The Birds and the Bees (and the dogs and the trees)

When I was a kid, I used to run to the top of the steep hill in my backyard and then roll all the way down. I’d feel leaves and sometimes burrs sticking to my clothes and hair as I spun toward the plateau at the bottom, then get up and walk back to the top, dizzy and ready to do it again. Later, Mom would comb out the burrs by jerking a hairbrush across my ears. Most of the time, she’d find at least one tick and would scream for Dad to come take the parasite away. She’d hand the little squirming bloodsucker to him between a pair of tweezers, and he’d either flush it down the toilet or set it on fire with a match depending on what instrument of destruction was closer.

There was a shed at the bottom of the hill in the backyard, and I had to line up my starting spot carefully so that I didn’t smack into the front of it as I rolled to the bottom. No one in my family ever used the word shed – the shed was just called “the building” and the building was where Dad kept his power tools and where stray dogs who got pregnant without telling us had their puppies. At least a dozen wasps’ nests ringed the perimeter of the building, and in the summer, the sound of their buzzing was so loud I could hear it from the porch nearly fifty feet away. The sound made me nervous, as did their unpredictable diving.  I hated wasps ever since one stung me on my upper arm when I was very young. I remember the red, circular welt that grew outward in circumference faster than I’d ever seen anything grow and the stinging sensation that seemed to leave my whole arm sore. Mom had rushed out onto our porch when she heard me crying and taken me inside. She dampened a wet paper towel and shook a special cooking seasoning called Accent on it before pressing the towel against my wound. It hurt more. She’d heard this seasoning was the best home remedy for bee stings, but I don’t remember if it was.

Because of the wasps, I avoided the building and only went in when my older brother threatened me with a beating if I didn’t. It was dark and windowless in there – no one had wired it with electricity, so finding anything even during daylight hours was nearly impossible. On top of that, there was always the chance that when I grabbed for what I thought was an extension cord, I’d come up with a hibernating garter snake. The whole building smelled like gasoline, from weed-eaters and cans stored all winter, and at least three litters of puppies – a wet dog smell that never completely leaves unventilated places even after the pups have grown and are producing their own litters elsewhere.

Years later, after I too grew up and moved out, Dad bought a four-wheeler. He keeps it stored in the building. The seat, soft and absorbent, smells like long gone dogs that are almost certainly dead of old age by now.

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