Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Couple who grew up in Everglades scoff at suburban mosquitoes

iStockphoto.com

TARPON SPRINGS — With summer rains come summer mosquitoes, lots of them, millions of them, maybe more. At least that's how it seems to city folks as dusk descends on manicured back yards everywhere in Florida. We feel the bite on our bare ankle and call in the big artillery from the local Mosquito Control Agency. Help us.

Ike House, 84, doesn't need help.

"I ain't no sissy boy,'' he says.

He grew up in the Everglades when the only control available was a Gladesman's big, tough hands. He slapped mosquitoes when he couldn't avoid them or stayed indoors. A commercial fisherman, he had to risk his hide sooner or later and did so, he points out, without a whimper.

Some called them swamp angels. House never saw anything angelic about the devilish vampires. Sometimes, he wore a bandana over his face to keep from breathing them in.

Modern Floridians, he harrumphs, are scared of nature. They couldn't survive without air conditioning. He and his wife, Mary, live in a modest house across from the Anclote River, where mosquitoes emerge from the marshes at dusk, sending the pusillanimous into a tizzy.

Mary, an Everglades gal who is every bit as tough as her grizzled husband of 63 years, remembers the time she placed her hand on a screen in the Everglades. Her paw must have smelled like a filet mignon to the flying hordes.

"When I took my hand away," she says. "You could see the mosquitoes on the screen. In the shape of my hand."

• • •

Forget about the great white shark. Don't even mention the crocodiles of Australia. The most dangerous critter on Earth is the mosquito. It's not even close.

Malaria, transmitted by mosquitoes, kills more than 650,000 humans a year, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Yellow fever and dengue add to the misery in third-world nations.

In Florida we have 80 mosquito species, but most don't bother humans. A dozen species have the potential to make us sick, but government agencies whose mission is to ditch and drain mosquito habitat, spray chemicals and generally battle whatever screens and citronella candles can't handle.

Ike and Mary House lived in the Everglades before it became a national park in 1947. Air conditioning? They didn't even have electricity. They drank water collected in a rain barrel.

Their community was called Flamingo, the southernmost point on the Florida mainland and also the best place to experience the most ferocious mosquitoes anywhere. Stand next to the mangroves at dawn and watch your bare arm turn black — with mosquitoes. The USDA still tests repellents there.

Ike and Mary were luckier than earlier generations of their clan. They didn't have to hang palm fronds in the doorway to knock mosquitoes off incoming guests. Their windows featured screens. "The old timers,'' Ike says with a growl, "sometimes just sat in the smoke from a fire when things got bad."

• • •

He no longer gets around like he once did. He can no longer help his son, Steve, pull his stone crab traps. Nor can he ascend the backyard ladder to pick the papayas or avocados.

But the old man can still smoke a tasty fish. He prefers a Florida mullet in the fall. In the summer, he'll settle for a salmon from Canada. He keeps the smoker across the street on the Anclote River. The breeze keeps down the mosquitoes, though not completely. He still prefers slapping to repellent.

Damned if anyone will accuse him of being a sissy boy.

For a while, he and Mary grew tomatoes in the Big Cypress, near a community known as Ochopee. The Houses harvested during heavy rains that knocked down the swarms. When the rain stopped, the mosquitoes started in again.

"But I loved it," Mary House says. "Even with the mosquitoes and the rattlesnakes. It was real pretty. You never knew what you was going to see or hear."

Once they came home to find the back door on the ground.

"Better call the law," Ike told his wife. "Looks like somebody broke in."

In the kitchen, cans of corn, tomatoes, you name it, lay scattered across the floor — all punctured by a sharp set of teeth. They'd been sucked dry.

"All except the spinach," Mary says now. "I guess bears don't like spinach."

Modern Floridians. We're soft.

Couple who grew up in Everglades scoff at suburban mosquitoes 06/21/13 [Last modified: Friday, November 22, 2013 7:11pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Florida education news: Free speech, Schools of Hope, student voices and more

    Blogs

    FREE SPEECH: The University of Florida reluctantly hosts white nationalist activist Richard Spencer for a rally officials are encouraging students to ignore. Campus president Kent Fuchs, who tried to prevent the activity from taking place, Troopers prepare for Richard Spencer's speech at the University of Florida. Gov. Rick Scott has declared a State of Emergency for Alachua County ahead of the event.

  2. How old is too old to go trick-or-treating on Halloween?

    Human Interest

    Brandi Eatman guesses the boy was at least 15 years old.

     Costume accessories at House of Make Believe at 1055 N Hercules Ave. in Clearwater. [CHERIE DIEZ | Times]
  3. Report: West Pasco channel dredges could cost up to $13.5 million

    Local Government

    NEW PORT RICHEY — The cost of dredging a dozen coastal canals serving seven west Pasco communities could reach nearly $13.5 million, according to a consultant's report.

    WILL VRAGOVIC   |   Times
 A consultant recommends that Pasco County consider a dozen canal dredging projects in west Pasco's coastal communities at a cost that could reach nearly $13.5 million. [WILL VRAGOVIC, Times 2011]
  4. Records show Hernando Beach fire chiefs defrauded taxpayers of thousands

    Local Government

    BROOKSVILLE — The three former chiefs of the defunct Hernando Beach Volunteer Fire Department, arrested in September, are collectively accused of defrauding the taxpayers of Hernando Beach, Aripeka and Forest Glenn of tens of thousands of dollars.

    David Freda, a former Hernando Beach fire chief, has been charged with organized fraud. He recently was fired as Brooksville’s fire chief.
  5. Money dries up, bringing questions and new leadership to Tampa nonprofit

    News

    TAMPA — A new leader has been installed at one of East Tampa's leading nonprofit agencies following reports that money is going out faster than it's coming out.

    Tampa Hillsborough Action Plan founder James Hammond, left, attended an awards ceremony in February with Jeanette Bradley, right, who recently wasd removed as chief executive of the charity Hammond founded, the Tampa Hillsborough Action Plan. The group was honored for innovation at the WEDU Be More Unstoppable awards. [AMY SCHERZER | Times]