As a child, poison ivy was out to get me. I was sure of it. Just the thought of uncontrollable itching, greenish white berries, or the dreaded clusters of three shiny green leaves was enough to terrify me. It was my worst fear -- more scary than spiders, a dark room, death, dogs... or clowns.
I tried to be the tough girl, so my fear stayed a big secret for a long time. I wanted to be stronger, faster, and braver than everyone else. No big sister, big sister's friend, or neighborhood boy was going to have anything on me. My pride went deep, and it caused me to do things I might not have done otherwise. I climbed trees (only one boy could go higher), touched a lot of garter snakes (my sister wouldn't go near them), and rode my bike faster and further.
If I was afraid of something, I didn't want anyone to know. Poison ivy was like that for me. My fear was so great that even the mention of the plant caused me to tremble. This next story shows that staying out of the woods didn't help me much either.
I was excited to start my new 4th grade school books. One book was my Nature Reader put out by Christian Liberty Press. I enjoyed reading books with Mom and eagerly pulled out the small red volume -- until I saw the beginning chapter. Our first lesson was on poison ivy!
Suddenly, I didn't want to read anymore. I stalled, pleaded, and begged. Despite my best efforts, my dutiful, homeschooling mother finally got her way. I can vividly recall sitting on the couch with her while overcome by secret terrors. Poor Mom, she had no clue why I was so reluctant to do my school. I held the book gingerly as though the poison would seep through the pages and cause my hands to itch just from reading about the plant. I had to read the words poison ivy -- out loud --and more than once. Could I make it? My skin crawled at the thought.
Somehow, I got through the four short pages, but I was so hot and nervous I couldn't comprehend what I was reading. To make the itching sensation worse, there were questions at the end. I had to discuss poison ivy? The first question was, "How will you know poison ivy when you see it?"
I couldn't answer the question. My mind was too full of fear to remember anything in the chapter, and I couldn't force myself to voluntarily say poison ivy. Mom made me go back and find the answers from the chapter, so I had to read most of it all over again. The root of my fear can be summed up by some of the descriptions in the book.
"Poison ivy grows in thickets along the edge of the woods or roads. It usually grows like a shrub, from one to two feet in height. Sometimes it grows like a vine, clinging to a fence-post or to the trunk of a tree by means of little rootlets."
You mean it doesn't look the same everywhere? How will I recognize it?
"In early fall the leaves turn red and yellow, and are so beautiful that people may stop to pick them, not knowing that they are poisonous."
Oh no! I like to collect fall leaves!
"Wherever the leaves, stems, or berries touch a person's skin, tiny pimples form and become very sore. They itch badly, and, if the skin is irritated, the poison spreads."
Worse and worse. It spreads? I am itching already!
"Some persons suffer from the plant, even if they do not touch it."
How can I stay away from it then? It will get me anyway! It will sneak up and grab me! What about when I am at my friend's house? I think she has poison ivy in her back yard, but where? How far away do I need to be? It will catch me if I even get close!
"There are several remedies for ivy poisoning. A simple one is to apply a lotion of one part of fluid extract of grindelia in ten parts of water. This will stop the itching and soothe the pain. Sugar of lead is another remedy but this must be used very carefully to avoid lead poisoning, which would be worse than the ivy poisoning."
Grindelia? That is no help. I have no idea what that is, but I don't think we have any. And sugar of lead? How is that different from pencil lead? Poison ivy must make you miserable if people risk lead poisoning over it.
So it went. The Nature Reader played with my fears and made them even worse. On the other hand, it gave me much needed information about the plant I wanted to avoid at all costs. Later, safe from people's notice, I got my school book out and read the chapter again. I wanted to be prepared. Know your enemy!
I have never had poison ivy for real -- for which I am grateful -- but I wonder, how exaggerated were my fears? How bad is it? Does anyone have a poison ivy story? I have many more -- for someone who has never had a physical reaction to the plant!