When I was a kid, I was afflicted with annoying hay fever. I would suffer from the first thaw of spring to the first frost of autumn. My eyes would be itchy and red, and under my eyes would swell to almost double the size. My throat would get hoarse and I wouldn’t be able to talk sometimes, and I was a heartbeat away from developing the asthma that kicks in when I am run down.
The only over the counter medication of the day was Allerest, and my mother bought it in 100 tab jars. I can still see in my mind’s eye the tall jar of blue pills sitting in the medicine cabinet, next to the Alka Seltzer and Head & Shoulders shampoo.
It usually lasted about 4 hours, evidence of its effectiveness wearing off shortly before the fourth hour. An alarm clock was set so that I would wake up at 5:30 a.m. to take the first pill, and I was given a baggie with 2 more to take to school with me.
Although the clock was set for 5:30 a.m., it really wasn’t needed. My father was already up, having awakened at 4:00 a.m. to get ready for work. He would get up and cook the two soft boiled eggs and toast, the same breakfast he ate every day until the day he died at 73 years old. He put on his suit and always made sure he had a white handkerchief in his back pocket – and an extra one for me. White and folded in fours, it was part of his outfit every day.
“Here kid, take this” he’d say and I grab it as I rushed to the bathroom to blow my nose. Boxes of tissues were worthless and toilet paper was a waste of money; I went through them both way too fast. A cloth hanky was what I needed. He called it ‘sharing family germs.’
I had always wished that I had dainty, girly type hankies, and certainly not a man’s handkerchief.
One of my chores when I was a preteen was to iron those damn handkerchiefs. Bingo Mary would supervise.
“You missed a spot” she’d point out, if I didn’t iron straight to the corner of the cloth.
That was me – always taking the shortest route.
“What’s the difference?” I’d argue, “I’m only going to sneeze into it! Then I’m going to stuff it like this”, and I’d pick one up and stuff it into my size A bra.
I didn’t develop womanly curves until I was much, much older.
I stood there with one mutant breast pushing out under my sweat shirt.
She’d just look at my mother choking on her Pepsi.
Bingo Mary would just shake her head and go over to the sink to fill up the teakettle with water.
“Heaven help her, Patsy”, she’s announce with a touch of a grin, Irish brogue intact.
“She’s a loony one, she is.”
I never did get those dainty girly type hankies. I carried those thick white cotton handkerchiefs everywhere with me. It never occurred to me to just go out and buy my own. By that time, they had become part of my outfit too, just like they had become my Dad’s. When he died, I snuck one from his bureau draw. If I put my nose into it, I can still smell his aftershave.
Nowadays my husband and I both load up on Benadryl, and I always make sure there’s a stash of white cloth handkerchiefs in full supply folded in his dresser drawers.
No words are needed if one of us starts sneezing and we don’t have one close by.
Hey, we’re married. Family germs.