By Ellen Marcus, Seven Lakes Times
I think we, as parents, as a society, just might be getting a tad overprotective. Even our rural kids are becoming citified, when the great outdoors are groomed trails, raked beaches, and soccer fields.
Even worse, our kids have forgotten how to itch.
When I was seven I had a tick holed up in my belly button. Mamma just couldn’t get to it. Tweezers, needle nose pliers, Vaseline, a hot match to its behind — nothing worked.
The party line was buzzing with remedies. It was my Aunt Avis who came to the rescue, with a salve made of chicken fat, ashes, and a few other choice ingredients — plus a pot of chicken and dumplings. She had that tick backed out in no time. Before I knew it, I was at the table enjoying a big bowl of dumplings and a glass of iced tea.
A tick in the belly button is really a whole different experience. It is like you itch from the inside out. I remember scratching my back to try and reach that itch. It just came at me from all sides. Itching, stinging, burning, sweating, and scratching used to be a rite of passage. There was no bug repellent, sunscreen, or safety padding. Mamma said after lunch, “I don’t want to see you until supper time.” And she didn’t.
Out of sight was out of mind. If we were within hollering distance, we were way too close to being called back for chores — real chores: hauling hay, push mowing, picking peas, canning tomatoes, weeding the gardens, feeding the cows, clearing the branch, cutting brush, and shoveling the drainage line.
Let lose to run wild and free we were always at risk for pin worms, hook worms, ringworms, ticks, seed ticks, dog ticks, hitchhikers, red bugs, tag-alongs, grass burs, stick-tights, bull nettles, leaches, horse flies, yellow jackets, bees, red wasps, hornets, berry vines, stickers, copperheads, cottonmouths, water moccasins, coral snakes, timber, diamondback, and pygmy rattlers, poison oak, poison ivy, and just a good case of the hives. In the evening after supper — and after slurping watermelon on the front porch — we would line up at the water hose and get a good ticking. If our ribs were showing and shoulder blades too sharp, then we would get a good worming.
It wasn’t a good day until we were all good and itchy. After clawing our way through the late movie, usually starring Elvis or John Wayne, my brothers, my cousins, and I would stretched out on quilts on the floor. Mamma’s ingenious air conditioner was a dishpan of ice cubes in front of a box fan. That icy breeze soothed our itch easing us into sleep.
Turns out we were no worse for the wear. Really, we were better and stronger for it. Nothing can teach a child patience, endurance, and fortitude like not scratching in church.
Maybe it’s time to invest in more calamine, popsicles, and watermelon and less in sunscreen, elbow pads, and bug sprays. For a child, it is better to have explored and itched herself raw, than to have never itched at all.
This column appeared originally in the February 21 edition of The Seven Lakes Times.