There are thumbprints on the inside of my windshield. Not in the middle, not down by the dashboard, but up top, where the visor would fold down to block the glare of the sun. I don’t know why, but that is precisely where the gnats like to congregate.
We live in middle Georgia, blessedly at this time ever so slightly north of the legendary and dreaded “Gnat Line.” One has to be careful about geographic bragging when in such close proximity, because the gnat line is a living, breathing thing, taken to moving capriciously based on totally uncontrollable whims of climate and wind.
Over the past few decades, though, it seems to me that the gnat line has generally wafted more to the south, to the point that my boyhood home and the former farm land that my current niche of suburbia is carved from are no longer subject to the constant source of annoyance that I remember covering my bicycle road rash like a living, convulsing BandAid.
When I was a boy, waiting for Mr. Hines to come honking down Wallace Drive in his truck laden with fresh vegetables and the promise of a free piece of penny candy while mama checked out the peas and squash (and – maybe! – a loaf of Mrs. Hines’ homemade pound cake), the gnats seemed much thicker. And that was well north of where our stakes are now hammered down.
At some unknown point on the sixteen-mile drive southwest on GA Highway 96 into Peach County in the morning, I cross the line. Because I can see my truck from anywhere on my current construction site, I leave the windows rolled down so it’s not hot inside when I finally get to leave for the day. At some point between lunch and the leaving, gnats invade my truck.
So, off I go toward home, reviewing the day gone by and the plans for the next in my mind. Somewhere around the second peach orchard, where the old farm truck has been retired to the shade of the shed attached to an old barn, the gnats catch my attention. No attempt to wave them out the open window is successful. Gnats, it seems, have no sense of location, no longing to be free, no gnat family waiting for Pops to make it home so that gnat supper can be served. And I can’t take them home with me, since that would risk them thinking that my own environs would make a dandy place to set up housekeeping. So as I drive, I steal glances away from the road, try to hone in on their locations, and stab at them with my thumb.
It turns out that gnats are more nimble than you’d think, and I am rarely successful in my attempts to eradicate my unwanted hitchhikers.
One learns young in these parts the critical techniques for what attempts to pass as personal gnat control.
There is, of course waving and swatting, which will grant you about three nanoseconds of relief. More effective and in the same vein is the funeral home fan, cousin to the church fan. These were designed for the old ladies when they took a break from housework to sit on the porch in the early afternoon before the soap operas started and Douglas Edwards gave us the afternoon news, or in the evening after supper dishes had been washed and put away. I know you newcomers (read: “Yankees”) and other smartasses in Atlanta will find any of several concepts in that last sentence arcane. I can tell you with a straight face and in full earnestness that you have not truly experienced life in the south to its fullest until you’ve made a trip to the local funeral home specifically to pick up a fan or two for use to dispatch gnats from your personal space.
The next progressive step is the vertical air burst, executed by pulling your top lip in and poking your bottom lip out to form a cup that forces expelled air upward, washing over your face. Making a noise while doing so is optional, some variant of “phew!” being most usual, and acceptable in polite company as well.
Of course, insect repellant remains the ultimate weapon against the flying peskies. When we were kids and didn’t know DEET from Shine-ola, before American industry discovered how to can aerosol, there was always the trusty metal tube of 6/12. As our collective social consciousness moves away from better living through chemicals, herbal repellants are the latest trend and rage. I know a woman south of Brunswick who mixes an all natural concoction in her wash sink that fares effectively not only against gnats, but also the dreaded coastal sand flea. She refuses to reveal the ingredients, and it at least doesn’t carry the telltale scent of eau de gasoline.
One day soon, I will need to clean the inside of my windshield. The combination of the exhaled smoke of too many cigarettes, the salty residue of the juice sometimes squirted from the Vidalia Jumbo boiled peanuts, and the thumbprints from trying to squish gnats is beginning to obscure my view.