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By Staff | Aug 1, 2018

There has been much talk lately about the germ theory of raising children. Kids and cooties, it seems, are actually meant for each other.

It’s speculated that many modern children have been raised in such sterile environments that their immune systems don’t know what to do when presented with a real challenge. It would be similar to asking an office worker – a person whose main form of exercise has been using an electric pencil sharpener – to participate in a triathlon.

In other words, our immune systems need regular and rigorous workouts. That’s right: no longer can your T-cells just sit and mindlessly binge on Netflix movies while chain-narfing sour cream and onion potato chips. At the very least, they will have to switch to a healthier snack such plain potato chips.

It seems that our immune systems can also become bored when they have nothing much to do. This can lead to some disruptive behaviors. Imagine living with a teenaged boy who has been recently and abruptly weaned from his obsession with “Grand Theft Auto.”

It’s always pleasing to learn that I was again ahead of the curve regarding fads. An aversion to cleanliness has been the bedrock of my personal philosophy since my earliest years on this planet.

One of my primordial memories involves playing in the mud with my three older sisters. We were inventive little tykes. When no mud was available, we discovered that we could create our own by adding water to dirt. Sadly, we were too young to realize how much money we might have made had we copyrighted our recipe.

Speaking of recipes, I also recall my sisters making cookies with mud-based cookie dough. After the cookies had been baked to perfection by the summer sun, I was offered one for taste testing. It looked very similar to Mom’s chocolate drop cookies, so I took a hearty bite.

The cookie didn’t taste at all like Mom’s cookies. The leaves and twigs incorporated into it should have been a clue. Plus everyone knows that real chocolate drop cookies have powdered sugar frosting.

Flash forward a few years. I have become old enough to help in our family’s garden, which was roughly the size of Rhode Island. I was a little kid, so everything seemed huge.

“Helping,” in this context, was supposed to involve pulling weeds. But there were glints of scarlet peeking through the emerald leaves of the strawberry patch. What’s the harm in sampling a few sun-ripened berries? Quality control is very important, after all. And take a gander at those luscious radishes! Better try one to see if they’re OK. And I’ve always had a weak spot for fresh green onions.

In all of the above examples, the produce was consumed in a sanitary manner. That is, if the word “sanitary” can be defined as “give it a quick wipe on the leg of your jeans before popping it into your mouth.”

The garden was by no means our only source of microbes. Our farm hosted an infinite universe of microorganisms which included germs from our cats and our cattle, our swine and our sheep. We played with and made pets of multiple members of each species. And never once did we soak ourselves in Purell afterwards.

Perhaps the most reliable source of germs was our dog. Like many dogs, our farm’s mutt loved to give out big, sloppy kisses. This was fine until you recalled all of the disgusting things that the dog had been gnawing upon. Receiving a dog kiss required immediate medical attention, which consisted entirely of wiping your face with the back of your hand.

It’s not like we never got sick. Our family was afflicted by its share of Terrifying Trots and Noisy Nausea. With eight kids and one bathroom, this could lead to some uncomfortable situations and hasty decisions. Let’s just say that our rickety old wooden privy was held in much higher esteem after an outbreak of intestinal distress.

We also endured many of the childhood diseases that are now totally preventable thanks to modern vaccines. I was especially concerned when I developed the fever and the blisters that were the hallmarks of chickenpox. I had misheard the diagnosis and was convinced that the malady would leave me speaking like a Leghorn.

Things have come full circle. We have now gone from trying to keep everything super-sterile to some folks actually scheduling play dates for their kiddos on bacteria-laden livestock farms.

I think I could save those people some time and effort. Our current farm dog, Sandy, loves to give out big, sloppy kisses. Just don’t ask what he’s been chewing on lately.

Jerry’s book, Dear County Agent Guy, is available at Workman.com and in bookstores nationwide.

Nelson is a freelance writer from Volga, S.D. Reach him by e-mail at jjpcnels@itctel.com.

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