The soft heat and humid South inundate Mt. Juliet, TN, where Vee’s family lives. Upon arrival, the words coming from my accent-conscientious wife began stretching to meet her mother’s long vowels and soft consonants, stopping just shy of settling into a typical Southern drawl.
Both of our families’ ancestors passed through this region a number of times. Vee’s family stayed mostly on the Southern side of the state while mine slowly migrated across the Northern half before dropping down South to LA. Both of us have very strong Southern roots.
The last time we came through we rented a car, driving through the back-country to looking for relatives’ graves. We found many generations, some lying in small back-wood, back yard family plots and some in large community cemeteries, but all of them surrounded by the gentle rolling Tennessee hills and huge oak trees. It is a beautiful land for graveyards, increasingly so from the gravitas lent by dappled sunlight, humidity, and threats of heavy rains.
This time around, we have stayed close to home, enjoying the company of Vee’s mother Sue, step-father James, brother Michael and his wife, Renee. Next week we will be joined by Vee’s other brothers, completing the pack of siblings, but for now, I’m loving the time we are spending with these great, gentle people.
Although I would have a difficult time living here, I enjoy this state. Tennessee is a thriving land filled with life. Sue and James live in a rural region filled with stray cats, raccoons, coyotes, and tons of other wildlife. They keep a good sized yard, but the surrounding forest lends the idea that any taming is temporary at best. Tall trees loom everywhere with many broken branches, shattered or torn from their trunks from strong winds, and scrub and vines line any area of the yard unchecked for very long.
James provides food and some shelter for some of the local feral cats and kittens, and in return they provide entertainment. We are often pointing out the window at some antic or cuteness being displayed in large quantity, and it has been fun walking around the darting creatures.
So now I’ve been out a few times, wandering around to inspect James’ garden or the strange limestone bedrock cracking out from the ground. This last time I was out, I picked up a few hitch-hikers. I can’t see them, but I know they’re there. You see, I itch. A lot. I have around 25 welts (now 26) from what we think are chiggers.
Chiggers are relatives of ticks and mites. They are very small and hard to see, but can cause huge damage for their size. It used to be thought that they burrowed into your skin and lived there, but more recent discoveries show that they ‘just’ inject an enzyme into skin for easier munchings, and then drop soon after. The ‘host’ often doesn’t realize they’ve been eaten until a few hours or days after the insect has gone.
Wherever they are, here or there, I’m itchy and cannot sleep.