Tick Time

About a month ago, a dear friend who shall remain nameless asked if I wanted to take a look at the contents of his garage. He was feeling the need to sell off a few things following an incident where a tower of rattan furniture toppled over on him.

I wasn’t surprised. His old wooden garage was packed to the rafters. There were chairs on top of chests and chests on top of chairs, and meandering through it all was a little path along which he moved quickly and generally with few incidents. It was a masterful assembly, the like of which I’d never seen up close in real life.

Most of the furniture in the garage was a tad formal, even for him. And, I just couldn’t picture an Empire sofa or an English linen press in my cottage. However, there was a round oak pedestal table way in the back that caught my eye. Oak furniture often tends to be very Mission or very Country. This table was the exception, looking more like something you’d see in a kitchen in Provence than in a breakfast nook in Country Club Estates. I bought it.

Shortly after the table arrived so too did the first tick. He climbed onto my white MacBook and tip toed across the number keys. Tick two was smaller and quicker. She disappeared beneath my Tab key. Tick number three showed up on the Style section of the Sunday New York Times.

They were — quite literally — coming out of the woodwork.

Back when I was growing up, ticks didn’t concern us. But then neither did drinking and driving or excessive sun tanning. Today we know ticks carry a host of diseases, including cat scratch fever, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and Lyme disease, one of the fastest growing infectious diseases in the country.

The deer tick, aka the black-legged tick, is the primary culprit responsible for spreading the disease. I had no idea if my ticks were dog ticks or deer ticks or one of the eighty other species native to the United States. Supposedly you can recognize a tick by its distinctive shield (that area just behind the mouth). Nature’s own heraldic symbol, so to speak. Of course, it’s nearly impossible to identify a tick after it’s been smashed.

Ticks are very patient creatures. They don’t travel very far on their own, preferring to hitch a ride on a host. I’ve always envisioned them waiting in the grasses and woods to jump a hot blooded meal. But, they often live near the foundations of houses and garages, lurking in the crevices of siding and below porches. It’s not unusual for the small arachnids to sneak into the house and hide behind baseboards, window casings, bookcases, curtains, inside upholstered furniture, and under the edges of rugs. Also, apparently, beneath oak pedestal tables.

I had no idea ticks could go for as long as two hundred days without a blood meal or that their sensory organs are so complex they can detect live, warm-blooded prey just from the carbon dioxide it gives off.

One night, not too far removed from my initial encounter with the ticks, I was certain more of the hungry, heat-seeking missiles had tracked me to the bedroom. You know how sometimes you wake up in the middle of the night convinced something is crawling on you? It was like that. On my foot. On my forehead. After tearing the bed apart not a tick was uncovered. I did, however, discover an old Xanax under the mattress, so I popped it. Just to take the edge off.

The moral of the story, dear readers, is that ticks love fashionable coastal resorts. The Hamptons, I hear, are riddled with them, as is Cape Cod.
Delaware annually ranks among the top ten states for Lyme disease. One in five full-time residents of Martha’s Vineyard has reported having a tick borne illness.

I’ve actually witnessed Vineyarders nonchalantly flicking ticks off their arms and legs during cocktail parties. Without spilling their drinks, of course.

So as you enjoy the eye candy returning to Rehoboth this season, please remember to keep your eyes peeled for ticks. May to August is their season too, and they’re thirsting for a cocktail.

As for me, I shall remain vigilant, with a can of spray by my side and a bottle of pills by my bed.

‘Zaleas and ‘Zacs

It’s azalea season in Rehoboth and the town is awash in pink, salmon, red, purple, and white.  I invited to a swank little garden party to toast the azalea high season with a Sazerac or two or three. What’s a Sazerac, you might wonder. Well, it’s the official drink of New Orleans.

Classic Sazerac

In an old fashioned glass add 1 tablespoon Herbsaint (Pernod will substitute just fine). Swirl it around to coat the glass and then discard. Add your ice to chill the glass. Get out your cocktail shakes and add 1.5 ounces of rye whiskey, half a teaspoon of simple syrup, and 4-5 dashes of Peychaud’s bitters and 2 dashes of Angostura bitters. Cover and shake vigorously.
Discard the ice from the old fashioned glass and strain the shaker mixture into the glass. Rub the rim of the glass with the lemon twist, add to the drink and serve immediately.

Like any proper Southern cocktail, it is easy to make but hard to master. Enjoy.

Sussex County Craftsmanship

My father showed up unexpectedly last week from North Carolina. He does this from time to time, usually when I least expect it. On this occasion, he claimed to be coming to help prep the Dewey Beach house for the upcoming rental season.

I didn’t believe him for a second, and as soon as I mentioned painting the porch floor he began back peddling. Never in 72 years had the old boy held a paint brush, much less applied paint to a surface. Not a problem, I said, you’re in Sussex County. No experience necessary. We were standing on the porch that some ingenious handyman at some point had attached to the house with a 7-inch galvanized zinc eye hook. Pre-FEMA hurricane insurance, no doubt.

Some of you out there know what I’m talking about. It’s called Sussex County craftsmanship and after two old home renovations I can spot it in an instant.

Light switches where up is off and down is on or nothing happens at all.

Backwards bathroom faucet handles.

Electrical outlets above the stove.

A spigot for a hose installed in a basement ceiling.

And my personal favorite: a huge air conditioner sitting in a window and propped up by a two-by-four piece of lumber resting on a cinder block.

Speaking of air conditioning, the compressor for the Dewey Beach house looks like it came off the roof of a Food Lion and could cool a small shopping center. Except it’s not on the roof, but on the back porch. The ductwork was installed under the house – below sea level. You know cold air doesn’t rise. And, get this, all the floor vents were installed beneath beds.

I’m not really complaining, because if you’re like me and you hate the thought of paying full retail, there’s always someone around with a clever solution and a good deal. Sometimes your roofer is really a plumber who dabbles as an electrician but really wants to be a carpenter.

It’s the Sussex County way, my friends, and it’s a long-standing tradition. Back in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, a great majority of the residents of lower Delaware were farmers. Isolated by bad roads, lacking ready cash, and unable to locate skilled labor, they became jacks-of-all-trades.

Old wills, deeds, and tax assessment lists bear this out. Consider the last will and testament of Mr. Olive Jump, who died in Sussex County in 1811. His will references carpenter’s tools, blacksmith tools, shoemaker’s tools, and spinning wheels, all of which certainly demonstrate the versatility and self-sufficiency of men like Olive Jump and their families back then.

The days of the independent craftsman supporting his family and supplying the needs of his community lingered longer in Sussex County than in the rest of the state. The Industrial Revolution and the subsequent rise of skilled labor classes didn’t have the same impact down south as up north. Railroads didn’t even reach the southern border of Delaware until 1859.

So the next time you’re amazed that your garden gate was hung upside down or that you can’t seem to roast a chicken while your Christmas lights are on, just smile and accept it. You’re in Sussex County, baby.

Now, back to my father. He weaseled out of painting the porch floor. Actually, rain and unseasonably cold springtime temperatures forced the cancellation of the job. He did however, show some amazing prowess with my Oreck Orbiter, a nifty machine that can clean carpets, polish floors, and sand floors. Despite having no experience with the tool – or any tool for that matter – he did a pretty good job getting the floor prepped for paint.

My father was now officially a Sussex County craftsman. I just won’t be hiring him anytime soon.