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Get Home When the Streetlights Go On


After pulling weeds, mowing lawns, playing, or swimming under hot summer sun, evening breezes provided welcome relief during games of softball and freeze tag played at dusk during my childhood. As a youngster, I loved being outside under lavender, apricot, and rose tinted  skies when cool winds blew  and tangled hair into Medusa-like snakes and tickled sunburnt skin. This was a such a positive part of my life that I still enjoy replaying mental videos of evenings my brother and I invented new games or enjoyed old standbys with neighborhood kids after supper.

These end of day activities also trained me to respond physically to streetlights flickering on just as Pavlov trained dogs to react to ringing dinner bells. No, I didn’t start salivating when those bulbs lit up, but I did know to hurry home for the night if I wanted to continue to stay outside with my pals until later  streetlights brightened future nights. Mom’s tone was clear about following this directive, and I knew she meant what she said. Decades later, seeing this golden glow silhouetted by twilight still triggers a need to hustle inside for an evening bath and a good read before bedtime. 

These days, as I enjoy cool evening breezes on the patio, I hear kids competing loudly for the next shot at the basketball goals a few blocks away. Just north of us is a community park where children swing, slide, struggle up the climbing wall, and toss sycamore balls and acorns in the air. Their laughter floats into my yard on cool evening zephyrs. Their voices and giggles transport me back to my own carefree childhood and the recollection of knowing a streetlight turning on meant it was time to halt my fun and skedaddle home.

Apparently, this signal still works because many nights when I’m working in the flowerbed or garden, twilight sounds shift from singing birds and laughing children to that faint electronic buzz emitted by towering lamps high overhead. It isn’t long before insect hums accompany that manmade sound. Chirping crickets and buzzing cicadas in nearby trees join distant frogs and Wodehouse toads to add a rhythmic backbeat sounding like quickly shaken maracas and a throbbing bass in the descending darkness. Most little kids and their noises are tucked inside lighted rooms or already in bed as beetles hum and pop when they fly too close to those yellow beams.

Despite these intriguing reverberations, I often don’t stay outside long enough to hear all the nigh t sounds. Due to my mother’s effective training during my early years, this body still responds to that cue drilled into me as a little girl. You’d better get home as soon as the street light goes on. Even though it’s been eons since I had to follow that command, every fiber in my carcass answers to that golden flicker. It’s a magnet that pulls me indoors.