I have been sick this week. I stayed home one full day (Tuesday) and, by this afternoon (Friday), it was clear I was not recovered. My colleagues even told me to go home. The COB even cheerfully took over responsibility for some thankless and unglamorous tasks so that I could just go home and climb into bed. A true colleague. Our assistant, who usually tortures me in that negative affection type of way, was actually kind and looked worried. I must have looked bad.
I came home and collapsed into bed. I was almost immediately overcome with the need to sleep. As I was dozing, I half-dreamed of being sick as a kid.
Mom would hug me and say, “my poor tsatskele [Yiddish endearment], if I could have this for you, I would!” Then she would kiss my forehead to check for fever. Then she would direct me to my bed. And to be doubly sure that I didn’t have a fever, Mom would get one of those mercury thermometers (on the list of pre-1980 household hazards) doused in rubbing alcohol (for sterilization) and tucked under the tongue.
“Tea and toast and rest” was the basic remedy. If needed, I could have aspirin and, at night, cough suppressant. Mom would set up the vaporizer — that contraption that made steam heat and bred bacteria — to clear my clogged sinuses. Ok, maybe a little Vaseline on my chapped nose and lips, but Mom was very cautious about its use. When she was young, there were instances when sick babies who suffocated because mothers applied Vaseline too liberally in their babies’ noses.
Throughout the course of my cold, she administered loving hugs and kisses liberally and got up every few hours during the night to touch my cheek and make sure all was ok.
There weren’t many over-the-counter products then to relieve cold symptoms. But my mother would have had none of that. If it was just a head cold to suffer through, a little extra tender loving care (and tea and toast) was medicine enough.
Mom was a working professional, so if any of us was sick during the week, Leta, our nanny, would be in charge. But Mom lingered in the mornings, and came home early. Dad also canceled his last patient so he could be on hand for the evening love-not-drugs fest.
Leta was no slouch when it came to smothering us with love, under any circumstance. And when one of us was sick, she outdid herself. Leta would pour half a cup of sugar in the tea because she thought it was heartless of Mom and Dad to ration sugar (my Dad was a dentist, after all). And she prescribed sucking candy (a banned substance in our house) as throat lozenges.
Sidebar: I don’t think I told my parents about the candy and sugar and the other broken rules until after Leta died in the 1990s. That was our secret with Leta. Mom and Dad would have certain rules, and Leta would ignore those rules, much to our delight.
And, of course, my grandmother, Mom’s mother, couldn’t bear that any of her little darling grandchildren was sick. So, she would come laden down with food like stuffed cabbage, potato pancakes, and a whole host of time-honored Jewish-Ashkenazic comfort food. Grandma and Leta had a grudging respect for each other which over the years turned into real affection, but when one of us was sick, it was all-out turf warfare. No wonder Mom went to her office.
Even with today’s magic potions, Nyquil or Dayquil or the equivalent, there is no better medicine than Mom’s hugs, Leta’s smother and Grandma’s food. Just thinking about it makes me feel better already.