It’s miller time

“Pareces una polilla!” Mom would shout as her underweight, overdressed 50-pound son began his daily uphill trek to his fourth-grade classes at Immaculate Conception School.

And why the unflattering epithet? Well, perhaps I did somewhat resemble a moth. Year-round, Mom had a sartorial regimen which mandated a thick T-shirt surrounded by a long-sleeve corduroy shirt covered by a thick Red Ryder sweatshirt, all enclosed by a cotton jacket.

Sixty years ago, Mom could have been the inspiration for today’s seven-layer burrito. The polilla (pronounced po-LEE-ah) reference came in part from my own rebellion. Three layers of clothing were uncomfortable, even on crisp mornings during the five-mile jaunt, but the top layer, the jacket, was just too much. So I’d remove it, knot the sleeves together around my neck, cape-like. That’s what created the moth appearance.

I never gave much thought to moths until my courting days during my 20s. Once, I joined the family for potato soup at the Coppock farm near Springer. The family had its own cows and began preparations by filling a large cauldron with milk, heating it and crumbling into it a small bag of potato chips, the kind and size we find in kindergartners’ school lunch bags.

And for a really potent dose of the tasty tubers, double-potato soup, the cook dipped a large spud into the concoction and removed it after a few minutes, the same way one withdraws a steeped tea bag from the cup. Once, a moth — some people call the millers — took a dive into the cauldron, thought about it for a while, changed its mind but couldn’t escape. Well, that did it for the feast. We had grilled cheese sandwiches instead.

That preceded an invasion of millers. We’ve read that millers hatch suddenly and die off the same way, but they arrive at inconvenient times. The Coppock home, possibly 100 years old, doubtless has thousands of barely visible nesting and breeding places for the varmints. We used a pan of warm, soapy water, near a gooseneck lamp to draw millers by the hundreds. The next morning we’d flush several pans of dead millers.

Nothing appears to come close to the Springer invasion just last week. As the family prepared for Stanley Coppock’s 93rd birthday party, the millers arrived. The first day, hundreds flew around the house, from virtually every crevice. The family employed the soapy water routine and even used a vacuum cleaner to reach the corners.

My son Diego volunteered his heavy-duty shop-vac, with a hose the size of a New York City sewer and the capability to sucking in alligators. Pounds of the pesky polillas plummeted into the recesses of the vacuum bag, to be deposited in a trash heap a quarter-mile away. And yet, many millers survived even that, dusted themselves off, and returned to the house.

Millers have the ability to fit anywhere. Often, we arrive on a Saturday, lock up the car tight, and on Sunday discover a dozen millers emerging from the vents. Once, when my father-in-law drove east, he opened the trunk in Dayton, Ohio, and watched millers escape. Just as remarkable was the number of birds hovering there, snaring the moths in flight.

Another time, Stanley’s manual transmission truck simply wouldn’t engage. A mechanic at Springer Auto took it for a test drive, popped the clutch with attitude and saw a zillion millers fly out of the clutch plate.

This time, it seemed, the birds got their fill early, scratched their bellies and said, “I’m full; I can’t eat another miller.” Well, it took more than a dozen trips to the trash heap before the infestation was even fazed, and my wife called several times to report that although they’d dumped several loads, reinforcements apparently were ready to replace those swallowed by the shop-vac.

When party time came, Sunday afternoon, the house was spotless, not a miller in sight. Could it be that the moths’ life cycle ended just then? Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia, identifies the Luna Moth as having a lifespan of only a week. The source says, “The moth’s sole purpose is to reproduce, and after this they die.” This source says the moth has no mouth and therefore no need to eat.

That only complicates the motivation for diving into the family’s potato soup, back in 1966.

Quite coincidentally, I received an e-mail advertisement which offers five levels of degrees, the A.A., B.A., B.S., master’s and Ph.D., all of them obtainable online. The school making this great offer is Devry University, which claims 232,567 graduates since 1975.

But the really great news is the university’s claim that “90.3% of DeVry Grads were employed in their field within 6 moths of graduation. “Moths,” by the way, is not an Optic typo, nor an inconsistent spelling of the school name.

Well, six moths multiplied by 34 years, multiplied by the almost-quarter-million graduates comes close to the number of critters that flew around the Coppock household. Maybe they left just before Stanley’s party to give all those M.A.’s and Ph.D.’s some help.

And how do moth-assisted Devry/DeVry graduates celebrate? With Miller time, naturally.

President Obama was caught on tape swatting a fly that kept buzzing him during an interview. In what had to have been a joke, an official of PETA, the animal-protection organization, sent the president a humane trap for containing the fly before being transported outside.

Let’s hope People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals doesn’t get wind of our miller massacre. Our shop-vac crime obviously was much more egregious than what Obama did.

2 thoughts on “It’s miller time

  1. Ben Moffett

    One of the reasons I read your column regularly is to find words that I used as a kid, but gradually weaned myself away from because no one else was using them. One (or two) was “miller bug.” My parents came to NM from Louisiana in the 1920s and I guess that’s the word they used there. I finally figured out that a miller is a specific kind of moth, but since I can’t tell one moth species from another, the word “miller” only slips out once in a while. It’s nice to know that other people in New Mexico also used the world “miller,” and sometimes still do.

    P.S. — I think PETA was very serious about trapping moths. It regularly operates outside the realm of logic.

  2. art

    Hi, Ben:
    Millers have very fragile, powdery wings which look like the dust millers (those who worked in the mills) used to get on their overalls. I didn’t know that until I got the inspiration for the column.
    Take care!

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