My paternal grandmother, Janie Ruth McCollum, was an interesting individual.
Set in her ways and more stubborn than a team of mules, she knew full well what she wanted to do and the way she wanted to do it, and no one, not even her well-meaning sons, could convince her otherwise.
As a child, she was my primary babysitter, as my parents would drop me off at McCollum Cottage with little worry that woman who raised Homer and Tank would have no issue whatsoever with bookish, quiet Cliff. Little did they know it wasn’t me they had to worry about.
While “Maw Maw” was an excellent caregiver and sitter, she didn’t always possess the best kid filters when it came to television and movies, letting me and my cousins watch things we never should have watched at our young ages.
Some were funny – Cousin Katie and I still laugh about the fake Saturday Night Live commercial for the “Love Toilet” and how she tried to convince a young Cliff to try to call the number on the screen to order one for Maw Maw. She then began to beat me savagely as I got to the phone and started pressing numbers.
However, some of Maw Maw’s entertainment choices were much too scary for young Cliff – and I was reminded of such an incident earlier this week.
Normally this time of year, McCollum Cottage is riddled what I’ve dubbed “the cutest infestation of all time” – the annual ladybug pilgrimage to the trees and bushes that surround my home.
I’ve noticed swarms of small bugs around the house, and thought my old friends had come back to visit once more.
Wrong. Dead wrong.
Horrible, terrible, no-good, very bad wrong.
Instead of my usual red and black cohorts, the estate of McCollum Cottage now finds itself overrun with a pest of a different color.
Kudzu bugs – the murky brown, foul-smelling beetles our county agent Chuck Browne warned us about in his column last week – have overtaken everything, from the front yard’s pecan tree to the poke salad bushes near the chimney remnants next door.
Crushing them to bits only brings a momentary satisfaction, as the horrid odor emitted upon their expiration is akin to the aromatic enjoyments of asparagus-laced urine and industrial oven-cleaning solvents.
The little buggers have begun to swarm now, making entering and exiting my home a real battle during the daylight hours.
The air is thick with the winged pests, and I’m forced to run and swing my arms wildly about to avoid the bugs finding safe passage on my personage.
I pray no one’s seen me do this; I imagine to passers-by I’d look not unlike a schizophrenic.
As I was saying goodbye to Friend of Cliff Kendra Carter as she departed Sunday afternoon from the house, we were forced to do the same air-slapping insanity to keep the bugs from getting in her car.
“Makes us look like Tippi Hedren, doesn’t it,” I said to Kendra before she was forced to bolt.
Tippi Hedren, indeed.
There was an almost immediate flashback to an 8-year-old Cliff sitting on Maw Maw’s sofa, watching a special presentation of Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds.”
I watched with terror as despite her wild gesticulations and screams, Hedren’s character was savagely mauled and attacked by the titular winged menaces. They didn’t kill her, but they came darn close.
I’ve been afraid of birds ever since. I even keep my distance from caged birds – just in case they decide to lose it and go straight for the whites of my eyes.
Since that Saturday night almost two decades ago, I’ve found myself determined to not leave the mortal realm in that fashion – and while I always thought “Hedrenning” was not nor would it ever be a positively-connotated verb, I’m beginning to change my tune.
Save ordering a beekeeper’s suit from online or calling in tactical air support to gas the blighters out, I find myself left with few options other than the 20-yard Hedren Dash to and from the car each day.
While I hope that the recent cool streak will help rid us of this troublesome bane, I urge you all to maintain constant vigilance and be aware of your own outdoor surroundings.
I’ve received word from the Opelika Order of Geezers that their headquarters on Marvyn Parkway, on the opposite side of town from my beloved McCollum Cottage, is similarly infested with kudzu bugs – as the gentlemen can’t even take a much-needed smoke break without coming back covered in tiny brown beetles.
Be prepared, dear readers.
We all thought the kudzu plant itself was a horrible sickness, but the kudzu bug cure may be worse.
So, keep your eyes peeled on the horizon for flickers of small insect wings.
Check your garden’s leaves and stems for barely moving brown dots.
And, keep your arms free and available to flail about, if necessary.
“Hedrenning” might may you look like a fool or a mental patient, but it will help you beat off the bugs … sort of.