Most of us as children knew this plant, either by unfortunate encounters or because we listened to our mothers when they warned us about it. Or because some adult quoted the little jingle “Leaves of three, let it be”. However we came to know it, we did not want the result of brushing against it.
I had a childhood friend, rather a daughter of a friend of my mother’s I was often told I had to play with. This was one of those friends who, no matter what you did or could do or say you could not out-do or out-say her. Truly the “anything you can do, I can do better” type of kid. Bitsy’s house was almost directly behind mine on the same block in my neighborhood. So one summer afternoon, probably tired of my bored whining I was told to go over to ol’ Bits’s house and play. She was in her backyard doing impossible things on what was then called a jungle-gym or play set. I had no interest in trying to race her in chin-ups or the hand-over-hand bar so I occupied myself in the vinca looking for clover patches, maybe I could find a 4-leafed clover.
Bitsy jumped down from whatever calisthenic she’d just completed and came over to see what I was doing.
“Bits,” I warned, “there’s poison ivy right over there.”
“Oh, I’m not allergic,” she smugly replied.
“Bitsy, practically everybody is allergic to poison ivy.”
Undaunted, facing a bald-faced challenge she reached down, grabbed a hefty patch of the weed and proceeded to rub it all over herself, face, arms, legs, every exposed piece of skin. I watched, disbelieving, seeing somebody more foolish than even I was.
“See?” she said. “I’m not afraid of it.”
Well, we went into the house to find her mother so I could tell what had happened, Bitsy jeering, “Tattle-tale, tattle-tale,” until her mother, sitting in a chair quietly reading a book, now completely engaged, grabbed Bitsy by the arm and dragged her to the kitchen sink where she scrubbed her head to toe with hot soapy water and a scrub brush. I was dismissed to my home.
A few days later my mother took me to the hospital so I could visit Bitsy and wish her a speedy recovery. The nurses said they had never seen such a dreadful reaction to poison ivy.
To this day I give this little innocuous looking plant wide berth.