Wednesday, April 10, 2013
I is for INFLUENZA to the Rescue!
My first memories are in Mobile, Alabama, when I was about four years old. I have definite pictures in my mind of my play closet, a cornucopia-shaped room where my few toys were housed. I know I had dolls, but I also remember trucks and cars. My best friend was Leroy, and he liked to tear up toys, especially mine, and I let him because he’d stay longer to play if he could pull the head off my doll or do some other destructive thing. These memories are indelible in my memory, but what I remember best about living in our little apartment is having scarlet fever and being quarantined for what seemed like weeks. It was probably for only a few days, but I have recollections of being really sick.
Scarlet fever was the beginning of my puny childhood. I guess I was sick off and on a lot, even having chicken pox, measles, and mumps practically back to back. I was a tall, skinny weakling. But then my mother decided that if I took vitamins, I’d probably be much better off physically. They’d make me eat more and put some meat on my bones. Well, she was right. I developed a voracious appetite and started putting on the pounds. I got fatter and fatter in first and second grade, and by fourth grade, I was hearing such things as, “Fatty, fatty, two by four. Can’t get through the kitchen door!” I cried and cried and kept on eating. I’d go home in the afternoon, head for the refrigerator, and eat such things as wieners and my favorite sandwich—mayonnaise and sugar—but not at the same time. My mother would shame me, but I’d just eat and eat and whine because the boys called me “Fatso.”
When my mother and I went downtown in New Orleans to shop and to eat at Morrison’s Cafeteria, she’d poke me with her elbow when a fat lady got on the streetcar and say, “You see that lady. That’s just what you’re going to look like if you don’t stop eating so much.” Her comment would make me sad, but as soon as we got to the line at the cafeteria, I’d load up my tray with stuffed crab, fried potatoes, and apple pie with ice cream. Then when we left, I’d insist that we both weigh on the scale at the door (don’t ask me why a cafeteria would have scales). When it was apparent that I out-weighed her, I’d cry again.
Throughout my elementary school years, I was the tallest and fattest girl in my classes; however, I still insisted on eating. I wasn’t what you’d call obese, but I surely was overweight!
Then came junior high school. I remember being sorry that I was bigger than others, but I didn’t think about dieting. In fact, I don’t think in 1952 that any young people even thought about dieting. My weight was just about to change, though, in spite of not dieting.
Early in 1953, influenza struck our neighborhood. Many children, including me, came down with it. My flu lasted for about two weeks. During that time, I ran a high fever and could keep down only dry toast and hot tea. I was so weak that I couldn’t even walk to the bathroom by myself. But gradually, I got stronger and finally could get out of bed with no help.
When I went to bed, I was a roly poly child; when I finally could stand up by myself, I was a svelte young girl. I had lost so much weight that I actually had a waistline! My mother was so amazed at the transformation that she bought me new clothes, the best article being a wide, stretchy belt. I’d put it on and preen in the mirror, turning from side to side, so happy with the new me. Even though I’d been very, very sick, I didn’t care, and I knew for sure that influenza had rescued me from an adolescence of hearing “Fatty, fatty, two by four!” and lots of misery. I’ve never forgotten those pre-flu days, and I’ve never let myself get back to being called “Fatso.”
Check out the middle photo and the bathing beauty!