Come to think of it, I’m hearing more of a distinctive hiss than a crackle. Is that gas I smell? Note to self: Change the batteries in my carbon monoxide detectors! But, I digress. Gazing into dancing flames (I know, they don’t dance. They’re gas logs. I get it, I get it!), the chill of the night melts away. It’s almost impossible to recall that just a few months earlier, Atlanta endured a heat wave that had shattered all records. Hotlanta, indeed! But weather was the least of what made “Lisa’s Summer of 2012” excruciatingly memorable! (And yes, I address myself as Lisa when reminiscing!)

Slathering Benadryl cream into the faded marks still covering my legs, I vividly recall the day in August that, for me, will live forever in infamy! Closing my eyes, it seems like only yesterday! (Cue dreamy background music).

It had started ordinarily enough, a lazy day at home (a rarity that blistering summer), and I’d intended to catch up on outdoor chores. By the way, there’s nothing like the thrill of yard work on a 100 degree summer day...SAID NO ONE EVER! Don’t get me wrong. It’s the heat I abhor, not the work! I rather enjoy the monotony of mowing, edging and pruning roses. It grants me some much coveted down time, and I relish the quiet (well, quiet except for the mower, the blower and the weed whacker!). While working, I mentally flesh out ideas for articles, make abstract to-do lists or more likely than not, chat with the Lord (kind of communing with God in nature). That Friday, I was looking forward to nothing more than tackling the yard while getting in some cardio—ya know, two birds, one stone.

Since the local weather man had predicted rain later that day, noon was my narrow window of opportunity for lawn beautification! Armed with bottled water, straw hat, sunblock and OFF!® insect repellent to ward off mosquitoes, I ventured into the front yard. It occurs to me NOW that no fair-haired, green eyed Scottish-Irish-English girl should have been out at that time of day. To be honest, I’m not just fair skinned. No, I’m downright translucent! A tad too late, I recalled one of my Nana’s favorite quotes, “Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the noonday sun.” She recited that to me all throughout my sun-worshipping teen years. Being young, I, of course, never fully appreciated its sound counsel.

Fast forward thirty years and if I’d had a lick of sense, I’d have been ensconced in my air-conditioned digs catching up on DVR’d episodes of “The Real Housewives of New Jersey.” Hey, stop looking at me; I feel your judgment (I only watch cause I’m eerily fascinated by big hair and Orange-Glo Faux Spray tans!). At any rate, I’d been out of town for weeks, and my yard reflected my absence. It was OCD (Obsessive Curb-appeal Disorder) that drove my insane compulsion to tend to yard work while everyone else in the neighborhood had the good sense to stay inside—or head for the beach (my street looked like a deserted ghost town in an old cowboy movie). With only the sound of the mower and the voices in my head to keep me company (AND to distract me from the suffocating heat), memories of the mission trip from which I had just returned played across the movie screen of my imagination.

Ah, Peru! From Chincha to Chiclayo, Lima to Mira Flores and everywhere in between, the people of Peru were filled with love, kindness and hope. In addition to sharing the Gospel in local churches, our mission team also set up feeding stations and provided medical clinics throughout the region. The mission to help seemed insurmountable—their endless needs versus our limited supplies!

When visiting the children at “Shama House” for boys and “The Hope House” for girls (two homes that provide food and shelter for children that would otherwise be homeless and hopeless), my heartstrings were definitely tugged. I remember the pure joy on the little ones’ faces when we played with them, or held the babies or handed the children a little sack containing soap, toothpaste and a toothbrush. It wouldn’t be deemed much of a gift to kids here at home, but every child there was so grateful, showering us with love and thanks! The Peruvians had so little in way of material possessions, but were filled with palpable joy despite their circumstances. I intend to hold all the lessons I learned in South America close to my heart forever, but that’s the one I’ll treasure the most—joy despite my circumstances.

I was nudged back to reality by the sound of the mower shuddering its last breath. Since I’d just made my last pass over the lawn, it was an opportune time to run out of gas. As I returned the mower to the garage, I noticed I was getting a wee bit sunburned—even with the block on! After gulping down some water, I immediately reapplied OFF!® and the sunblock (perhaps it hadn’t worked because I was sweating like I’d just run a 10K—in Hell!). Oops, Southern girls don’t say hell. And we don’t sweat. We glisten. Well honey, I was glistening like a PIG!!

Mowing done, I turned my attention to the rose bushes, which were begging to be pruned. As I made my first snips with the shears, my mind once again drifted to Lima. I remembered the flood (yes, our hotel flooded the first day there, sparing only one room—the room that housed all the supplies for the children that had been generously donated by folks back at home. Thank you Lord!). I remembered the 5.9 magnitude earthquake that jolted us one night in Chincha (if you knew my fear of, well, EVERYTHING, you’d know that I certainly questioned God’s sense of humor on that one).

And finally, I recalled the seven-hour plane ride. Unusual turbulence, screaming babies and a horrifying lightning storm occurred on our return flight. However, by then I was so bone-tired I couldn’t even work up any terror. I just remember praying if lightning did hit the wing, please Lord, let me be killed instantly. I didn’t want to walk away from a horrendous plane crash paralyzed! Oh, you know what I mean.

But through it all, God supplied us with the stamina (and in my case, the courage) needed for serving. From the moment we landed in Lima, we hit the ground running and went non-stop for almost two weeks. Two weeks in Peru filled to the brim with hard work, laughter, sorrow, hugs, tears, and tremendous joy! I can’t wait to go back.

Admittedly, with all my daydreaming, I wasn’t paying as close attention to my pruning as perhaps I should have. When a neighbor stopped his car to congratulate me on sculpting my rose bush into a Disneyland-worthy topiary (I guess it did kinda resemble Goofy from certain angles), I was jolted back to Earth!

Horrified, I studied what I had done. I had hacked that poor bush to death, and dozens of perfectly beautiful blooms surrounded my sandaled feet. What had I done? I fleetingly remembered the guy at the nursery guaranteeing that no one could kill a Knockout Rose bush. “Hello, I’m Lisa. Have we met?” I dropped the shears and started scooping up the wilted flowers thinking maybe I could salvage the cuttings in a vase of water. Root them, perhaps? Nope, doesn’t work that way. I bent down to gather my sacrificial roses—innocent buds cut down in their prime by my thoughtlessness! “Murderer!” they silently screamed up at me. In fact, as I gathered the flowers, extreme pain came over me! Ouch! Ouch! OUCH! What the heck? My first thought was that the roses had turned the tables on me and were on the attack. In quick succession my feet and then my legs were awash in fiery darts of agony. Did my sunburn go into warp speed overdrive and turn into this hellish pain that quickly? No, SUNBURNS DON’T BITE!

Frantically, I looked down and saw that my hands, my calves and my sandaled feet WERE COVERED IN SWARMING FIRE ANTS. HELP ME LORD! While daydreaming, I’d obviously disturbed their mound. The angry ants had declared war on me, and my body was their battlefield. I raised the white flag of surrender by pitifully swatting at the biting ants as I jumped up and down, screaming to high Heaven! Let me assure you, this was TOTALLY out of character for me. Being raised in the proper Southern tradition, I’d rather die than EVER create a scene. I once told a friend that I could be robbed by marauding gangs and my home leveled by twisters, but if a news reporter shoved a camera in my face and asked how I was, I’d just smile and reply, “Fine, thank you for asking. Would you care for a glass of sweet tea?” Our family motto? Never let ‘em see you sweat!

In my delirium, I was partially relieved that my neighborhood appeared deserted. Thank goodness my neighbors wouldn’t see me sweat OR scream OR flail about “Harlem Shake” style!

I’m still not sure if the sunburn made the bites more painful or if the bites were just THAT PAINFUL! As I desperately darted around the perimeter of the yard, I had a brainstorm. STOP. DROP. ROLL. Yeah, I know. “Stop, drop and roll” is the rule when you are covered in fire. Well, I WAS covered in FIRE ants, okay? I dropped to the grass and rolled around, trying to dislodge the stinging little monsters.

It was while thrashing about in the grass that three thoughts sprang to mind. One: OUCH! Two: OFF may keep mosquitoes at bay, NOT SO MUCH THE FIRE ANTS. And three: I decided I needed a Life Coach. PRONTO! I mean, seriously, this stuff just doesn’t happen to anyone else. It’s me, right? And that’s how he found me—writhing in the Bermuda, contemplating hiring a Life Coach.

“Excuse me Ma’am. Can I help you?” I kid you not. I looked around me to see whom he was calling “Ma’am.” Oh, he meant me. That’s when I stopped my whining and writhing long enough to look up (I was still lying in the grass). Hovering over me was a sweaty jogger, an older gentleman with kind, puppy dog eyes. He offered me his hand and helped me to my feet.

“Let’s get you out of this grass, Ma’am!” The helpful stranger had to be in his sixties, and he insisted on calling ME Ma’am? NOT A GOOD DAY! However, I was in turn 68% thankful that someone had stopped to help me and 32% terrified that I was about to be robbed and left for dead.

As Sweaty Jogger helped me to my feet, he talked soothingly to calm me down. He seemed to efficiently assess my situation while simultaneously knocking the remaining ants off of my legs and feet. As he led me out of the grass onto my driveway, he bent down to take a closer look at the angry bites. There were dozens upon dozens of them. They were already starting to develop into burning, itching little clear blisters. They hurt, and I was suffering. After he sat me on the driveway, I was finally coherent enough to be grateful that ANYONE (albeit a stranger) had heard my cries. Thank goodness he had cared enough to stop and help—help what must have appeared to be a crazed woman, whining and rolling about in the grass!

Wow! A line from the movie, “A Streetcar Named Desire” by Tennessee Williams popped into my head just then. In the movie, Blanche DuBois says, “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.” Well on this day, I had depended on a stranger, and his actions confirmed my belief in the basic decency of people. There were still good hearted guys left in the world. Hmmm, hold that thought.

’Cause just then, he stood up, looked me in the eye and said, “You know, Ma’am, you’re gonna be miserable with all that ant venom in you. It’s a known fact that fresh urine neutralizes the sting from the bites. If ya want, I could. Hmmm. Well, Ma’am, I could pee on your legs for ya.”

“Excuse me?” Yep, that’s what I actually said ’cause there was no way he had said what my ears had heard.

So he repeated it. “Fresh urine will take that sting right out, Ma’am.” He said it just as matter-of-factly as I tell someone club soda will take out red wine stains! And dang it, the old guy insisted on calling ME Ma’am. (Friends later asked me if I would have let him pee on my legs if he had called me “Miss.” I would like to think not!)

Well, this time I knew I’d heard correctly and I, of course, answered, in my best Southern girl manner, “No thank you!” Eternally polite, however, I did refrain from adding, “But thank you for asking!”

Persistently, he offered a third time. Really? I can only assume he thought third time’s the charm. I again refused his—kind?—offer. This time, I rebuffed him while backing up the driveway making a beeline for the safety of my garage. When he started to follow me, I coolly thanked the sweaty jogger for his help, insisting that my husband was inside and would take care of the situation from here on. (He probably wondered what kind of a husband would let his wife do yard work in the 100 degree heat and not come to her aid when he heard her scream? I know, right?! Come to think of it, I was getting more than a little annoyed at my non-existent husband myself!! Good-for-nothing made-up spouse was probably inside drinking sweet tea, watching “Real Housewives of New Jersey!”)

With my somewhat curt dismissal, the stranger (in more ways than one!) waved politely and resumed his jog down my street heading for the main road. I hobbled to the garage door opener, hit the button and gingerly made my way inside to the living room. I looked out the window and watched him as he jogged up the hill; I watched till he became nothing more than a little speck in my field of vision.

Now that he was gone, and I was safely locked behind closed doors, he didn’t seem so threatening after all. Maybe he really was just trying to help. Maybe? Well of course! But then again, ARE YOU KIDDING ME? What on earth was that man thinking? PEE ON MY LEGS? Come on!

That’s when it hit me. I recalled something my elderly, rather eccentric Great Aunt Myrtie once shared with me years ago (by the way, eccentric is polite Southern code for “off her rocker”). Flashing one of her rather wicked, conspiratorial smiles, she’d leaned toward me and whispered in my ear, “Trust me Lisa, there’s a little “p” in every pervert!” Oh, indeed there is, Aunt Myrtie, indeed there is!

Obviously, this past summer has left an indelible mark on my heart (not to mention my feet and my legs, as well). And while it’s been sweet and somewhat therapeutic reliving the memories, my cup of Maxwell House has now grown stone cold.

As I head to the kitchen to zap my coffee in the microwave, I start to giggle. Hmmmm, Maxwell House and Sweaty Jogger Guy—both “Good to the Last Drop?” I’m just so grateful I’ll never know! Excuse me y’all, I think I hear my Life Coach calling.

Lisa Love, a talented and insightful writer with a skewed sense of humor, looks for, and often finds the absurd masquerading as the mundane.

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