Monday, February 10, 2014

Meet The Measles

On February 9th, 1964, I was among the 4 billion, give or take, who watched The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show and felt the earth shifting.  Bobby Vinton, Ricky Nelson, Andy Williams,  and yes, Elvis Presley were going to have to step aside for at least a while.  

I was 12, about to turn 13 that summer, and a world that had seemed so bleak just months before, with the assassination of John F Kennedy, was about to start seeming hopeful again.  It's been said a thousand ways better than I can, but The Beatles were just what we needed at that time.  It's difficult to explain to those not yet alive just how it felt when John, Ringo, George and Paul threw the switch to light up our lives again.  

Two weeks and a day later, I put a smile on, along with a button-down Oxford shirt, khakis, and Jack Purcells and prepared to leave for another day of 7th grade, only to be met by mother at the door.  She wanted to know what I had done to my face in the time between finishing my sausage and hominy breakfast and brushing many of the same teeth I still use to eat sausage and hominy.

There were red spots all over my face that had just popped up.  The golden ticket - the measles!  I ran to change back into pjs and begin getting sick. These things must be handled just ever so.  I probably had more hominy for lunch and maybe some rhubarb.  The measles were gone in a few days.

Then, two weeks later, I was glad for any hope, because on that Sunday, March 1, 1964, I woke up up unable to move my arms and legs.  I had spiked a fever the night before and woke up all sweaty and having spasms.  Not good.  An ambulance took me to Church Home and Hospital down on Broadway (no hospitals in Towson then) and things began looking dire as doctor after doctor came in and presented their diagnoses.  Polio, encephalitis and epilepsy were leading the pack for most of the day as I lay in bed, my only company being the transistor radio that I took along on the ambulance ride downtown. I heard a lot of Beatles songs that day.

My parents were conferring with doctors most of the day, and so, were not around when a kindly old priest came in with oils and other impedimenta.  He talked to me in a very soothing manner about how there is a brighter world awaiting the righteous and how sometimes God calls us home before we would want to leave what we're doing here and how heaven is said to be a land with no illness, no pain, no suffering and somehow in the middle of this, it dawned on me that he was telling that the odds on me being around to watch "The Andy Griffith Show" at 9 the next night were not all that great.

"So, I've come to administer to you the last rites..."

I have relived this a million times in my mind and I always see myself as much pluckier than I really was when I said, "Father, I'm...I'm not Catholic."

And he put aside his oils and sacramental gear before I even had a chance to say penance for breaking my sister's baton ten years before (a transgression that still is discussed at family gatherings.)  And he said, "Son, it can't hurt."

I know it sounds like something out of a Dead End Kids movie, but it happened. As many of you know, I lived, and find myself now fifty years older and still penitent.

As all of you know, The Beatles went on to have a long and prosperous career. 

The doctors never found out what was wrong with me.  That May 3rd, I wound up in Mercy Hospital with the same symptoms. My radio came along again and I listened to the Orioles lose to the Indians, 3-0. There was still still no determination of the problem after another week in the hospital. But ever since, people have wondered just what is it about me.

But all those early Beatles songs bring me back to places I remember...

There are places I remember
All my life though some have changed
Some forever not for better
Some have gone and some remain
All these places have their moments
With lovers and friends I still can recall
Some are dead and some are living
In my life I've loved them all.

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