When I was in grade school, every few months a classmate would be out for about a week “to get his/her tonsils out.” They would return to school post-surgery in fine fettle, but, they would have had the benefit of a week’s worth of vacation, plus ice cream. That’s right… tonsillectomy patients were rewarded for their discomfort with frozen deliciousness. Reportedly delivered to them by the nurse herself.
With perks of this nature, what kid wouldn’t want to join the I-Got-My-Tonsils-Out Club? I would never have such luck, though — I’m one of a minority of people my age who still has his/her tonsils. Nope, my fate would be to sail through my entire childhood with nothing more than routine doctor visits. No surgeries, no broken bones (man, did I want a cast that everyone could sign!), no trips to the emergency room. And no drama. (Back then, I loved drama.)
I mean, this one day, I came home from school and found my brother at home with a patch over his eye. Apparently, he’d been out of school most of the day. If I understood the story correctly, it had something to do with him turning his head around at an importune moment and a classmate’s pencil poking him in the eye. Plus a trip to the eye doctor. And the really cool eye patch that he would “have” to wear to school for the next few days, like a bloomin’ pirate or something. He said it didn’t really hurt. Some people had all the luck.
The only time I would get out of school was when I was actually sick. Sick, as in throwing up, running a fever, aching all over, or not being able to swallow without pain. You know, the un-cool kind of “vacation” from school. Whenever I first woke up and realized I was sick, I’d always begin to feel sorry for myself. After informing Mom, I’d get back in bed and lay there having a pity party. I mean, I wanted to play hooky, but I didn’t much want to be miserable in order to do it.
I will have to admit, in all honesty, that there was a silver lining to being home from school sick. Like clockwork, this silver lining would manifest about a half hour after my siblings had left for school. My mom would enter the bedroom with a little tray. She’d pull our kid-size table next to the bed and set the tray on it. The tray would be lined with a finger tip towel, and would usually bear a soft-boiled egg and a piece of toast (if I wasn’t heaving). And on the tray, along with the light breakfast, would be a bell.
This bell normally sat in the kitchen and mom would use it to call the family to meals. But when any of us kids was sick, the bell was reassigned to duty at our bedside. Mom said we were to ring it if we needed her to come. (How cool is that?! — the means to summon the head housekeeper-nurse-comforter, right there at my fingertips. I don’t actually recall ringing the bell all that often, but just knowing it was there made me feel a whole lot less forlorn.
At various points during the day, mom would reappear with refreshing offerings, such as a bowl of soup with a few saltine crackers, a bowl of chipped ice or a small serving of 7-Up. I would still feel crummy, but it was much less burdensome with her special little gift packs of attention. She was on hand to get me through the entire battery of 50’s childhood ailments: chicken pox, measles, mumps, strep throat, stomach viruses, and the flu. Knowing she was available to tend to just little ole me no doubt promoted my recovery.
I remember being sick in bed one evening when I was about six, and my dad came to my bedside. My recollection is that he had just returned from an overnight out-of-town trip. Mom had no doubt told him of my distress when he phoned home because he had brought a surprise for me: a brand new pair of black patent leather Mary Janes. If I wasn’t already delirious from the fever, I would have been in the wake of his present. The shoes were special because 1) Dad had bought them, not my mom (which would have been more typical), and 2) I was receiving a gift when it was neither my birthday nor Christmas — this gift was simply meant to cheer me. And it did. (I must have been sicker than usual.)
When I grew up and had children of my own, you can probably imagine the ritual I resurrected when one of them fell ill. That’s right… I’d find a small table to place at their bedside. Then I’d cover it with a little cloth and place a beverage with a straw and perhaps some crackers on it. I actually had to go out and buy a little bell to use just for this purpose. I would tell my kids to ring whenever they needed me to come. And again, the bell never get rung all that often, but I suspect it was reassuring for them just to know it was there if they needed it.
And to this day, I love the texture and flavor of a soft-boiled egg. I’m not sure it’s about the egg, really; I think it’s more about the fact that eggs cooked in this way communicate tenderness, comfort, and love. Thanks, Mom.