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Mack Williams: Tick warnings stir memories

by Mack Williams
For the Salisbury Post
With the summer being here, I see public service announcements in both the newspapers and on television concerning the prevalence of ticks, and for both children and adults to be wary.
I remember my mother reminding me to “check my head” in the late 1950s and ’60s, which she would do herself, if I had failed to do so.
These “other” eight-legged arachnids always seem to be waiting on blades of grass for the chance to be brushed onto a passing dog or human, or other creature. ( I don’t think that they actually have the capacity to jump.)
Humans have the dexterity with which to check themselves or others of their species for such hitchhikers. As well as being a purely logical thing to do, I sometimes wonder if it is a particularly “primate thing” to remove parasitic pests from one’s neighbor.
Check out “Baboon Island” the next time you visit the North carolina Zoo and you will see this behavior, although unlike those “castaways,” I have no memory of my mother consuming that which she pulled off of me.
I remember feeling sorry for dogs, which I would sometimes see with ticks that had been on them for a long enough time to become corpulent with blood, somewhat like a description by Bram Stoker of Count Dracula as he rested during the day, engorged after one of his nighttime feedings.
My parents and brother, Joe, moved to the house on the Old Concord Road sometime before I was born in 1951. My mother later told me that when they moved in, the weeds and grass (mostly weeds) were about waist high, and that the stand of weedy, wild flora was a breeding ground for ticks.
Years later, she told me that my father had then made the determination that the only method with which to end both the ticks and their habitat was that of conflagration, achieved with the use of a rented flamethrower. Although I was as yet, unborn, I have an imagined picture in my mind’s eye of my father wielding that flame throughout our old yard.
Even though my father was too young for World War I, and for reasons of health, not eligible for World War II, it is not too difficult for me to transfer that imagined scene of him in actuality, flamethrower in hand in our yard, to a hypothetical scene of him much farther away, with that same flamethrower in France of the First World War, or to an island of the South Pacific in World War II.
Some things serve as strange reminders of the past. One time, some years ago, there was a science series on public TV entitled “Lost Lives.” Its subject matter was those prehistoric lifeforms whose lives were “lost” over time, traces of their existence being preserved in different layers of rock comprising the fossil record.
Sometime, just past the mid-point of the 1960s, the memory of an individual “lost” member of the Genus “Canis” was preserved for a matter of months on the blue slate rock of my old front porch on the Old Concord Road.
At that time, there lived, two doors down from us, a member of the family of earlier neighbors from across the road from that house, the Earnhardts. This lady was married to a military man and they owned a beautiful dog, named “King.” As I remember, King was a German shepherd. The lady was with child, and I seem to remember her saying, “King will have a young playmate in the not far distant future.”
One time, earlier that same summer, King had stopped by our front porch, and I had noticed a really swollen tick in his fur, which I immediately pulled off him and stomped on the blue slate of our porch. Evidently, primates like to extend their penchant for such grooming to other species besides their own.
With that crushing, there was immediately produced a spattering of King’s consumed blood on one of the sections of the cemented blue slate.
Several weeks afterwards, I was outside in my yard, and heard the screeching sound of a car’s brakes being suddenly applied, followed by a “thud.” King had been hit crossing the Old Concord Road in the area of the Cline’s home; and I can’t remember whether the driver proceeded, or stopped and expressed sorrow and regret.That sudden shock narrowed all of my concentration and memory to the place on the road where King lay.
King’s owners must have also been outside in their yard when this happened, because it seemed that all of us arrived there at about the same time. The lady was distraught, and her husband picked up King gently, as he was still alive. They took him to a veterinarian, but very shortly thereafter, he passed away.
The spot of blood on the stone of my front porch, where I had pulled off and crushed King’s tick a few weeks before, remained for some months under the sheltering roof of our home, like a memory of when he was alive, unlike that tragic trace of his blood which lasted for a much shorter time out on the asphalt of the Old Concord Road, where it was exposed to the elements and would soon be worn and washed away.
In looking at that spot of blood on my front porch many months after his death, and thinking back to that time of a few weeks before that death, I reflected that I had effected the removal of a parasitic pest which was causing a minor, nagging loss of King’s blood. I wished, in those months that followed, as I later saw the remaining red spot on the blue slate, that I could have foreseen, and prevented the circumstance that led to a much greater loss of King’s blood, and his life.

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