Somewhere between 1965 and 1968, a box of fifty Santa Fe Fairmont cigars cost eight dollars at the liquor store next to United Market. The price for a transistor radio battery was nineteen cents — three cents more than a single cigar. I was too young then to buy cigars. But I smoked them, indirectly, when my father lit one. Back then, he smoked several a day. But he quit when it was found he had a tumor in his throat, which, fortunately, turned out to be benign. After his surgery he whispered for a time, something contrary to his nature, being descended from a family with loud, entertaining voices. At first we had to guess at what he was saying. He resorted to writing: Get the paper. The Fresno Bee was delivered in the evening back then. And so I walked out to the roadside, picked it up, and on the way back took off the rubber band, and, as was our tradition, threw the rubber band onto the roof above the front door. It didn’t take long for them to crack and bake in the sun. In the winter fog, they lasted longer. I don’t know what the dragonflies and yellow jackets thought of them. Surely they were noticed, at least in the beginning, when they were sniffed, investigated, buzzed over, and summed up. “Yes, we can ignore this. But we can’t ignore them. They are capable of anything.” Where does a San Joaquin Valley dragonfly sleep at night? The funny answer, the kind that almost makes you smile but never makes you laugh, is, In the San Joaquin Valley. I don’t know. On the ground? In the dry grass? On the clothesline? In abandoned bird nests? I know people who, if they read this, will look it up. Some will already know. And they will agree: it is not funny. What is funny is you, writing about sniffing dragonflies. And I will say, Well, this was a long time ago, before dragonflies were online, and when children still knew how to amuse themselves. At any rate, Fairmonts were a cigar with reasonable heft, made of cheap materials that may have included newsprint and horse manure. But they smelled good. So did newsprint and horse manure, at least from a distance. Our neighbor had an enormous magnolia tree. That smelled even better. I think he said it was planted before 1920. That would have made it older than my father by at least three years. And every now and then, I think about driving down our old road to see if the tree is still there. I know my father isn’t. And yet, what better place to look for him? Or myself? Maybe we’re both there, and when we meet it will be a quiet Sunday evening just as it is now, and without moving our lips or saying a word, we will settle the dragonfly question once and for all: They sleep, but only in our minds.
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