Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #24 – ‘Chiggers!’

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THE USUAL NOTE FROM LB: From the summer of 2002 to  the spring of 2010, Gwen the Beautiful and I were the proud and often exhausted owners of a beautiful Ozarks property we called Cloud Creek Ranch.

In many ways, the ranch was paradise. But it was a paradise with a price that started going up before we even knew it existed. Here’s another Monday musing about our adventure and the lessons we learned.

Oh, and if y’all detect any irony, please believe me when I say it comes straight from the universe and not your kindly Uncle Larry B.

by Larry Brody

And now, as summer nears the finish line, a word about something close to all our hearts—and ankles and the backs of our knees, and, of course, our waists:

Chiggers!

Or to put it another way:

Aargh!”

For most of my life, spring was a glorious time. New hope, rebirth, the beautiful transition into summer. You know the drill. Then I moved to the Ozarks, and on one fateful May day I made a mistake that changed my whole outlook.

I went outside wearing shoes but no socks. Walked maybe twenty feet to pick up some trash, then another twenty feet back to the house. Three days later I was in agony.

Aargh!” indeed.

I’d lived in California so long I’d forgotten about the chiggers and the way they get your immune system churning.

I’d forgotten that in the South, wherever you’ve got grass you’ve got these greedy, skin-burrowing, one-twentieth of an inch long freakazoids just waiting to do their version of the Count Dracula thing.

I’d forgotten that anything could itch so much.

When I was kid I thought it would be cool to become a vampire. Look at the powers it gives you. Super strength. Mind control. The ability to become a wolf or a bat. To fly.

And, maybe best of all when you’re an awkward adolescent with a face full of what my mother used to call “blossoms,” as a vampire you never have to see your reflection.

But if being chomped on by Dracula makes you feel only one-tenth as bad as being feasted upon by a chigger—forget it, Count. Not worth it. No way.

If my first chigger experience had been the only one that still would’ve been one too many for me. For three weeks I was up all night, clawing at my ankles. What started out as tiny reddish bumps turned into bloody sores, then into scabs that lasted another couple of months, finally becoming scars I still bear.

Scars joined later by others to forever remind me of the fact that we humans are far from being the absolute rulers of this part of the earth.

Dominant species? Ha! We’re just another environment for the bugs. The only difference between trees and people is that trees have to wait to be infested but we can pick up microscopic hitchhikers as we mosey along.

My chigger-phobia is so strong it’s ruined many a movie for me. The only emotion a scene with a romantic couple picnicking on the grass instills in me is terror.

It’s all I can do to keep from screaming at the screen. “No! Don’t sit there! Run away!”

Over the years I’ve done just about everything to keep the remorseless mites away. I’ve learned to suit up when I go outside, wearing high boots, thick socks, long pants tucked into the boots, long sleeves, and, if I’m going to touch anything, gloves.

I’ve learned to spray myself with Deet. To keep the grass in our clearing short and give brush a wide berth. And to keep especially clear of wild blackberry bushes, which seem to be a favorite hideaway for Count Chiggula and his gang.

I’ve picked up on some remedies too. When I lived in the city I took a shower every morning, part of my ritual for greeting the new day. Now, in summer I shower right before dinner instead, lathering up so I can drown anything that’s burrowed in while I was out.

And I follow the shower by wiping myself down with bleach, which, according to Wanda Fincher, the Angel of Arkansas, (and former Army nurse), “gets in your pores and kills the little suckers on contact.” Who could ask for anything more?

What I’m getting at is this. Once upon a time spring was my favorite season because it made me look forward so much to what was coming next. Now, though, after another itchy, scratchy summer I’m heavily into a love affair with fall.

Last night it was a little nippy here on the mountain. The wind has shifted. The leaves are starting to turn. Fall is in the air, and I find myself grinning in anticipation of chigger hibernation.

Eagerly, I await the time—only a couple of weeks away—when I can pick up trash without worrying about socks and boots. When I can walk barefoot from our front door to our truck. When I can feel fearless again!

No more “Aargh!”

Until next year.

Author: LB

A legendary figure in the television writing and production world with a career going back to the late ’60s, Larry Brody has written and produced hundreds of hours of American and worldwide television and is a consultant to production companies and networks in the U.S. and abroad . Shows written or produced by Brody have won several awards including - yes, it's true - Emmys, Writers Guild Awards, and the Humanitas Award.