Tonight the annual Perseid meteor shower is supposed to be at its peak but cloud cover and an early day at work tomorrow will keep me from oohing and aahing over shooting stars this year. The weather and work provide convenient excuses but the truth is I've been a bit of a Perseid party pooper for decades now. The last year I really made any effort to watch was six years ago. We were camping out at my dad's, well away from any in-town light pollution that would dilute the power of the show. I was determined to stay awake but ended up falling asleep flat on my back on a blanket on the ground with a three-month old beagle-German shepherd puppy on my chest and my legs (for some reason) threaded through the underside of Hubby's lawn chair.
It's a shame really that I haven't managed to get out under the night sky for so long because my first Perseid shower is one of the clearest memories from my childhood. It was the summer of 1980 and my friend Tracy invited me over to watch the shower from her house way outside of town.
We planned to stay outside all night--the shower was supposed to peak at one or two in the morning--some absurd time that, at the age of twelve, I was unsure even existed as I'd never seen it myself. We pulled two lounge-style lawn chairs into the backyard and set ourselves up with pillows and blankets and we talked and waited and were eventually richly rewarded with a stunning show of meteor activity. I've never seen as many shooting stars at a time since.
I remember the depth of our conversation almost as much as the shooting stars. Tracy and I had a tumultuous relationship--pretty common in girls our age. BFF's hadn't been invented yet, but cattiness and gossip and petty jealousy and competition among friends certainly had. She was one of two people I was closest to throughout sixth grade, but we would grow apart in seventh grade. I didn't know that yet and that night on lawn chairs on the dew-dampened lawn beneath stars twinkling and shooting above our heads, we bared our souls to one another.
One of the things Tracy told me that night was that she sometimes gave herself poison ivy to get her mother's attention. In the morning, she showed me a patch of tiger lilies and milkweed growing around the edges of a swampy area in the lower center of their front yard. She pointed out the leaves of poison ivy tangled among the other weeds and asked me if I wanted to try it.
I don't remember agreeing or protesting, but I do remember holding out my left hand and rubbing leaves hard against the back of it. The rash began before I'd made it all the way home that afternoon. It spread to my face, probably from the oils left on the fingers I'd used to grind the leaves into the back of my hand. My eyes swelled nearly shut and my mother took me to a doctor in town. I was given medication and a special face rinse and told that my allergy to poison ivy was so dramatic that I could conceivably contract it from oil or pollen in the air if I was downwind from the plants at the wrong time. My face was so swollen and distorted from the rash with its oozing blisters that the nurse, who had never seen me undeformed, made my mother promise to bring me back in when the swelling went down so she would know the "before" version.
I've had poison ivy a few times since, twice almost as badly as that summer. (One of those was shortly after my wedding to Hubby. Poor guy, to be introduced to the Ivy Monster version of me so soon after committing to me for life.) It's hard not to think of Tracy as I'm itching and trying desperately not to scratch.
And, of course, I think of her every year when the Perseids make their return. I hope she no longer has quite such a need for calamine lotion or attention and sympathy. I hope she is doing well and that she has a good seat for tonight's show.