While growing up, summers were a glorious time of sunburn, scrapes, scratches, poison ivy, stepping on nails barefooted and other similar joys. Wearing nothing but shorts most days meant lots of skin exposed to various dangers, and the farm, woods and ponds were full of them.
Calamine lotion was worn what seemed as many days as not. It helped with sunburn, mosquito bites and poison ivy rash. Its “skin” colored liquid dried to a crust if it stayed on long enough.
As often as not, mama would put it on in the morning and it would be gone within a few minutes, worn off on bushes or washed off in branch water. We didn’t actually wash in the branch but fell in or got in the water to cool off.
Mosquitoes were common back then but either their bite bothers me a lot more now than back then or they were not as big or strong. Little red bumps that itched a few minutes but were then gone have changed over the years to red whelps that itch for a couple of days now.
I learned young to identify poison oak and ivy but knowing how to identify it and avoiding it were two very different things in my life. After all, when you are gathering wood to build a trap for non-existent wildlife, who has time to watch for “leaves of three?”
It never failed, during the first week of summer vacation I would get sunburned on my back, stomach shoulders and upper arms where school shirts covered up until then. And my legs, newly exploring sunlight after nine months of hiding under desks in long pants, got blistered, too.
The sunburn hurt a little for a couple of days but by the end of the first of week of vacation the rest of my body caught up with my face, arms and hands from being exposed to the sun every day. And if I went to Shields Pond to the swimming hole that first week, I would get good and blistered, peel but be brown under it. We never heard of sunscreen back then, we just roasted to a golden brown naturally.
Every summer I stepped on somewhere between two and five nails. Around the farm there were always pieces of old wood lying around. No matter how hard we tried to rescue and reuse all old nails, some escaped out attention.
It probably didn’t help that we went barefoot everywhere and really didn’t pay attention where we stepped. It didn’t take long after shedding our shoes for our feet to get tough and most things we stepped on didn’t bother us.
On test each summer was to walk on the tar and gravel road in front of the house. At first the gravel rocks hurt when we stepped on them. But within a couple of weeks, we ran on the gravel without pain. But nails are a bit sharper and longer than gravel.
When we got a nail in our foot we would either pull it out and hobble home hopping on one foot, or, usually it would just go in and back out as we took our doomed step. When we got to the house mama would use an old cure. We would put a penny on the hole, put a chunk of fatback over the penny and an inch or so around it, wrap it up and cover it with a sock.
The actions of the copper and meat were supposed to pull the poison out. Fortunately, we also kept our tetanus shots current. And I will never forget the smell of that fatback as it “worked” on hot summer days.
Ticks were not a problem back then. Every once in a while, we would pull a big fat gray tick off our dogs and squish it between two rocks to kill it and see the tar like stuff come out. But I can not remember ever getting a tick on me until I grew up. I am pretty sure whitetail deer spread them as they increased their range and as they became more common so did ticks. Now I get one or two on me every time I go in my back yard!
Fishing trips inevitably meant hooks in skin somewhere. Since we mostly bream fished, most of the hooks were small and easy to remove. Bigger hooks, like catfish or bass hooks, often meant a trip back to the house for help removing them and some kind of band aid over the hole they left.
Encounters with wasps, bees and yellow jackets were a common problem every summer. Wasps seemed to like to build nest in the kinds of places I liked to explore. Any tree house or hut left from the past year had to be checked carefully before using them. And new construction had to be inspected every week.
Part of the danger was the use of wasps nests larvae for fishing bait. When I could find a big wasp nest either by looking or getting stung, I would make a torch and burn the adults off the nest, usually at night. Luckily I never set the house on fire. Then the nest would be put in a paper bag ion the refrigerator to slow down the growth of larvae.
Sometimes getting the nest would result in a sting since some adults might survive the fire torch. And more than once I got stung when taking a nest out of the bag if I opened it to get a larva for bait without checking for any wasps that had transformed to adults even in the cool refrigerator.
My body was always a road map of scratches with scrapes marking metropolitan areas. Walking or running through briars and branches in the woods always left scratches and bumping against trees or rocks left scrapes. And my knees were always raw from crawling around looking for stuff.
Although summer memories often involve pain, the pain is tiny compared to the joy of those memories.