Do you remember summer in the seventies? I do. As my eyelids lower under the weight of a glass of chardonnay and the grandchildren squeal while their parents fuss over sunscreen and hats, I can see myself, lacquered in Johnson & Johnson baby oil, running across the spongy green grass of our front lawn.
I wore baby-doll pyjamas from early afternoon – they must have been my favourite – or perhaps they just dried quickly and my mother was sick of all the washing – the sprinkler did the job for her. I had those skinny little legs that make you marvel at anatomy – like a foal flicking and dancing, discovering just how far and how high I could stretch. I think I may even have turned cartwheels. Is that how you say it? “Turned cartwheels.” It’s been so long I have forgotten the words. My ankles would be splattered with mud if I chanced on a barren patch.
Those gaps in the carpet of our lawn were few and far between. I can only think it was where my father had sprayed the bindiis – those horrible little spikey seed heads that wedged between your toes, making you hop or drop to the ground in an instant. Perhaps it was curl grubs that bothered him. There was always something that needed treating. Our lawn was a masterpiece of suburban pride and seventies ingenuity. Fertilised, aerated, mown and pesticided on a regimented schedule.
We were only ever allowed onto the front lawn on summer nights. I don’t know why. Perhaps it was cooler or there was less traffic. Our house was a fibro box built quickly during the boom times of the Second World War. I don’t even know if air conditioning existed. If it did, well no one I knew had it. Luxury was a backyard pool of any kind. Ours was a blue tarp that caught the excess water from the sprinkler. When we were done, the pool was lifted and we would watch the water run across the concrete drive and down the street. The little fence with its perfectly painted wire and iron gate was the only barrier between us and the highway. Trucks would ‘ba-boom’ over the join in the concrete out front.
As we pranced over our sodden lawn, Christmas beetles would zoom past, and cicadas sing. The little zip zip and then zzzzzzz, if we actually let them sit still long enough tense their muscles to sing. Do you remember how hard it was to catch them? My brother would try to stun them with a badminton racquet – and then we would scamper to collect them and shove them in a jar.
I can still remember the tickly feel of their hooked feet as they tried to escape from the palm of my hand, or if I was too slow and the little copper wings opened and beat against my fingers until I shrieked and let them disappear. The ones that were too slow were given grass and a glad wrap cover punched with holes – to keep them alive – apparently. I would peer into the glass and watch as they tried desperately to escape. If one stopped moving, well we should shake the jar, and if it still didn’t move, we just tipped them out and started again.
Christmas beetles were everywhere, as was the water that saturated our bodies. There was always more. Another ice block, another night, another day. The temperature would drop, and I would curl into my bed, the window open wide and count trucks as they passed over the concrete join out front of the house, a pillow over my ears to drown out the cicadas.
Now I sit with my window wide and rejoice at the squeal of a cicada who has taken residence in my garden, but the Christmas beetles no longer join them. I haven’t seen them in years, or the Bogong moths that carpeted the concrete verandah in the mornings, victims to an evolutionary trait that had not yet mastered the electric light bulb.
If only I could go back to a time when my knees could frolic, bringing with it all my twenty-first-century wisdom. I would like to think I would cry out at the lawn regime, the pesticides that doused the larvae of the Christmas beetle, and catch all that water that ran across the concrete and disappeared into drains.
But would I? Or would I sit comfortably in my chair and smile at the delighted squeals, grateful for a moment’s peace, as I poured myself another glass?