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By Jack McCall

This time of year always takes me wandering down the hallways of my memory to summer time and my boyhood days in the Brim Hollow.

When I go back there, the first thing I think of is speckled butter beans.

Across the Miles
Jack McCall

That thought finds me in my Granny Lena’s garden, where I am reminded how the runners from the butter beans plants climbed the cane poles set on four corners in the rows like skinny Indian teepees. While she picked butter beans, I meandered among the beanpoles and played in the rows.

The big rock back step was our favorite place to sit and shell butter beans in the cool of the afternoon. And the finished produce? Nothing tasted so good as fresh butter beans. Pinkish-grey in color and flavored with seasoned meat. Makes me long for a mess of butter beans right now.

But my most vivid memory is my first encounter with chiggers. One of the first summers I spent in the Brim Hollow, I experienced the mother of all cases of chiggers. Today we would call what I had an “infestation” of chiggers. In those days people called it a “case” of the chiggers. People would say, “He’s got a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ case of the chiggers.” Either ‘good’ or ‘bad’ meant bad.

I learned first-hand that a large number of chigger bites concentrated in a small area in very sensitive places could inflict some serious pain on a boy. When I found myself in such a grievous situation, Granny Lena would put a spoonful of fried meat grease in a fruit jar lid and send me to the privacy of the next room to anoint myself. I also learned that if you had scratched the top off the chigger bites, the fried meat grease burned like fire until it began to soothe.

Because of my past experiences, I have no love lost for chiggers.

Back in those days, a boy ran bare-footed from the first warm day of spring until beyond the first frost. One pair of shoes was good for a winter or two. In my bare-footed days I stepped on honeybees, rusty nails, broken glass, prickly pears, cockle burrs, thorns, briars, sharp rocks, fodder worms and stinging weeds.

By the time fall rolled around, the bottoms of my feet were as brown as the top of a biscuit and as tough as shoe leather. Of course, bare-footed boys were also susceptible to certain parasites.

One summer, upon arriving in the Brim Hollow for a two-week stay, I began to complain of a bellyache on the second day. After observing my laying around and moaning and groaning for a day or two, my Pa Rube pronounced his diagnosis.

“I believe he’s wormy,” he declared to Granny Lena, “And I’ve got just the cure.”

The next morning he headed up the hollow to where he knew a patch of wild garlic grew.  He returned shortly with a brown paper sack filled with bulbs of wild garlic. As he dumped the contents of the sack out on the table, I noticed that the bulbs ranged in size from a golf ball to a tangerine. He took one of the larger ones, cut the tops out of it, removed the roots and cleaned it. Then he handed it to me and said, “Here, eat this.”

I adored my Pa Rube. Anything he told me to do, I would try. I took the bulb of garlic and bit into it like I was eating an apple. I learned two things in an instant. Wild garlic tastes like a bitter onion and it is hot as blazes! It set my mouth on fire.

I managed to get the first bite chewed up and swallowed. Then I began my protest.

“Pa, I can’t!” I cried.

“Yes, you can!” he countered.

“I can’t!” I pleaded.

“You’ve got to eat it all! It’s the only way you can get better!” he insisted.

Handing me a cold biscuit, he said, “Here try this biscuit with it.”

It was easier to stomach with a biscuit. I managed to get the whole thing down. The next morning I ate three biscuits with my garlic.

For the next seven days, I woke up every morning to the challenge of having to chase down wild garlic with a biscuit.

On the third day, after checking for signs, Granny Lena announced that progress was being made. She had seen visual evidence that the stomach worms had decided to get out of town. I must admit I could not blame them for vacating the premises. That wild garlic was killing me.

On the seventh day I was pronounced cured, my gastro-intestinal tract free of any unwanted inhabitants.

And my belly? It did not hurt one time for the remainder of the summer. I would not have admitted it if it had.

And so I learned, in those summers in the Brim Hollow, of the wonders of home remedies, of the curative qualities of fried meat grease and wild garlic.

I’ll bet we would be healthier and cut our rising health costs if we used more common sense and employed more home remedies today.