Sick days

Friday, May 8, 2009

Several years ago, I wrote an article called "Sassafras." That narrative was a description of the times I spent at my grandmother Hart's house when I was sick. It also described her favorite home remedy for all that ailed you, "Sassafras Tea."

With all this recent talk about the swine of, and the fears it brings, I once again evoked memories of illness as a child. There is something particularly poignant about our periods of childhood afflictions. They seemed to be ever so much more impressive.

Can you like me remember times when you had a fever of well in excess of 100 degrees? There were maladies that were so common then that you scarcely ever hear much about today.

Like many of you, I had the mumps, measles, chicken pox, and several other virulent diseases. It was a part of growing up. We were lucky that there were shots for diphtheria, small pox, whooping cough, and perhaps the most important polio. Modern medicine has made great strides in eradicating, or has at least come close to eradicating, many of these diseases.

What this new swine flu brings to our world is as yet not known. Virus mutations almost certainly ensure that at some point we will once again experience a world wide pandemic. Hopefully, that won't happen anytime soon.

I am not sure which of my childhood illnesses I was suffering through at the time, but it was one that did not allow me to go to my grandmother's home. I think it was the mumps. In any case, my grandfather had never as far as they knew, had mumps as a child. So I had to stay at home and endure my discomfort without my favorite grandmother/ nurse. I certainly did not get my regular dose of sassafras tea.

We lived on a farm on DD Highway and during the day I had to spend many hours alone. My mother was teaching in town, and my father had chores to do outside. He would check on me from time to time, but mostly I was left to try and get better on my own.

We had a television, but as many of you will remember, there were not too many stations in the mid-50s. Unlike today, the programming was pretty dull. "Melody Matinee" and the news on Channel 7 were hardly shows that I awaited with any eagerness.

My father had brought home several souvenirs from World War II. Two of these were automatic pistols. One was especially interesting and valuable. It was a German Luger.

My father had shown me all the guns in our house from the pistols named above to the hunting weapons he owned as well. I had been taught from an early age, that the time for me to learn to use these weapons would come much later. At this time I had to be satisfied with my trusty Daisy BB gun.

With little on television and no grandmother to spoil me during my indisposition, I quickly became bored. Leaving my couch and covers that my mother had prepared for me to spend the day resting upon, I decided to go "snooping around."

Before long I exhausted most of the interesting venues that our home offered to soothe my monotony. It was then that I made a serious error in judgment. To this day, I blame it on the illness.

I went to the storage area where I knew I had seen my father many times take out these intriguing pistols. Before long, I was holding in my hands the leather holster that encased the marvelous Luger.

For a long time, I just held the holster and my fear from many warnings by my father kept me from taking out the gun. Curiosity eventually got the better of me and I lifted the safety strap to take out the pistol.

If I had only stopped there. I had seen my father clean the gun before, and the slide action of the Luger in his hands reminded me of some war movie. I wanted to try that slide action myself.

At first the action did not want to move, and I was afraid to try too hard to make it slide backwards. Then suddenly it moved and went all the way back into the cocked position.

I was really proud of myself until I tried to get it to go back. Nothing I did seemed to in any way release the mechanism so it would be back to normal. If I thought I was sick before, I was now truly debilitated.

Between the mumps and the fear of what I had done, I was close to total paralysis. Finally, I decided to surrender to my predicament and the resulting punishment that was sure to come.

The waiting was unendurable. It seemed as if it was hours before I finally heard my dad coming in from his chores. In actual fact, it was probably only a manner of minutes.

I met him at the door with the fully cocked Lugar halfway into its holster.

I could feel tears gliding down my cheeks, but I made no sound. I just held out the gun and made some sort of attempt at apology.

It was then that my father gave me the best counsel of my young life. He asked me if I had learned anything? I hung my head and replied in the affirmative.

He took the gun and showed me how to fix the slide and then put it up. I had expected a severe punishment, and instead I got a life lesson.

My mumps were still with me, but as the rest of that day progressed, I felt ever so much better. I knew I had done wrong, and so did my father. Still, we both knew that something had happened that helped me grow just a little older that day.

That enlightenment was even worth being home sick with the mumps.