In spite of the best attempts of my mother to raise a quiet, well-mannered child, I instead grew up wild in the wilds of Boyd County. Back in those dimly remembered days before the internet enraptured the youth (and the not-so-youth) of the country, wild young boys roamed in feral packs and were left largely to their own devices when not engaged in another fossil of that bygone era (chores). These feral packs would descend upon homesteads and feed at will, then disappear just after dessert to go about their feral business.
That business more often than not was an attempt to burn off the surplus energy of youth and to combat their only natural predator — boredom. Boredom was always lurking at the fringes, waiting to pounce upon the young ferals, so they engaged in the work of play to defend themselves. Though not the most athletic of the pack, I regularly engaged in such activities as bicycle riding, shooting basketball, playing football, wading in (gasp) the creek and my personal favorite, baseball.
The problem we encountered with the last was that none of the ferals or their immediate families had troubled themselves to build an actual ball field. Not to be deterred, however, we searched and soon discovered that there were numerous flat areas off the roadway no one was using that could serve as a makeshift baseball field. No diamond, dugouts or pitcher’s mounds, mind you — and the infield appeared strikingly similar to the outfield — but it was flat, and if you faced the hill when you batted, then the ball was less likely to get hit into the creek.
The best of these was the place my friend Joe called the “green bottom.” I don’t know if he was actually the one who named it, but I’ll give him credit because he was the first one to tell me about it. The Green Bottom was wide and long, longer than any of us feral young boys could hope to hit a baseball, and there was plenty of room to move to one side of the creek. The grass was a deep green (hence the name) and up to a boy’s calf and turned to coarser weeds only as you approached the foot of the low hills it set against. And as a bonus to the runner, it would often hide the ball once it hit the ground; on the other hand, it also hid the bases quite well, which added a “hide and seek” element that made it infuriatingly fun.
The only downfall to the Green Bottom was that, sooner or later, a foul ball would get lost in the weeds and we would have to stop the game while everyone went to look for it. We’d all stomp through the weeds and kick our feet on the ground until we found it, then go back to playing. And when the game was done (usually at or around dark) we would all suddenly remember that we weren’t in fact feral, and head back home to the comfort of things such as pop, snacks, and the three television stations our rabbit ears could attract. The only “streaming” television then was if you spilled something on it because televisions were big pieces of furniture then, and not something the size of a picture frame.
And it never failed that as I settled down to watch whatever the big three wanted to show me, I would look down and realize that I had in fact brought home part of the Green Bottom in the form of stickers and burrs and whatever else caught in the cuffs of my pants. As I had flailed about looking for my lost ball, these unwanted passengers had latched onto me, and I had not noticed because my feet had been hidden by the tall grass. Some of them would brush or wipe off easily enough, perhaps because they felt guilty for stowing away on my jeans, but others were determined to stay firmly where they had attached themselves.
The chief offender of the second group was what everyone I know calls “cockleburs.” They are larger than the others, vaguely spherical or round, and have little spikes that jut out like a porcupine’s quills. They stick like superglue, and when you reach out to grab them with unprotected fingers, it’s like grabbing grandma’s pincushion — which is to say it is not pleasant. They are so unpleasant, in fact, that I still remember the way they felt four decades later. And speaking of four decades later …
I sat watching my picture frame television in February of last year, and like everyone else on the planet, I started seeing the little coronavirus graphic that was shown with updates on the growing pandemic. I have to admit that from the beginning it was a scary looking little obscenity, what with the spikes and such. Those spikes allow it to grab onto a healthy cell and hold on while it basically kills that cell and makes more of itself to repeat the process with other cells in a host’s body. And the more I watched it, the more it reminded me of the cockleburs I eventually hand to pick off with a pair of dad’s work gloves.
The thing about that spiky little monstrosity is that dad’s work gloves wouldn’t help to remove them. The cocklebur was determined, yes; but it could also be crushed with a pair of tweezers and thrown in the trash can. The coronavirus, on the other hand, just holds onto the tweezers and uses them as an Uber to get where they want to go. And because we can’t really see the coronavirus, it’s like we are always walking in the tall grass and picking up more “burrs” with every step. Then, of course, we drag them home to whomever might be waiting for us to sit down with them and watch the evening news.
The vaccines are here (or on the way), but none of us are out of the woods (or in this case, weeds) yet. We still have to watch what we are doing and be careful we don’t help the virus spread before it is truly knocked down. Some things are worse than making a mess in your mother’s living room, after all. Much worse, in fact. Some things can make the ones we love sick or worse, so it is a good idea to hold back a little and practice some social distancing (and other precautions) to keep them safe. A little boredom, I believe, would be a fair trade.
Besides, there are more than three channels on the television now.