Saturday, May 21, 2005
The Caterpillar Funeral
I was outside finishing my chores for the morning--sweeping the upstairs and downstairs patios and the long sloping driveway that led up to our house. Iris was cleaning the glasstop tables and the lawn chairs. She finished before me and followed me to the downstairs patio, waiting for me to be done so we could play badmiton.

The concrete was scattered with dead caterpillars.

"Ewwwwww. Gross." I shuddered. I was never a big fan of spiders, worms or crawly things. I picked my way across the patio and began sweeping the fuzzy bodies into the grass.

"No--wait!"

I turned around to see Iris carefully pushing one of the dead caterpillars onto a leaf.

"Come here and help me."

I looked at her doubtfully. "What are you doing?"

My sister walked over and placed the leaf on the patio wall. "I think we should give them a funeral."

"A funeral for worms?" She was clearly out of her mind.

"They're not worms--they're caterpillars."

"I know but come on!" I didn't get it. "Why do you want to do that?"

Iris looked up at me, suddenly serious. "Because they didn't make it. They tried to get away, to be free, to be something beautiful. But they didn't make it. They died and they never became butterflies. And now they're just lying here like they never mattered."

"Nothing should ever feel like it didn't matter," she added quietly.

I knew she wasn't just talking about caterpillars.

I sighed. "Ok. We'll have a funeral."

Iris smiled.

"But I'm not touching those things," I added quickly. "No matter what you say. It's too gross"

For the next hour, we gathered leaves from the maple trees next to our house that we used to hold the bodies. I found two twigs in the backyard that we could use to push the caterpillars onto the leaves. After about an hour, we had about forty little caterpillars laid out side by side on the patio wall.

"They look sort of bare," I offered. "Maybe we should add some flowers or something?"

My sister nodded. "Good idea."

We went over to the ladybug bush in the backyard. It was really just a big bush covered with tiny white blossoms, but there were always tons of ladybugs living there. Sometimes they would fly onto our arms, which meant good luck.

Sister Mary Reginald said that back in Europe during the Middle Ages, insects were detroying the crops, so the farmers prayed to the Virgin Mary to protect them. The ladybugs came and ate all the pests and saved the crops. The people called them 'Beetles of Our Lady'. Their red wings were supposed to represent her cloak and the black spots, her sorrows and joys.

I liked the ladybugs and always took special care to knock down any spider webs I found on the bush so they woulndn't get stuck in them.

We pinched off a few of the white flowers and carried them back to the patio. Iris placed a tiny blossom on each leaf. "That's better."

I looked at her. "Now what?"

"I think we should sing something."

"How about that John Denver song? Goodbye Again?"

Iris shook her head. "Too sad."

"How about Close to You?" I secretly wanted to sing like Karen Carpenter one day.

"No. I think it should be a church song. Something religious."

We sat silently for a minute, thinking.

"Hail Mary?" Iris offered.

"I don't know. That one doesn't make sense really. I don't think caterpillars are big on sin. Maybe something with animals in it?"

Finally we decided on a song we had learned for the folk mass a couple of weeks before.

We stood together solemnly holding hands:

"I heard the sound of the year that lay dying
Hurt by lament of a lone whipperwill.
Spirit of God, see that cloud crying,
Fill the earth, bring it to birth, and flow where you will.
Flow, flow, flow till I be
The breath of the Spirit blowing in me. . ."

. . . . . . . . . . . . .

"Juno?"

"Mmmmmm?" I was digging a hole with Aunt Fran's hand spade that I had stolen out of the storage room.

"Do you think animals go to heaven when they die?"

"I don't know." I scooped out another mound of dirt. "In religion class they say no, that animals just sort of disappear because they have no souls. But I don't think that's really fair. I like animals a lot better than most people I know."

Iris nodded. "Me too."

"Besides, grownups believe a lot of stupid things. They think dead babies that aren't baptized go to Limbo. If things really worked that way, God would have to hang out in heaven with a bunch of dumb adults instead of cute babies and animals. I don't think he'd like that very much."

We carefully placed the caterpillars in the hole and gently covered them up with dirt.

"Let's make a promise," I said suddenly.

"What kind of promise?"

"Let's promise each other that if there's an animal heaven we'll go there instead of the people one. It'll be easier to find each other, and we won't have to float around all day and pray and stuff.

"Maybe we could even rescue the Limbo babies?" Iris had that glint in her eye.

I grinned. "Maybe we could."

Iris crooked her pinkie. "Promise?"

I hooked my little finger around hers. "Promise."
Memories and musings shared by Juno
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I'm a 40-something writer, artist, and Jill-of-All-Trades. For me, magic is looking at the ordinary and seeing the extraordinary. My writing tends to take me to unexpected places--not so surprising when I think about it. I had an unusual growing up and have always chosen the offbeat over the "safe". I prefer interesting people over beautiful ones, and I am fascinated by people's stories. What I love most about life is its glorious imperfections and fantastic plot twists.

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