The Toad Exodus
by Mary K. Grant
Everyone on the block knew that Gary Harmond had a mean streak. The kids next door witnessed it often, most especially in the summer. He would sit in front of his house on the lawn, inviting Gayle and Pammy and Jim to sit all around, their knees crisscrossed, a plastic sand pail in his hands. Then, without batting a sun-bleached eyelash beneath his brow, he would catch a series of houseflies with his bare hands. To the sharp intake of breath, I might add. Gayle was certain that he was part cat; since his reflexes were so quick he would out smart a mosquito or fly.
Then, after glancing at them all with great dramatic flourish, his blue eyes bright with excitement, he’d stick his sweaty, sandy hand into the pail withdrawing a fly on his hand. Grasping the little creature in two fingers, he’d deliberately pull off its wings. The thing would be lying there near his life line, helplessly spinning around, still alive and kicking. Gary would sharply inhale, greedy to experience it again. And he’d do the next one, then the next, until all of them were gone.
Kids in Lido worshiped Gary, but those who were close to him knew he had some deep seated emotional problems. But, strangely enough, this was below the grown ups’ radar; only the kids knew it.
Another great thing which happened, must have been the summer 1959, was the expedition into the lot down about five houses or so. Lido Beach was still in development in those days, with large lots filled with weeds providing playgrounds for those bored kids in the developments. Even the Golf Course, a private club, was unfenced to their backyards. They could explore the greens at times, as long as they avoided the golf carts and caddies playing through the Eleventh Hole there. Some great ponds, filled with tadpoles were nearby, well worthy to explore.
But I digress. This is the story of the Great Toad Exodus. Gary and his neighbors were Jews, and the kids had learned in religious school the great story of Moses and the Exodus from Egypt. None of them believed it had happened, but it colored their view of history, so to speak. Now Gary, all five feet of him in those days, was a strapping and healthy, vigorous and attractive mob leader determined to do something with the space they called “the weeds”. So, one day, he gathered his little motley crew of bored neighborhood kids to go on a foraging expedition there to do two things.
First of all, they were going to collect clay. These were strange balls of what looked like dung but were instead congealed tars and sea debris buried in the ground all around since Lido Beach was a well built up small sandbar. The girls especially liked to play kitchen with them, turned them into pies and sandwich deli slices for pretend play in the Burton backyard where they had a little plastic “easy bake oven”. They were, after all, little ones, only about nine years old.
Second, there was going to be a determined hunt for “frogs.” These were actually, brown toads that lived in “the weeds”, particularly young and slow right after the spring when they had hatched out in puddles and muddy banks on the golf course. For this purpose, the bunch of kids brought a huge assortment of pails, coffee cans, plastic bags, and sacks to put them in. Gary had told them to get these.
Soon after they entered the bulrushes, which were about 7 feet high and quite dense, Gary yelled “Fan out.” He led one hunting party of boys. Pammy led the smaller group of girls being allowed to come along. Everyone knew what to do. They did this often for amusement. Before too long, an explosion of squeals, yells and stampedes came through the rustling weeds.
As the sun grew higher in the sky, some boys dropped out to return home to “get a drink”. But Gayle had carefully brought along a canteen which she shared with the other girls.
Finally, Gary announced “Enough. Stop!” and “Meet at my house.” And they all carried their filled, wriggling bags, sacks, pails and the like, thrown over shoulders or dragged along the sand, to his front lawn. There, they sat in a semi-circle around Gary, their eyes fixed on him like a pack of panting dogs, utterly exhausted and spent.
“Should we let the frogs go free?” he demanded, his hands on his hips.
“Pammy and me say you should let them go.” Gayle stated, gazing carefully at her brother who was avoiding her looks.
“You know we’re all Egyptians!” Gary said. Then he quickly recounted the story of the great Exodus of Moses and the Israelites from Egypt, getting to the part about the parting of the Red Sea. Expectantly, he glanced around at each one of them.
“Yup, now we’ll let them free. But we’ll see if God saves them!” and with this, Gary moved swiftly with his collection of sacks to the sidewalk in front of the Harmond home, by the edge of the black asphalt road, by the graveled shoulder of the boulevard. “Come on,” he yelled, “Follow me!” and they all did.
Then, they watched Gary as he opened all his sacks, bags and pails, letting scores of toads free on the shoulder. With one gasp, they realized what to do and copied him directly. All along the boulevard, hundreds of young toads began to hop, heading across the roadway away from these pesky humans.
“No. Please don’t.” Gayle shouted, realizing what was about to happen. Some of the girls, after copying him, stood back and began to scream as they saw the traffic light down by the weeds turn from red to green.
And a tidal wave of cars began to roll toward the huge pool of toads, heading now halfway to the other side and freedom.
Some of the girls covered their eyes as the cars began to hit the toads. Gary chortled in pleasure, his cruel heart filled with happiness, dancing around, forgetting not to step on the road. All the boys watched and enjoyed the massacre.
As for the Exodus, perhaps a few toads reached the grassy lawns of their neighbors’ properties on the other side. Gayle watched Pammy cry, took her hand, and slowly led her toward their front stoop. While short ugly and blond Mrs. Harmond came out on her front porch, saw what her son was doing, strode forcefully over to him, and pinching him by the ear, dragged him screaming into the open garage, then shutting it by remote control. She was red faced, and yelling at him wildly.
All the boys and girls remaining looked at the splat all over the highway, stood up, dusted off their hands on their shorts and stretched. Then, silently, they all headed home. The spectacle was over, but it had been good clean fun for another day of summer vacation in Lido Beach, where there was so much fun to be had, if you were free.
Mary Khazak Grant, 65 (B.A. Psych., M.S. Educ.-Deaf Studies) has been an artist, poet and hobby crafter from an early age. She now works as a teacher for the Rochester Public Schools. Before coming to Rochester in 2009, she spent most of her life on Long Island, New York. Before becoming a teacher, Mary spent over twenty years in the fields of print and publishing, working as a skilled typist, typesetter, commercial paste-up artist, assistant art director and production person. As an independent entrepreneur, she owned and managed Satellite Text Design, a desktop publishing business for over 12 years. After returning to college in middle age, she completed several degrees, and became a special educator of children. These include a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from S.U.N.Y. at Stony Brook in 1998, and a Master of Science degree in Communication Disorders awarded in 2003 from Adelphi University, where she graduated summa cum laude. She is a member of the Honorary Education Society Kappa Delta Pi as well as a permanently certified teacher of the deaf from the Council for Education of the Deaf. Mary is an accredited teacher of Yoga Sciences. Her professional career is coupled with hobbies in crochet, marquetry and book illustration. She is the self-published author of over 15 books.