Monday, August 21, 2006

When I was three-and-a-half I had my tonsils taken out. I went to the hospital with Mama and she held my hand when we rode in the elevator. At that time it was one of two elevators in all of Traverse City. It was the first time I'd been in one (I didn't ride in another one until I was 16).

I stayed in a crib in the children's ward. The little boy next to me had a Speak n Say. I had seen ads for those on our old black-and-white tv and pictures in the special Sears Christmas Wish Book that came in early November and which I would spend hours looking longingly at those pages of pricey toys that existed only on paper. This was the first time I'd seen one in real life. It was better in real life. I stared and stared at that boy playing with it until he turned his back to me to hide it from my wistful eyes. But I could still hear the cow "moo" and the sheep "baaa." I wondered what it would be like to pull that string. Several years later, when I was in kindergarden, a classmate brought one to school and I discovered it wasn't nearly as much fun as I had imagined.

That night I cried for Mama. The nurse came into the darkened room, her silhouette growing larger as she approached me and I stood up in the crib and sobbed to her, "Mama! Where's my Mama?" over and over again. And then she did something shocking. She held a wadded mess of Kleenex over my mouth to muffle the cries. I could hardly breathe. She held my head so tight it was like being caught in a vise. She was determined that I wouldn't wake the other kids up. Eventually I got the idea and shut up. Later on my mother didn't believe me when I told her. But how could a three year old invent such a thing?

In the morning they made me drink something and I got sleepy and they put me in a bed and wheeled me back into the elevator. Into a room with bright lights and a man put something over my face. When I awoke I was back in the crib and they let me out later that day to play with the plastic Cowboy and Indians Mama had bought me for a hospital present. I pulled the plastic bag open and spread them out over a low wooden table. I asked the nurse if the girl across the aisle from me could play with them too, but she said no. I wish I still had them- the cowboy with the lasso and the Indian pulling the bow back to shoot an arrow and the black rearing horse that was so hard to balance.

Then Mama came to take me home and she gave me another present- a six pack of those little wax pop bottles of syrup. After you bit the end off and sucked the brightly colored syrup out you could chew the wax like gum. I have a vague recollection of telling Mama that I would have one and share the others with my four brothers and sisters. We only got candy at Easter, Halloween, and Christmas, so it was a really special treat. I remember feeling very special on that ride back to our pale green ranch house on North Long Lake Road.

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