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Before it was banned, DDT was
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Hear Wacoans relate stories of fighting bugs in the good ol' summertime, in the segment that aired on KWBU-FM:

Insect Pests
(03:36 )

Living Stories Spot #48: Insect Pests
Original Airdate: August 30 (2011)

This is Living Stories, featuring voices from the collections of the Baylor University Institute for Oral History. I'm Louis Mazé.

Pests—the creepy-crawly, buzzing kinds—are a year-round nuisance in Waco but are especially present in summer months, when they come out in full force and bring misery along with them.

Louise Murphy describes her introduction to one such pest:

"I didn't know anything about roaches until we got an icebox. I got acquainted with Mr. Roach. And off and on all the years, we still have a problem with Mr. Roach because they can get in these cracks in the ground where there're shift[s] in there, and you cannot get rid of them."

Interviewer: "Well, what—what do you think it was about the icebox that—that—"

"Oh, they was full of them. They love that. It was the coolness. Besides that, they—they had moisture down in under there, and they clung to that. And I didn't know what they was until we got one, and I couldn't imagine what that was."

She recalls an experience with bedbugs in the 1950s:

"Boy, they get in your bed, they get in your walls, and they would get in the cracks of the—under the house, the cracks and what have you. And what they do: when you go to sleep—ooh, you couldn't sleep for them things sucking the blood out of you. So my dad says, ‘Ooh.' Said, ‘What have we got into?' I said, ‘Bedbugs.'"

Murphy explains that she and her father waged war on the unwanted guests by using DDT:

"I said, ‘Well, go to the feedstore, and ask them if they got any.' I heard that would just get rid of everything, our roaches and everything—which he did and brought it in. And we made a solution, and I got a paintbrush. Now, I went around every window, I went around our mattresses on the beds, I went around the baseboards, and every room was painted just like I painted the door facings and all with paint. I don't believe I had to do it twice, just once, and I got rid of them. Boy, I want you to know, I kept that stuff as long as I could because I didn't want it anymore, you know. But you—the roaches will come back."

Thomas Wayne Harvey tells how his family dealt with mosquitoes:

"Every once in a while they would—they would get bad, but we'd burn cork, like a cork in a—a fishing cork. Same kind of—you could burn that just—it'll burn slow, you know, and it—that thing'll burn for hours. And you could sit out there, and it would—some reason they'd stay away from that cork."

Charles Armstrong recalls a pest that took advantage of the open windows during the summer months:

"Flies was a nuisance. And my family would—would give me so much for flies, for killing flies, see. And I—I went around the house all the time with two flyswatters and save them flies; put them in a jar and save them, see. And they'd pay you so much for them—them flies. My brothers, they were pretty strict on me. If they caught me cheating, they'd get after me, see."

Insect pests are unfortunately a part of life and annoyingly resilient. It's easy to understand how the urban legend began that says cockroaches are the only things that will survive a nuclear holocaust.

Living Stories is heard every Tuesday on 103 point 3 FM Waco, NPR. For program transcripts or more information about the Institute for Oral History, visit baylor.edu/livingstories.


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