Before kids were able to receive vaccinations for chicken pox, there was only one way you could ensure that you wouldn't suffer from the illness as an adult, you had to catch it and suffer as a child. Healthcare officials claim the symptoms and scope of the illness is far worse if you contract is as an adult which led many parents to expose their children to the illness as early on as they possibly could. Once you have the virus in your system, your body will build up immunity to it and you should never suffer from it again...unless your immune system is weak which leaves you susceptible to shingles. It took me years to figure out where I came into contact with the chicken pox. Aside from the 20 kids in my class and 30 that rode my bus, I didn't really have much contact with the outside world but don't worry, the discovery of where I contracted the virus figures into this story later one.
I was in Mrs. Herring's second grade class at Tanner Williams sometime around Easter of 1983. My mom had been preparing for an operation for a few weeks, a complete hysterectomy. Mamma was pretty much the one to help my sister and I when we were sick, unless it involved vomit and then it was my dad's department.
Mamma had been in the hospital for a few days when she called and I was so excited to tell her about the banana scratch and sniff sticker Mrs. Herring gave me for the excellent grades I'd received the previous week and told her that it would be waiting for her when she got back home. It smelled JUST like real bananas and I thought mamma just had to smell it for herself. I'm sure mom was not exactly interested but my excitement over something so small to her was enough to cheer her up for the moment.
The following morning, I woke up with a sore throat, my back was itching, I was groggy, tired and basically not feeling very well and visibly sick but my dad was an old school marine and pretty much had the motto to suck it up and go to school. He preached that perfect attendance was super important to our education. In reality, thinking back, it had more to do with the fact that he would rather cut off his hand than call out from work so he HAD to go to work and the only other person that he could think to watch me was my sister but, she was in the 8th grade and couldn't stay home from school. Why didn't daddy take me to work with him if it were so important for him to go you ask? Daddy's job at the time was with a company called Leak Repair Incorporated. While it sounds as if he was a plumber, he was not a plumber. He was actually a technician that repaired industrial steam leaks at large facilities and plants like Monsanto, Cyanamid, Air Products, Scott Paper and several other plants like that as well as power companies like Mississippi, Gulf and Alabama Power Companies. Daddy's office was based in Pensacola, Florida, about 45 minutes across Mobile Bay and even if he did got through the office each day, I would not have a good environment for a sick child as it was rather small and barely had enough room for the secretary and my dad's boss, Dave Croft. Pretty much daddy's office was his work truck, he was a field tech and his truck wouldn't have been a place for a sick child as it reeked of industrial sealant that looked like a lot like a thick slurry finely ground up asphalt, lead and other metals mixed with thickeners and solvents.
He gave me an aspirin and off to school I went, sick with an unknown illness. Had he looked at my back and stomach, he would have most likely known that something was up but he didn't....live and learn. For anyone that went to Tanner Williams Elementary School back in 1983 and rode Mrs. Horton's bus to and from school, had lunch at the same time as Mrs. Herring's class or was in Mrs. Herring's class, you were definitely exposed to the chicken pox thanks to my dad.
Being raised the way we were, my sister and I knew better than to complain we were sick unless we REALLY were sick because we knew it meant several things, mamma's medicine cabinet contained nothing we would want to take, many of the medicines were either for adults or so old, no one in the house could remember when it was purchased or we would end up with a tablespoon of Creomulsion was the mainstay if we had a cold, little did mamma know, it did nothing other than suppress a cough, it contained no fever reducers, pain relievers, antihistamines or expectorants in the formula, in other words, it did nothing but taste bad and kept you from coughing and many times, we had no cough.
When I got home, Grandma Manning, my dad's mom, was in the kitchen cooking dinner for us and had a pot of tea boiling on the stove. Mamma was laying on the couch. I was surprised because no one told me she was coming home. I grabbed the scratch and sniff sticker I'd been obsessing over and scratched it and sniffed it but it didn't smell as good as it did the other day, in fact it smelled rancid to me. I later discovered, everything smelled funny to me because I was sick. Anyway, I handed my mom the sticker so she could share in my excitement over the prize I'd been given. She was as excited as she needed to be. Granny didn't have her overnight bag with her, usually she would have it with her if she stayed the night, she only lived about 5 miles from our house. She was just there to cook and make sure we had provisions for the next few days while mamma rested after her stay at the hospital. My throat was scratchy but the excitement from mamma being home masked the fact that my voice was not 100%. After my dad took granny back home and he returned with a 2 liter bottle of Sprite, a 2 liter bottle of Tab for mamma and a box of crackers and a bunch of cans of Campbell's soup.
A couple of minutes after daddy came home, it was time for me to take my nightly bath. I mentioned to mamma that I felt weird and my back is itchy, knowing that she would put her long fingernails to good use. She was the master at backscratching but the second she saw my back, she must have put two and two together and it clicked in her mind, especially since my voice sounded scratchy. She asked my daddy why he let me go to school looking and sounding like I did. Daddy was dumbfounded and said that he had to work and I wasn't throwing up so I couldn't have been that sick. She had him look at my back and I still remember him saying "what did he get into?" Mamma replied, "he didn't get into anything, he's got chicken pox." My sister, Becki, had the chicken pox a year or so before I was born, around the same time of year. Thinking back at the basic care I received, I'm sure Becki got the sort of care where a parent would try anything from aspirin to bourbon to appease the child and I'm sure she had less medication options than I did.
Not an actual photo of me but this is what it looked like.
Daddy, feeling bad about sending me to school, went back out to grab a few more groceries since there are 2 sick people in the house. He not only brought back Chicken with Rice and Alphabet Soup, he brought back my favorite, Chicken with Stars. Daddy also knew I'd need something to pass the time so he bought a coloring book featuring the Superfriends and a box of store branded crayons from K&B Drugs. I loved those crayons more than words can express, not because they colored very well...which believe it or not, they did...I loved them because the box and paper wrappers on the colors were my favorite color at the time, purple, K&B purple to be exact.
Becki might have made for a good daytime helper for me while I was home sick as she was immune to chicken pox after having them over 7 years ago, but she was just 13 and had to go to school herself. While at home, she still kept her distance, I guess hanging with a spotty, cranky 7 year old would not be fun for a 13 year old girl. She did occasionally stop by the couch and leave me a cold wash cloth, a cup of tea or just to mess with me like an older sister would do with her younger brother.
So there we were, the following day, stuck at home in separate rooms. My mom, home from the hospital still recovering from surgery and me, sick with the chicken pox. The timing couldn't have been more perfect. Being a mamma's boy, I just wanted to cuddle up with my mamma or love on my Springer Spaniel, Pickles. Affection is better than any medicine to me, whether it was from my mamma or my dog. I was secluded from both. I'm not sure if it was just me or if it happens to everyone with chicken pox, my sense of smell became rather bizarre, things just didn't smell right and my sense of taste was REALLY off. There was a certain smell that I kept smelling and I can only describe it as being acidic, like apple cider vinegar blended with whatever aroma was in the air. Throughout the 2 weeks that I had the chicken pox, I remember not wanting to eat anything but butterscotch or chocolate pudding and Campbell's soup. The only thing I wanted to drink, that felt good on my throat was sweet tea but mamma didn't keep sweetened tea in the house nor did she drink it herself, that was a hold over from when granny was there the day before.
The house we lived in had a kitchen with a bar that overlooked a den that we used as our main living room and our dining room was actually a part of what was built to be the actual living room. I spent my days laying on the couch watching Nickelodeon in it's early years. Children's programming back then featured a few shows including Today's Special which featured an actor named Jeff Hyslop, whom I would enjoy as the Phantom later in life, as well as a show that seemed to run for 3 hours called Pinwheel.
Pinwheel always put me to sleep and I remember waking up to find a bowl of chicken with stars or alphabet soup sitting on the coffee table with a cup of sweet tea and a few crackers. Mamma still took care of me in spite of having to keep her distance. After I finished my lunch, I'd take the bowl and cup to the kitchen and leave them in the sink. My dad did the dishes when he got home from work because mamma couldn't really stand and do the dishes because of her stitches. Daddy helped her with quick sponge baths and for a change, rather than my usual nightly bath, mamma and daddy let me take a bath at night and in the morning. I remember laying in the water wishing I could stay in it all day long, it was the only time that I didn't itch. By day 5, I was covered in blisters, head to toe, one on my eyelid, all over my back, front, legs, in my mouth, I swear in my nose, butt and everywhere. I was miserable and itchy and couldn't stop scratching. Mamma made me put my winter mittens on to keep from scratching and it just made me want to do it more. My nights were spent in my bedroom with the door open, nightlight on and a cup of water next to my bed. I never drank the water, I used it to wet my mittens and rub on the bumps all over my back, they were the itchiest and anything was better than the Avon lotion. My bedding from the time that I got my first bed consisted of a fitted sheet, flat sheet and two rough acrylic blankets from TG&Y, Wool-co or Woolworth. The blankets were so rough and itchy that you didn't want to touch your bare skin. This was one time that I couldn't bear to have a blanket over me, even with a sheet between me and the blanket and I'm one of those people that has to have a thick blanket over me when I sleep for security reasons, so I settled for the thin blue sheet as my cover. Somehow I managed to sleep in spite of being itchy and in pain and unsecured.
Saturday morning arrived, I woke up, still infected but it looked as if the blisters were almost gone, a week of this illness and I was ready to get better. I headed to my spot on the couch and started watching cartoons. My dad was already up and I remember seeing him fill his ice chest with cans of beer. I asked if he was going fishing because usually that's what he did before going fishing. He told me the neighbors are grilling out and it's for that. I love cookouts, it meant we were having barbecued chicken...my favorite and after a week of condensed canned soup, anything sounds good to me. I opened the refrigerator door and I saw a big bowl of butterscotch pudding chilling...HELL YEAH!!! In spite of it all, one thing was certain, I was still sick and most likely gonna be stuck inside. As the day progressed, daddy headed out to the backyard, fired up the grill and I could smell the barbecue permeating through our open window. It was a beautiful day and I heard the chatter of the neighbors, their kids, my sister and my parents in the backyard. The windows of the house were open, I could see, hear and smell everything but wasn't allowed outside. All I wanted, more than anything else, was to go outside, eat a chicken leg, sneak a beer out of the cooler and go back inside and sip on it and enjoy some pudding. Becki would occasionally pass the window and tease me, knowing I was stuck inside. Mamma came inside with a chicken leg for me and asked if I wanted some soup, I told her I wanted pudding. She brought me a bowl of pudding and sat next to me for the first time since the day she got out of the hospital. She felt my head and told me that I still had fever but might be ready to go to school on Monday. Mrs. Herring sent some work for me to do with Monica, my friend that lived 2 doors down from us, nothing as extensive as what we would do in class but enough to at least keep up with her lesson plan. Funny how things like that work, I get sick and still manage to keep my grades up with minimal work. I never got my beer but the pudding made up for it. My throat was still itchy but the pudding was super soothing and I told my mom that I would like more pudding because it feels good. Sunday passed and mamma was feeling better, up and moving more and possibly just tired of laying around. I know I was tired of laying around but when you're itchy and hot from fever, it's best to just do whatever you can to stay still and relaxed. The bumps looked as if they might be gone by morning and my fever was just a low grade fever and my voice was back to normal by the time my 8 pm bed time arrived.
Monday came around and as ready as I was to get out of the house, I woke up to find and I'm still not feeling better. The bumps had begun to clear up the day before and I would do anything if I could get dressed and go to school but there was no faking it, I looked in the mirror and the bumps were back full tilt boogie. I'd had them for 7 days and the average is 5 to 7 days. The general consensus is I might have either had a relapse and gotten them a second time because I had them longer than normal. I just wanted to get out of the house for a little while. I don't know what I'm missing but it had to have been better than 3 hours of Pinwheel followed by the Price is Right, Days of Our Lives and Another World. I was at least able to sit up and color and do things to keep me busy as I watched TV. Same thing happened Tuesday and Wednesday. Later Wednesday night, mamma helped me get out of the bathtub, she looked at my back and asked if I scratched myself with something other than my hands. I told her my pencil when I was at school. There was one lesion that was healing slower than the rest because it looked like it had been burst and possibly infected. She cleaned it up with peroxide and told me that I might get to go to school in the morning. I was super excited, I was sick of staying home sick. When I woke up Thursday morning, I was still feeling a bit itchy but thought it could have just been something I was feeling because I was used to it, probably just mental. Mamma told me to go take a bath, I did and while I was in the tub, she took my temperature and said if it's normal, I can go to school. I wished as hard as I could that it was normal, trying not to touch the tip of the thermometer with my tongue, hoping I could coax it into being normal. Unfortunately, I had to stay home but today she said I didn't have to lay on the couch if I didn't want to.
I spent most of the day following her around as she did the household chores, laundry and what not. Our washing machine was in a room just outside our back door in the front of our carport. We didn't have a dryer, back then it wasn't an expense people could really justify so we hung our clothes to dry on our clothesline which spanned the side of our backyard. I helped mamma hang the laundry on the line, my job was to hand her the clothes pins as she hung each item. Our dog, Pickles, was strictly an outdoors dog. Mamma didn't believe in having animals in the house, now that I'm older, I couldn't imagine keeping a dog outside at all. Anyway, Pickles followed me around nudging my leg with her cold wet nose, she was as excited to interact with me as I was with her, over a week of not seeing Pickles other than through the window made me happy to finally play with her. After the laundry was on the line, mamma said she was tired and needed to go lay down, since she was still recovering from surgery. She headed to bed and I followed. Taking a nap any other place than my room or the couch was like a vacation in itself. We both fell asleep until my dad got home from work. Daddy brought the laundry in and folded it while mamma cooked dinner. She took my temperature just before my nightly bath but didn't say anything.
I woke up the next day, Friday morning, to find my clothes for the day laid out on the little table next to my bed. I got dressed and went to the living room to find all of the schoolwork I'd done over the past 2 weeks in a neat pile. Mamma gave me a bowl of cereal and told me to hurry up so I don't miss the bus. It's Friday and I get to go to school. I'm so excited. I'm not itchy, not sick and I'm feeling good and I'm ready to see my friends at school. I hurry up, eat, brush my teeth, put my shoes on, grab my Masters of the Universe lunchbox and papers I have to turn in to Mrs. Herring. I head out to the bus stop where Monica is usually standing and she's not there, just the two weird girls that never talk to me who live across from the street from Monica. Mrs. Horton's bus pulls up and I'm all smiles and happy to see her and I notice that a forth of the kids that are usually on the bus aren't on it. I'm one of the last kids to get on the bus before it heads to school. When I arrive at school and go to my class, I set my papers on Mrs. Herring's desk and put my lunchbox in my cubby hole on the wall. When the bell rings I look around and at least a third of my class are absent. It seems there was an outbreak of chicken pox in my class, in the immediate area of where we sat at lunch in the cafeteria and on the bus over the past week. While I can't be 100% sure, I have a feeling that my dad's decision to send me to school the day that I complained about feeling bad might have actually impacted a bunch of kids in my class, lunchroom and bus. I guess the silver lining to this story is none of those kids will suffer the chicken pox as adults.
So you remember how I mentioned that I discovered years later how I contracted chicken pox? Mamma finally came clean years later and told me that she exposed me to the chicken pox about 3 weeks before she was supposed to go into the hospital when she sent me to play with the girl that lived next door named Angie. Angie was not exactly the ideal playmate, she was a bully and most of the neighboring parents knew it and encouraged us to avoid her. This day though my mom as well as Monica and her sister Meredith's mom, Ms. Karen sent them over to Angie's for us all to play together. Angie didn't seem too interested and pretty much we all just sat in her living room watching Fraggle Rock on HBO drinking Kool-Aid and eating chips and dip. As most everyone knows, kids are notorious for double dipping, except for me...I hate that but I do love me some Doritos and French Onion dips so it's irresistible to me. So the plan was to expose Monica, Meredith any myself to the chicken pox that Angie was suffering from at the time. None of us had a clue because unlike my parents, Angie's mom had her hopped up on adult strength Tylenol with codeine throughout the entire time she was infected. The plan, if it worked correctly, was I would get the pox a week and a half before mamma was to go into the hospital and I'd be rid of them within 5 to 7 days. Meredith got the pox within a few days but Monica and myself didn't and our parents thought that Monica and myself were just not going to get them. Mamma went into the hospital and the virus finally took hold when it was least expected, my immune system was much stronger than they thought I guess. Unfortunately, the plan backfired due to the unpredictable timing of my infection. Monica ended up getting the chicken pox the weekend of our barbecue and missed school the entire week plus 3 more days.
Did you get vaccinated or did you endure the chicken pox? What's your story? Please share in the comments below.