Way back in Boomer time, the Coasters used to sing Poison Ivy, as in
Poison iv-y-y-y-y, poison iv-y-y-y-y
Late at night while you’re sleepin’ poison ivy comes
Even now, many of us say we are sensibly terrified of the vine. Parents, Scouts and other taught us, “Leaves of three. Let it be.” Aaaaaaaaaah. Watch out!”
That came to mind, quickly and repeatedly a few days ago. After a neighborhood stroll, I noticed and shot some berried and colorful leaves, posting one pic on FB I identified as Virginia creeper. Several people corrected me. It was poison ivy.
Other than laziness and indifference, I don’t have an excuse. I’m a certified Master Gardener. I know lots about trees, veggies, herbs and flowers, about soils and propagation, blah, blah. I’m not a vine guy. More to the point, I got over poison ivy many decades ago.
A significance of that is in my childhood in Virginia and West Virginia, I was particularly sensitive to poison ivy. It seemed on every third of my countless trips hiking, playing or camping, I’d come back to get blisters and itching. Even working with my Granddad in his huge gardens, somehow I got the worst of it or the other way round.
I must have been 11 when that ended. We lived in Danville, VA, in an apartment above Dr. Samuel Newman and his wife Ida. They (really she) had a four-tier garden structure with the mansion that had belonged to the city’s first mayor.
That became important as they had a full-time gardener, a laconic black man, Nate. One afternoon, he was clearing the underbrush in the middle of the yards, burning the green and brown junk.I walked through the smoke. It turns out that among his trimmings were large amounts of poison ivy.
Think a shirtless upper body and bare legs covered with pustules. Think a blistered face and eyes shut with inflammation.
It was the next morning before the terrible itching, other torment and even fear of blindness started that Granddad picked my sister and me up to take us to West Virginia for the summer. My grandmother nursed me for a week or so through the anguish.
Poof! Since then, I seem to have an immunity to the oils that let poison ivy act out. After years of being easy prey, I simply don’t have any reaction. It’s to the point that I don’t even recognize the plant. We are indifferent to each other.
There’s the oddity. A pretty green to red leaf that I don’t plant or cultivate, I just enjoy for its color and veining. (By the bye, the actual creeper [right] is more visually appealing than poison ivy.)
However, I seem to be the only Boomer I know who isn’t somewhere between wary and terrified of poison ivy. That includes my wife, who sees it everywhere and sounds a figurative klaxon to keep us each and all aware and safe.
L. Ron Hubbard, science-fiction author turned huckster and founder of that maybe religion made his millions and billions off the engram. That irrational and emotional belief that if something bad happens to you it causes a permanent change in the brain, an engram, that you need galvanometers and tens of thousands of dollars of counseling to heal, a.k.a. go clear.
I call doo-doo on that. Yes, it makes perfect, very human, sense that we’ll avoid repeating bad experiences. No, every very bad experience does not permanently change your brain. You have to play drama queen and love being a victim to go with that.
As my mother used to say when she was annoyed or disgusted, “For crying out loud…in a bucket!”
So, there’s true and false incorporated in the assertions that permit the outsized profits and power of Scientology:
- True: Humans avoid repeating painful and otherwise unpleasant experience (think the hand on the hot range burner; the proverbial once-burned-twice-shy cliché).
- False: Our brains are permanently and physically altered by each bad experience. That is, without for-pay guidance, we can’t transcend such experiences.
One of the worst corollaries is that people don’t change. Of course they do. The least introspection or observation shows that. Research into psychological, sociological and even philosophical literature offers data and other proofs.
Each of us likely can provide our own evidence for another cliché — fall off the horse and get right back on. That can be difficult for some of us and each of us in particularly unpleasant experiences.
I climb in the WABAC machine decades ago around Scientology’s NYC HQ in Herald Square. A friend from out the country was visiting us as we tooled around. A Scientology type trolled and asked if we wanted a free audit (that’s holding the tin cans in hopes that one of us could be browbeaten into signing up for study. She had never heard of Scientology and wanted to try.
We followed him into a classroom and got the spiel. He asked if we had had a terrible experience, like a car wreck. The point was to prove that we’d be forever scarred and scared (hence eager for classes). I told my story of being hit as a pedestrian a few years before and having my head go into the car through the windshield. He lit up and asked gleefully for me to confirm that I was still terrified of cars, maybe of crossing streets.
I said honestly that, no, the impact was so severe and damage to the brain sufficient that I had no recollection of the wreck. Moreover, I had lots of effects I was still healing from, but paralyzing fear that affected my actions, thoughts and feelings were not among them.
He immediately fell to script and changed the subject back to the general “truth” that after a bad experience, each of us remains permanently engrammed.
I admitted then and do now that I know people who have been so goofed up by one or a series of bad experiences that they can’t fully function. Even drama and literature are filled with emotionally crippled characters playing off this trait.
Yet, that isn’t the norm. The vast majority of us can shake it off, even if it takes some thought and effort.
It’s worth it.