During the last weekend of August, we met friends at the beach for dinner, and upon seeing the Gulf, I recalled how the salty blue-green waters had soothed both our souls and bodies this past summer.
Boy Scout Troop 47 had returned from the deep woods of Camp Maubila a few weeks earlier, with stories to tell, loads of musty laundry and “bohunkuses” covered with chiggers. Never has a boy felt so miserable as to be sunburned on parts exposed to the light of day, and covered with itchy whelps where the “sun don’t shine.”
Camp Maubila, located near Jackson Alabama, and technically in the middle of nowhere, was celebrating its 50th anniversary, and the chiggers came to the party in full force. The young campers brought home enough of the red bugs to choke a frog and it was weeks before they could sit through an entire church service without squirming.
I had a run- in of my own with chiggers when I was a girl, out picking blueberries in the piney North Florida woods. It was a deeply humiliating and irritating experience, that I found interesting enough I wanted to tell everyone, yet personal enough, I knew to keep it to my awkward pre-teen self.
A formal piano recital at the Pensacola Garden Center was scheduled the day after I was welcomed into the oh-so-Southern chigger club, and although the tried and true method of painting the irritating spots with clear fingernail polish had been executed, there was still no way to control the wiggling and squirming I did while playing “Gavotte.”
The grand piano at the Garden Center was for reasons of practicality set on wheels. This gave the delicate members of the Garden Club the ability to roll the large instrument around the room to accommodate dances, orchid shows and other lady-type events.
From the moment I sat down to perform my recital piece, the horrible itch began. Starting on the backs of my legs, then moving upwards, the irritation was unbearable and nothing soothed the burn except to give a little “twist” and a “jiggle” as I played. It wasn’t all-out dancing, but my moves would have earned the attention of any American Bandstand scout who may have been present.
Although my performance was classical, because of my physical condition, the piano began to literally “rock and roll” – away from me. Inch by inch, the instrument crept across the polished floor as I jumped and jived to alleviate the horrible burning on my backside. I played faster and faster to put a quick end to the musical nightmare, and just as I reached the majestic conclusion of J.S. Bach’s masterpiece, (J. S. for, “JUST SCRATCH!), the piano was far enough away, that my skinny outstretched arms could barely reach the keyboard. I shot up from the bench, made the required curtsey, then dashed out of the room, past my Mother who was slinking down in her chair.
The audience cheered wildly, grateful that the otherwise tedious recital had finally produced some real entertainment, and my poor Mama grabbed me for a quick exit before they served the petite fours.
And now it’s the next generation of Southern kids, running through the woods, attracting the tiny mite that loves the heavy humidity of a summer day. And although modern medicine works miracles, we decided the bottle of fingernail polish still seems to work best for combating the itch.
That is, until we found time for the South’s remedy to everything . . . and headed down to the beach, because whether it’s tears, sweat or the crashing waves, we know that salt water is good for what ails you. Especially pesky chiggers.
This story first appeared in Gulf Coast Newspapers.