It’s winter 1966, I’m eight years old and I have a bad cold, maybe a little fever, and my one ear hurts. Mom lets me stay home from school. This would have been great except that I feel like a Mack truck ran over me – then reversed and backed over me. I’m moaning and lying on the couch in front of the old RCA television set and I’m stuck watching one channel because, back then, there were no remotes.
Mom brings me home-made chicken soup, Bayer aspirin, and some ginger-ale – the essentials. I eat the soup, take the aspirin, and drink some ginger-ale and Mom tells me to sleep. She places a wet panaki on my forehead and, of course, mumbles a small prayer and makes the sign of the cross over me. She also makes sure I’m covered and I feel like she brought ever kouverta out of the closet to cover me and make me sweat. The DEFCON level is at 1. I fall asleep listening to Captain Kangaroo and Mr. Green Jeans on the television (those of you my age from the Philly area would recognize those names).
A few hours later I awake – moaning. I still feel like the truck is taking a second shot at me! I call out, “Mommmmmmmy,” in that shaky, childlike, helpless voice. “Mommmmm.” Of course, Mom being a Greek mother, runs immediately because to a Greek mother nothing is more precious than her son! And what’s wrong with that?
She feels my forehead and shakes her head. The DEFCON level has just been raised to 2. Mom orders me to take off my pajama top and lifts my t-shirt up. She takes rubbing alcohol and begins to “tripsi” the rubbing alcohol in my back and shoulders. Then she brings out the Vicks and rubs that smelly, greasy stuff on my chest, sticks it in my nose, and covers me up again like Nanook the Eskimo going out to catch walrus on the frozen waters. She hands me a cup of hot tea and pulls out a bottle of Cognac. Cognac? I say “yuck” but she tells me to be quiet and pours a little shot in the tea then brings the cup to my mouth and orders me to drink it. I obey without comment and take some more Bayer aspirin.
“Mmmmm.” I think it was Courvoisier or Hennessy. At least that’s what I wish it were, but it was probably just Metaxa. It went down smooth though. I’m smiling and Mom tells me to try and sleep and I fall asleep listening to General Hospital – I couldn’t change the channel. Now for you “newer” parents, the thought of giving your eight year old child alcohol must seem apprehensible and Children, Youth Services, or something similar, should be called. No. That’s how things were done back then. We survived.
A few hours later I awake again because my older sister is coming home from school and complaining that I’m faking and should have went to school (she’s just like Ferris Bueller’s sister!). I whine that I’m not and upset she woke me up, but I do feel a little better, except for my ear. Mom checks me out and gives me the look. Oh no. DEFCON level has now gone to 3. My ear still hurts and I know what’s coming next and it’s every Greek child’s nightmare.
Did you ever watch those old black and white movies of the medieval knights attacking the castle and the defenders pouring the hot oil on top of them? Mom is now boiling the oil in the briki that she makes Greek coffee in and I’m the poor medieval knight trying to storm the castle. My sister is laughing because she knows what’s coming. Of course I’m crying since I know too and I don’t want to be a medieval knight but the defenders of the castle are too strong and I see the cauldron of boiling oil starting to tip over.
Mom puts my head in her lap with my ear that is hurting facing up and slowly pours the hot, steaming, boiling oil (okay, its wasn’t that hot, but to an eight year old it was blistering) into my ear. Cleans it up and sticks a cotton ball in it. I get bundled up again, more chicken soup and another Bayer aspirin and Mom tells to go to sleep.
At this point, with the defeat of the medieval knights and hot oil dripping down my cheek, I can’t sleep but at least I can watch the Mike Douglas show or Dark Shadows. My sister is still laughing and making faces at me. She’s so sinister.
It looks like the DEFCON level is being dropped back to 2. I am starting to feel better and by the time Dad comes home from work, I sitting up and eating something solid. He asks why I didn’t go to school since I looked fine. Mom looks at me and smiles… DEFCON level has now officially been dropped to 1 and all is well, except that it’s back to school tomorrow, even if I have the sniffles.
In today’s society when we get sick, we want a quick fix… antibiotics and we’re off to work, contaminating our co-workers. In the “old” days, it was Mom’s or Yiayia’s remedies, all natural, rest, and a little TLC. Thank God though, the DECON level did not reach level 4. If it did, it was time to bring out the glasses and not for drinking, but the dreaded vendouzes!
Moral of the story – drink a lot of fluids, wash your hands, and stay well everyone.
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