Christmas morning dawned clear and bright in my town in 1939. I was seven years old that year, an adventurous second-grader that had wished for a cowboy outfit from the Sears catalog, one complete with a gun belt hosting rows of silver bullets and two guns in their holsters, tied down at mid-thigh to facilitate quick draws, sheepskin chaps, a colorful bandana, genuine imitation leather cowboy boots and a genuine high-crowned western sombrero that would shield me from the heat of the western sun and serve as a tool to beat dust from my clothing after an arduous trail drive of cattle to the rail head for shipment to the hordes of people in Chicago longing for western beef and also serve as a drinking vessel for my horse as shown in Hollywood movies.
Evidently Santa was unaware of my wish, or else he mistakenly gave my cowboy outfit to some other kid. Instead I got a drum and a toy train and mumps. Yep, mumps—I awoke Christmas morning with a headache and two serious lumps, one behind each ear. I don’t remember going to a doctor for diagnosis and treatment recommendations. In those days mumps, measles, whooping cough, chicken pox and a host of other childhood diseases were diagnosed by elder family members, relatives, friends and neighbors. Given the fact that I was at one time or another afflicted with most of those conditions and survived, that system apparently worked, at least in my case.
I improvised with a pair of kitchen spoons, but the substitutes lacked any semblance of authenticity. When I wielded those spoons I neither felt like nor looked like Gene Krupa or Spike Jones—I felt like a dork and looked like a dork. Or perhaps I did look like Spike Jones—that’s Spike on the left, the one with the dorky hat.
Now on to my train and its deficits—it consisted of a really small locomotive with a coal tender, one passenger car, a little red caboose and a rather truncated circular track, one estimated to be no more than 18 inches in diameter. The locomotive was not powered by electricity, not the plug-in kind or the kind produced by dry-cell batteries—nope, not my train.
My train was a windup train—one held the locomotive in one hand and with one’s other hand wound up a steel spring that was inside with a key that projected from its side, similar to opening a can of sardines, then one placed it on the tracks and released it and clickety clack, clickety clack, until the spring wound down. Clickety clack is the sound that real trains made in those days as they traversed narrowly spaced rail joints,but my train never made that sound.
Nope, no clickety clacks for my train—the key was already wound tight and could not be budged. It arrived tight and remained in that condition as long as I had the train. I was reduced to pushing it along and vocally sounding the clickety clacks. Bummer!
Nowadays train rails run seamless for a mile or more—passengers still hear an occasional clickety but the clack is still a mile away. The rhythm is gone—rather than lulling one to sleep, the anticipation of the next clickety and clack denies fulfillment to passengers longing for and reaching for the arms of Morpheus—the unrhythmic sounds of modern rails actually prevent sleep. Note: Unrhythmic may not be a real word, but it looks good and sounds good so I’ll use it.
I spent the Christmas of 1939 incarcerated in my own home, playing a drum with two kitchen spoons and pushing a toy train around a small circular track, writhing in pain produced by an extreme case of double mumps—not really—I had no pain at all, just lumps, and they vanished a few days later.
In retrospect, I suppose I should feel blessed. While I was housebound with mumps—double mumps, so to speak—I heard a phrase several times, whispered between the adults in my family, something similar to this: I hope they don’t go down on him. It sounded so sinister that I also hoped that they would not go down on me—they didn’t. Fast forwarding to today’s medical terminology, I imagine that parents probably whisper to one another that they hope the mumps will not descend—sounds a bit better, right? Right? Right!
That’s my Christmas story and I’m sticking to it!