Love And The Magical Jar Of Real Lightning Bug Juice


As for my fifth birthday party, Daddy was right. Mom made that party more memorable than any Fairy Godmother or jar of magic lightning bug juice ever could.

As for my fifth birthday party, Daddy was right. Mom made that party more memorable than any Fairy Godmother or jar of magic lightning bug juice ever could.

As my fifth birthday drew closer, I imagined myself as Cinderella. I wanted my first real birthday party to be as memorable as the night Cinderella and the prince fell in love — the night her foot fit into the glass slipper.

There was only one problem … I didn’t have a Fairy Godmother. How could there be a really truly magical birthday party without a Fairy Godmother to wave a wand and sing Bibbity Bobbity Boo?

When I confided my worries to Daddy, he set me on his lap and whispered in my ear, Don’t worry about the Fairy Godmother, Doodle. You don’t need one. You’ve got mommy. And you’ve got a great big family that loves you.”

“Uh huh,” I said — and then I took a deep breath … just for a dash of moxie … and whispered in his ear, “But, Daddy? Mommy said it would be a real birthday party. Does that mean there won’t be any magic?”

“No magic?” He rose to the floor like a mighty giant and held me up to his chiseled face until our noses touched … our matching Carolina blue eyes locked on one another, heart to heart, blood to blood.

I could feel his breath against my mouth and taste the words almost before he formed them.”Your mother has a jar of real lightning bug juice she hides in the kitchen. That’s why she’s so good at magical surprises,” he said.

“Real lightning bug juice?” I gasped, delighted with the prospects. The Fairy Godmother didn’t hold a candle to a lightning bug. Daddy had taught me well. I loved anything that sparkled …

Fireworks on the fourth of July. Diamonds on movie stars. And, oh … those sparklers on sticks that Daddy would light up after dinner in the summertime. If I promised to be careful, he would let me hold one until the last bit of light had drifted onto the soft carpet of grass in the front yard.

But more than anything … even more than the summer sparklers … I loved the glow and the flicker of lightning bugs. I loved how a true living thing could produce its own brilliance — its own life. The first time I saw them I instinctively knew I was witnessing an incandescent miracle.

There is nothing more wondrous than a menagerie of lightning bugs dancing against the Blue Ridge sky.

After dinner, while mom was ironing clothes, Daddy and I sneaked into the kitchen to search for the jar of Real Lightning Bug Juice. We continued our quest the following night, but no matter where we looked, the hiding place for the magic jar remained a mystery.

The searching game continued for a while — until I grew old enough to know the difference between Daddy’s games and real life. But I continued to play Find the Magic Lightning Bug Juice for four more years until my little brother, Bryan, came to the same conclusion … the Lightning Bug Game had become a family tradition. What was wrong with holding on to it just a little bit longer?

As for my fifth birthday party, Daddy was right. Mom made that party more memorable than any Fairy Godmother or jar of Magic Lightning Bug Juice ever could … that was the genius of a woman who had taught herself to make something special out of nothing much.

For birthday party favors, she turned Crisco cans into doll-sized vanities for the girls and invented tiny newspaper boats for the boys. She also created take-home sugar cookie treats,stamped with the patterns of old coat buttons.

And the cake. I don’t know whether it was Daddy’s idea or Mom’s — but Mom had made a three-layer chocolate cake with white icing — and had substituted sparklers for candles. After the sparklers died out, she presented me with a cupcake topped with five candles so I could blow them out and make a wish.

It was just about as perfect as any day I’d ever had. Shirley Branch always could, as Grandpappy Sherrill used to say, “turn a mutt into a prize-winning hound dog.”

The biggest surprise was that mom had secretly saved enough of her grocery money to buy me a Ginny Doll. Ginny Dolls were all the rage, and I was the only little girl — at least that I knew of at the time — to have one.

Lost in the perfect moment of that magical day — and smiling obediently as Daddy took my picture, I didn’t realize (what five year old would?) that mom had spent almost as much on that real Ginny doll as she would’ve for a week’s worth of groceries.

I didn’t think twice when we had spaghetti (with no meatballs) three nights in a row the following week. And I never noticed that mom washed and wore the same thin cotton dress six days in a row.

Only now do I look back and treasure my real birthday present — the gift that stayed in my heart year after year.


My mom and dad really loved me. And love, my friend, is better than a million magical jars of Real Lightning Bug Juice.

I’d love to hear about what you think … do you have any real memories to share? We want to hear them!

All photos © Deb Trotter
Raised On Love – My Blue Ridge Memoir

“Raised On Love. Dreaming of Lightning Bugs.”



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