Monday, January 14, 2008

Getting Sick in 1960

Since I've been sick maybe this is an opportunity to talk about being sick.
When I was young I was sick often. Mostly asthma. But also all the routine illnesses that were a fact of life in the fifties and sixties: measles, mumps, chicken pox, 24 hour flu, 48 hour flu, whooping cough, scarlet fever, and more. A horrible litany of illness waiting to claim our frail bodies. The sad part was, we couldn't wait to get measles and shit!
You got enormous days out of school, bragging rights for the most dire disease, your parents bought you comics and were nice to you. Hell. getting sick was almost a good thing! So good, in fact, that we soon figured out faking it. And it didn't take a genius to realize a good day for a sore throat was the day you had a math test.
It must have been weird for our parents to wake up one morning and realize we were 45 lb con men.
What a terrible loss for them. Innocent sick infant one day, malingering liar the next. Surely they saw where this all might lead, jail, divorce, disgrace and dishonor.
But for the moment there was only lying in your bed with a Superman or Justice League of America and buttered sugar cinnamon toast and a cup of tea. Bliss. Later, when you were feeling "better" you could go downstairs and watch I Love Lucy reruns or Truth or Consequences or The Price is Right. Then lunch, soup, and back to bed you poor boy.
At dinner you might feel like a criminal or a liar with your brothers staring at you but who cared. The only real down side to being sick in grammar school was going to bed really early.
Unfortunately fake sick days had a bad habit of biting you in the ass. Because you still had to turn in the book report, take the math quiz, write the history essay. In other words you were just deferring your own complete and abject failure to complete what you should have completed.
So, you slogged your way into school and got your crummy grade and then several days later got chastised for your poor study habits and inability to understand the times tables or whatever. But in your heart it was almost worth it. Almost.
And what of real illness? What of true disastrous childhood diseases. Well, like sex and race they were squirreled away in each families private closet. Retarded children, cancer, operations, all of these were known and not known. Talked about and not talked about. Girls went away for three month vacations in their teens. Kids left for awhile and never came back and often their families left as well. A void.
But then there were other real illnesses that were mega real and glorious. Third Grade. Jack. Stomach flu. What would now be called a Novovirus. Then...24 hour stomach flu. But more than that it's me in the sixth row, suddenly nauseous, holding up my hand to go to the bathroom and Mrs Ferrara doesn't see for years, decades. Then she calls on me and I lurch to the fifth row, the fourth, the second, and then it blows. A vast projectile vomit that lives forever in the lives of my classmates. They sent everyone home the class stunk so bad. Poor Nick had to clean up vomit for two rows. Jesus. That was the flu.
So now, when I'm home feeling guilty about being sick and wondering when I can go back to work, I remember fifth grade. I'm coughing, I'm sure my throat is scratchy, I don't feel well at all. My mom asks how I am and I croak back, OK. We'll see in the morning and then I know I'm home free, good to go, sick as a dog, out of school, no class tomorrow, mom loves me, bless us oh lord for these thy gifts.

1 comment:

Jim Maddox said...

I was sick a lot in Grade school so I didn't fake it too much.After having Measles, Chicken Pox, Whooping Cough and Strep Throat it was easy to pretend. I got good grades, so my mother was cool about it. High School was a different story. Your mother was wise to the scam, so faking it was a little more difficult. I liked to bail out on gym class days, or when I couldn't stand another minute of Algebra 2. Why did we take that, anyway?