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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Somersaults In the Spring

When I was almost nine, I came home for lunch on a Fall day and crawled into my bed.

My Mom came into my room, "Why are you in bed?"

"I don't feel good."

She put her hand on my forehead, "You're very warm." I didn't leave my bed again until the following Spring.  I had rheumatic fever.

Some nights I would dream of a thick pot of something that looked like Cream of Wheat. A big wooden spoon stirred it around and around.  Then I would wake up, and my Daddy would be sitting by my bed, so I knew the fever was back again.

It's hard for a nine-year-old to stay in bed. I wanted desperately to get up. Sometimes, when my Mom would take my temperature, I would put the blanket over my head so I could shake the thermometer down, hoping I could make it be normal. She never said anything, just suppressed a smile, and made me stop burrowing in the bed clothes until she was satisfied she had an accurate reading. My Mom did  something for me, for which I am forever grateful. She lugged home shopping bags full of books from the library. That's when I learned to love to read. There was no television in our house then, and books were my only way to leave the bed I was sentenced to occupy.

Every other day Dr. Gibbs would come to our house to check on me. "How do you feel?"

"All right. Can I get up now?"

He would shake his head, "Turn over." I had to lay on my stomach, pull my pajama bottoms down and he would give me a shot of penicillin. He was a rumpled  sort of man,  his clothing and his face looked like they needed to be ironed. His voice was gruff, but I was never afraid of him. He told me once that if I did a somersault every day for the rest of my life, I would  be healthy. I thought it would be wonderful to do a somersault on the grass outside our house. I lived in a twin bed, so there was little room to practice a somersault.  I determined that I would start somersaulting as soon as I was free.

Every morning my Daddy would make scrambled eggs for me. I had to eat in bed on a little tray table. Whenever I  couldn't finish my breakfast, I would dump the left-overs in a box of toys that was underneath the skirted dressing table next to my bed. One night I heard a scratching under the dressing table and I screamed.

Daddy came running, "Sharon, what's wrong?"

I could hardly speak, I was so frightened. I was curled up at the foot of my bed as far as I could get from the scratching under the dressing table. "Daddy..." I pointed wordlessly.  He found my stash of left over eggs and a small mouse in the box. He didn't say anything, but I felt terrible.

Finally, one day in May, on my ninth birthday, my Daddy said he had a surprise. Mom brought in a new dress and laid in on my bed, and took out some underwear and socks from my drawer. She helped me dress. My shoes no longer fit and she slid my slippers on my feet and then she stood and held out her hand. I felt anxious, I didn't know what was happening. Mom lead me out the back door where Daddy was standing beside a metal lawn chair. It had an arched red seat and back and white arms and legs.

"You can sit out here in the sun for an hour every day," Mom said.

"But you have to stay in the chair," Daddy added.

I just looked at the green grass, thinking of how I would somersault everyday for the rest of my life.

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