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The Day Bly, Oregon Got The Itch…

Story ID:8606
Written by:Charles Dishno (bio, contact, other stories)
Story type:Musings, Essays and Such
Location:Dillon Montana USA
Year:2013
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The Day Bly, Oregon Got The Itch…
By Chuck Dishno
January 2013

This story is about my brother Bud, who was 10 years older than me. The time is December 1941 and the US had entered the 2nd World War. Bud was a junior in Bly High and he knew he would be drafted after he graduated and decided to stay in school then enlist after graduation.

In the summer of 1943 he and a friend, Jack, enlisted in the Army Air Force. They attended basic training together then applied for radio school. Bud had some experience making crystal and short wave radios so he made it into the school and was stationed in Bainbridge, Georgia for training. Jack was not so lucky and was assigned to gunnery school. I believe he went to another base for his training and eventually became a gunner on a B-17.

Bud was about half way through his 3-month training and was walking across the base one evening. When he passed a building he heard a band playing. Being very musical he was curious about the band music. He said he sat in the back of the room and listened for a while. After a few minutes he asked the director how a guy gets in an outfit like this. The bandleader asked him if he could play a trombone and when Bud said he thought so, the leader handed him one. Bud was always very musical but had never played a trombone. He had seen others play though and after a few tries he was playing just fine much to the delight of the leader. Bud said the leader was satisfied and said that they needed another trombone player. When he asked Bud what outfit he was in and found out that he was training to be a radio operator he said he would see what he could do to get him transferred.

Apparently the bandleader had some pull and few days later Bud was called before his CO and told him of his transfer. Bud said the CO wasn’t happy about the situation, telling Bud that he was in the war to “blow up” he enemy” not to blow a dammed horn.

The next day Bud reported to the Army Air Force Band and was promptly handed a trombone. Bud fit right in and was soon in the front row with another trombone player. He said the duty was great and they traveled all over playing in parades and other functions. He said they even had to learn some German pieces to entertain German POW’s. Bud said the only thing that was odd about he band was that it was made up of all Italians. This didn’t present a problem to Bud but it must have looked funny to some since he was a blond and all the other players were dark haired Italians. I have seen a picture of the band and sure enough there he was right in the front row with his towhead sticking out. When asked why the trombone players were always in the front row, he said it had something to do with the other band members constantly being goosed by the trombone slide.

After Bud had been in the band about a year he came down with a bad case of scabies, colloquially known as the seven-year itch. Scabies is a parasite that burrows under the skin, lays eggs and produces an incredible itch when scratched. It then spreads and soon red welts, all demanding to be scratched, cover the entire body. I think scabies is more prominent in hot humid climates like Georgia.

The base doctor told him to take time off and get it cleared up before it spread to the other band members. This was OK with Bud and since he had a couple of weeks leave he came back home to Bly. We were all glad to have Bud home and he was looking forward to those good home-cooked meals that only Mom could cook.

Of course, Bud told us his reason for getting leave to come home was to let the scabies heal naturally. He was still scratching a lot but thought it was no longer infectious. How wrong he was. After he had been there about a week, I began to itch and scratch which spread the parasite.

This was early spring and I was in the 4th grade. Not knowing too much about scabies and how infectious it was. I continued going to school every day. Bly school had no school nurse and the only one to visit came from Klamath Falls once a month. I’m sure if she had been there she would have seen the blotches on my skin and observed my constant scratching.

It wasn’t long before I had infected the entire school population and they in turn infected their parents and siblings. No one seemed to know where the bug had come from and Bud had sworn me to secrecy so I couldn’t tell. There was no poison oak or poison ivy in the area so that was ruled out. Bly had many dogs and naturally the dogs had fleas but they were visible so that wasn’t the answer.

Bly didn’t have postal delivery since we didn’t have street names or house numbers. The mail was delivered daily to the Post Office and distributed to the various PO boxes. Every morning the ladies of the town began to gather at the post office to wait for the mail to be distributed and share gossip. It wasn’t long before all conversation revolved around their various stages of itching much to the relief of some of the wayward ladies in town and a few men who habited the beer joints too frequently. Of course my Mom knew where the itch originated but she wasn’t about to spill the beans.

I had been scratching about a week when Mom decided to take me to doctor in Klamath Falls. He ruled out all the usual possibilities and finally concluded it must be scabies but couldn’t see how that was possible since it was almost unheard of except in the humid south. When Mom told Dr. Adams that her older son, Bud had come for a visit from Georgia and was scratching when he got here, the suspicion was confirmed. These were the days when there wasn’t a dermatologist just around the corner so he had to prescribe some kind of lotion. Mom was told to soak me in the bathtub with very hot water then apply the lotion to my entire body. Mom was willing to try just about anything since she and Pop were starting to scratch too. She got enough lotion for the entire family and maybe a few friends.

When we got home, I was elected the guinea pig, which was OK with me because I was miserable. Mom filled the bathtub with really hot water, stripped me off and put me in to soak. The hot water was very soothing but when I got out I got on the bed while Mom proceeded to cover my body with this white cream. It only took a few minutes before I was on fire. It was really burning my poor little body. Mom thought that it must surely be killing those scabies bugs so after listening to me holler for an hour or so she washed off the lotion with cool water and then started the process all over again. By this time, I was screaming and begged her to stop. Pop heard the commotion and refused to try the stuff. I don’t think Mom tried it either and chalked it up to a failed attempt.

The next day, Mom was reading the Portland Oregonian newspaper when she saw an advertisement for a special lotion that would soothe poison oak, poison ivy and scabies. It said it was guaranteed or your money back. The price was $3.00 but she would have paid 10 times that amount just to keep me from screaming and the rest of us from scratching off our skin. There was a phone number to call, so Mom made the call and asked the gentleman if he could put a couple of jars on the bus to expedite delivery. I’m can’t recall what arrangements were made for payment but in those days, your word was your bond and he said it would be on its way that day. I’m sure he heard the desperation in her voice.

The next day, the Red Ball Stage made its afternoon stop and Mom was waiting as soon as the door opened. Mom rushed home and after striping again, she applied a liberal coating of this pink soothing lotion. The relief was almost immediate.

The next morning Mom took the jar to the gab session at the post office and told those desperate ladies of her find and its results. Mom also gave them the phone number to call and place their order. The guy in Portland must have thought he had died and gone to Heaven with all the orders coming in from the little itchy town of Bly.

In a few days all was calm in Bly but it must have gone down in local history as the time the entire town had the itch.

My brother Bud returned to Georgia where he stayed for the duration of the war. His friend, Jack, was not so lucky. He was shot down over Germany while on a B-17 bombing run. He managed to bail out but was later killed while trying to escape from a German POW camp. This really bothered Bud the rest of his life. He said, here I was entertaining German POW’s while his closest friend was being murdered in Germany.

I’m sure both Bud and Jack reside in Heaven now and are part of those brave men who served their country. I would bet that if Gabriel has a band, there will be a towhead trombone player in the front row while Jack sits on a Heavenly cloud with his trusty machine gun, grading the Pearly Gates from all gate crashers.