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When I was a boy, we often played hide and seek at dusk when it was easier to hide. Often while I was hiding behind a bush or some other secluded place, I’d realize that I shared the space with a toad, who would hop away to avoid being stepped on.
In the western North Carolina mountains, these ugly little creatures were called toad-frogs, and if you handled them you were supposed to get warts. But not to worry, there was always some unique person in the community who could magically remove the warts. Sometimes these little critters would secrete an unidentified offensive moisture when picked up. This was their last line of defense.
Actually, toads and frogs are different creatures. Toads are mostly dry land dwellers, while frogs like to live in the watery areas. The term toad-frog isn’t in Webster’s Dictionary, but nevertheless we called them toad-frogs. Mountaineers like to use double nouns such as widow woman or preacher man…or toad-frog. A toad’s skin is warty and a frog’s skin is smoother. Both come from tadpoles.
It seems that there aren’t many of these little guys around anymore. Perhaps it’s the chemicals we put on the lawns and shrubs nowadays. Or it could be that I just don’t hide in the bushes much these days. The bugs didn’t used to annoy us much because the toad-frogs caught most of them. Pretty good arrangement.
Did you ever build a toad-frog house? It’s done like this: You need some damp soil and you dig a little impression to place your bare foot in. You take the damp soil and compact it over your foot. Then you wiggle your foot carefully and withdraw it and Shazam! You have a toad-frog house. Never seen a toad-frog in one of these little houses, but it can never be said that they were homeless. But where did all the toad-frogs go? We don’t see many of them any more.
Then there were June bugs. Big ol’ iridescent green bugs that always appeared, as if by magic, some time in June. We borrowed some thread from Momma’s sewing box, chased down a June bug and delicately tied a string to one of the biggest legs…and bingo, here was the toy of the day. The bug would fly around on the tether until the kid got interested in something else or the unfortunate bug lost a leg! Well, stuff happens. Never heard of anyone getting arrested for cruelty to bugs. And where did all the June bugs go?
Where did all the lightning bugs go? I remember tulip poplar trees that were lit up like Christmas trees with lightnin’ bugs, who liked the blooms on the poplar trees, I suppose. Of course, some people call them little critters fireflies today—at least Yankees call them fireflies, but they are really lightnin’ bugs, don’t you know?
Just a bit of trivia here: In Cade’s Cove, accessed from the Tennessee side of the Smoky Mountain National Park, the lightning bugs turn their little lights on and off in unison. Strange, but true.
We liked to put them in glass jars and set them on the dresser for a night light. I see a few of these creatures on summer nights, but not nearly the number seen in days past. Where did they go?
And what about doodle bugs? Doodle bugs! Doodle bugs liked to hang around half-dried cow piles. Cow piles? Use your imagination! Doodle bugs liked to roll the cow dung around into little round balls. I never figured out why, or what they eventually did with the little round balls.
And you know what? I don’t really care where all the doodle bugs went.