Bright and early, Helen hurried over to her friend Suzie’s house. She had much excitement in mind for their day of play. Along the way, she spotted a red ladybug. “Perfect!” she delighted within herself as she seized the bug and secured him in her jar. Upon arriving at Suzie’s, she briskly rapped at the door.
“Why, hello, Helen!” said Mrs. Henry in her usual kind manner. “Looking for Suzie, are you?”
“Yes, ma’am,” said Helen. She paused and then added eagerly, “I have some serious fun to tell her about.” Mrs. Henry laughed light-heartedly as she stepped aside for Helen to come in.
“Well, go on up. I believe she is having tea with Benny Bear and Mrs. June,” said Mrs. Henry. Helen ran past Mrs. Henry hastily, forgetting her manners. Stopping short in alarm, she quickly turned and performed a light curtsy.
“Thank you, ma’am,” she said.
Suzie indeed was having tea with Benny Bear and Mrs. June.
“Sue!” said Helen, as she appeared in the doorway.
“Oh, Helen! Come in! Come in! Won’t you join us for tea?”
“Not today. There’s much more fun to be had than tea!” said Helen with a happy smile.
“What kind of fun?” inquired Suzie, not at all sure that she agreed there was anything more fun to be had than tea.
“Come on outside and I’ll show ya,” whispered Helen, taking Suzie by the arm.
Suzie allowed herself to be led to the door, when she remembered Benny Bear and Mrs. June. Taking her arm away, she turned and addressed them.
“Thank you kindly, Benny Bear and Mrs. June, for having me over for tea.” Helen took up Suzie’s arm again insistently. Stumbling out the door, Suzie waved, saying, “I must be going now.” Helen and Suzie were out the door, before the stuffed bear and doll could reply.
The two girls held hands and chattered happily in the bright sunshine, as they walked down the lane to Miss Sarah’s house.
“Have you a day planned for us at Miss Sarah’s house?” inquired Sue.
“Well, Miss Sarah has been kind enough to let us look in her yard and her flower garden,” explained Helen.
“Look for what?” asked Suzie, thinking of a daisy to bring back to her mother.
“Bugs!" yelled Helen, as she giggled and ran towards Miss Sarah’s cottage.
“Bugs!” yelled Sue in horror. “What do you mean, bugs!”
Helen gave no reply. She ran through Miss Sarah’s swinging gate and was already overturning stones, searching.
Sue was now exasperated from running after Helen.
“Helen Gregory!” she said between breaths.
Helen looked up from her studious bug discoveries, unaware of any cause of alarm.
“You mean to tell me you brought me out here to look for bugs!”
“Yes, it’s going to be the greatest thing ever, wait and see,” said Helen matter-of-factly.
Sue stomped her foot and turned away, now thirsty for the tea she had earlier, with much kinder playmates, despite the fact they and the tea had been imaginary.
Realizing she may have been over zealous in introducing Sue to this new excitement, Helen said gently, “Why Sue, it’s not a natural thing for you to throw a tantrum like that…”
Sheepishly Sue looked at Helen and relaxed her stance some. Sue hesitated. “I’m sorry, Helen...I…well, it’s just that…I have never had an interest in bugs or even doing anything…messy.”
Sue grimaced uncomfortably at the idea of this outdoor “treasure hunt”: she surmised that this form of play was not at all lady-like. Miss June would certainly not approve. But Miss June always sat in her place with a blank stare, awaiting direction. Suzie’s heart thrilled whenever Helen came to play, because Helen knew adventure. One could not engage in adventure without becoming untidy. Suzie nudged her sleeves up a little and bent down on one knee, trying to show some interest in what might be under the rock beside Helen.
“That’s alright, Sue, I knew you were not used to this kind of play, but I just know you’re going to love the end result.”
“This is real fun...ooh look!” exclaimed Helen. Sue recoiled slightly, but stayed her ground as Helen scooped a few snails from under a rock. “Snails are the most popular with the other children.”
Sue cleared her throat and asked, “Other children?”
“Yes, some friends I’d like you to meet,” said Helen plainly.
“And they collect bugs, too?" replied Sue in wonder.
Yes! We swap them,” explained Helen.
“Helen, I…I don’t know if I want to meet these friends,” Suzie admitted trepidly.
Poor Sue was having difficulty enough staying by Helen’s side, during this insect excursion to which she’d been lured. But the thought of voluntarily surrounding herself with other children while critters were gleefully exchanged! Well, the entire idea simply gave her the shivers!
“Oh please say you’ll go, Sue! I told them you would come!”
Sue thought for a moment before speaking.
“I suppose I could watch,” she said, unaware that she was squinting her eyes shut.
“Oh, thank you!” yelled Helen, embracing Sue happily.
Sue smiled with surprise when Helen hugged her. It felt great having a friend that cared for her so much.
Benny Bear in all his furriness never gave a hug so warm.
“Let’s go to the little creek by the flower meadow now!” hollered Helen, gripping Sue by the shoulders.
Before Sue could answer, Helen was already running away.
“Alright…” sighed Sue as she ran after Helen for the second time.
Helen was down on her hands and knees digging in the mud next to a creek.
“Now what have you found?” asked Sue.
“Worms!” said Helen.
“Yuk! Gross!” Suzie giggled. This time she did not recoil.
“Oh Sue, they're perfectly harmless. They couldn’t even hurt a fly,” Helen said, giving an elbow to Suzie’s side.
“But they look so slimy and yucky,” said Suzie.
“Oh. But really they are not that bad. Here, hold one for yourself,” said Helen, cupping her hands full of worms over Suzie’s lap.
“No, I couldn’t!” said Sue in alarm as she leaned backward and plopped herself on the ground.
“Come on, Sue. Just put your hand out,” said Helen.
Sue stared at Helen and then at the worm.
“Perhaps if I turn my head and close my eyes for a few seconds, I could hold the worm.”
“Yes! What a great way to practice worm holding!”
Sue turned her head to the side and squinted her eyes shut. Timidly she placed her hand forward for the worm, warning, “Only for a few seconds, Helen.”
Helen did not hesitate to place the worm in Sue’s hand. Helen watched as Sue made faces. Suddenly the worm began to twitch and squirm all around.
“Get the worm, Helen! Hurry! Please!” screeched Sue.
Helen tried to get the worm, but it was too late. Sue opened her eyes, and, becoming frightened, fell backwards into the muddy creek, wet, scared, and completely untidy; Suzie sniffled, and then threatened to sob.
“Don’t cry, Sue!” hollered Helen as she tried to pull Sue out of the creek, which resulted in her becoming wet and muddy as well.
“Look. Now we are both wet and muddy!” laughed Helen.
Sue began to laugh when she saw Helen laugh.
The two girls climbed out of the creek past the muddy bank and onto the soft grass.
They both lay there and giggled, until their sides hurt.
“Oh, what will Mother say about my dress?” said Sue.
“Your mom is so kind. She will only be surprised.”
“Yes, surprised! Most certainly surprised! Mother knows I do not like dirt or bugs. She never worries about what I wear outside.” Suzie’s voice faded as she examined herself. “She will be very disappointed when she sees my dress.”
“I am sorry, Sue. I do not want to make your mother cross with you…or me. We should go back now and see if you will be in trouble,” proclaimed Helen.
“Yes,” sighed Suzie, “but I would rather dry here a bit in the sun. I feel wet and cold.”
“Do you think we well still be able to be friends?” asked Helen with a tremor in her voice.
“Oh yes. Very much so. I forgive you for getting me messy. And mind you, it wasn’t entirely all your fault, although you have been somewhat pushy about playing with bugs.”
Slowly, the two girls walked back to Suzie’s house. Sue sighed as she walked the steps to her front door.
Helen stayed behind a bit.
“Come on, Helen. Don’t make me do this on my own.” Suzie took Helen’s hand.
“I’m coming,” said Helen, allowing herself to be led to the door.
Her eyes downcast, Suzie noticed her mud filled stockings and at once began to remove them. Helen did the same. Deciding to use the other door, the two of them entered the kitchen, which they found vacant.
Helen nervously glanced at Sue.
“Mother, I am home,” Sue cried out, her voice cracking.
Mrs. Henry walked into the kitchen and stopped short with a gasp.
“Why, Sue! What has become of you?”
Exhausted from the excitement, both Sue and Helen began to cry. Between sobs, the story spattered out.
The most Mrs. Henry could make of it was that they were looking at bugs and that Sue fell in a creek.
When she realized it was just an accident, Mrs. Henry’s heart softened.
She offered the two girls some clean play clothes while she began washing the muddy dresses. Once they were clean and calm, she sat the two girls down with some lemonade and ginger snaps and had them retell the incident. Hearing the adventure, Mrs. Henry began to smile.
“Well, Helen. I see you have been showing my dainty little girl some things she is not used to. You see, Sue is just not used to dirt and bugs.”
Helen looked uncomfortable and shifted in her chair.
“How you ever managed such a task, I surely don’t know,” said Mrs. Henry as she sipped her lemonade. “I have been encouraging Suzie for awhile now to get out and experience a little nature.”
Helen and Sue both smiled with relief.
“I am so glad you girls told me the truth,” said Mrs. Henry with a smile. Helen and Sue both exchanged smiles, happy that they had told the truth.
“Well, is there still time to swap your bugs?”
Suzie jumped up. “Oh yes, plenty of time!”
“Well then, if you girls feel rested enough, you should go have fun!”
Both Sue and Helen hugged Mrs. Henry, laughing, and promising not to fall into any creeks.
“Bye, girls,” Mrs. Henry called out, waving, as she watched them leave. Again they set out down the lane with relief in their hearts.
“It sure is nice when telling the truth doesn’t get you into trouble,” said Helen.
“Once my Mother understood what had happened, she was very understanding,” she said with a smile and a happy heart.
“Well, I was a little afraid at first,” admitted Helen. “But I suppose your Mother truly likes me, now that I’ve exposed you to the great outdoors.” They both laughed, delighted that their friendship had gained Mrs. Henry’s approval.
“I can’t believe it!” yelled Helen, as she ran past Sue to an old oak tree.
This time Sue smiled. She knew Helen had yet again discovered something exciting for the bug swap. Sue watched as Helen picked up a rather large beetle.
“It’s not every day you find a Rhinoceros beetle!”
Sue looked closely at the beetle. It was gray and shiny with a horn sticking up on its head.
“Does it bite?” asked Sue.
“No. But its legs stick to your skin and it kind of hurts.” Helen removed another jar from the borrowed apron dress she wore.
“I am putting him in a separate jar. Everyone will think that he is the neatest!”
“You sure know a lot about bugs.”
“Well, my Pa thinks bugs are neat, so he taught me not to be afraid of them. Of course, I wouldn’t touch a spider, though.”
“Me, either! Besides, spiders are not truly insects,” instructed Suzie.
Helen held up her captive beetle. “Would you hold a Rhinoceros beetle?”
“No. I think I am more interested in bug watching then bug holding,” admitted Suzie.
Helen and Sue both laughed.
The afternoon soon became busy, once they arrived at Jonathan’s house. Jonathan seemed very busy getting a mound of dirt ready on his porch.
“Jonathan, this is my friend Sue,” said Helen.
The most Jonathan could do was nod, his whole focus being on the task before him.
Helen spoke on Jonathan’s behalf. “Jonathan is new to the neighborhood. He is the one that started the bug swap.”
“Well, it is nice to meet you, Jonathan,” said Sue.
Jonathan nodded again; he was busy with the dirt still.
“Oh, look! Here comes Karen and her three little sisters! They just moved in behind Miss Sarah’s cottage,” said Helen. Sue smiled. It wasn’t easy for her to make new friends, but she was determined to try, until she saw George coming.
“Helen,” whispered Sue, “Is that George I see coming down the lane?”
“But he is so bossy!” said Sue.
“Well he is the smartest about bugs,” lamented Helen.
Helen introduced Sue to the other girls and they soon began showing each other their jars of bugs.
“What have you guys found, Karen?” asked Helen.
“Mainly crickets. And about five snails,” said Karen. “We would have had more, but my little sisters kept dumping them out of the jars.”
“I didn’t pick up the crickets this time and I don’t know how many worms I have? Too many to count, really.”
Helen examined her jar. “If only there were more snails out. I only have three.”
George interrupted when he heard the news. “Look how many snails I have!”
“WOW!” they proclaimed in unison, “there must be a hundred in there!”
George pulled out his magnifying glass and instructed everyone to sit down and empty their jars.
Sue stepped back, as everyone dumped jars over. Bugs began running everywhere. The children all laughed and recaptured their bugs back to the bug piles. George went around with his magnifying glass, inspecting all the bugs.
“I don’t think I want to trade my snails for anything here.”
“But look at all the worms I have!” yelled Helen.
“Ah, I could dig me up more worms than that, and I have no use for crickets,” he said with a huff, glancing toward Karen’s jar.
“How will we have a bug swap then?” Karen asked.
Helen looked at Sue and patted the apron where the Rhinoceros beetle was. Sue smiled back. Both girls knew that the beetle was definitely a prize any boy would trade for a hundred snails. Helen pulled the jar from her apron and held it high in the air.
“Look what I have, George!” declared Helen.
George was very surprised at what he saw in the jar. Helen quickly opened the jar and dumped the beetle out.
“Wait!” hollered George, “Don’t let him get away.”
George recaptured the beetle and got his magnifying glass out.
“Do you want to trade my beetle for your snails?”
George looked from Helen then to the beetle.
“Really?” asked George incredulously.
“Yeah really,” said Helen.
George handed over his jar of snails and sat off in a corner admiring his beetle. All the children where excited over the amount of snails they had. Jonathan got some buckets of water and soaked the dirt mound he had made with water. Sue watched in bewilderment.
“Helen, what is the mound of mud for? And why does everyone want so many snails?”
“Wait and see,” said Helen, waving off Sue’s inquisitiveness.
Sue watched, amazed as everyone lined up the snails. Very slowly the little green bodies began emerging from the shells. Sue became very excited.
“I can’t believe this, I have never seen anything like this!” said Suzie with excitement in her whisper.
“Look at how they move so gracefully out of their shells. They just slide out into the mud and leave shining trails wherever they go. Do you believe they are afraid to leave the safety of their shells? It does seem that they’re actually having fun in the mud…and with each other.”
“It’s the best fun ever, Sue!” said Helen with delight.
- Beverly Malone