By Rick Houser –
Having grown up in the country and on a farm I learned about the outdoors and Mother Nature. I learned at a young age how to tell a Maple tree from an Oak tree and the different names of weeds and flowers. I learned when the moon was new or full and when the sun was in the East or the West. My Dad and brother Ben taught me how to be a true farm boy for sure. That was until the fall of third grade at Moscow School.
When I entered the third grade my teacher was a very pretty teacher by the name of Miss Hays. She was fresh out of college and brand new to the teaching profession and we were to be her very first class. It is funny about children as we were fighting to spell pretty easy words and hadn’t conquered multiplication yet, but we knew Miss Hays was new and inexperienced at dealing with children eight years old. This meant it was permissible to question her statements and judgements. At least we thought so. One Friday afternoon in early October Miss Hays decided to get us out of the classroom and take us on a field trip around the school grounds. The thought of being out on a nice day instead of in a classroom was approved by us all and I think Miss Hays was earning some appreciation points from her third grade class.
Everything was great until we all reached the school’s flagpole at which point she stopped us and walked out in front of us and called for our attention and to be quiet so she could talk to us. She pointed to the base of the flagpole where a vine was growing and said “class, I want you all to look very close at this vine as it is poison ivy. Don’t touch this or you will regret it greatly.” Now Frank Theaderman a friend of mine and also a farm boy and myself moved closer to the vine and as we looked at it, we then looked at each other and agreed that since we were pros at identifying plants and trees, we were positive this was not poison ivy.
The more we studied it the more we were certain this was a harmless plant that had been falsely accused of being poisonous. So to prove to our classmates that it was harmless we pulled up some of it and rubbed it on our hands and arms. This caused the other kids to begin to taunt that we were pretty dumb in our actions. This caused Frank and I to get bolder and instead of rubbing it on ourselves we commenced to rub the vine on our classmates, causing a terrified reaction which I’m sure Frank and I were hoping for. While we were in the middle of this, Miss Hays had moved forward and had rounded the corner of the school building where she had been unable to see what had occurred. This episode was brief and we continued on the field trip until it was time to return to the classroom in time to dismiss and go to our buses after being wished to have a great weekend.
To my shock when I woke up Saturday morning, my hands, arms, legs and just about all of me had broken out into a rash. To say I was itching was a huge understatement and I couldn’t figure how or where I got this rash. My Mom questioned me about where I had been and that didn’t help her, but she did open an old bottle of calamine lotion and began applying. I must say Mom’s home cure and tender loving care were not helping relieve the itching and as a matter of fact I was breaking out into blisters. By Sunday I had become so covered I was kept home from church (a rarity at our house in those days). But come Monday it didn’t matter how bad I was scratching, I was sent to school anyway.
Having to go to school was the easy part. When we entered the classroom every student had large sections of this rash on their bodies and they were reporting this to Miss Hays. Then I saw a few parents talking to Miss Hays and fingers were pointing in my direction. I quickly began scanning the room for Frank and I found him at his desk and yes, he was in as bad a shape as I was. Not only was I hurting and feeling awful, I could feel the world crumbling around me.
It wasn’t long before Miss Hays moved toward the classroom door and pointed at me and said, “I want to see you out in the hall.” This was more than bad, this was critical. I got up and slowly made the trip to the hallway. Along with me Frank made the same trip. To tell the truth I felt no comfort in Frank having to be in the hall. At this time it was almost every man for themselves.
Miss Hays stood us against the wall and placed herself squarely in front of us and began asking just what were we thinking by rubbing poison ivy on everybody. Hadn’t she told us what it was? We looked at each other and we knew this but we also were sure it wasn’t, but this wasn’t the time or place to tell her that. She then handed each of us a note for our mothers to read (no way that was good news) and told us how ashamed she was of us and then she looked straight at each of us one at a time and said, “If you had a spot on your body that wasn’t in a rash or blisters I’d paddle it.” Praise be for that rash and blisters.
That evening I gave Mom the note and had to explain to her what took place as gently as I could. That really didn’t help. She was angry, embarrassed, and very upset as she would eventually have to face the mothers of the afflicted children her not very bright son had given poison ivy to. To tell the truth she hurt me more than any of what had preceded.
The rest of the week Frank and I did a lot of apologizing to our classmates and did extra homework for Miss Hays and we did all we could to salvage any good we had established before this event. There is only one positive that came from all this and that is to this day, I have never again caught poison ivy or poison oak. I don’t understand why but I paid a huge price to never catch it again. To this day Frank and I swear it really didn’t look like poison ivy to us. Really! I swear it!
Rick Houser grew up on a farm near Moscow in Clermont County and loves to share stories about his youth and other topics. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.