My grandmother hated flies, but it wouldn’t be fair to leave it at just that. Nowhere near as humorous, either.
I thought about my grandmother the other day, when a fly began to dive-bomb my face for no apparent reason. As I spent the next several moments waving off its repeated attempts to annoy me, I suddenly heard my grandmother’s words: “Don’t just swat at it … kill it!”
Don’t be taken aback. My grandmother, who passed away back in 1998, was a sweet lady. She couldn’t and wouldn’t hurt a fly — well, I take that back. A fly she would and could turn into an ugly splat without even thinking about it. But anything else with a heartbeat, she cherished.
I often saw her put crackers topped with peanut butter out for the squirrels, which irritated my grandfather and wasn’t good for his tomato plants, either. She would take in any stray dog or cat. She would plant anything that would attract hummingbirds. She once carefully relocated a bees’ nest. And she even felt really bad when any of us would create diabolical ways to destroy a fire-ant mound.
But when it came to a fly, well … my 4-foot, 11-inch tall grandmother turned into a whirling dervish. A Tasmanian devil, actually. She would stalk a fly through the house for an hour until she completed her mission — which, of course, was to obliterate the buzzing nuisance.
On the one hand, it’s understandable that flies pestered her enough to feel the need to get rid of them. But on the other hand, the lengths my grandmother would go to rid her house — or mine, even — of a single fly were extraordinary. She often took a two-handed approach … a fly-swatter in the right hand, a can of bug spray in the left, and she was a pretty quick draw with either.
And her simple reasoning for wanting to put flies on the world’s endangered list was this: “Do you know where their feet have been?”
OK, I have always been fairly certain that flies do NOT have feet. I can’t say what they DO have, however. I have Google’d it and the best I can come up with is that they have “tarsi segments,” whatever that is.
So to respectfully correct my grandmother’s question, it should be, “Do you know where their tarsi segments have been?” And my answer is yes, because I know exactly what she was referring to.
I first heard this question when I was having breakfast with my grandparents many years ago. She had cut up a nice cantaloupe and served us each a healthy slice. Not 2.57 seconds after placing the orange fruit in front of my grandfather and I, a fly zeroed in on my serving and made a perfect landing at the point and rubbed his feelers together like he had just landed in front of an all-you-can-eat buffet.
Almost as fast as the fly, my grandmother instant snatched the bowl of cantaloupe away and, as the fly set sail, she dumped the fruit in the garbage. I was aghast — not only at the fact that my breakfast starter had been trashed, but with the speed displayed by my grandmother.
I started to ask why she had done this, but before I got the sentence halfway out, she looked at me and blurted out, “Do you know where their feet have been?” I looked at my grandfather, who just shook his head and said, “Don’t ask. She’ll bring another one.”
And she did.
This time, she kept an eagle-eye out for the marauding fly and, when it came too close, she went after it. About 10 minutes later, she’d put another notch on her fly-swatter and I’d finished my cantaloupe.
The fly that day which had begun my reminiscing about my grandmother did end up meeting an untimely demise. But before it did, I made sure to give a quick glance upward and say, “This one’s for you, grandma.”
And then … splat!
— W. Curt Vincent is the general manager and editor of the Bladen Journal. He can be reached by calling 910-862-4163 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.