By Joe Rector
Summer nearly burned us up a couple of weeks ago, but the rain arrived in the nick of time. The weather forecast for the coming week lets us know that summer isn’t finished with us yet. August brings the beginning of school, and children wear new clothes and trudge down hallways with backpacks filled with supplies. August’s humid and scorching days take the starch out of those new clothes and sap the energy of even the most active child.
The other things that August seems to bring with it are plenty of critters that have stingers. As young boys, we spent most of our time outside. Sometimes we’d wear old pairs of Keds with the toes cut out or just go barefoot. Without a doubt, one of us would step in a big batch of clover and feel the excruciating pain of a stinger. We’d squall as if we’d been shot and run to the house for Mother to make it better. She’d stop the crying first and then apply a poultice of baking soda and water to the areas and tell us to go sit down for a while.
On one occasion, a bumblebee whacked me, and someone, I think one of my mamaws, both of whom dipped snuff, put some of that nasty stuff on the sting. Although the smell of the saliva-soaked snuff stunk, it provided almost instant relief. I later found out that tobacco from a cigarette worked as well and could be dampened with water instead of spit.
In the seventh grade, I stood by the windows of the classroom before science started. Suddenly, two fighting wasps divebombed me via the collar on the back of my shirt. The stings began and so did the yells, but I made no attempt to remove my shirt. Letting kids in class get a glimpse of my fat stomach was worse than what the wasps were doing…for a few seconds. Then I tore off that blue and white shirt that Mother had made me to set the flying demons free. There I stood half-naked, but not a single person laughed or pointed or even snickered. I prayed it was sympathy that kept them quiet but fear it might have been shock from seeing such big rolls of flesh around my middle.
While our house was under construction, a man operating a backhoe suddenly jumped from the rig and ran down the road. He reached his truck, stopped the string of curse words, and walked back up the street with a five-gallon can of fuel. He poured the entire contents into a hole that must have been the location of a yellow jackets’ nest. The man took one step back and tossed a match. A small boom and shooting flames came next. He smiled and dared any of the stingers to make a move again.
Jim came to help me clear the lot on which we built our house, Although it had been a place where we played as boys, years of neglect led to an overgrown mess. We crawled through the overgrowth and began clearing an area. In just a few minutes, Jim let out a loud “OH,” followed by another one, and then he sprinted through brush, briars, and saplings. As he reached Mother’s yard, he tore at his shirt, followed by his pants. He’d unfortunately set out clearing an area right on top of a nest of yellow jackets. The inside of his pant legs were lined with the critters, and they had every intention of eating him up. That was his first and last day of helping me with that chore.
Over the years since then, I run over at least one nest a year; the stings ache more than they used to and seem to settle in the nearest joint on my body. I’m careful with them, but my fear no longer runs me inside. I just avoid those places until evening. Then I take my own can of gas and pour the fuel in those holes. Revenge has never been sweeter.