Part of the genius of my parents’ parenting was our farmhouse policy of whoever may be sick in the house at a given time has special sick privileges. The most common sicknesses were the ones that are familiar around the world—upper respiratory infections and stomach bugs.
My parents, my older brother Nolen Robert, and I were relatively healthy as I was growing up, with no major illnesses during those years. Sure, we had health scares of more dreaded things from time to time, but good food from the farm and vicinity and plenty of physical labor with farm work typically kept us on an even keel.
Mother was the nurturer, made even sweeter by her gift for cooking the best tasting things in the world. Savory or sweet—it didn’t matter—she made the best of everything, even as I remember it now.
So when Nolen Robert or I got sick from any cause and had to stay in bed or laze around the house feeling puny for a time, we in many ways looked forward to our sick privileges. Daddy was a giver as well when we got sick. While he had no kitchen skills that I remember, he was eager to go through almost any weather to buy whatever we wanted from Uncle W. G.’s country grocery store that fortunately was only about a mile from our house.
Nolen Robert and I somehow knew that our sick privileges requests for Mother’s special cooking or Daddy’s going to the store for whatever we wanted were things they could practically do. For example, among my favorite requests when I got sick in cold weather, as I noted in a previous story, was to ask Mother to make me some tomato or chicken soup with a grilled cheese sandwich. If she needed an ingredient that was not on hand, Daddy went to Uncle W. G.’s store to get it as soon as he came in the house from chores. If I had some digestive problem, somewhere in my recovery I had to have Mother’s amazing mashed potatoes to soothe my stomach.
Everybody in my family liked sweets. Mother generally had a pie, cake, or cookies on hand that she had baked. She could magically whip out a batch of rice crispy treats in a matter of minutes. These were typically part of our lunches and suppers, but when Nolen Robert and I got sick we often craved a sweet that required Daddy to jump in the pickup and head to the store. It would usually be some sort of cookie, candy, or ice cream that we knew was not in our house at the time but that we were certain was at Uncle W. G.’s store. So my craved sweet when I got sick might be a package of Oreos, or chocolate pinwheels made with a cookie base with a marshmallow topping covered with chocolate. Or I might ask for chocolate ice cream.
Between what Mother cooked and what Daddy went to the store to get when Nolen Robert or I were sick, we had a pretty nice life while suffering from gallopin’ consumption, epizootic, or whatever else laid us low for a time. Daddy liked using these terms when Nolen Robert or I got a terrible cold, terms I thought he had made up but later learned were rooted in medical science.
When my own children were growing up, my wife and I tried to practice such sick privileges for them. Our lives were different in town than what our childhood families knew, and both of us were not always around or near the house all day when Joy or Bob got sick. For a host of reasons, I doubt that their memories of being sick as children are quite the same as mine. I hope their memories of sick privileges are cherished, but that would be an unfair, leading question to ask them.
Ellen picked up a virus last week while accompanying me to visit my ear, nose, and throat specialist who has been treating a chronic sinus infection. She sat in the waiting room in front of a very sick child who coughed without covering his mouth. So Ellen developed a sore throat within hours that turned into a rare, for her, upper respiratory infection that has lasted over a week now.
She knows when she’s feeling puny that she has special sick privileges. One day this week she asked me to make a sinfully delicious, thick grilled cheese sandwich on dark rye to accompany a pot of hefty, brothy homemade lentil soup we made together. She loved the meal, as I did. Who wouldn’t?
Then this morning, after reading a draft of this story, she asked me to go to the store and buy her a package of chocolate-covered pinwheels made with a cookie base topped with marshmallow under the layer of chocolate. So I did.
As we finished our lunch, Ellen opened the bag of Pinwheels and had one for dessert. She was excited, almost happy to still be sick with a nasty virus.
When she handed the bag of cookies to me, I had one and remembered how nice it was to have chosen this particular blog post to write today. I enjoyed that Pinwheel a bunch. I began to think more about my parents’ benefits from being so good to Nolen Robert and me. These privileges were part of making us happy kids, whether we felt top-notch or not. It made our parents happier to make us happy when we were ailing.
So this childhood memory of my farmhouse sick privileges has carried over into our home on this late-winter day in Austin. The memory came alive for me today.
Then I thought, “Mother and Daddy almost always had some of the special treats that Nolen Robert and I asked for.” Yep, sick privileges for family members is a good household policy anywhere it’s feasible, not just a good farmhouse policy from decades ago, far away from today’s often rushed routines.