It was while we were returning from a dad and daughters fishing and swimming trip in Woolwich that Molly mentioned that Calliope, the youngest child, was bleeding.
“Where?” I asked, looking into the rearview mirror.
“On her leg,” she said. Molly sat in the second row of the minivan and was able to get a good look at her sister, who sat next to her.
“I’m bleeding,” Calliope acknowledged, with the cool demeanor of a doctor self-diagnosing her medical condition.
From the third row, Cecelia, the oldest, excitedly unbuckled herself from her car seat and moved up to inspect the victim’s wounds.
“I see something on the back of her thigh. It looks like a worm,” Cecelia said.
Now the doctor began to cry and yell, “Take it off, take it off!”
“Can you take it off?” I yelled over the screaming of “Take it off! Take it off!”
“It’s stuck,” Cecelia said.
“I have one on me, too!” Molly wailed.
Now “Take it off!” came from the back in perfect high-fidelity stereo. Then Molly unbuckled herself and took her bathing suit off. That led to the discovery of several more embedded hitchhikers on her. And that led to the unbuckling, undressing, and discovery of a great gathering of engorged blood-sucking monsters on each child.
Unlike my cousin in last month’s episode of “Leech Wars,” I did not turn into Papa Bear and gallant protector of my children. Instead of “How do I save them?” my one thought was “How do I save me?”
My first plan for self-preservation failed. I pulled off the road and went through the glove compartment, looking for little bags of salt. A desperate search proved futile. Cursing my family’s healthy eating habits, I sped back home.
As I reached the Bath bridge, two ideas came to me that would save me and rid us all of leeches. The first was to sing “The Wheels on the Bus” song and make my way through every part of the bus until we reached Harpswell, 20 minutes away. So I sang my heart out and told the girls the well-known story of wheels going ’round and ’round and wipers going swish, swish, swish.
They soon forgot about the blood loss they were quietly enduring and joined in. When we ran out of familiar bus parts, the song became an automotive tech class and the girls learned about alternators going gwrk, gwrk, gwrk and compressors going oofna, oofna, oofna!
Soon enough, and just before we sang about what exhaust pipes do, we reached Harpswell, blessedly located on the Atlantic Ocean. Can you see where this is going? I drove to a boat landing near my house and, finding no one there, drove down the ramp, parked several inches from the water, jumped out of the car and yanked open the van door.
“OK, here is how we kill the leeches and have fun,” I said to the now bewildered three sirens. “Leeches hate salt water, so all you have to do to get rid of them is go for a swim!”
“Do we have to get our bathing suits on?” Cecelia asked.
On cue, thrilled with the idea of going skinny dipping, the girls tumbled out of the van and eagerly jumped into the cold, salty water. For the next few minutes, the automatic-rinse cycle continued until I thought it was safe for them and me, especially me, to head home.
Let this story be a reminder of the powerful curative effects of ocean water on wounds, whether fleshy or wormy in nature.
Gregory Greenleaf lives in Harpswell and teaches high school English. He ascribes, prescribes and subscribes to many old-fashioned ideas, but especially Charles Dickens’ observation that “There is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humor.”