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Posts Tagged ‘tough cookie’

Lions and Tigers and Chiggers, Oh My!

Make yourself a tall glass of iced-tea and chill out with me.  We’re going to talk about bugs . . . but don’t sweat it . . . that’s what the tea is for.  :^)

This summer has brought record temperatures across the U.S.  In my parents’ yard in Oklahoma last week, it was 119(F).  Yes, it’s been almost unbearable.  I am astounded that the heat has not killed off the bug population.  Instead, they seem to be thriving.  The grasshoppers have taken over my yard.  Not only is everything brown, it is bare.  I’m happy that something is prospering and oh-so-glad that I can keep something alive in my yard.  If it’s bugs, well, so be it.

In Oklahoma we have little invisible bugs called chiggers.  These little dears lurk in anything green, especially tall grass and weeds.  If you even just brush by them, they will find you.  They like to burrow into your skin around the tight spots . . . waistbands, leg openings . . . “snug as a bug in a rug” comes to mind here.  The itch that they create is pure misery.

When I first moved to Oklahoma, I was horrified with the scope of bug potential.  My first run-in with a tarantula came early on.  (Story to follow at a later date.)  ;^)

Chiggers . . . I remember finding out about them when we would come to visit my grandparent’s farm while I was growing up.  Between the humidity and the bugs, I did not venture outside much.  The family loved to make home-made ice-cream and visit out in the yard.  Me, not so much.

(This is me around age 18, visiting Oklahoma ~~ waiting for the home-made ice-cream while my Uncle the Cowboy makes fun of me for not putting my feet on the ground.  Chiggers, ya’ll!!!)

After moving here, I did find that there were remedies.  My dad douses himself with vinegar after a jaunt in the garden.  One of the area pharmacists whips up a secret-ingredient cure.  For years I used rubbing alcohol and hydrocortisone.  Lately, I’ve resorted to a natural remedy.  A few drops of lavender in a carrier oil works like a charm (before an outing to prevent or after one to soothe.)

I discovered last week that Florida has a critter called “no see ‘ums.”  It puts the chigger to shame.  My daughter was covered in bites before we even knew there was such a bug.  There were about 50 bites on each limb and countless others over the remainder of her torso.  We’re not sure if they found her while on the beach or if they were in the house.  But she was miserable and ended up going to a doctor.  Kind of makes a vacation not so relaxing.  You wouldn’t think that something so small could produce such wretchedness.  It’s enough to make a tough cookie yell, “Mercy!”

I have a friend in Scotland who says that “midges” keep tourists off of the island he lives on in certain months of the year.  That could possibly be a boon to the locals’ privacy.  It sounds like midges are the ultimate tourist deterrent!  I know that when I go to visit in some distant moon, I will schedule the trip in the midges’ “OFF” season.

I thought about posting pics of all of these creepy-crawlies for you, but they’re too ghastly for me.  Just Google/Image it if you’re the brave sort.  ;^-  (In my opinion, enjoying photos of disgusting insects does not a Tough Cookie make . . . . )

What does this have to do with tough cookies?  Well, I’ll tell you.  Bugs adapt to every climate that I’ve lived in.  Even in Nevada, where the temperatures would drop 40-50 degrees on a summer night, we had mosquitoes.  In order to cope, I’ve had to adopt the “don’t sweat the small stuff” attitude.  I do what I can to not be overrun by the little buggers, but have learned to adjust.  If I want to sit outside on the porch, (in much cooler temps than we’re having now) I pour on the preventive.  Grasshoppers, mosquitoes, chiggers, fire-ants, wasps . . . all try to chase me away from my peaceful perch.  They may be tough, but I’ve determined:  I’m tougher.  Nothing is going to deter me from enjoying the out-of-doors if I want to.  (Well, OK, maybe 119 degree temps,) but NOT bugs!  I’m a TOUGH COOKIE!  (I’ll just keep telling myself that . . . I have, after all, survived 30 Oklahoma summers now.)  There’s got to be something tough about that.

A Tough Cookie does what a Tough Cookie has to do.  (Now, where did I put that lavender oil?)

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My Great-Grandmother Martha "Mattie"

I know I’m supposed to be thinking of those who served in the military this Memorial Day.  I have been, but these thoughts have led me to others, engaged in a different kind of war, on the home-front.  Women with the pioneer spirit fascinate me.  I want to know what drives them…what they are made of…where they get their spunk…and hope that I can learn something from them that helps me foster some of the same grit.

My father’s grandma was one of these.  She appears small in stature, but she was mighty in spirit.  See that gleam in her eye?  Mattie was possibly of the Chickasaw or Choctaw tribe.  I have spent much time trying to connect the dots to this heritage, but so far, to no avail.  I assure you, though,  her determination surpasses her height.

(Update:  for anyone in my family who might know the precise details of this story, mine turned out to be rather fictionalized.  See?  I am a writer.)  *See addendum at the end*

My father tells the story of Mattie’s days in the Oklahoma territory as a young bride and mother.  Accommodations were sometimes rudimentary.  Hers was no exception.  The place where she began rearing her family was crude, but it provided a roof over their heads.

One night, the window over the kitchen sink was left open.  It was probably a sweltering summer night where any slight breeze would have been appreciated.  Mattie was awakened by a sense of foreboding.  Adjusting her eyes to the dark, she raised herself to a sitting position on the feather bed in the one-room cabin.  A glint from the moon sparkled off the eyes of a creature climbing into the cabin through the window.  It was a mountain lion, perhaps on the hunt for one of her babies!

Mattie possessed a split second to make a move.  She had to do something.  The rifle leaned against the door-jam, all the way across the room.  There was no time for thought.  She sprang from the bed in her white, cotton gown and flung her arms around the creature’s neck and shoulders, attempting to wrestle it to the ground.  The piercing scream of the lion cut through the quiet as a tumble of limbs and fur crashed against the sparse furniture.  In a stealthy leap the massive animal suddenly sprang toward the window and made its escape.

Mattie sat on the floor gulping in great breaths.  Tears streamed down her face.  Her husband ran to her.  Four claw marks trickled a tinge of blood down one forearm.  There were no puncture wounds, nothing serious.  It was a miracle.

It is difficult to place these two pictures together in my mind.  Envisioning Mattie entangled with the mass of a mountain lion seems too unreal.  It is, however, the truth.

I have seen one of these incredible creatures once in the open.  I was driving at dusk  when I saw the massive, golden muscles of a mountain lion twitching as it crept low to the ground in a bar ditch off a country road in Oklahoma.  Its size and beauty stunned me.  I longed to see more, but it was not possible.  I would love to meet this gaze in a safe setting, but that is not likely, either.  A healthy respect for their power is probably all I can drum up.

I wonder, if faced with the same challenge of chasing a mountain lion from my home and protecting my children, would I rise to meet it?  I hope that I would, for the sake of the family slumbering nearby.  I don’t know.  Women of that generation were made of a strong gristle.  I hope that in my own way, I possess that verve.  Sometimes life does require it.

*Update* Otherwise known as, “Get your facts straight, Chickie.”  ;^)  A mountain lion did enter the kitchen window of my great-grandmother’s home when she had small children.  It probably took place in Arkansas, my dad was fairly certain, although not 100%.  Mattie heard the lion, which she called a “panther”  (dad said she said, “pain-ther”) screaming several times outside, before it came in.    She did not wrestle the mountain lion.  My mistake.  This tidbit it just as good, though. She threw a hot flat iron off the wood stove and hit it, burning it enough to frighten it back out the window!  (I would think that since it was bold enough to scream before it came in, it was definitely on the hunt and hungry!)  The panther did, however, make a note-to-self (just as I have done) and said, “Don’t mess with Mattie!”)  (OK, more fiction, BUT–it did not come back!)  ;^)    Dad also said that Mattie probably never weighed over 100 pounds and was only around 5 feet tall.  Still a GOOD story, and TRUE…now that you know the “rest of the story.”  ;^)

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