Prime Time: Entrepreneurs hunt for bait, chaos ensues
The smell of new-mown hay takes me back to a mid-summer's day on Grandma's farm when I helped my brother catch frogs in the newly mown field.
The hay lay in loose mats, drying in the hot summer sun. We had to jump on the window of opportunity between the mowing and the baling. Mr. Hilger, an avid fisherman, wanted fresh frogs for fishing bait. My brother had volunteered to round some up.
We often found small frogs and toads in Grandma's dirt-floored cellar, but the ones in the hayfield were long and lean quick jumpers. Mom had lent us her scrub bucket and a plastic lid that fit on top of it. Tom and I trudged across the yard and into the hayfield.
The heavy, moist, earthy smell of the hay hung in the air as we waded through the newly cut tangle. Before we had walked far, frogs began jumping in all directions. At first I was much too slow to catch them and hesitated to pounce when they leapt. Tom was a master. He watched, timed their leaps, anticipated where they would land, swooped down with an open hand, trapped them, snatched them up, put them into the bucket, and slapped the cover back on before they could escape.
The task became more challenging as we gathered more frogs because each time we opened the lid, we risked the escape of the occupants. With Tom as my model, I caught on to the rhythm of the task.
Watch, predict, swoop. Don't think about the moist skin of the frogs in my small hands. Pay no attention to their wiggling legs as they try to get free. Open the lid, deposit the frog, and plop the lid back on before the others can jump out.
The frogs were quick and well-camouflaged - their greenish skins blending with the fresh-cut hay. They leaped only when we stepped too close. Within half an hour, though, we had a half-filled bucket of squirming, jumping frogs, bumping against the lid and the sides of the bucket, trying to escape.
"That's enough," Tom said. "Let's go.
He led the way back to the farmyard, carrying the bucket by the handle, and I followed in his footsteps across the drying hay. We chased up more frogs on the way back, but we had our quota. These lucky frogs lived to leap freely again.
Mom had waited at the house, visiting with Grandma. When we arrived, Tom put the bucket of frogs in the back seat of the car. We all said goodbye to Grandma and Mom drove us back to town.
When we stopped at Mr. Hilger's house to drop off the frogs, and Tom brought the bucket out of the car, Mom reminded him, "I need my bucket back."
"OK," Tom said as we headed up the walk. Mr. Hilger wasn't home, but his wife greeted us at her front door. She knew what was in the bucket and was ready with a few dollars for our work.
"My mom needs her bucket back," Tom said before grabbing the money from her outstretched hand.
"Oh," she said, obviously not having anticipated a transfer of the cargo. "I'll get a pail." She went down her basement stairs and emerged shortly with a plastic scrub bucket.
As soon as Tom removed the lid from Mom's bucket, the delicacy of the task at hand occurred to the three of us. The 20 or so frogs that had settled into a relatively sedate mode were re-invigorated with the removal of the lid. Twenty frogs started moving about, jumping up, clawing their way up their cohorts in an attempt to escape. The three of us with six hands could not contain this amphibian revolt. Thinking quickly, Tom tipped the bucket in an attempt to "pour" the frogs.
This is where the recorded image in my brain pauses whenever I reflect on this event. Imagine, if you will, two children and a middle-aged woman standing in the entryway of the woman's home. Imagine that this entryway is near the open door to the basement and also leads to the woman's kitchen. Imagine 20 frogs, impatient with their imprisonment and desperate to leap free of the confines of the bucket. Then imagine an opportunity presenting itself for these frogs to leap in many different directions as they are being poured from one bucket to the other.
Take the image off "pause" and you get the chaotic scene that followed: Frogs leaping in all directions, the middle-aged woman scrambling to keep them from jumping down the stairs, the children trying to channel them into the woman's pail, the frogs springing to escape into the kitchen, one frog hopping across the kitchen floor toward the dining room, another frog finding a hiding place under the refrigerator.
Finally the last frog was out of Mom's bucket, but poor Mrs. Hilger scurried about her kitchen uttering desperate words to the frogs:
"Oh! No, get back here! Into the pail. Not under there! Oh! Oh!"
She thrust the money into my brother's hand and thanked us as the screen door slammed shut. We took Mom's bucket to the car, but I've always wondered how long it was before poor Mrs. Hilger stopped finding frogs in unusual hiding places in her home, and I don't believe my brother had any follow-up requests from Mr. Hilger for more frogs after that day.