Excerpts by Henry Lane Hull

Once again, history has repeated itself. When I was a lad, the field across from our house was rife with wild blackberry plants. My parents would let me pick them with permission, a task which triggered the entrepreneurial spirit in me. I thought I was contributing to the family food budget by bringing home a bowl of blackberries. My mother appreciated my efforts, which would result in her making muffins or a dessert with the haul.

When I was 7, I returned with the usual full bowl, but also with something more. I itched all over and had swelling in my limbs. My parents took me to the doctor, who took a quick look, and said “He has chiggers.” I had not heard the word previously, and I certainly had no idea what chiggers were. All I knew was that they were the cause of my itching.

The doctor told us to apply witch hazel frequently, and that ultimately the bites and swelling would disappear. We did as told, and after what seemed an interminable interval, I was free of the plague. I recall thinking at the time that chiggers might have been one of the pests described in the Old Testament. 

Two-and-a-half weeks ago—but who’s counting?—I set out in the morning to clear up some thick crabgrass that had infiltrated the blueberry patch. I wanted to remove it from the base, thus I got down on my hands and knees, and began pulling. The weather had been dry, and the grass came up without my having to tug on it. I took the first couple of batches to the chickens and Gladys, our pet goose, all of whom were most grateful—especially Gladys.

After the first two deliveries to the chicken coop, my chest and shoulders began to itch. I thought of chiggers, but concluded that what I felt could not be a recurrence of my childhood siege. I was incorrect in that assumption, for the onslaught had begun en masse. For two days, I tried self-medicating, then went to higher authority in the person of John Deschamps, who confirmed the diagnosis, and began the process of healing and recovery. It has been a slow progression. I recall old-time Northern Neckers telling me as a child that chiggers did not go away until after the first frost. With that in mind, I am thinking, “Come on, winter!” 

My good friend, Ann Shelton, known for her intense practicality as our local font of common sense, told me the best cure was to apply clear nail polish to the bites. I remember hearing others telling my parents of the same solution, but I told Ann I should need a gallon of the nail polish to bring about any results.

Slowly, I am seeing some signs of improvements. The affected areas are diminishing, and Dr. Deschamps’ admonition to apply ice has proven to be the most efficacious cure, or at least the best way not to feel the chiggers’ presence. Had I known what was in store for me, I should have invested heavily in stock in the company that produces Caladryl, as it also is proving to be a beneficial balm. 

By way of advice to fellow gardeners and weeders: be careful and use an effective bug spray. My father, who was given to home cures, had his own method of avoiding chiggers and ticks. Following another time-honored Northern Neck tradition, he would put a little coal oil on his shoes before working in the woods or in high grass. It worked well as long as he did not get any on his skin. He was blessed with not being allergic to poison ivy, and with his coal oil preventative, he was able to do whatever he wanted in the yard, woods or fields with immunity.

The last two weeks have made me all the more wish I had inherited more of his genes.