I recently saw a story about an Australian boy who was bitten by a very deadly spider. It took twelve doses of antivenom to save his life. Growing up in Georgia with my four siblings, it is a wonder we survived, left to roam 12 acres of overgrown farmland unsupervised except for our mother working in the garden or looking out the kitchen window.
We would crawl through tall sage grass playing cowboys and Indians. We played in the old barn, jumping from the loft hanging on the rope that held the door shut on the hay chute. We made a treehouse in an ancient cedar tree I now know must have been rift with spiders. The only real spiders we ever saw were garden spiders that built huge webs and seemed to be writing a story. Of course, we looked for trap-door and wolf spiders and water spiders, but we didn't bother them and they left us alone. We waded through small creeks, catching tadpoles in jars to watch them turn into frogs. My brother would corral a crayfish, pull off his claw and go back daily to watch the crayfish grow a new one.
The only time I remember seeing a snake was on a Girl Scout hike to pick blackberries. A rattlesnake sat up and gave a fierce rattle while hissing to let me know I was intruding on his territory. It was then that I learned just how fast I could back up. On another hike we were wading down a creek and a water moccasin was swimming fast ahead of us to get out of our way, as a bunch of girls can make a lot of noise.
We would go swimming above the dam at the old grist mill and walk across the dam which was often dared and to us the most dangerous thing one could do. We would lie down in the grass and watch ants carrying food, swarming on dead bugs, and follow them to their nests. We inspected every new bug, we found, chased and caught June bugs. My brothers would tie a string around one of their legs for a pet. Lightning bugs were the most peculiar and the most interesting. Perhaps that is why my brothers became electrical engineers. We read books up in the trees, set up camp beneath and on limbs above in a big old cedar tree. We were like The Swiss Family Robinson, shipwrecked and hiding from pirates. We fought Germans, after watching trucks full of soldiers pass by on the highway on their way to war.
We played hide and seek and jumped into the leaf pit that we were warned was home to some black widow spiders, but were never bitten. Another day on a hike, I Iifted a large flat stone, and in the hollow beneath was a huge black widow. It was winter, and she was hibernating, very much alive. I did not know those spiders lived so long, She was beautiful; a vivid red and black as a shiny patent leather shoe and that sight appealed to the artist in me, but the others on the hike, who lived on the land, did not share my sensitive nature, and you know what they did. It was only in a Biology class while in college that I realized my siblings and I had grown up in Mother Nature’s Laboratory. It was a much different time in the 1940’s. Children today live in a different world. I can only imagine what we would have learned if computers had been online.
PJ Renfroe, founder of the Heritage Writer s Group, is a native Georgian who has been writing “all her life.” She continues to try to please her ten grandchildren; her biggest fans and strictest critics!