Sometimes, you just have to scratch that itch

Sometimes, you just have to scratch that itch

Like a lot of kids, I spent a lot of summertime in the woods.

I could have been chasing a foul ball, hanging out by the creek or just exploring, wanting to see where a particular path led, what might lie around the next bend. It was always a cool place to be.

For years I paid no price for this practice, but then, like so often happens in life, I discovered it had a rather steep downside:

Poison ivy.

One day I was immune to its itchy spell — the next, I was allergic.

Who knows why our bodies play such pranks? I suppose it’s like seeing gray hairs when you’re not yet 30 years old. It just happens.

The same kind of thing happened one New Year’s Eve in the early 1990s. My wife — at that time my fiancée — was driving us to the store to pick up supplies for the holiday weekend. Earlier that morning I had popped the last of a prescription for penicillin, owing to the aftermath of a dental extraction. I gave it no thought.

The first sign that something was wrong was the appearance of a rash on both forearms. Then I began to experience rapid heart palpitations. Finally — and this was very scary — my throat began to constrict, making it difficult to swallow, let alone take a breath.

“Um,” I said, looking over from the shotgun seat, “I feel weird.”

She, being a nurse, diagnosed my symptoms quickly, and within a few minutes, she had sped to the emergency room, where it was determined by the attending doctor I was allergic to penicillin.

“But I’ve been taking it since I was a little kid,” I said, to which he replied, “Well, if you ever take it again, it just might kill you.”

That kind of put a damper on our New Year’s celebration, adding to the ever-expanding list of why I detest the month of January.

But enough of that.

It’s August.

Let’s get back to summer, the woods and the plague of poison ivy.

Once I became aware I was allergic, I did my best to avoid coming in contact with that three-leaved vine, but that wasn’t good enough. It seemed that even if I just walked within a few feet of it, I would catch another case, thus ruining weeks of another summer.

This seemed eminently unfair, so I did what most boys my age did.

I whined about it.

“Why me?” I wailed as Mom applied calamine lotion. “Why aren’t they getting it too?” I pointed, glaring at my younger siblings.

“There, there,” Mom said, using her best talk-him-off-the-ledge voice that she saved for her first-born child. “Let’s get you better.”

You had to love my mother. Even when confronted by the worst of my petulance, my pettiness, my peculiar version of narcissism, she almost always displayed the patience of a saint, one who required the occasional afternoon highball and a quick nap, but that was OK.

I wasn’t exactly what Dr. Spock had prepared her for.

Still, I think she did pretty well, even adding her version of treating poison ivy with a home remedy that pediatricians around the world might have adopted had they known about Dr. Dorothy of Ohio.

Because it spread so easily and so quickly, she came up with the idea that to reduce nocturnal touching, I would wear socks to bed.

On my hands.

Brilliant, no?

Since I had an addictive personality — anyone could have seen that, especially when it came to songs on the transistor radio — she knew the temptation to scratch those itchy spots would be virtually impossible to resist. Thus, she wrapped my hands in heavy socks.

Alas, that left 16 hours — the sweaty, active part of daily life — up to me and, well, let’s just say I couldn’t give up swimming, let alone playing baseball, simply because of a silly, stupid rash.

I remember Little League Day at the old Municipal Stadium. All the guys in my town piled into buses and headed up I-71 for a double-header between the Indians and the Washington Senators.

The biggest attraction, aside from seeing big leaguers, was the chance to walk onto the field between games, to parade around the warning track from the left-field line to the one in right. Amazing!

I wasn’t going to miss out on an opportunity like that, so, poison ivy be damned, I wore that heavy, woolen uniform on that hot, humid day and suffered for hours, knowing I’d screwed up.

“Why don’t you just stay home?” Mom had asked, looking at me wearing socks on my feet and my hands. “You can go next year.”

“I’ll be fine,” I said, “but thanks for asking. Don’t worry about it.”

I was an idiot, but you can’t blame Mom for that. That was all me.

Mike Dewey can be reached at or at 6211 Cardinal Drive, New Bern, NC 28560. He invites you to join the fun on his Facebook page, where memories can be addictive.

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