At this time of year, I always wander the aisles of my summertime memory and my childhood days at Brim Hollow.
When I return there, the first thing I think of is speckled butter beans.
This thought found me in my grandma Lena’s garden, where I was reminded of how the runners of the butter bean plants climbed like thin Indian tea pees on the cane poles attached to the rows at four corners. While she was picking butter beans, I meandered between the bean stalks and played in the rows.
The great Rock Back Step was our favorite place to peel butter beans in the cool of the afternoon. And the finished product? Nothing tasted as good as fresh butter beans. Pink-gray in color and flavored with spiced meat. I long for a butter bean mess now.
But my most vivid memory is my first encounter with chiggers. In one of the first summers I spent at Brim Hollow, I saw the mother of all 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 chiggers.” Either “good” or “bad” meant bad.
I have learned firsthand that a large number of chigger bites focused on a small area in very sensitive areas can cause serious pain to a boy.
Whenever I found myself in such a difficult situation, Grandma Lena would put a spoonful of fried meat fat in a fruit glass lid and send me into the privacy of the next room to anoint me. I also learned that when you scraped the top off the chigger bites, the fried meat fat burned like fire until it began to calm down.
Based on my previous experience, I haven’t lost love for chiggers.
Back then, a boy ran barefoot from the first warm spring day until after the first frost. A pair of shoes was good for a winter … or two. In my barefoot days, I stepped on honey bees, rusty nails, broken glass, prickly pears, cockles, thorns, briars, sharp stones, food worms, chicken droppings, and stinging weeds.
When autumn rolled around the soles of my feet, it was as brown as the top of a biscuit and as tough as shoe leather. Of course, barefoot boys were also prone to certain parasites.
One summer when I arrived at Brim Hollow for two weeks, I started complaining of stomach ache on the second day. After watching me lay around moaning and moaning for a day or two, my pa rube made his diagnosis.
“I think he’s wormy,” he told Grandma Lena, “and I only have the cure.”
The next morning he went up the hollow where he knew that a piece of wild garlic was growing. Shortly afterwards he returned with a brown paper sack filled with bulbs of wild garlic. As he tossed the contents of the sack on the table, I noticed that the lightbulbs ranged from a golf ball to a tangerine.
He took one of the larger ones, cut out the tips, removed the roots, and cleaned them up. Then he gave it to me and said, “Here, eat this.”
I loved my Pa Rube. Anything he told me I would try. I took the garlic bulb and bit into it like I was eating an apple. I immediately learned two things. Wild garlic tastes like a bitter onion and is hot as flames! It set my mouth on fire.
I managed to chew and swallow the first bite. Then I started to protest.
“Pa, I can’t!” I cried.
“Yes you can!” he countered.
“I can not!” I pleaded.
“You have to eat everything! This is the only way you can get better! ” he insisted.
He handed me a cold biscuit and said, “Here, try this biscuit with it.”
It was easier to take with a biscuit. I managed to bring the whole thing down. The next morning I ate three cookies with my garlic.
For the next seven days, I woke up every morning to the challenge of hunting wild garlic with a biscuit.
On the third day, after checking for signs, Grandma Lena announced that progress was being made. She had seen visual evidence that the stomach worms had decided to leave town. I have to admit that I couldn’t blame them for clearing the premises. That wild garlic killed me.
On the seventh day, I was pronounced cured, my gastrointestinal tract free of unwanted residents.
And my belly? It didn’t hurt a single time for the rest of the summer.
I wouldn’t have admitted it if it had been like that.
And so in those summers in the Brim Hollow I learned about the wonders of home remedies, about the healing properties of fried meat fat and wild garlic.
I bet we would be healthier and lower our rising health care costs if we used more common sense and more home remedies today.
Jack McCall is a motivational humorist, southern storyteller, and author. The native Middle Tennessean is recognized on the national stage as a “Certified Speaking Professional”. E-mail: [email protected] Cell: 615-973-8645; Copyright 2021 by Jack McCall.