Beautiful Music

My mother and I were on the phone talking about how in some parts of the Northeast, it is time for the seventeen-year cicadas to make their appearance. This is our second time living in Cincinnati and it reminded me of the last time we held residence here nine summers ago.

We had the privilege of experiencing the cicadas. I really do not say that tongue-in-cheek. While they can be annoying, I find them fascinating. I love how they shed their skin and you can pick up a perfectly formed exoskeleton, how even with their big red eyes they fly around practically blind, the fact that the female cuts a scar into a tree and deposits 400-600 eggs, and how after the eggs hatch they burrow into the ground and feed on juices of tree roots only to emerge 17 years later. I can still see David taking off his ball cap and swatting at them as they flew aimlessly into him while he mowed the lawn.

My friend Alice and her three children came to visit us that summer. Alice had travelled through Louisville, KY on her journey to our house and had encountered an onslaught of cicadas. Traffic had been heavy, sometimes at a standstill, and she had to not only endure the heat but the cicadas pinging half-hazardly in and out of her car. By the time she was seated in our living room with a cool glass of water, she was, quite frankly, slightly traumatized by the experience.

We were exchanging stories and happy to be together, when Alice said, “I have been around them for so long, I feel like I can still hear them.” And then, a slow but dawning, mortified look crept across Alice’s face as she calmly stated, “I think, I have one on me, I really do.” After lifting her arm a little and looking at her armpit from the vantage point of the front neckline of her top, she spotted her flying foe. She turned to my sixteen-year-old son, Philip, reached out her arm and said words I am sure she never thought she would utter, “Philip, please put your hand down my shirt sleeve. Grab it now! Get it out of there. Get it off of me!” After Philip accomplished this mission complete with gasp and giggles by everyone, I turned to my friend and said, “I know that was gross, and I know they can be a nuisance, but I like them; they make beautiful music.” To which, of course, she understandably rolled her eyes at me.

Our friends visited for several days before they headed further west, and we had a great time showing them the city. On the last day, Alice and I made a run to the Sam’s Club for a few things. As we pulled into the parking spot and I began to roll up my window, I heard the close-up sound of a cicada. We got out of the car and I noticed – depending on the gestures I made with my arm – I kept hearing a cicada, up close and personal.

It wasn’t long before I realized I must have picked up an unwelcome passenger. I slowly lifted my arm, peeked down my shirt and there he sat in my armpit. I did what any rational person would do- I threw my purse across the parking lot, ran around in large circles at least three times, jumped up and down, all while screaming at the top of my lungs. When Alice convinced me to quit running, she rescued me by scooping the flying menace out of my shirt and off my body.

As we walked into the store, I was ranting and raving about what a terrible experience that was and how disgusting it was to have a cicada in my armpit. My dear friend looked at me with a sly grin as her words dryly rolled off her tongue, “Oh, but Jamie, they make such beautiful music!”


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  1. Phyllis says:

    Gave me a chuckle this morning.

  2. Linda says:

    Loved this!!!! You are too funny!

  3. We have been enjoying the cicadas this week, too! Since we are new to the area we are fascinated by them. We’ve been searching them out, observing the holes in the ground where they burrowed out, and watching them shed their skins (?). We are amazed at how huge and loud they are!

  4. Oh, and the picture you paint here is hilarious!

    1. Thanks Wendy! I find them fascinating in spite of the experience in the story. The year we had them, they were everywhere!

  5. Alice Carpenter says:

    I remember this like it was yesterday! Oh, man, I laughed until I cried reading this just now! I love you, Jamie, and will never forget the look on your face when you realized it was on you.

    1. Alice, it is one of my favorite stories with one of my favorite people! Love you friend!

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