The roof with the black X is our house; two streets away is a school, it's the one with a blue X. It's a sizeable school now, but 30 years ago, it was just a one-story three-classroom building. I went to pre-school there.
This was the educational system back then: three years of "pre-school" (nursery, kindergarten, prep); six years of elementary school (some schools had seven: first grade to seventh grade); four years of high school; four or five years to get a college degree. Today, many schools have a junior nursery level; that makes it four years that a child has to go to school before he or she can enter first grade--which, I think is ridiculous.
Anyway, I didn't have to go through nursery and kindergarten--just prep--because I could already read and write. Prep was a good year for me. It was then that I really fell in love--with books and fireflies.
The school had a big, big tree in front of it. I remember one time when the school asked our parents to allow us to stay late for a "nature" lesson. We knew that it had to do something with the tree. But, majestic as it was, we were puzzled at having to stay late. I mean, the tree was just there and we saw it every day. Why did we need to see it at night?
In a word: fireflies.
That night, it seemed like the tree was all dressed up...a most captivating creature. It looked like it was wearing a million multi-colored Christmas lights, except that the lights never stayed still for long. They blinked; they dimmed and grew brighter then dimmed again; they flitted from leaf to leaf and branch to branch. The tree's trunk was festooned with yellows, blues, oranges, reds, greens. I was mesmerized at the beauty and magic of the sight. The memory of it enthralls me even now.
It seemed like every summer evening after that night found me and my friends and siblings underneath the trees in or behind our street (after a day of playing and after dinner), watching the fireflies, catching them in bottles, setting them free again. Looking back, it seems like childhood was one long summer: idyllic, carefree, innocent. Full of wonder and laughter. Sure, there were tears, but perhaps they're one of the reasons why the fun and the laughter were so heartfelt.
But, as with all things--good and bad, it came to an end. We grew up, the fireflies vanished, never to be seen again, except perhaps in memory. It's been years since I last saw a firefly. The houses that mushroomed in the streets and the cutting down of trees saw to that. Even the gigantic mango trees behind our house have ceased to become the haunt of those beautiful and magical creatures.
My pre-school days reminds me of a whimsical yet inspiring
book by Robert Fulghum: All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten (even though I didn't go to kindergarten). Fulghum says that everything he really needs to know about living and how to live and what to do he learned in kindergarten. Such as:
Don't hit people.
Put things back where you found them.
Clean up your own mess.
Don't take things that aren't yours.
Say you're sorry when you hurt somebody.
Wash your hands before you eat.
When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.
I subscribe to all of these, but maybe I'd add one more thing--not to his list, but to my own: never again forget the beauty and magic of the fireflies.