|1962: Sage is the cute guy on the left.|
It was the summer of hell for my mother. I barely remember it and I’m not sure I have all the details exactly right. I know some of my memories are from what my mother later told me, but there are a few snippets that I recall. I was five years old. My brother would have turned four that July and in August, my sister would have turned three. My father was away, in Baltimore, training for a new job that would eventually take us away from our family’s ancestral lands in the Sandhills of North Carolina. We were living between Pinehurst and Carthage, next to my great-grandparents, on land that had been settled my umpteenth great-grandfather McKenzie over 200 years earlier. Dad would come home occasionally on the train, and we’d pick him up at the station in Southern Pines. On Sunday night, we’d take him back to the station and he’d get a sleeper and ride through the night, getting back to Baltimore in time for work the next morning. But mostly, Dad wasn’t home that summer. Mom was alone (we’ll she also had her grandmother, but she was also taking care of her along with the three children she had to deal with. And then pestilence struck.
I don’t remember who got sick first, but before the summer was out all three of us would have a bout of the chicken pox, the measles and the mumps. I especially remember my brother with the mumps. My sister and I only had them on one side, but the glands on both sides of my brother were inflamed and for a while he walked around looking like someone had over-inflated his head. With us all sick, we had to find ways to occupy ourselves as we were essentially quarantined. One day, I found several sticks of lipstick that my mother had thrown out. Even then I was into recycling and suggested to my siblings that we all become Indians. While my mother was cooking, the three of us drew designs on our faces, using the lipstick as war paint. Lightning bolts ran down our cheeks and wavy lines went across our foreheads. We were proud of our new status as we danced around in the backyard, ready to go on the warpath. When Mom looked out from the kitchen window, she wasn’t amused. She immediately ran out, all upset that we’d gotten into her make-up. “Don’t worry, Mom,” I assured her, “this is stuff you’ve thrown away.” A look of horror came over her face as she explained why those tubes of lipstick were in the trash. She’d accidently knocked them into the toilet bowl. At that point, we too were horrified and my mother immediately marched us into the bathroom and into the tub where we were properly disinfected.
“Cleanliness is godliness,” my mother believed. She always packed Lysol on trips and wouldn’t allow us to use the hotel bathroom until after she disinfected everything. She was big on disinfecting. But then, she was just trying to keep her family safe. Happy Mother's Day, Mom! I know you no longer talk on the phone, and don't recognize us, but you raised us well.