to near Rome and then called us up.
He was a pure surprise, but a delight nevertheless, and we went and picked him up at some little gas station. As it so happened we were invited to dinner at my parents’ house so we took John along. With his thick London accent we knew he’d be at least a novelty if not a delight to my parents.
I had no idea how much a delight he would be to my mother, however, until we sat down to dinner. Janis and I were in one of our (well, actually I’ve only had the one) vegetarian periods and would eat no meat or anything prepared with meat. In the houses we came from, that eliminated almost everything from the menu.
So my mom that night – she made it a point never to accommodate our self-imposed dietary restrictions – served beef pot-roast complete with carrots and potatoes cooked with it, which of course we in our holy vegetarian righteousness abhorred and spurned. However, to my mom’s great delight, John’s huge 6 foot 4 or 5 inch frame hunkered down over his plate, and he ate and ate and ate, like someone who hadn’t had a decent meal in months, which may have been the case! He kept handing his plate back to my mom and saying, just like Oliver Twist, “More meat, please!” And my mother was enjoying every minute of it, handing him serving after serving of pot-roast.
We enjoyed our garlic bread and salad and iced tea, sort of, while everybody else chowed down like hungry lions on savory meat and potatoes – mmmmmm!
Ok, this started out about fireflies, didn’t it? Here’s where they come in.
After dinner we go back to our house. We lived in a little stone house on a dirt road on top of a hill with fields and forest all around in every direction. The nearest highway was six miles away, and from our hilltop vista we could see the valleys, surrounding hills and low mountains all around us. Our back and side yards were unused pasture or formerly cultivated. And it was high summer, so the grasses were waist-high already outside the mowed area which surrounded our house.
When we got back to the house, we treated John to our customary cannabis herbal medicinal after-dinner brandy (euphemism for “we smoked a joint”). John wasn’t used to that, either, so he became quite boisterous and a whole bunch more affected than we had anticipated.
And that’s when it happened. We were sitting outside and dusk was settling in. Almost in an instant, thousands of fireflies, “lightning-bugs” as we called them, began to arise from their bushes and grasses where they’d been sleeping all day, all of them looking for dinner and a date.
So as dusk falls we’re treated to this sudden magnificent light-show of green strobes rising from the ground, slowly, none of them in a particular hurry. Hundreds of them started coming up out of the thick grasses, from every direction. Now, I don’t know if they have fireflies in England or not, but John it seems had not only never seen any, he’d never even heard of them.
Here we are taking in the blessed peaceful sublime chorus of their holy light-filled ascension, and then suddenly John starts freaking out, running around like he’s crazy, because he’s thinking he’s seeing aliens or something quite outside the realm of any reality he’s ever known. John, for lack of a better description, has entered the “Twilight Zone,” and we thought for a time he was going to leave us he was so distressed. Eventually we were able to convince him of their friendly nature, but it was touch and go for a while.
Yes, we do stop and smell the roses. One thing I’ve noticed now that I got past those pesky 40s (now in my 60s!) and all that midlife crisis stuff, where you feel sorrowful and mournful for your lost youth. Now, rather than “wishing I was back there again” (remembering the good times and forgetting the bad), instead I am simply thankful for it all. Everything from then is still alive in all the vividness and life it was then, in my consciousness, as a treasure to be used, as a field out of which grows the continuation of life.
Ok, enough philosophizing. Thanks for yours, John. Enjoy the fireflies.
Remember true freedom and liberty this July 4th.