Goats and Bugs

by Nick Brady

Chapter 6

George came home from school to see the red light flashing on their answering machine. He picked it up and pressed the button to hear the message:

"Hello. This is Herbert Neuroth. Jim Sweeney the County Agent asked me to call George Cassidy about his interest in Entomology for a 4-H project. I hope this is the right number. If you are interested, please call me at 870-640-3024. That's my cell phone so you can call me any time before about eight PM. I hope to hear from you."

George Jumped up and clapped his hands. "The bug guy!" He called the number immediately. It rang three times then a deep voice answered. "This is Herbert."

"Yes sir. This is George Cassidy. You called about my 4-H Entomology project?"

"Oh yes. Thank you for getting back to me so quickly. Can you tell me about your interest in Entomology?"

"Well,I would like to have a project for the 4-H Club, but I live in an apartment so I can't raise an animal to show. Mr. Sweeney came to my school and told me that I could make an insect collection and show that at the fair. I've already started but I don't know much about it."

"I see. How did you get started and what have you done so far?"

"Mr. Sweeney gave me some pamphlets that showed how to make my equipment, and I made a collecting net and the killing jar. My friend helped me make a mounting board. That's all so far. I've caught a few bugs and tried to mount them but they don't look that great. I didn't have the right pins."

Herbert paused to take this all in. "You did all that just with a pamphlet?"

"Yes sir. Well, I did buy the Golden Guide to Insects. I used that to figure out what the bugs were. I mean the insects. I just got started so I don't have very many. And I need something to put them in."

Herbert smiled. "You seem to be off to a fast start. I would like to sit down with you and try to help you with your project. It will be a pleasure to work with someone who has so much enthusiasm. I work nine to five but I can come to your apartment if someone can be there with you, or you can come to my home. My wife will be there. I have some things there that you might find interesting. I'm sure we can agree on a time."

"That would be great. My mother could bring me to your house. Do you have an insect collection?"

Herbert chuckled. "Oh yes. I have a large collection. My wife complains about it all the time. I can be home to meet you any evening except Friday. Check with your mother and give me a call. I look forward to meeting you."

"Yes sir! I'll get back to you very soon. I promise!"

George sat down and tried to be patient. As soon as Phyllis came home he pounced on her. "Mom! The bug guy called and I need to go to his house to talk to him. He has this HUGE insect collection and he'll tell me all about it. I'll have the best insect collection ever!"

"Wait a minute please. Let me sit down," Phyllis threw up her hands. "Slow down and try this again."

"OK. This guy, his name is Herbert Neuroth. He's the bug guy – the expert on Entomology that Jim Sweeney the County Agent asked to work with people who want to do an Entomology project for 4-H. He wants you to bring me to his house to see his insect collection and tell me what to do."

"Oh. Well, I suppose that's a little clearer. What do you know about this man who has invited you to his house?"

"He wants you to bring me any evening except Friday, and his wife will be there. He sounds respectable, OK? I'm supposed to call him to set up a day and time. What sounds good to you?"

"You sound very determined," Phyllis said.

"I am," George replied. "I really want to do this."

Phyllis took a deep breath. "I suppose I will be free on Wednesday. I'd like time to eat something after I get home from work if youdon't mind. How about 7:00?"

George smiled. "May I call Mr. Neuroth now?"

"I suppose," Phyllis sighed.

George jumped on the phone and hit the redial button then waited. After three rings a woman answered the phone. "Hello? She said.

"This is George Cassidy. May I speak to Herbert Neuroth please?"

"Just a moment. Herb? It's for you."

"Hello? This is Herbert."

"This is George. Would Wednesday evening at 7:00 be OK?"

"George? Oh yes, George. Certainly. 7:00 o'clock would be fine. How will you get here?"

"My mother will bring me. Her name is Phyllis. She would like to meet you."

"Of course. Fine then. I'll see you on Wednesday."

They hung up. George turned to his mother and grinned. "It's all set up."

George managed to wait until he and Bobby were at lunch to tell him. "I talked to the bug guy last night. Mom is taking me to his house Wednesday night. He has a HUGE insect collection and he's going to help me!"

Bobby chewed his sandwich. "Great. I guess you're excited."

"Sure. I'm excited. Wouldn't you be?"

"If I was you I would be," Bobby grinned. "That's cool, George. Me? I'm a goat guy. I get them this weekend."

"Cool! We're off and running then."

"Yep. You want to come out and see them?"

"This weekend?"

"Sure. It's OK with my dad."

"Have you already asked him?"

"He said it would be alright. Check with your mom."

"I don't know. I was just out there last weekend. I'll have to have a good reason."

"We've got lots of bugs," Bobby grinned. "Come and get 'em."

Wednesday night couldn't come soon enough to suit George. When his mother came home, he had recycled some leftovers, made a salad and had dinner on the table. "Hi, Mom."

Phyllis looked surprised then recalled, "Oh yes, it's Wednesday. Well, a promise is a promise. Let me eat something then I'll take you to see this man."

"Herbert Neuroth. His name is Herbert Neuroth," George reminded her. "He sounds like a very nice man and I bet you'll like him."

"We'll see," she said, and sat down at the table. After a minute she looked up to see that George had eaten and was sitting expectantly with his arms folded across his chest.

"No hurry," he said.

"Oh George, honestly! When you get your mind set on something it has to happen immediately. Let me eat in peace. I'll be ready in just a minute!"

Properly chastised, George sat on the sofa and reviewed the contents of the cardboard box he planned to take with him. It contained his killing jar, mounting board and a shoe box with his few crudely mounted insects. He would carry the net separately. He was ready and looked into the kitchen to see that his mother was loading the dishwasher.

"Alright," she said, picking up her purse. "I'm ready."

George jumped to his feet, gathered up his equipment and opened the door for his mother. He gave her Mr. Neuroth's address as they drove away. Ten minutes later they pulled up in front of a two story brick house in a nice part of town. They went to the door and rang the bell. In a minute the door opened.

"Hello," the man said. "You must be George. I'm Herbert Neuroth," he said, extending his hand to George's mother, "And you must be Phyllis. How do you do? Please come in."

Herbert was a fit looking young man with sandy hair and round rimless glasses, wearing a navy sweater and faded blue jeans. Behind him was a petite lady wearing stretch pants, a baggy gray sweater and a pleasant smile. "This is my wife Anita. Please come in and sit down," Herbert said. "Can I get you something?"

"No, thank you," Phyllis said. "We just had dinner." She looked around at the well kept house, a little cluttered with books and display cases containing exotic butterflies." They sat down on a worn but comfortable leather sofa with matching chairs.

"I understand that you're interested in starting an insect collection. Are these the things you made yourself?" he motioned to George's net and the cardboard box.

"Yes, sir. I got help with the mounting board but I made the rest," George said as he set out his equipment on the coffee table.

"Not bad at all. Certainly enough to get started. Let me see what's in the shoe box."

George hesitated then revealed his meager specimens. "These are not much, Mr. Neuroth. I really don't know what I'm doing."

"Call me Herb, please, and these aren't bad at all for a first attempt. I think I can help you. Where did you get the pins?"

"Um, out of my mother's sewing box. I know they aren't the right kind."

Herb pulled a packet of long thin black pins from his pocket. "I think you will want to try these. You can get more from the County Agent." He looked at the killing jar and the net with the broomstick handle. "What's in the jar?"

"Fingernail polish remover. That's mostly Acetate, I think."

"That will work," Herb said, looking at the net. This isn't bad at all, but the wire is a little soft. It will bend on you."

"Yes, sir. It's a coat hanger. That's all I could find."

"I see. I might have an old collecting net I could give you. Just a minute." He stepped to a closet and brought back another net, this one with a better handle and a stout wire rim. The netting was finer and much longer. "I think this will work better for you."

George took it and swished it around a bit. "Cool! Thank you."

Herb took the net and moved it quickly, flipping the long tail over and bringing it to the floor. "You will want to trap the insect inside and keep it from moving if you can so that it doesn't damage itself."

"OK. I see," George said. "Can I keep this?"

"Of course," Herb smiled. "I have several."

Phyllis sat quietly, watching all this. "Are you an Entomologist?" She asked.

"No. I'm an EMT," Herb replied. "I got interested in insect collecting when I was in 4-H as a kid and sort of got the bug, if you'll excuse the pun. It has long been a hobby of mine."

"Can we see your collection?" George asked expectantly.

"Sure. I have a few things in here," he said, pointing at the display cases, "but most of it is in the other room. Come on. I'll show you." He stood and led them into a side room. "This was supposed to be a study, but I have turned it into my work room."

Inside the paneled room was a long work table on one side and a tall case with many drawers of specimens. The walls were covered with glass topped display cases, some containing rows of colorful butterflies, others with an assortment of beetles and other insects. All were beautifully mounted with tiny paper tags on which were inscribed the common and scientific names, where caught, and a date.

"Wow!" George exclaimed. These are so cool!"

Herb smiled broadly. "Careful. This can be contagious."

George looked at the contents of one of the display cases. Inside were many different insects that looked to be varieties of grasshoppers. Each was affixed by a long pin in the center. Each of the legs was spread to the sides. On one side the wings were folded back and on the other were pulled out to show the delicate membranes. Each was lined up precisely. The effect was quite beautiful.

"Did you catch all of these yourself?" George asked.

"I did. Some are from near here and others are from my travels."

Anita spoke for the first time. "All our vacations end up being opportunities for Herb to collect things. I have to admit it's a lot of fun. His friends are always coming over with something they think he can use."

Herb laughed. "I guess I'm the bug guy." He sat down at the work table and motioned to George. "Here. Let me show you some things."

Anita said to Phyllis, "Let's leave them to it. I have some fresh decaf. Would you like a cup?" They went back to the living room.

"It's kind of your husband to spend time with George. I'm afraid he can be quite a pest," Phyllis said.

"I think he's pleased to see a young person who shares his interest. There aren't that many who are interested in Entomology."

"I think George expected that there would be several others who would be here."

"No, he's the only one. Last year Herb had several who started out with him but lost interest before long."

I hope that isn't the case with George. He tends to get excited about things then get sidetracked."

Anita laughed. "He certainly seems to be gung-ho right now. We'll have to see if he stays with it."

Anita poured coffee for them. "Your husband seems to have maintained his interest. Did you know he was an avid collector when you met him?" Phyllis asked.

"Oh yes. In fact we met when we were both in 4-H in high school. I was showing an animal at the fair and he had his insect collection."

"Really? What did you show?"

"A pig," Anita laughed. My parents lived out where we had room for a few animals although we didn't have a farm or anything. Herb was buggy when I met him." They both laughed.

The two ladies talked for an hour or so when Phyllis became concerned about the time. "Do you think we need to rescue Herb?" she asked.

"We might need to rescue George. Herb can talk about insect collecting forever. I imagine you need to get on home." They went in the workshop where Herb and George were huddled over a mounting board.

"I think we need to get out of your hair," Phyllis said to Herb. "Come on, George. It's time to go home."

"Aw Mom. Herb is showing me something neat," George protested.

"There will be another time," Phyllis told him.

"Herb looked up. "George is no bother at all, but I imagine that tomorrow is a school day. Let's plan to get together again next week. I may have given him some things to work on between now and then."

George pulled himself away from the bench and shook hands with his new mentor. "Thanks a lot, Herb. I've learned a lot from you already. I'll try to have some things to show you for the next time. Your collection is awesome."

"I've been working on it for a long time. I think you will be surprised how quickly you pick things up. I'm anxious to see what you come up with," Herb said. "I look forward to working with you soon."

George kept up a steady stream of chatter while they drove back to the apartment. "Herb knows everything about insects. Just in the short time I was there, he told me an awful lot. Now that I have a better net I bet I can catch some neat things. He loaned me a book with a lot of information in it. He said I should go to the drug store and see if they will give me some empty cigar boxes to put stuff in. I have some of that cork left over from my mounting board. That will go on the bottom of the box so I can stick pins in it. I need some more of those too. Can you take me to the County Agent's office tomorrow?"

"Are you going to loose interest in this?" his mother asked cooly.

George was exasperated. "No! This is so cool. Herb started like this and he still loves it. It's the sort of thing that keeps growing. I need to go back out to Bobby's farm so I can find more stuff. He has a million bugs out there. He said it was OK with his father. Can I please?"

"What? You were just out there last weekend. They'll get sick of you."

"Not really. Bobby is going to raise some baby goats to show at the fair. He's getting them this weekend and wants me to see them. He invited me and I can help him with his chores. Please?"

"That's too soon George. You'll be a pest. I really need to speak to Bobby's father."

"But Mom...."

"That's enough! We'll talk about it later."

George knew better than to push it any further so he dropped it – for now.

During lunch George tried to tell Bobby all about his meeting with Herb Neuroth. "He knows EVERYTHING about insects. You should see his collection. It's like, art! You would be impressed."

Bobby nodded. "I've seen the insect collections at the fair. Some of them look real nice."

"His are beautiful!" George assured him, then asked, "Are you getting your baby goats this weekend?"

"The guy is supposed to bring them out on Saturday. You coming out to see them?"

"I wish. Mom says I will make a pest out of myself. She doesn't want me to go out there again so soon. I told her that it was OK with your father, but she wants to talk to him."

Bobby shrugged. "Have her call him?"

"I looked all over your house when I was there but I didn't see a phone. I thought maybe you didn't have one."

"You didn't see Dad's phone because it was probably in his pocket. He has a cell phone. We both do." Bobby reached into his pocket and pulled out a flip phone. "It's not fancy but it works. Don't you have one?"

"No. Mom does but I don't." George said enviously. "How did you get that?"

"Milk and egg money," Bobby smiled. "I bet your Mom could put you on her plan pretty cheap."

"Can I have your number?"

Bobby pulled George's arm across the table and wrote two numbers on it. "Top one is mine, other one is Dad's. Have your mother call him tonight. He's always home."

"OK. I guess I figured you didn't have a phone."

"Some of us hick farmers are pretty up to date," Bobby grinned.

"Oh man! I didn't mean it that way," George apologized.

Bobby laughed. "It's OK. Get your mom to call my dad if you want to come out. He's cool with it. It's OK if you want to call me too."

"I will," George promised. When he got to his next class he copied both phone numbers into his notebook. This was valuable information.

When Phyllis came home George gave her Ely's phone number. "If you call Bobby's father he'll tell you it's OK for me to come out to their farm."

Phyllis gave her son a stern look. "You don't mess around, do you?"

"Please?" George gave her his most appealing look.

"Maybe after dinner. I'm fixing pork chops. Can you make a salad?"

"I'm an expert at that."

At George's urging, Phyllis called Ely, was reassured that George would be welcome and reluctantly gave her permission for another weekend visit. "You can't do this every weekend," she warned him.

Plans were made. George carried a pack with a few more clothes this time and squeezed his new net and killing jar into his locker. He got a few strange looks when he carried it onto the bus. "4-H project," he explained to anyone who cared. They got off at the road to the farm and Pepper ushered them down the dirt road to the house.

They dropped their things off in the kitchen then went down to the barn. "You know the drill by now," Bobby said. In short order they put eggs and milk in the cooler and Bobby went about fixing supper.

"I know how to make salad," George told him. "Can I do more than that? I wish I knew how to cook like you do."

"Can you make Kraft dinner?"

"Sure. I can do that. Is that all?"

"Ely will be up for supper pretty quick. How about you let me fix something tonight and maybe we can do something more interesting tomorrow when we have more time?"

"OK. I'll make the salad and the Kraft dinner then, George agreed. "Do you think we will have time to look for some insects tomorrow? Herb told me how to keep them safe until I have time to mount them."

"Yeah? So you're an expert now, I guess."

"He told me how to do some things but I haven't tried them yet. He loaned me a good book too. There is a lot of information in there but I haven't read it all."

"You're a fast learner," Bobby smiled. "You'll figure all this out."

"When will you get your baby goats?"

"They are supposed to be here tomorrow morning sometime. I'm looking forward to that."

"Me too. What's for supper?"

"Fried rooster, mac and cheese, green beans and your salad. How's that sound?"

"Tasty."

Ely came in the back door and sniffed. "Smells good in here. What's for dinner?" He smiled when he saw George. "Here's the new hand. How are you, George?"

"I'm good. Thanks for letting me come out again so soon."

"We'll find a bunk for you in the barn if you can stay on. We need all the help we can get," Ely chuckled.

"George is starting on his insect collection," Bobby told Ely. "He brought a net and some stuff."

"Really? I tried to make an insect collection when I was a boy," Ely said, "It didn't come to much. Didn't know what I was doing."

"I'm just getting started, but the County Agent got this man to talk to me and he told me a lot. I have some books, too, if you'd like to see them," George said, got up to fetch the books from his bag and handed them to Ely.

"Let's see here. Hmm. If I had these I might have done better.," Ely looked at them with genuine interest.

After the kitchen was cleaned up, George went to Bobby's room where they stretched out on the bed to digest their dinner.

"You're a good cook," George said. "Where did you learn how?"

"It's either cook or live on peanut butter and jelly," Bobby chuckled. "There are some cook books in the school library. I look at those in study hall sometimes. Most of it's just trial and error. Ely eats whatever I fix. He's suffered through some bad stuff at times, but I'm getting better."

What did you guys do before you learned how to cook?"

"Ely can cook eggs, and did I mention peanut butter and jelly?"

"I get the picture," George laughed.

They were quiet for a few minutes, then Bobby said quietly, "I'm glad you could come out again."

"Me too. Did you miss me?"

"A little."

George thought for a minute then asked softly, "How do you feel about what we did last weekend?"

"You aren't talking about the fishing."

"Not really."

Bobby took a breath then let it out. "I liked it, but it bothered me some."

"It seemed right at the time," George said.

"Yeah, it did."

"What bothered you about it?"

"I don't think we're supposed to be doing that stuff."

"Who did it hurt?

"I guess nobody," Bobby said after thinking about it.

"I liked it, George said.

"It was fun," Bobby agreed.

"We don't have to do that stuff any more if you'd rather not. I'd like you anyway."

"Not saying that." He turned and looked at George. "I like you too."

"And you liked what we did?" George asked.

Bobby sighed. "More than I expected. To tell the truth I never thought about it much. I mean, before last weekend."

"You been thinking about it since then?"

"All the time."

"You suppose it might happen again?"

"Don't know. Maybe."

"Would you feel bad about it?"

"I don't know. Maybe." Bobby shrugged. "Maybe not. Depends."

"Depends on what?"

"Hard to say. Hard to talk about, really."

"Maybe we shouldn't talk about it," George suggested.

"Might be best. What happens, happens, I guess."

George turned on his side to face Bobby and laid his hand on his chest. "The way I feel about you kind of scares me. But I wouldn't do anything that would hurt you or make you feel bad. I like you too much to do that."

Bobby put his hand on top of George's. "I know. Me too."

They heard Ely in his room, then the sound of water running in the bathroom. "He'll be asleep pretty soon. We can take a bath then." Bobby said.

"No hurry. It's nice to just lie here with you," George whispered.

In a few minutes the sound of splashing stopped and the toilet flushed. They heard Ely's door close and it got quiet. "He'll be asleep pretty quick." Bobby said. "He's a sound sleeper."

After a few minutes. Bobby sat up. "You ready for your bath?"

"OK. You want to go first?"

Bobby touched George's hand. "Ely's asleep," he said. "You ready?"

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