Spring is upon us ... and that brings back lots of wonderful memories from my childhood.
My wife, Paula was amazed at one of the rites of spring that was commonplace in my hometown of Geneva.
When the weather turned warm and stayed that way — usually in late April — the principal of our elementary school would put out the word: coming to school barefoot — or barefooted as most of us referred to it — was OK.
Miss Mary Dell Ard, our principal, apparently didn't worry about us suffering an unusually high number of foot injuries like stubbed toes, and splinters from the oiled floors in the old school building or diseases like the dreaded "ground itch." I was one of the kids who enjoyed the freedom of going barefooted to school and did so without ever contracting ground itch. In fact, I never knew what this rather vague sounding ailment was until I researched it for this conversation.
When it came to contracting ground itch, I remember being told by contemporaries that walking barefooted through "foamy or frothy" standing water could give it to you. Turns out it should be known as an infection caused by parasites like hookworms.Sounds rather nasty.
I'm glad I listened to my friends and avoided that breeding ground for ground itch.
Little did I know that years later, I would move to a city where going to church "sans shoes" was the rule for youngsters rather than the exception once warm weather arrived.
At the stately First United Methodist Church in the Old Cloverdale neighborhood of Montgomery when the youngest kids are called to the front of the sanctuary for Children's Church, many of them will not be wearing shoes. For folks just moving to Montgomery, this may come as quite a shock. The long-time parishioners think nothing about it.
When I was in high school, a good friend of mine and I decided to take a trip down the Choctawhatchee River from Geneva to Black Creek on the north side of Choctawhatchee Bay in northwest Florida.
We loaded George Brown's fishing boat and started the trip on Friday afternoon. Our plan was to make it down to the "No. 2" bridge by dark where we would spend night before setting off at daylight Saturday. This would give us enough time to take in the sights as we headed down the river toward Black Creek Lodge where George's family's houseboat was docked.
Three of our classmates from Geneva met us just below the bridge where we were camped for the night. They stayed a couple of hours — long enough to cook a bunch of food on a makeshift grill. It was a great start to the weekend.
The weather was warm ... borderline hot. It was hot enough to convince us that by midmorning we should shed our shirts and shoes and "catch some rays" on the way down to our destination. BIG MISTAKE.
I remember wearing nothing but a pair of flimsy gym shorts from school as we plied the river toward Black Creek. We had not brought any sunscreen or lotion. By lunchtime we began to notice just how much sun we had been exposed to. TOO MUCH.
Putting our shirts back on and slipping on long pants did no good. By late afternoon, we tied up next to the houseboat and realized just how sick both of us were.
All I could think of was how badly my skin burned, how I needed to throw up and then lie down. We flipped a coin to see which one of us would climb the hill to the lodge and call home to get our parents to come and get us. I won, threw up, and laid down across one of the bunk beds in the houseboat. Despite tossing and turning, I couldn't get comfortable. We were both completely miserable. This was not how our trip was supposed to end.
And as you might expect, the misery lasted for some time.
Days after getting home, I remember the skin on the top of my thighs was so badly sunburned, it cracked and curled like the bottom of a dry riverbed. You get the picture.
A word to the wise. Don't be lulled into thinking that this won't happen to you during the first days of spring.
And if you ever see a couple of knucklehead teenagers getting this much sun in such a short period of time ... stop them and tell them to get the appropriate clothing and sunscreen.
They'll thank you later!