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MANY OF THE HILLS behind our house at the time were very great empty spaces. Erosion of the earth had carved gullies ten or twelve feet deep in them. The gullies cut the terrain into separate mounds exposing the red clay sides which made wonderful spots for sliding.
We always put on old clothes and old panties when we were going to the hills to slide. We would get up early in the morning so we could play while it was cool. Then we would go over the hills and select our favorite places. There were so many gullies that each child would select a spot that suited his or her taste. We would slide up and down the hills recklessly on our bottoms for hours. When we got home, we were usually covered with red clay from head to foot, and an exceedingly thick amount of it was on our rear sections.
Blackberry bushes and plum thickets grew abundantly on many of the hills and down on the banks of the stream that was at the back of our lot.
We were always accompanied by Jack on our walks, and we depended on him to go into the blackberry bushes and scout around before we went in to get fruit. Gallantly, he would rush in, bark wildly, and wave his handle-like tail. If he saw nothing, he would emerge with eyes shining and gleaming in triumph as if to say, Everything’s safe now. We had complete confidence in Jack’s ability to rout an enemy. So after his inspection, we would go into the bushes to pick berries and gather plums.
We often came back from those walks with cans of berries, stomachs full of plums and bodies full of an invisible enemy, chiggers. Chiggers are tiny parasites which burrow under the skin and cause great annoyance. You can never tell where they are or when they are attacking you. It is only discovered after returning home, getting an itch and having big red bumps swell over your body. Chiggers seem to have a knack for invading the body’s most private spots such as the arm pits and groins to weak havoc as an annoying itch.
For safety’s sake, we usually took a bath in water mixed with a handful of salt after a berry-picking excursion. If this remedy had no success in killing the pests, each red welt was spotted with crease, which acted as a death ray for the parasites. Anyway, our mother seemed to know just what measures to use to help us get rid of any misfortune that had overtaken us whether it was chigger bites, cuts or bruises. Come what may, our ardor for these trips to the hills never ceased, and we continued to enjoy them throughout our childhood.
Love, Rose Leary. Plum Thickets and Field Daisies: A Memoir. Charlotte, NC: Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, 1996