By Joe Rector
For the last few days, I’ve been running a chainsaw to cut up a couple of trees that fell over into the neighbor’s field. In the process, I managed to come in contact with a poison ivy vine that was about the circumference of a rope that tree companies use. Don’t believe what people say about not being affected by the stuff in the winter because the sap is down or the leaves are gone. I wound up with rash on my wrists and forearms, even though I was wearing a pair of coveralls. That’s my luck, just like it was when I was a boy.
Back in the day, Jim and I spent as much time outside as Mother wanted. We played in the yard throwing a ball of some kind. When we tired of that activity, our next adventure was focused on digging a hole and searching for some kind of treasure. Eventually, we found our ways to the chicken house that bordered the woods. We knocked around that area until the call came for us to come for supper.
Within a couple of days, our skin began to look blotchy, and we both knew that poison ivy was on verge of breaking out all over. When it came, we whined and cried about the incessant itching. Mother would turn a fan on us to cool us to lessen the itching. Arms and hands and legs were blistering every place the foul plant had touched. Worst of all, Jim and I had breakouts on our eyelids and face. Not only was the stuff miserable to have but it also made two little fat boys even uglier than they already were.
The worst case of poison ivy I ever had came in the dead of winter. Mother sent Jim and me to clean a bank covered with honey suckle. We completed the job after working one Saturday. The rash exploded. It covered everything from my waist to my toes. In fact, I couldn’t wear any clothes for a week. I was a freshman and felt miserable. Some friends came to see me; to say I was uncomfortable was to understate the case. I lay on the couch with a blanket covering my nakedness and prayed that those good people would leave soon. Although I never was a good high school student, going back to school fully dressed made me happier than I could have imagined.
Normal treatment for the rash included calamine lotion. However, the stuff never did anything for us. A better course of action was scrubbing the blisters with a washcloth and soap and soaking in a tub of water into which bleach had been poured. Jim and I learned not to scratch the stuff, and we got to the place that we could ignore the itching altogether. Some cases were so bad that we traveled to the doctor for cortisone shots; they worked fastest to dry up and erase the affected skin.
Again today, I worked on cutting those trees into pieces and splitting them. By week’s end, I will know if I kept myself covered well enough with long sleeves and coats and gloves and goggles, not to keep warm in 25-degree morning temperatures but to prevent another winter attack of poison ivy. It seems wrong to have to watch out for the plant even in the middle of winter, but it’s just another example of life not always being fair and of Mother Nature being in charge of things.