When I was a kid, having your tonsils out was both the norm and the cool thing to do. I mean, come on — back then, going to the HOSPITAL and having an OPERATION was pretty danged cool. A lot of my friends had had theirs out. I was so jealous! They had something they could brag about. Kinda like the rich kids who skied — the ones who broke their arms or legs had the best bragging rights. Wow…you broke your leg skiing? WOW! Can I sign your cast?
Me, I had a pretty normal, boring life. I didn’t have any operations. I didn’t ski. I didn’t fly somewhere to visit my grandparents during spring break. I didn’t go to Dad’s one weekend and Mom’s the next. I didn’t have a cast that everyone could sign. So when I was a kid, I just knew that my life was nowhere near as exciting as the other kids’. They got Christmas presents at TWO households. They got to go skating and skiing and swimming and all of that. And they had their tonsils out.
For me, the closest I got was when I smashed my finger in the front door and the nail turned purple and it hurt a lot. Dad took me to Dr. Graisy, who heated a needle with a match and pierced my fingernail so the spurting blood would relieve the pressure. I hated that doctor. I hollered and cried and fought him, and he tried to smack me, and my Dad told him to leave me alone. Dad bought me a 7-up on the way home for being brave when the needle pierced my nail.
An older girl in my neighborhood — Kathy was her name — told me she’d had to get her ‘adenoids’ out. I didn’t even know what an adenoid was, but I could tell it had to be cool. Kathy was way cooler than the tonsillectomy veterans, because what she had removed was a mystery to everyone, not just me. I assumed that’s why she had such a nasal voice — even the word ‘adenoid’ itself sounds nasal when you say it. I never really liked Kathy because she wielded her adenoidectomy (is that even a word?) like a Coach bag — look, everyone, I have this and you don’t! So we neighborhood kids plugged our noses to imitate how she talked, saying, “My name is Kathy, and I had my A-DEN-OIDS out!”
My next-older sister had her tonsils out. She had been sick for awhile, and the doctor said it was tonsillitis and it was bad. I remember Mom and Dad getting a flashlight and looking down her throat. She spent the night at the hospital. I was so jealous…you have no idea how far my nose was out of joint. She got all the attention, and she got milkshakes.
When we came to take her home, she played it up pretty well…at least, that’s how I saw it. Dad even stopped for ice cream and 7-up for her on the way home. Back then, those were pretty special treats. I recall that Dad let me have a bottle of pop, too, even though my tonsils were intact. When we got home, I was still pretty pouty watching my sister get fussed over. (I was a champion pouter in those days, being the baby of the family and all.)
A little while later, Dad called me over to where he sat in his big chair and had me climb up on his lap. I always liked sitting with him, because he always seemed to have some kind of treat hidden in his shirt. I patted his pockets, feeling for a butterscotch candy or a piece of “lickernish.” I felt something in his shirt, but it wasn’t in his pocket. I patted around the lump above his belly, trying to figure it out.
I gave him a sideways look. “What’s in your shirt, Daddy?” as he pretended not to know what I was talking about. He reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out one of his ever-present mechanical pencils, offering it up. “No, not the pencil! What’s in here?” I said, grabbing hold of the lumpy thing under the buttons of his shirt.
“Oh, for the love of Pete!” he said, acting surprised. “I don’t know! You’d better take a look, hadn’t you?” So I fumbled with the middle buttons; when I got them undone, I spied a paper sack, a bit bigger than the penny-candy sacks we used to get at Esser’s, the little corner store. “I wonder what’s in there?” Daddy said. “Can I open it?” I asked eagerly. “If you think you can,” he smiled.
Inside that paper sack was a puppet — a marionette, to be exact. For me! She was a simple wooden doll in a pink skirt with painted-on yellow shoes and black hair; strings joined her moveable head, hands and feet to the handle. The handle was simply two pieces of wood that crossed at right angles, and you held it horizontally above the puppet. I was so excited!! I had never had a marionette, so Daddy showed me how to do it. It was really fun! I forgot all about being jealous and pouty.
My sister got a marionette, too; hers was a man dressed in black. After she felt better from her operation, we played puppet show a lot. My sister always had new storylines for our dolls to act out.
I still have my tonsils, and I still have my marionette. Resplendent yet In her (dirty) pink skirt and (scuffed) yellow shoes, she now rests in a box in the garage. Even though the strings have long since rotted and she’s a little worse for wear, I can’t bear to get rid of her. In my litlte-girl memory, it was my Daddy’s way of comforting me when I felt very left out. It made me feel special, and it still does.