By Betty Bivins Cook
Once upon a time, there was a Christmas in which nothing went wrong. The tree didn’t try to fall down, the turkey got done on time, the dressing didn’t burn, no one was sick, everyone got along, and the weather was perfect. Nope! Just kidding! There may occasionally be perfect years, but I’m pretty sure they weren’t in our family. Many are the stumbling blocks that have appeared in our paths over the years and 1993 was no exception.
My daughter Karen and her family were living in Nacogdoches at the time, where her husband was a recruiter for the Air Force. She was planning to load up and head our way as soon as her daughter, Diana, got out on her last day of school (after the Christmas party).
However, several days before that, the monkey wrench hit the works. When Karen picked Diana up from school, the teacher shared the bad news that the dreaded Chicken Pox had entered the building, via a child who was infected but sent on to school anyway in a long sleeved, turtleneck shirt that hid her rash. Persistent scratching led to a trip to the nurse’s office where the illness was discovered.
As there was no point in keeping Diana home, since everyone in the class had already been well exposed, she continued to go to school as one by one, the roll count dwindled. Just when Karen thought they were home free, on the day of the class Christmas party, she awoke with a nice rash on her tummy. No party for her. She could go to school exposed, but not with the rash.
The rash spread rapidly, fever and itching ensued, and the family decided to delay the trip home for Christmas for a few days until she was feeling better. However, this strain of Chicken Pox was persistent, and the itching and fever hung on. I told them to just come on as everyone in our immediate family had already had them anyway.
The very next morning, as they were preparing to head our way, son, David became feverish and began to scratch. He’d caught it too. Another phone call assured them that they might as well come on, so they headed northwards home for the holidays.
With two itching, complaining children in the back seat, the trip was not much fun. Also niggling in the back of Karen’s mind was the fact that she’d never had Chicken Pox either, although she’d been well exposed several times. Fingers were crossed that this trend would continue!
We had made lots of plans for the days leading up to Christmas, including going to look at lights, a trip to the tree farm, making Christmas cookies, visiting some seldom seen family and friends, and more.
Those plans were dashed and replaced with oatmeal baths (don’t ever let anyone tell you that those won’t mess up the tub; it stuck like cement), lots of Calamine lotion, and Tylenol to try and alleviate some of the discomfort.
The most disappointing thing for me though, was that I’d planned to take a special picture in front of our Christmas tree of the children with two precious toys from my childhood. David had a most adorable little outfit with navy blue pants, a white shirt, and festive plaid vest with matching bow tie. Diana had a beautiful dress with a green velvet bodice and puffed sleeves with a full ruffled skirt of sheer, white organza, along with Christmas tights and black patent Mary Jane shoes.
The two special toys of mine were a Humpty Dumpty on the Wall pull toy that I received from Santa on my third Christmas and a much-loved baby doll that I got for Christmas when I was in the first grade. I was so excited about the picture, planning to use it along with a story about my toys in the Gilmer Mirror in my Reminiscing Column.
As the days dragged by, I waited, less than patiently, for Diana and David to feel and look better, but those stubborn Chicken Pox hung tenaciously on. Finally, on the last possible day, Karen and I dressed them in their special outfits and made the pictures. They were nothing like I had planned though. Both were still covered with spots, sported red-rimmed eyes, and wouldn’t even try to smile as they felt so miserable.
The picture went in the paper with my story, but even in black and white, the misery on their little faces was obvious. I guess I should have just put that off for another year, but I have been accused of being really stubborn once my mind is set on something, and this was no exception.
By Christmas morning, Diana was finally feeling better, if not looking her best. David, however, was still in the middle of the itching phase of his illness and didn’t enjoy much of his day.
A few days later, when the family was loading up to return to Nacogdoches, David was still itching. I still remember him buckled into his car seat, trying not to scratch his head as the Chicken Pox were particularly bad there. I reminded him to try and not scratch, so he grabbed handfuls of his hair and pulled at it to try and relieve the itching.
I’ve never felt as sorry for any children as I did those two, whose Christmas was spoiled by a nasty virus.
A similar thing happened to me, my first-grade year, the same year I got the much-loved baby doll mentioned above.
Christmas was approaching, and as was usual at that time, the teachers had put together a special Christmas program that would be performed in front of the whole school. My part in the program was to sing Silent Night along with classmates, wearing footed pajamas. The teachers had designed a large “book” that would open to expose us in the center, singing.
I was so excited about the program and couldn’t wait to get my special pajamas and get on that stage. We had practiced a lot and were ready to perform.
Alas, those dastardly Chicken Pox found me a few days before the program and Mother kept me home, so as not to spread them to others and because I felt awful. What made me feel the worst though was that I wouldn’t be able to be in the program that I’d so anticipated. As we had no phone, Mother was unable to call the school to tell them what had happened. I imagine she sent word with someone though.
Shortly before the day of the program, Mother had to make a trip to town, and while there, saw my teacher, Miss Leach. She told her how upset I was to miss the Christmas program. Miss Leach told her to bring me on to participate, Chicken Pox and all. Many of the other children had them too and if all were kept home, there wouldn’t be enough to have a program anyway.
Not having expected this turn of events, Mother had not purchased any footed pajamas and there were none to be found in the small town of Gilmer. In desperation, she bought a pretty pair of white flannel pajamas, trimmed with pink baby rickrack and some new white socks to wear with them to look somewhat like footed pajamas.
I was the only child in that portion of the program with socks on my feet, but I didn’t care. I probably still wasn’t feeling well, and likely still itched, but I don’t remember anything but the joy of being a part of that choir of young voices, singing Silent Night on that wonderful occasion.
Inevitably, there have been other Christmases over the years when I was sick on Christmas and unable to participate, but none stand out so vividly as the year of the Chicken Pox!