This is the time of the year when our thoughts turn to holidays and holiday traditions.
In some families, the kids went Christmas caroling.
In some families, the kids played with dreidels and lit the candles of the menorah.
In some families, the kids made gingerbread houses.
In some families, the kids eagerly opened the little doors in the advent calendars.
In some families, the kids put out cookies and milk for Santa.
In The Legal Genealogist‘s family, at least one of the kids got sick.
No matter what.
No matter how healthy the whole family had been up until December.
No matter what my parents did to try to keep us away from anybody and anything that might cause even so much as a sniffle.
Without fail, at least one of the kids got sick.
Ah yes… holiday traditions…
Now, to be fair, the odds were very much in favor of some kid getting sick.
To begin with, there were an awful lot of kids. I am one of seven full siblings born over a period of a little more than 15 years. We had a full basketball team before the first kid was out of elementary school. So purely on the basis of numbers, it’s hardly remarkable that one (or more) would get sick.
Second, remember that we’re talking the Dark Ages of the 1950s and 1960s. This is well before most kids had the opportunity to be vaccinated for the wide variety of childhood diseases for which vaccinations are available today. So we had them all: mumps, measles, German measles, scarlet fever, you name it, we got it.
Third, remember that we’re talking middle class family here. No McMansion with individual bedrooms for each kid in my family history. If you were lucky, you had a bed to yourself. You sure didn’t have a room to yourself. No, in my family, we shared. Including contagious diseases, of course.
Fourth, remember that schools were then, are now, and forever will be basically germ factories. Kids may have developed immunities to the diseases they were exposed to at home, but man oh man… send a kid into the school system and there’s no limit to the germs that the kid gets exposed to… and catches… and brings home. Each new kid entering the school system just multiplies the chances, and it seemed for a while there like every year a new kid was entering the school system.
And then there’s the whole thing with Murphy’s Law.
You know Murphy’s Law.
That’s the one that says, essentially, that if something can go wrong, it will go wrong, in the worst possible way, at the worst possible time.
Which, in my household, meant a kid getting so sick sometime around the 15th to 20th of December that my mother had to abandon her annual plan of hauling an entire carload of kids some 300 miles or so from New Jersey to Virginia to cram into even tighter quarters with about a kazillion cousins, aunts and uncles at my grandparents’ farm.
Now in the ordinary case my mother was the best of nurses. A sick kid could usually count on being plunked into sleepers with feet (you remember those, right?) and tucked into my parents’ bed during daytime hours, with chicken soup and Vicks vaporub and room humidifiers steaming away at full blast.
Being deprived of a winter visit with her family, however, did not have a particularly good effect on my mother’s mood. The word “surly” comes to mind. And her nursing skills seemed to take a direct hit when she was called on to exercise them any time after, say, the 10th of December or so.
And heaven help the kid who was really really sick on the day when the go-or-no-go decision had to be made who then made a good steady recovery between then and Christmas Eve. The word “surly” doesn’t begin to describe it.
Ah yes… holiday traditions…
But then there were years when the kid who got sick didn’t get all that sick and was basically just doing the sniffle routine by the time the go-or-no-go decision had to be made. There surely were years when we did make that trip to Virginia.
And then there was a whole new set of holiday traditions.
Trying to convince all those kids that it would be a good idea to leave their own Christmas gifts at home and open them once we came back from Virginia (there was enough room, barely, for the kids in whatever station wagon we had at the time; there was not enough room for the kids and their gifts).
Watching my brother Paul’s lips once we got off the interstates onto the curvy bumpy backroads for the telltale signs that he was about to anoint us with his latest bout of motion sickness.
Being absolutely silent ourselves but listening to all those interesting words my father used while trying to get the station wagon up the unpaved, snow-covered hill from the big bridge up to the farmhouse… in the dark … after 10 or 12 hours on the road.
Ah yes… holiday traditions… Such a joy to recall…