Last week some women at the senior center were talking about sessions at their church, putting together Christmas packages for the deserving poor. I wondered how the deserving poor felt about that. And then I remembered when I was 13—so it would have been 1939 -- I was ordered flat on my back, not allowed to sit up, not allowed to leave the bed, for 12 months. (Scheuermann's disease, adolescent kyphosis, spinal deformity.)
In the hospital I must have been a charity patient, because I never heard any talk of the expense, and our family was suffering a really bad Great Depression. My home was more than 50 miles away, so I didn’t see my folks all that often and didn’t have other visitors.
For some reason I wasn’t allowed in a children’s ward. I had one of eight beds separated by curtains, in a room with windows only down at the far end, the kind of ward you see in old black and white movies, only gloomier. My parents bought me a headphone radio, but hospital rules allowed no radios on the wards, no exceptions, so they had to take it back home.
When Christmas came, I heard music for the first time in months, carolers out in the halls. And on my breakfast tray, a slim wrapped package from some organization or other. Somebody was thinking -- It was probably the only thing I could have kept in that place. A bracelet. White enameled links with alternating white and green stones. Probably cost half a dollar -- a quarter? -- in the five-and-ten. Something to look at. A bit of color.
It was the most wonderful gift I ever received.
p.s.: Don’t feel too sorry for me. I made friends with the Red Cross Grey Lady who wheeled the library cart. My father made a wooden rack that hung over my bed with elastic loops to hold an open book, and I read three books a day for 11 months. Then the doctor sent me home early with exercises and a back brace. I’ve had upper-back pain every day since, but fortunately I never knew, until I googled it recently, that what they’d been treating is also known as the Hunchback Disease.