Rained here Saturday night. My father-in-law's little gauge--the old farmer in him couldn't really live without one--registered three-quarters of an inch, a healthy rain.
In town, where we live, a good rain is nice on the lawns but a curse on two-year-olds like our grandson, who's too darn cute to spray full of "Off" and too little himself to slap the blasted mosquitoes that light on his darling, chunky arms and feast. We don't live in real mosquito country here in Iowa. They can get bad, but nothing at all like my Wisconsin home, where, come June, hordes arise like a Chinese army from a solitary backyard. Clouds form in a village park. You can hear them, like a distant jet. I'm serious.
It's a wonder people don't die from mosquitoes in Minnesota, where some claim them as the state bird. Michigan, on the same northern tier as Wisconsin and Minnesota, almost has to be similarly cursed. We love "up north," but there have been times when I felt all 270 pounds of me being carried away by winged varmints that look as much like biblical demons as anything God, in his infinite wisdom, ever created. In fact, you wonder sometimes whether He left some factory seconds around, some "oops," you know? What possible good are mosquitoes?
Really, I don't need the tiny bit of citronella that's still here in a ancient drugstore bottle I've had on my shelf for the last 40 years, a bottle that had to come from my grandparents, who lived in Michigan. It was purchased on Godfrey and Burton Street, it says, Grand Rapids, where, once upon a time, a drug store named Greenwold's pedaled mosquito relief. You can't see it probably, but typed in low on the label is the antidote--"Citronella," it says, I'm guessing, the remedy my grandparents looked to for relief.
Wikipedia says citronella is also used as a "perfumery chemical." I don't think the Dominie was making urns full of Channel Number 5, and I'm guessing his wife, a city girl, probably didn't make her own soap, which makes such uses out of the question. My Wikipedia research also indicates that citronella was also thought to quiet barking dogs. Who knows? Nobody wants some yapping parsonage mutt hanging around the church.
Still, I'd guess it was for mosquitoes, although it's hard to believe that anyone in Michigan would buy a bottle this tiny. Must have been a drought.
It's been mine for most of my life. Once upon a time I simply grabbed it from my parents' upstairs bathroom cabinet because it never got used and I loved the intriguing bottle.
For generations I've been Protestant and therefore anti-papist, anti-images, anti-lots of stuff; but it's not hard for me to understand the appeal of graven images, which, of course, thou shalt not have. I mean, my grandpa the Calvinist preacher, a man I hardly knew, isn't conveniently available, genie-like, from the confines of this minuscule bottle; I can't conjure him. I could rub all day and my grandpa wouldn't appear. But somehow he's here.
I have to admit in some ghastly, silly way, that if I didn't guess that it somehow graced my grandparents' own bathroom cabinet a century ago, I'd have tossed it long ago, never grabbed it in the first place.
Today, useless as it is--we've got "Off" and those tin pots of waxy stuff you light if you want to sit outside--I can't just dump this old bottle, not only because it's ancient, but also because, dang it, it's got something of my grandparents in it, long, long ago. It is its own graven image, I confess--and, even though I don't worship the dumb thing, this one, if the rain keeps falling, will even keep the mosquitoes down.
So I'll be a jerk and leave to my kids to throw. Someday, they'll be culling through the flotsam and jetsam of their father's life, pick up this oily old bottle--greasy little thing from some place in Michigan they've never been--and get rid of it once and for all to a landfill where--maybe, just maybe--it'll do it's own appointed work, keeping down the insect population.
I can't just throw it. There's nothing in it but citronella, but--I know I'm pushing it--for me at least, it's something, well, perfumery, of Grandpa and Grandma Schaap, dominie and juffvrouw.
Call me silly. Call me nuts. Go ahead. But it stays.