Grandeddy’s old house stood on granite pillars. We called my dad’s dad Grandeddy. His house had no crawl space, it was all open air. It’s also the place where the dogs resided. Since my grandparent’s house was in the middle of nowhere, it was the only place for dogs to call home. People would take their unwanted pets on the long road that passed the end of Grandeddy’s dirt driveway, drop a dog off, and leave it. Eventually, the dog would wander up to the house and call it home. At any given time there would be six to ten dogs at their house – none of which were purchased by my grandparents.
I spent many days exploring the woodlands near their house, accompanied by one or more of the dogs from the orphanage under the house. A long neglected field beyond the backyard trees still produced strawberries by the acre. When they were in season, we’d stuff ourselves until we got a stomach ache.
Bugs are the objects of affection for little boys, and few bugs were more fascinating than doodle bugs. Some people call them ant lions. We called them doodle bugs because they made squiggly lines in the dirt while looking for a place to set up shop. If you’re not familiar with these insects, they are the larvae of lacewings. They make cone shaped holes in the ground that small insects, like ants, fall into and get trapped. Once captured, the doodle bug pulls them underground for a meal.
As you can imagine, watching a battle between ants and doodle bugs was pure joy for a six year old boy. During one of my explorations, I discovered a treasure trove of doodlebugs under Grandeddy’s house. Little rain made it under there, so the dirt was dry and dusty – the perfect texture for doodlebug pits.
I crawled out and rushed to find a box that could hold a pile of dirt. I used the box to build a dirt field for doodlebug houses. Then I set out to harvest the bugs. Some time earlier, I discovered the best way to catch doodlebugs was to blow the dust away from them. Since they were the same color as the dirt, it was difficult to find them by scooping out their houses. More times than not they would escape and I’d be left sifting through empty dust.
I bent down and gently blew the dust until they were exposed. The bug would start burrowing to find more cover, but I’d catch him and toss it in the box of dirt. Then I started on the next hole. Before long, I had a face coated with dirt and a box full of doodle bugs. I also felt kind of itchy.
I crawled from under the house with my prize and notice the itching seemed worse. My back, chest, stomach, and head kept making me scratch. Then my legs started itching. It was almost unbearable. I pulled up my pants leg and saw black dots, but they quickly disappeared. I pulled up my shirt and saw dots there too. It looked like I had found the primary food source for the ant lions under the house. Dog fleas.
I went inside and reported my suspicions to my mother. She pulled up my shirt and gasped. “Good heavens, Eddie! You’re covered in fleas.”
They were biting so badly I wanted to plop down on the floor and start scratching my head with my back leg. Getting them out of my clothes wasn’t difficult, but they were also teeming in my hair. Grandeddy eased out of his recliner and said, “I have just the thing to take care of it.”
He returned with a can of flea spray and dog shampoo. I whimpered and ran under the bed, but someone chased me out with a broom. I howled as someone carried me toward the tub. Grandeddy sprayed my clothes with the flea spray and then turned it on me. He then sent me to the bath. Did I mention that my grandparent’s house was old? They had only recently gotten running water. Before that, Grandeddy and Nanny pumped it out of the well and took it inside. Now he had an electric pump that supplied water to the kitchen and bathroom. But they didn’t have a hot water heater. That water was ice cold when I sat in it. Even the fleas complained.
Grandeddy handed me the dog shampoo and said something to the effect of, rinse and repeat.
It wasn’t long before I smelled like a dog. A clean dog, but still a dog. My clothes were washed and hanging on the clothes line, so I had to wear Grandeddy’s pajamas and hold them up with one hand. I visited my doodlebug motel and wondered, was it worth it? They were already flipping dust and making cool holes in the dirt. I sniffed around the floor, curled up beside the box and laid down beside my pets.
Yeah. It was worth it.