The recent bout of flu that Raymond and I have just come though, and the fact that I was suffering the worst of it while at the Manse over Christmas, got me to thinking about all the other ailments I had as a child growing up in that very same house.
I’m not sure when the vaccine against measles, mumps and chicken pox started being widely used, but I must have missed out because I succumbed to all three. (I think I might have had whooping cough too, actually; I have a very dim memory from when I was very young of being at a lovely garden party – a United Church Women event, perhaps? – at the home of John and Marguerite Thompson, and making a spectacle of myself thanks to a shockingly uncontrollable cough. Must ask my mother about that.)
Anyway, of the verified illnesses that I suffered, chicken pox came first. I got it before any of my younger siblings did – in fact, I don’t know if they ever did get it – and my mother, not being entirely sure what was up, called in storekeeper and unofficial Queensborough mayor Bobbie Sager (later Ramsay) for a diagnosis. I vividly remember Bobbie, a tall and imposing figure, coming through the Manse’s kitchen door one evening on her way home from the general store she ran, and wasting no time as she asked to see the spots that had appeared. As it happened they were on my stomach, and no-nonsense Bobbie ordered me to pull up the little shift dress I was wearing so she could see them. So there I was in the middle of the big old Manse kitchen, with various family members looking on interestedly, exposing myself! I was mortified. Fortunately it took Bobbie only about half a second to come up with the chicken-pox diagnosis. Much calamine lotion (not that it seemed to help much) ensued.
Next was the measles, and that was pretty serious. I remember spending many days in bed, blankets pinned over the window shades because my mum had been told that exposure to light could cause eye damage when people had the measles. I also remember weird (and doubtless frightening to my parents) bouts of delirium. I wasn’t allowed to read because of the light thing, but Mum read to me; that was the first time I ever heard Stephen Leacock‘s wonderful story about the sinking of the Mariposa Belle (actual title: The Marine Excursions of the Knights of Pythias) and I remember my mum laughing so hard as she read it that she could barely get through it. (If you’ve never read it, you absolutely must; it is a hilarious treasure of Canadiana. I have it in a collection of stories at the Manse, and I would be happy to lend it to you.) I also remember listening to the radio a lot, especially the show Bruno Gerussi hosted (called, imaginatively, Gerussi!) on the CBC. So that tells you how long ago this was; that show ran for two years, 1967 and 1968.
I have to confess I did not have the mumps at the Manse, but that was only because they struck in July, which were Dad‘s “holidays.” We always spent July at the family farm up in Haliburton County (where Dad worked 18-hour days getting the hay in; some holiday). As you probably are well aware (though not if you’re much younger than I, because then you won’t have any experience whatsoever with these illnesses), mumps are much less serious than measles, but they’re pretty unpleasant nevertheless.
Anyway, I lived through all three classic childhood illnesses, and here I am telling the tale. But it was kind of a funny feeling being in bed with the flu in the Manse’s master bedoom – the one that was my parents’, and where I was transferred when I was really sick with the measles – all those years later. And thinking about how circular life can be.