My parents were married for 17 years before a child was born to them. I was the first born and my brother came approximately 16 months later. When I was old enough to ponder how married folks care about each other I admit I still did not understand it very well. I was a very innocent child. Something occurred late one summer that prompted me to believe that my father loved my mother very much.
We lived in the midst of several huge pecan trees. There was also a pecan orchard nearby. I was probably 11 or 12 years old that summer. We began to notice that many of the trees were becoming infested with webs of some sort. Inside the webs were masses of writhing worms Momma became very upset about those webs and those worms. When she would see one of those webs and worms she would have a fit. I didn’t know much about mental health back then, but I began to worry about my mom’s mental state.
Just what are web worms? The fall webworm’s scientific name is Hyphantria cunea and those worms were the result of eggs laid by a moth. I didn’t remember the worms being a problem in years past nor years later.
Daddy devised a plan to get rid of the worms. He did not use any insecticides for fear of harming the good earthworms that helped the soil around the trees. Daddy’s plan involved a very long pole with a kerosene-soaked cloth on the end and plenty of matches. Brother and I were going on the expedition with him. Daddy’s plan was to burn every web around our farm and any nearby area where there were webs.
The day of our expedition dawned bright and sunny. A Saturday was chosen so my brother and I could go. We set off right after breakfast. Brother and I helped carry Daddy’s arsenal. We watched with a great deal of fascination as Daddy lit the first kerosene soaked rag and raised the flame to the web. Within minutes the web was burning and so were the worms. We worked all day. By late afternoon there was not a web full of those awful worms anywhere to be seen. We trudged home feeling smug and happy. Perhaps the happiest person of all was my momma.
All these years later, the memory of that eradication returns sometimes when I think of my parents and the love they must have shared. They were married nine months shy of 50 years. Something else returns with the memory — the smell of those burning worms …