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Gripped by the Gripe
by Elizabeth Foust

Do you remember the days when no one had ever heard of a flu virus, and certainly not a type A, B, C or Swine? Everyone simply called it the GRIPE. It was something that went around every few years. Sometimes you caught it, sometimes not. If you had the GRIPE, no one ever panicked or considered you dangerous. Did the Center for Disease Control even exist back then?

Mothers had their own "disease control centers." They shuffled you off in the farthest possible bedroom for a week, kept your siblings away and started the standard GRIPE treatment. They knew it worked very well. Hadn't their Mothers and Grandmothers used it?

Mom would place her cool hand on your fevered brow. "Yes, you have a temperature all right. It feels like at least 102 degrees to me," she'd say.

You knew it was bad, since you felt oh soooo sick. Your eyeballs felt as if giant thumbs were pressing them through your skull. While she vigorously shook the thermometer, you waited expectantly, fearfully, wondering where exactly it would go. It was always an iffy proposition, depending on Mom's state of mind or whether she thought you were trustworthy enough not to bite it. The agony of suspense before she finally said "Open your mouth" probably increased many a child's symptoms.

After instructing you not to move or remove the thermometer, off she'd go to do some chores. When she'd finally remember, it would seem like she'd been gone for a week. By that time the metal tip would have permanently congealed under your tongue."Ahah! 102 on the nose" she'd say, removing it.

Next on the treatment regime came the hot tea mixed with honey and lemon to soothe your inflamed throat. Its effect was instantaneous and miraculous. Then came the dry toast with a dab of grape jelly. Ambrosia was never so sweet. . . or was it Mom's anxious hovering for you alone? If you held down the toast you were given a Bromine Quinine. That popular remedy was to remove the Malaria-like symptoms of the Gripe. They were commonly known as the "all over acheys." Can you remember those terrible pains? Everything hurt, even your breathe. It started with your eyebrows and traveled down your spine, engulfing every inch of you to your toes.

Lunch and supper always consisted of Campbell's Chicken Noodle Soup and Saltines. Wasn't that sinfully, salty synthesis the epitome of every cure-all known to mankind? How strange that the originator hasn't been given the Nobel Prize!

No congested child ever escaped bedtime without a thorough neck and chest rubbing with that all time favorite Vicks Vapor Rub. A soft piece of flannel was gently and firmly placed around the neck and chest, reminiscent of swaddling clothes. By that time, the comforting fumes which made everyone's eyes water, would start to do their magic work. Remember how relaxed you felt, almost as if you had been given a strong narcotic? You'd drift off to sleep in no time, safe and sound, wrapped and greased in your hypnotic little cocoon.

The best thing we had going for us in those days was that most mothers stayed home. That meant that if you groaned loud enough, no matter how busy she was, Mom would stop whatever she was doing and come running with much TLC. Maybe she'd rub your back or stroke and kiss your fevered brow. Whatever it was, you welcomed it and always felt better. After tucking you in again, you'd soon doze off, content that all was well.

Should your fever continue to rise or the congestion worsen, the doctor would be called and actually come to the house that day. Remember how important you felt as he made you stick out your tongue and take deep breathes as he listened to your chest. You never knew what his diagnosis was, but all those aahhhs and hhmmms were so comforting. Children in those days were never told anything that would upset them, because it was for their own good. "You'll have plenty to worry about when you grow up, " Mom would say.

I could hardly wait to grow up, whenever that was. I was missing out on all the good stuff.

Finally, after about a week, the fever, aches and pains would subside. I would be allowed to go downstairs and dine with the rest of the family without fear of contaminating them. Remember that first meal? It was heaven on earth, wasn't it? Real food! Mom would have made my favorite dessert. Dad would be especially attentive. Fathers in those days were not such pals as they are today. (You knew they loved you, but you did not expect them to get down and roll around on the floor with you.) My brother and sister and I would get through the whole meal without quarreling. Life just couldn't get any better than this.

Yessiree, there's no doubt about it. They just don't make the flu like they used to!


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