I started shinnying up the ladder of learning at Bill
Arp school in 1946. We were dirty, but happy. We had
not yet been inconvenienced with hygienic hype. In the
fifth grade we studied a health book, and learned we
were unsanitary. We didnít do anything about it, but
at least we knew.
When I began school, we had a rest room for boys and
one for girls. They were discreetly positioned behind
the schoolhouse. In hot weather they were less
Our hands were always dirty. We ate our lunches with
crusted hands. If anyone had mentioned germs, we would
have assumed they referred to small Germans. And,
because of World War II, Germans had fallen out of
Some homes in Bill Arp had five rooms and a bath. Ours
had five rooms and a path. Our outhouse squatted about
100 feet on one side of the house; the barn drooped
about the same distance on the other side.
The flies ran shifts. One crew worked the outhouse
while another labored in the barn. At shift change
they congregated in the house to exchange greetings. A
lot of them liked inside better than outside
employment, so they transferred. We had screen doors
and windows, and occasionally we opened them to let
the flies out for fresh air and exercise.
Soon they would organize a fly convention in the
kitchen. They had dive bombing exhibitions, nose
tickling lessons, cornbread eating contests, nasty
classes, and seminars on various forms of germ
Mama soon tired of the conventioneers antics. She
would close the doors, and windows, and torpedo the
enemy with DDT. About an hour after she sprayed, she
opened the house up. Dead flies were laid out like
slain soldiers. We were fly free, until a new crew
hatched in the Ė well, hatched.
We did bathe regularly - every week. Mama would send
us, one at a time, into a back room with a wash pan
full of hot water, a bar of Lifebuoy soap, and a
washcloth. Our instructions were to start at our head,
and wash as low as possible; start at our feet, and
washed as high as possible. Then wash possible.
In the Air Force I enjoyed a daily shower and began a
sanitary existence. Most of my adult life has been
spent in an unpolluted state.
In an interview, when he was the heavy weight boxing
champion of the world, Leon Spinks said, ďIíve
been poor, and Iíve been rich. Rich is better.Ē My
philosophy has been, Iíve been dirty and Iíve been
clean. Clean is better.
Now, a different tale is told. There is a book, just
published, entitled Riddled With Life. Marlene Zuk, a
professor of biology at the University of California,
Riverside, is the author. Her topics include: Why we
canít possibly make ourselves sick by violating some
of todayís commonly accepted rules of hygiene. And
she makes a believable case that our minds are
positively influenced by parasites (I donít think
sheís referring to congress).
According to her book, our immune systems fight harder
in unclean surroundings, making them stronger and us
healthier. She teaches that the negative aspects of
the absence of germs is that people have more
allergies, asthma, and diseases.
The professor may be right. Mama was exposed to
unsanitary living conditions, ate fat meat, breathed
second hand smoke and DDT, and lived to be 94. Could
it be, that now nasty is nice? Itís possible.
Copyright Neal Beard
* * * * *
a retired pastor, living in Douglasville, Georgia. I
write a column for a local monthly magazine. The
magazine is The Chapel Hill News and Views. It has a
circulation of 40,000. The column is called Local
Lore. My column is history/humor about Bill Arp, the
rural northwest Georgia community where I grew up in
the 40s and 50s.