Williams column: Finger and frog were both casualties

Published 12:00 am Monday, April 2, 2012

By Mack Williams
For the Salisbury Post
Just the other day, the gardener for our butterfly garden at the museum showed me a jar full of hatchling praying mantises from an over-wintered mantis egg case. Due to their predatory nature, praying mantises should be referred to as “preying,” not “praying,” but the seemingly reverent flexing of their front legs gives them a sacred appearance which is in appearance only, and undeserved. During the summer, I have seen fully grown mantises lined up on the outside of the enclosing net of our butterfly garden with their front legs folded in a “supplication” which may go something to the effect: “Please let me gain entrance to this peaceful haven for butterflies, so that I may assume the position at the top of the food chain there, becoming like a lion among sheep, engorging myself freely, at will!”
I advised the gardener to release these “babies” somewhere far away, and mentioned also that due to their cannibalistic nature, prolonged enclosure within the mason jar would eventually result in one “fat” praying mantis!
This reminded me of other “canned” creatures brought to Granite Quarry School in similar Mason jars when I was a child. They provided a bit of the science lab, long before any of us were of an age to have “science lab” as a part of our curriculum.
Most of these were insects, but one day I encountered an amphibian, a tiny little frog. It was being carried home on the bus by another child who had “showed it off “ for his class (a different class than mine). For that little boy, the frog’s novelty must have already been on the wane, because he said to me, “Do you want it?” I said, “Yes, definitely” (since I was only 9 years old, the word “definitely” was probably not used, but in its place a huge exclamation mark!)
The jar was much smaller than those which I had seen used by my mother or grandmother Williams in their pressure cookers. Its smaller size designated it for jelly rather than stringbeans, and it seemed to provide just enough enclosed space for a tiny frog’s “day at school.”
I was determined that the little frog would have a larger, better home, so later that night, I found an old fishbowl which had been stored away, its former residents now lying within my backyard “graveyard” of little pets.
Later that night, I placed the frog in a pasteboard box while I washed out the fishbowl. I felt that he was probably becoming cramped and might appreciate more breathing space than what was available in the jelly jar, even with the holes that had been punched into its lid.
While washing the fishbowl, the natural slipperiness of wet glass made it slip from my hand and shatter when hitting the basin of the sink. After that, there was only pain and panic! A sliver of glass had cut through the little finger of my left hand, to the bone. The flap of living flesh was lying open, and the white color of finger bone could be seen.
I started screaming and running through the house! I flailed my hand about as I ran, blood being spattered on the floor below and the walls of the hall which led from the bathroom containing the sink where the fishbowl had shattered (through subsequent changes to the architecture of my old home, that hall exists now only in my mind).
My mother stopped me and wrapped a towel around my hand. My father had already left for his third-shift work at the Spencer yard, and my brother Joe had gone out, so our next-door neighbor, Mr. Paul Ritchie, was called upon to give his aid, as he graciously did on this and other occasions (which is what a true gentleman does in this world). Mr. Ritchie drove my mother and me to the emergency room at Rowan Memorial Hospital, where my finger was stitched up, and we returned home.
Joe had returned home before us, and I remember him saying that when he opened the door, looked at the floor, then the walls, he felt that he had walked into the scene of a murder, but that he could locate no bodies! I was exhausted from the screaming, blood, etc., and immediately went to bed after coming back from the emergency room, forgetting about the tiny little frog still sitting in the pasteboard box.
If that particular frog had been a toad, a species not needing constant humidity for an extended amount of time, he would have fared much better than he did! Unfortunately, he was a “true” tiny little frog, and throughout that night, within that arid box, he dried out and died. When I awoke, remembered, and looked in on him the next morning, it was as if he were mummified, still sitting in an upright position. I gave him a decent burial in my backyard.
Even to this day, the little finger of my left hand is numb in places, because the nerve was cut through. In a sense, my finger was a casualty of that night, but the poor little frog a worse one.