Measles, mumps and chicken pox

My sister, Melanie (right) and me at the table in the Manse kitchen sometime in the mid-1960s – around the time that I started to contract all the famous childhood diseases. Don't you just love that square black vinyl purse? That was my pride and joy. (Photo by my grandfather, J.A.S. Keay)

My sister, Melanie (right) and me at the table in the Manse kitchen sometime in the mid-1960s – around the time that I started to contract all the famous childhood diseases. Don’t you just love that square black vinyl purse? That was my pride and joy. (Photo by my grandfather, J.A.S. Keay)

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.

6 thoughts on “Measles, mumps and chicken pox

  1. Lovely, Katherine…I can just smell the calamine. I too doubt that it did much good, but it did buy precious moments with a mom already too busy with household and farm chores to spend much time at my sickbed. Chickenpox was the worst for me…pneumonia, delirium and a house call from the doctor from Picton, 12 miles away!!
    I hope that you and Raymond have both returned to good health?
    My experience with Bruno Gerussi? – total love at first sight, on a class trip to Stratford to see the Tempest. He played Caliban and I was stricken.

    • Those are great memories, Lindi! (Well, especially since you recovered from the chicken pox.) Imagine: a house call by a doctor!

      Yes, thanks for asking, Raymond and I are both past the flu, though I have a cough that doesn’t want to let go. Much better than we were at Christmas, that’s for sure.

      And oh my, when Bruno Gerussi was a heartthrob! I knew, but had forgotten, that he used to perform at Stratford. In the role of Caliban I’m guessing he may have been shirtless…

  2. Good memories…but not a great memory. I just now looked it up and realized how wrong I was. Gerussi played Ariel and the year was 1962! That explains the heart skipping a beat at the recollection. A sprightly Bruno, hard to conjure at this remove 🙂

    • Lindi, I have to tell you, I find it very, very hard to conjure up (a Tempest-type turn of phrase!) an image of Bruno Gerussi as tiny Ariel! In fact I have always had trouble with the idea of the character of Ariel being male; I can’t but think of Ariel as a female sprite. And indeed, in the production starring Christopher Plummer as Prospero at Stratford a couple of years ago, a woman (elfin-sized) did play the role.

  3. I recall getting the mumps and chicken pox at around 6 or 7. What fun we all had in our little town outside of Kingston as my friends on my street all got sick at the same time. Once we were well enough to play together but not well enough to return to school, we played until the other kids came home from school. We then had to return to our homes so we did not infect the other kids. I have vivid memories hanging off the split rail fence and laughing about how lucky we were that we did not have to go to school. Funny how some images last. We never did get the measles.

    The first adult book my Mom read to us was The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I am always looking at the old shells of barns and wondering if they could be made into a Secret Garden.

    Thanks for sharing your story.

    • Your story about hanging off the split-rail fences with the other sick (but okay, by that point maybe not all that sick) kids is absolutely charming, Jo-Ann! You conjure up such a clear image that I feel like I was there. If there were split-rail fences in your town, perhaps it was not a much bigger place than Queensborough – where as you know, we still have a nice supply of them.

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