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Of chiggers and an old rug

This is a column about chigger bites and an old rug. Now, let me set the record straight. The chiggers came BEFORE the old rug.
It happened like this: I was down at my farm clearing out some willow bushes around the pond. Unfortunately, mixed in with the willows were blackberry brambles, poison ivy and chiggers. Well, these three do not mix in a very comfortable way for we humans, and I ended up with red welts from the tips of my toes to my waist. I am miserable and have tried the gamut of lotions interspersed with bouts of intense scratching. Reason seems to leave my head and a big itch takes over when I stop moving about and stop to feel.
Now, here is where the old rug comes into play. A friend dropped off an old (some would say disgustingly old) rug at my house while I sat and applied various anti-itch formulas to my legs. It is no secret that I have ‘a thing’ for antique textiles, and I was delighted by the distraction.
The large 9×12-foot carpet must have been quite elegant as it graced the living room of a 1930s-era mansion. My friend remembers it being purchased by his parents in the 1950s when its intricate Persian pattern was going out of favor in fashionable homes. He has fond memories of growing up with it under foot. About the time his parents ‘downsized’ their living conditions, it was rolled up and put in safe storage. Once, it was lent out to a nephew who thought of it as just some old thing the family let him use until he ‘got on his feet financially.’ Every time the storage barn was cleaned, the rug got slid back farther amidst boxes and ‘stuff’ until it was buried.
When my friend started to organize his things in the storage unit this fall, he discovered the musty, tattered rug covered with dust in a dark corner. It didn’t look very good when he pulled it out and unrolled it on the grass. The spot where the nephew had spilled something hot was now eaten away and dry rot had taken its toll on the center seam of the rug. The color of the fibers was still vibrant, and my friend reasoned that Judy (the restorer) could do something with the rug and a big pair of scissors.
It was hot, hot, hot the afternoon that my friend announced he had a surprise for me in his van. The heat had made those bug bites really itch. I was just a bit unenthusiastic and merely tolerant of his good intentions as I helped pull that heavy antique out of his vehicle.
Since then, I must confess that I have spent hours vacuuming, spraying, scrubbing and analyzing that old rug. I have measured my rooms, calculated where the damaged parts could be hidden and studied where the colors work best.
And now for the big confessional: Focusing on this intriguing puzzle has been a better salve than all the alcohol, Benadryl and scratching combined in taking the pain out of my insect welts.
Maybe it is because I am not a young chick, but I see a real lesson here for me. This old rug still has a lot of joy to give those who might use it and experience its beauty. It isn’t what it used to be, but it has its own unique and wonderful gifts to give: a challenge for the brain and soul. I recently read an article written in large print in Reader’s Digest. That description should warn you that the message was slanted to those older than 65. But I feel that I have experienced its message in my own life. I am a bit like that old rug. I may not absorb information or technical processes as fast as a kid, but I can problem solve from a broader base of experiences. To not utilize the skills of our senior citizens is a great loss to our communities. Many older people as they become out of style are scooted back farther into storage where all they have to think about are the itches of their lives. The more we stay rolled up and out of the way, the more that is all we are fit to do.
It is a big push to forge ahead when one has to ask someone to repeat an unheard statement, to squint because the signs don’t come into focus easily, or to ask a 10-year-old to fix a computer problem, but it is worth it. The alternative is the sort of decay that developed in that beautiful Persian rug. We senior citizens are not inanimate objects like that rug. We often give up before society’s customs and systems imply that we should. We make ourselves feel OLD. And, like my chigger bites, that feeling probably won’t kill us; it will just make us more miserable.
To those of you with white hair, and those who love them, may I make this call to action? Rise up and look for challenges. Build upon what you used to do. Don’t be buried by it. Be eccentric in the eyes of your past vision of old age and find new things to do and ideas to explore. Believe me, if you do that, the itching in your life will whither before you do.

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