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The Fly Convention

By Neal Beard
[email protected]



I started shinnying up the ladder of learning at Bill Arp school in 1946. We were dirty, but happy. We had not yet been inconvenienced with hygienic hype. In the fifth grade we studied a health book, and learned we were unsanitary. We didnít do anything about it, but at least we knew.

When I began school, we had a rest room for boys and one for girls. They were discreetly positioned behind the schoolhouse. In hot weather they were less discreet.

Our hands were always dirty. We ate our lunches with crusted hands. If anyone had mentioned germs, we would have assumed they referred to small Germans. And, because of World War II, Germans had fallen out of favor.

Some homes in Bill Arp had five rooms and a bath. Ours had five rooms and a path. Our outhouse squatted about 100 feet on one side of the house; the barn drooped about the same distance on the other side.

The flies ran shifts. One crew worked the outhouse while another labored in the barn. At shift change they congregated in the house to exchange greetings. A lot of them liked inside better than outside employment, so they transferred. We had screen doors and windows, and occasionally we opened them to let the flies out for fresh air and exercise.

Soon they would organize a fly convention in the kitchen. They had dive bombing exhibitions, nose tickling lessons, cornbread eating contests, nasty classes, and seminars on various forms of germ warfare.

Mama soon tired of the conventioneers antics. She would close the doors, and windows, and torpedo the enemy with DDT. About an hour after she sprayed, she opened the house up. Dead flies were laid out like slain soldiers. We were fly free, until a new crew hatched in the Ė well, hatched.

We did bathe regularly - every week. Mama would send us, one at a time, into a back room with a wash pan full of hot water, a bar of Lifebuoy soap, and a washcloth. Our instructions were to start at our head, and wash as low as possible; start at our feet, and washed as high as possible. Then wash possible.

In the Air Force I enjoyed a daily shower and began a sanitary existence. Most of my adult life has been spent in an unpolluted state.

In an interview, when he was the heavy weight boxing champion of the world, Leon Spinks said, ďIíve been poor, and Iíve been rich. Rich is better.Ē My philosophy has been, Iíve been dirty and Iíve been clean. Clean is better.

Now, a different tale is told. There is a book, just published, entitled Riddled With Life. Marlene Zuk, a professor of biology at the University of California, Riverside, is the author. Her topics include: Why we canít possibly make ourselves sick by violating some of todayís commonly accepted rules of hygiene. And she makes a believable case that our minds are positively influenced by parasites (I donít think sheís referring to congress).

According to her book, our immune systems fight harder in unclean surroundings, making them stronger and us healthier. She teaches that the negative aspects of the absence of germs is that people have more allergies, asthma, and diseases.

The professor may be right. Mama was exposed to unsanitary living conditions, ate fat meat, breathed second hand smoke and DDT, and lived to be 94. Could it be, that now nasty is nice? Itís possible.

Copyright Neal Beard

* * * * *

Neal BeardI'm a retired pastor, living in Douglasville, Georgia. I write a column for a local monthly magazine. The magazine is The Chapel Hill News and Views. It has a circulation of 40,000. The column is called Local Lore. My column is history/humor about Bill Arp, the rural northwest Georgia community where I grew up in the 40s and 50s.


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