When I would have a “sick day” as a kid, I was allowed to sit in my Dad’s recliner, which was otherwise off-limits. I could relax and watch TV, with the channel box and its 15 foot cord stretched over to the folding tray table set up next to me. As long as I was too sick to go to school or have dinner with everyone else, I could occupy that recliner.
We had one giant afghan, crocheted by my great-aunt Esther, that went with the recliner. It was a chevron zig-zag, with just about every color of yarn you could imagine, in no particular discernible color pattern. My little kid brain wanted an afghan where the colors were arranged in rainbow order. It was kind of ugly, but it had been around longer than I had been.
The afghan always smelled slightly like diesel fuel, probably because we kept it in a closet that was directly over the basement stairs. The oil furnace made the whole basement smell like diesel, and the smell got into everything in that closet.
I would snuggle into my pillow and not pull the afghan too close to my nose as I flipped through the channels on daytime TV. I reveled being the one in control of that channel box; that was a rare thing, indeed. It was definitely a challenge to find something appropriate to watch, as I was always told strictly to not watch “the soaps.” (Don’t argue with Mom.) Sometimes I’d linger on one channel if I thought Mom wasn’t listening too closely, curiosity getting the best of me. Why was there so much arguing and kissing going on at the same time?
If I flipped through the channels to quickly, I would be duly chastised, because I might “break it” (the channel box buttons). I’m not sure why she was convinced that might happen. (Don’t argue with Mom.) So I learned to slowly channel surf through game shows and documentaries at a pace that wouldn’t bring her attention to the living room. I usually ended up watching “The Price is Right.” Sometimes I amazed myself with my grocery knowledge, which was quite comprehensive for a kid. I could have been a Big Winner.
My mom would try to get me to eat something, and the menu consisted of the following: dry scrambled eggs, dry toast with only a scant amount of butter, green jell-o, dry cereal (no milk), plain noodle soup (from an envelope) or saltines. It was a short list. It was anything she thought wouldn’t upset my stomach. (Don’t argue with Mom.)
She constantly operated under the thought that ginger ale would be great for me- if I’d just drink some I’d instantly feel better. What she didn’t realize was, as a child raised with NO soda in the house, I hated anything carbonated. “I’ll let it go flat, then it you’ll like it,” she’d say. Nope. Nope. Nope. I did not like the flavor of ginger ale. I would not drink it flat, I would not drink it on a mat. I would not drink it from a can, I would not drink that Sam-I-Am. I thought it was gross. Any little sip made me feel more nauseous than before. And yet, she kept trying to get me to drink it every time I was sick. I still don’t like ginger ale. (I argued with Mom on this point.)
And Green Gatorade. She also thought that if I wouldn’t drink ginger ale, then lemon-lime Gatorade would be the next best thing for me. Because heavily sugared, artificially colored, citrus-acidic drinks are great for upset stomachs…?
I would take the tiniest mouse-sized sips at her insistence, (Don’t argue with Mom)but that didn’t taste very good either. She thought water would upset my stomach even further… our household operated under a lot of Old Wives Tales.
During that decade of my youth, Gatorade only came in that one flavor. I will forever associate that flavor with being sick. I cannot drink it to this day. Have you ever counted how many flavors of Gatorade are stocked in grocery stores today? No you haven’t. So many, there are so many.
When I was eventually feeling better, I was required “to join the land of the living” as my parents put it. I certainly didn’t like being sick, but I enjoyed the special treatment- being allowed to watch as much TV as I wanted, eating meals in the living room (NOT ALLOWED otherwise!), being excused from setting the table or doing the dishes. I’d relinquish control over the channel box, let my dad have his recliner back, and wobble upstairs on my unsteady legs (because I’d done nothing but lie around for two days). Taking a hot shower always seemed to make the “last of the sick” go away.
My thoughts would turn to recess the next day or a game of hide and seek with my cousins. Mom was right– the fresh air would do me good.