This has been a great year for … mud. Record downpours and days of dreary drizzle have kept the soil soggy. I had no idea that mud was a celebrated substance, until I read that International Mud Day will be observed on June 29. 

The holiday was started in 2009 for the benefit of children in Nepal and Australia. The former has naturally-occurring mud, while the Aussie children resorted to making mud pies in their plastic pools. 

According to the article’s author, Kay Manning, kids trade photos of their mud-smeared faces on the internet. Coordinators of the event believe that playing in mud on the same day helps kids from the two countries connect.  

Playing in mud, though, is more than a social activity. Health professionals believe it strengthens a child’s immune system. It reminds me of a pollution case I investigated, involving a gas-manufacturing plant that discharged coal tar. I checked old directories to see who was living near the plant when it was operating. Then I went through the current phone book to see which neighbors were still alive.

I ended up interviewing three people in their 90s. They had chewed on coal tar as kids and swum in a river swirling with black stuff. When I told a pediatrician friend of my findings, he said, well of course they’re in their 90s; they grew up eating coal tar. 

Mud isn’t just a health aid, it’s downright entertaining. I encourage my grandsons to dig holes in their yard in hopes of reaching China. When they get down to a certain depth, I pretend I hear voices but can’t understand what they’re saying, because I don’t speak Chinese. Their parents love these excavations in their lawn.

I once covered a daring mud rescue at The Park. A young boy was playing Frisbee with his sister, when it landed on the pitcher’s mound. The boy tried to retrieve the Frisbee but got completely stuck. It took several Park District workers to yank him out of the mud. 

I also remember a mud incident when I was babysitting my 2-year-old grandson. He was at the stage where the world is an amusement park. Squirrels and rabbits are exotic wildlife. Cars are captivating and every passing plane is worth a look.

He found Forest Park especially fascinating. There’s way more action here, than in outer suburbia, where he lives. Trucks and buses rumble by. There are pedestrians to greet and dogs to pet. Best of all, were the “el” trains. He would just finish talking about the last “choo-choo,” when another would lumber past. 

On previous outings, Troy had been wary of mud. I found this a bit discouraging but gave it another try. I introduced him to a puddle and he splashed right through it. At his age, any fun activity is worth repeating endlessly. He spent the next half hour running back and forth through the puddle, laughing in delight each time.

I noticed his cute outfit was becoming increasingly discolored. I wondered if his mom was a member of M.U.D.D., (Mothers Ugainst Dirty Dungarees). When she came to pick him up, I sheepishly offered to buy him new shorts if she couldn’t get them clean.

But why should I apologize? According to the book, Why Dirt is Good, most pediatricians believe “that the healthiest adults are those who spent the most time as kids rolling around in the dirt.” I don’t know if I should give Troy coal tar to chew on, but those folks I interviewed said it made their teeth really white.

John Rice

John Rice is a columnist/novelist who has seen his family thrive in Forest Park. He has published two books set in the village: The Ghost of Cleopatra and The Doll with the Sad Face.