Memorial Day has me thinking about, of all things, butterflies.
I remember when I was in grade school, I took an elective science class over the summer. It was pretty cool for an 11-year-old boy. We got to dissect mice, capture snakes and taxidermy fish.
But the best part of the class involved bugs.
We captured all kinds of creepy, crawly things, stuck them in a jar with a cotton ball soaked in alcohol and then mounted them on Styrofoam with a straight pin.
When it came time to capture butterflies, I was at a disadvantage. I didn't have a net.
Back in 1975, Osco sold nets for $5 apiece.
My father was a successful farmer and a veterinarian. But he was also a child of the Great Depression. Frugality defined him, and when he learned the price of the net, he balked.
I was ordered to get a stretch of No. 9 wire from the farm's shop and bring it to him. He fashioned it into a giant hoop with a handle on it.
"Go get a pair of your mother's pantyhose from her dresser," he said as he finished shaping the last part of the wire with a pair of pliers.
When I fished through the pantyhose drawer, I looked for the pair with the biggest stain. After all, why ruin a new pair? (I may have been taking a summer science class, but there still was a lot my 11–year-old mind had yet to comprehend.)
Dad slid the elastic waistband over the hoop and, presto, I had my own net.
I was then dispatched into the yard to catch moths and butterflies at my leisure.
The hose caught a stout wind and both legs flapped like an air sock near a landing strip. And the crotch? It looked like the flag of Japan, red rising sun and all.
As butterflies glided by, I swung with much enthusiasm, but not much coordination. Soon I was drawing an audience of hired men and other passersby.
And then my mother arrived home from running errands and spotted me, pantyhose and all, in the front yard.
She rolled down the car window and gasped, "What are you doing?"
"Catching butterflies with this net Dad made me."
"Put it away, now."
"But Mom, I've got to catch butterflies for my school project."
Soon she marched into the kitchen and said to my father, "Don, what have you done?"
"I made Scott a butterfly net," my perplexed father replied.
That was Dad, practical to the core. He was always looking for ways to get things done for the least amount possible. And Mom, the other half of the business, was busy reigning in his more "creative" impulses.
Before the day was out, I was catching butterflies with a store-bought net. And not only had I added monarchs and swallowtails to my assortment of bugs on Styrofoam, but I had yet another tale to add to a collection of family stories.
When I stand over my parents' grave this Memorial Day, I won't be thinking about deathbeds or final words. I'll be remembering pantyhose and butterflies.
I love and miss you, Mom and Dad.
Scott Reeder, a staff writer for Illinois Times, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.