During my time in graduate school at Auburn University, an entomologist and his wife lived in the apartment next door to my wife and me. The bug man and I became car-washing buddies one Sunday afternoon. We developed a friendship and remained close buddies throughout grad school and afterwards. At the outset of our relationship, he seemed to be a sternly serious-minded fellow who did not smile or laugh at all. I have always been quick with a quip, pun or joke, so, at first, I got a lot of blank stares from my stolid friend. Later, as our friendship developed, though, he learned to laugh. I saw why he was reluctant to laugh when I realized he could not control the mirth. I mean, he was a fall-to-the-floor laugher.
He had a study going on out at one of Auburn’s large ponds involving weirdly constructed flytraps. He was studying some esoteric thing about reproductive habits of adult horseflies and he was diligent and focused. He invited me to go along on the horsefly study one Saturday, telling me to bring my fishing stuff because there were bream in that pond. While he collected his bugs along the bank and attended to his clipboard, I pulled in one big old bulge-headed bluegill after another. Later, back at the apartment when I started scaling the catch with a spoon, my friend stopped me. He had a better idea. With the skill of a surgeon he skinned and filleted those bream in a jiffy. My wife fried the plump filets Southern fashion with French fries and hot water cornbread and he and his wife joined us for a great feast, replete with onions and radishes.
After he received his masters’ degree, as an Army reservist, he shipped out to Viet Nam. I got several letters from him and wrote him often, sending him encouraging words with some good jokes I thought he would like. In my mind’s eye I could see him falling back on his bunk laughing breathlessly. He came home safely from the war and moved on to his first civilian job at about the time I joined the faculty at Southern State College.
Early in my tenure there, the bug man called me. He was in town and we went to eat and he and his wife spent some time with us. He told me he was studying the larvae of mosquitoes from holes up in trees. His theory was that mosquitoes that deposited their larvae in tree holes were hardier than those that developed at ground level. They invited us to camp alongside them up at De Gray so I could help him collect wigglers. We went and enjoyed it. He climbed trees with a siphon hose and jar and came back down with his prize. I watched and tried not to say anything funny. It was a successful field trip.
A few weeks after that visit, I received a U. S. Government package containing a test tube with an adult tree-hole mosquito mounted on a pin, purportedly from those wigglers we collected. I gave it a prominent place on my desk as I must have been the only English teacher in America that had an adult tree hole mosquito on display.