Picture of Janet


There’s the rub.

Reading Time: 3 minutes

The old house on Oak Hill was drafty. It would have been more so if it hadn’t been spit and pasted together with layers of wallpaper from the inside and asbestos siding on the outside. Forget the windows. They were drafty. Probably a good arrangement in hindsight because we used open faced gas heaters to heat each room. They were the old timey ones, where you could see the flame. The ones that if you walked by the breeze concocted from your billowy nightgown around your legs could blow them out, letting the gas flow into the room. It’s a wonder, or a miracle, we weren’t asphyxiated.

I’m what you might call a window layer. No matter the season, when I was old enough to push furniture, my bed resided near a window. In the spring I watched as trails of sugar ants found their way through the cracks where the wall joists met the window frame. It summer I marveled at the sucking breeze of the big window fan as it blew across my freckled face. In the winter, the window panes of the old house would sweat and drip, freezing on cold nights, to make inside icicles upon the sill.

It was those nights, as I lay by the window, that for whatever the reason a human body tends to get a sore throat, I would get… well, a sore throat.

There I’d be that next morning, vaguely unwell, with snot running down the back of my throat, feeling like I was trying to breath past a big lump of something stuck right below the back of my tongue. I had them often enough to know that through the day and into the next night, my throat would get worse, until when I rubbed my hand along my throat just under my jaw, I could feel them; swollen and tender, tonsils.

I was a worried child, sometimes the oldest are, so how much of those constant tonsil swellings were provoked from real bacterial attacks and how many were helped along by depressed immune systems due to well.. depression, kind of gets mixed up in mind.

That connection between mind and body can be quite intricate and convoluted. The connection between mind and body can be quite telling.

It’s that mystery that allows us to medicate in ways that are not dictated solely by what medicines can do to our bodies alone. Sometimes they minister to both; sometimes they salve that connection, the place where mind and body meet, in unexplainable ways.

“Jan, you have a sore throat again, honey?” Mother said her own voice tired and strained from the hard life of living with an alcoholic.

“Let me get the Vicks out. I’ll heat you a towel.” She said, touching the forehead of her oldest daughter.

She unscrewed the lid of the blue jar and although I couldn’t see them, little tendrils of camphor escaped into the gas heated air of my bedroom. Mother lay a towel, one that had been used for this purpose on previous nights and to ease the headaches that plagued her husband. Two of its edges were browned where they had gently smoldered as they were heated.

Her hands delicately scooped the thick rub and rubbed it over my swollen tonsiled neck. The tendrils of camphor swirled around and up and into my nose, past the snotty boogers and into my little girl lungs. I could feel the ease, if not real in physical terms, certainly in my mind. The old towel, warmed just right now, I closed my eyes as Mother wrapped it gently around my neck.

“You feel better, Jan honey? Stick your feet out. I will put some on them now.”

I slid my feet out from under the covers and she put the sticky goo on the soles and rubbed gently. No more room for air borne camphor molecules in my personal space, the foot application was the final act of tenderness and mercy between a mother and her child who didn’t feel well.

“You’ll feel better in the morning, Jan honey,” she told me.

“Mom,” Josh told me the other day, “Remember when we would get sick and you would rub Vicks on our chests and feet?”

“Uh huh,” I said and we smiled at each other.

I bet Josh passes it on, that connection that ministers to mind and body, should God give him a child of his own.

Some things, despite what Wikipedia might say about their worth in the real world of treatment and care, are worth passing on.

Eric Legrande, my prayers are with you.

One Response

  1. Jan…you hit it on the nail again!!! My bed was under the window of my (our) second floor bedroom I shared with my Aunt Marge and my Grandma (Nanny). On hot summer nights before we finally had a rigged up window fan my Dad put in the window of the back stairs, I would lay with my arm on the window sill to catch whatever breeze I could. Then too, on some nights I would actually hear the lions from Forest Park zoo roaring! That is also where I listened for my Dad’s car turning onto our gravel driveway, knowing that Mom’s light (I could see it lit from the transom above our bedroom doors), would finally go out and her waiting finished. You sure have a way of bringing back a lot of memories for me. They kind of make me understand why I am the way I am!…..Love, Betty

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