When I was little, I got frequent ear infections — bad ones that spiked a fever of 102 degrees and caused the left side of my head to pulse and throb. Now, when the temperature outside drops lower than 50 degrees, I stuff cotton balls in my ears to quell what still hurts, more than 40 years later.
Back then, my mom dripped sweet oil into my ears and held warm, damp rags to the side of my face at night. When I stopped eating — chewing made the throbbing worse — she heated Campbell’s tomato on the stove and crumbled saltines into the bowl and sat on the edge of the bed until I got some soup in me.
Before I went to sleep, my dad, who shied away from sickness and deferred to my mom to make things better, would come into my room to check on me. Always, he carried a plate of chocolate-covered marshmallow cookies with a graham-cracker base — they were called Pinwheels — and the two of us ate them together.
The only time I ever had those cookies was when I was sick, and I think my dad bought them because they reminded him of when he was a boy in the 1940s, horribly sick with rheumatic fever. For months — my dad missed an entire year of school — he was too weak to eat, and my grandmother was beside herself with worry. Desperate for anything that would entice him to eat, she brought home a box of Mallo Cups, a chocolate-and-marshmallow candy that my great-uncle sold in his pharmacy in Ramseur.
The sweetness was the only thing that tasted good to my dad — and somehow it seemed to help pull him through the worst of his illness.
From then on, my dad took every opportunity to engage his sweet tooth, and by the time I came along, chocolate candies and cookies were as ingrained in my childhood as Polaroid cameras and vinyl LPs.
My dad kept bowls of Hershey’s kisses on the coffee table in the den and carried fistfuls of Tootsie Rolls in his jacket pocket. Boxes of Brach’s chocolate-covered cherries and Russell Stover coconut clusters stayed stacked on the corner of the kitchen table. He loved Oreos and Mounds bars, and nothing made him happier than a sleeve of Chips Ahoy and a glass of milk on a Sunday night.
Man. I sure do miss seeing that.
A few weeks ago, I caught my first cold of the season, a doozy. I crawled into bed and stayed there for two days, and my mom, who will always worry about me, no matter how old I get, came to my house and let herself in.
I stayed in bed, but I could hear her in the kitchen, wiping down the counters, changing out a trash bag, straightening things. She left without disturbing me, but when I got up that evening to make myself some soup, I nearly cried. On the counter, she’d left a couple of cans of Campbell’s tomato soup, a bottle of Tylenol, two bottles of ginger ale.
And a package of Pinwheels.
I didn’t even have to eat one to feel better.