One lazy, hot summer afternoon, my daughter and I were playing in front of our 1910 Sears bungalow, beneath the pine trees that flanked our massive front porch. Rachel, then about 4 years old, looked up as a green, thread-like object floated toward her. She extended her little hand and a tiny, celadon-colored inchworm landed gently in her palm. Wide-eyed, she peered at the minute creature determinedly making its way across her palm on tiny legs: glide, snap, glide, snap. With each snap, its midsection would stick straight up, as head and tail came together. “It tickles, Mommy!” Rachel said, enchanted. “I want to keep him.”
And that’s how Inchie came into our lives. Although we had a cat, our darling K Street had always been skittish around children and poor Rachel rarely could get her to emerge from her hiding place to play. So Rachel longed for a “pet” of her own. Inchie was small, but he had spunk. To Rachel, he was perfect.
We Made Him a Little Habitat
The first step, clearly, was to make a little home for Inchie. I collected miniature shoes for a while, and each shoe came in its own small shoebox (about 4 inches long). So we started with one of those. Years later, we would discover that these same little boxes were perfect hamster coffins, but on this day, one was to become home to an inchworm.
We collected soft, green leaves and blades of grass to line the little box, adding twigs, a couple of small stones, and some dirt. A jar lid, filled with water, became Inchie’s pool and drinking area. Carefully, eyes intent, Rachel lowered her little hand into the box, tilting it so Inchie could climb down into his new home. She was thrilled with the little house and watched, fascinated, as Inchie explored his new habitat.
Rachel had a wonderful afternoon taking care of Inchie. Every so often, she would put her little finger into the box and he would crawl onto the tip and inch across her palm while she watched, raptly. She ate her afternoon snack on the porch steps, with Inchie’s little house by her side. And while she knew that peanut butter and jelly were not good for her little pet, she did share a few breadcrumbs.
Eventually, though, it was time to go in for the evening. I explained to her that Inchie had enjoyed his visit but now he had to go home to his worm family. After talking it over for awhile she reluctantly agreed that it was best for Inchie to leave. We took his little box back to the place where he’d floated down to us and she tilted the box so Inchie could crawl out. She stuck out her finger one last time. Inchie crawled onto it and then down the other side, finally disappearing into the grass.
Inchie: Come Back!
The good feeling of releasing Inchie back to his natural habitat lasted about a minute and a half. Then Rachel’s little face crumpled and she began to cry. “I want Inchie to come back. Find him, Mommy. Please find him.”
So we got down on the ground and began parting the blades of grass, calling for Inchie. As we looked, I attempted to re-sell her on the rightness of releasing Inchie.
It didn’t work..
Eventually, I persuaded Rachel to come inside for her bath and dinner. She was still sad, but I said we could resume the search for Inchie the next day. And we did look for him, on and off, for the next couple of days.
Alas, Inchie was gone for good — a little green thread of memory.