A Chicken Pox Christmas

The teeny needle left a tiny hole in my arm.

“There you go!” chirped the perky nurse who had administered the shot. “You don’t even need a Band-Aid!” Only after I’d left the doctor’s office did I realize that she hadn’t given me a lollipop even though I’d been incredibly brave.

I was told that the vaccination site might be tender for a few days. This was correct, especially if you define “tender” as “feels as though your biceps had been walloped by a speeding locomotive.”

I gladly endured it, though. Anything to avoid shingles.

One might normally be inclined to welcome a new roofing system for one’s abode. But the shingles I’m talking about are the kind that cause painful skin lesions that can last for weeks. People who have had shingles say that it feels like being bitten by a million fire ants while being dipped in highly acidic molten lava. Other than that, shingles are a walk in the park.

All I can say is, thanks a lot, chicken pox!

This isn’t the first yuletide when chicken pox was on my mind. My initial encounter with the chicken pox virus occurred when I was in first grade.

After a long autumnal slog of regimented first grade instruction – Numbers! Letters! How to launch a paper airplane without getting caught! – I was ready for the Christmas break. Imagine! Two whole weeks without being forced to think about such things as 2 + 2 = 4 and being told that the solution isn’t a crude drawing of a bunny rabbit, which was my go-to answer for anything that involved the Three R’s.

The first morning of Christmas break dawned cold and clear, a promising omen for our fortnight of freedom. But I felt tired and feverish and achy. I chalked these symptoms up to my lofty expectations for our time off and my sky-high anticipation regarding a visit from Santa.

Then I noticed some little red spots on my arms. I hid them under my sleeves, hoping that they would go away. They instead grew larger and spread, eventually populating every square inch of skin and scalp.

Based on the vast trove of medical knowledge I had acquired during my six years of life I knew there was but one possible diagnosis: I was dying. Despite my best efforts, I must have inadvertently been exposed to girl cooties at school.

I tried to conceal my tragic condition from our parents by staying in bed and under the blankets. This aroused their suspicion, as I was the kind of boy who normally ran around the house, ricocheting off the walls like the silver ball in a pinball machine.

I was ordered out of my hiding place. Upon seeing my rash, my parents decreed that I had chicken pox. I didn’t know what that might be, but I made a mental note to avoid the chicken coop from then on.

Several of my sisters were huddled close to our Ziegler oil-burning stove, the only source of heat in our drafty old farmhouse. The girls were also sporting raging red rashes. They must have been unsuccessful in their efforts to avoid boy cooties at school.

Snuggling up to the stove seemed like a wondrous idea, so I plopped down on the floor and began to jockey for a spot. It was not unlike a litter of baby pigs fighting for access to the comforting offices of the mother sow. 

My siblings and I remained miserable and achy for what seemed like eons. Then our rashes began to itch. We were warned not to scratch, but that was like telling someone not to think giraffe as an extremely long-necked spotted herbivore strolled by.

Tempers flared as our forced confinement wore on. People began to accuse one another of high crimes and misdemeanors. The most serious of these was “hogging all the fan,” meaning that the offender had claimed the spot directly in front of the oil burner’s blower and wouldn’t move. Lesser infractions included “He’s annoying me!” and “The stink from his feet would gag a skunk!”

Our rashes turned into blisters and the blisters broke. Scabs began to form and the impulse to scratch became irresistible. Getting caught in the act of scratching was yet another crime that would be swiftly reported to the authorities (our parents.) 

By the time Christmas arrived, I felt well enough to enjoy our family’s Christmas feast and spend several consecutive minutes away from the stove. Santa had snuck into the house and left presents for everyone. 

The new socks and underwear were certainly appreciated. But all I really wanted for Christmas was a bottle of calamine lotion.



Jerry’s book, Dear County Agent Guy, is available at workman.com/products/dear-county-agent-guy.

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