Christmas Quarantine

Averyell A. Kessler

Call it what you wish, a lock down is a synonym for quarantine. No use dancing around it. It’s separation, isolation, a lonely sheep cordoned off in a faraway pen. It’s heartbreaking and it hurts. The word quarantine has been around a long time and carries recollections of ancient plagues, polio, and Spanish flu. Lock down seems kinder and has been approved by the speech  police. So much for word choice.

During my second-grade year at Power School, I dealt with it for the first time. One by one, my classmates were quarantined at home with raging measles, the first of three common childhood diseases most of us caught, endured, and beat. Chicken pox and mumps loomed in the future. Measles tackled me the day before school let out for Christmas vacation. Double bad luck. Two weeks of fun and frivolity evolved into an itchy red rash, runny eyes, and sensitivity to light. Ouch! Dr. Ward said it would go away in a few weeks. Mama fortified herself for an unexpected yuletide battle and said I’d have to tough it out in a dim bedroom and drop seat pajamas ( with footies too ).  Luckily, she and Daddy were measle survivors, but no one else was allowed in the house in case I was contagious. I piled into bed and surrounded myself with a multitude of stuffed animals, a stack of  Little Lulu comic books, and a large wooden puzzle of the United States. When I realized the severity of my quarantine, I panicked. Christmas was coming in less than a week. Was Santa Claus also barred from sliding down our chimney on Christmas eve? Mama said no, but I wondered. Surely, Santa was immune from all bad things, including measles. But perhaps his reindeer wouldn’t chance a risky stop. The consequences were frightening, especially since I was hoping for a blue Schwinn Starlet bike with a white seat, shiny silver handlebars and a small headlight on top. Sadly, I had more red spots than Howdy Doody had freckles, and my worries grew like weeds in a watermelon patch.

As time passed, I tried bargaining.

With God: If you make my measles disappear, I’ll memorize another bible verse all on my own. Maybe more.

With Mama: I won’t ask for a single thing if you let me go with you to Kennington’s toy department.

With Daddy: Let me use your razor and maybe I can scrape off some of the spots.

With myself: If I eat all my eat carrots, the red spots on my face will vanish during the night.

Nothing worked. There was no escape.  Measles and I were partners in suffering, until the loathsome disease raised its swamy hands and fled.   

My parents tried to keep things merry. Mama and I sang “All I want for Christmas is my Two Front Teeth.”  We watched Queen for a Day and played Gene Autry  78’s on a Philco table model record player in the living room. We lit tiny candles on a brass angle carousel and clapped when it spun. Daddy brought home new comic books and bags of Christmas ribbon candy and peppermint sticks. Still I pictured myself as a captive in a quiz show isolation booth.

When Christmas Eve arrived, I still worried about Santa. I was tired and itchy, but I hung my stocking anyway. When Mama issued her traditional warning, “If you don’t go to sleep, Santa won’t come” I gave up and crawled in bed – yet again. What happened next has remained in my memory for many years.

I woke at midnight. My room, as well as the entire house, was in deep darkness, but outside the moon was a shining sparkler, spreading soft, silvery light across our backyard. I sat up and wiped my eyes.  From my bedroom window, everything seemed as clear as day, a tall oak tree stretching its limbs to the sky, the row of neat boxwoods acting as a back fence, even Skipper settled for the night in his doghouse. Then, an unexpected sight. Perched high atop the house behind ours, I saw the outline of a sleigh. Reindeer too, pawing at the frosty rooftop, shaking their heads, and blowing out puffs of hot breath.  I couldn’t see clearly because of drifting clouds and a web of shadows, but what else could it be? There was no sign of Santa, but my eight-year-old brain knew he was inside, placing toys under our neighbor’s tree. Surely, he’d emerge from the chimney and visit my house next. I remembered Mama’s warning and dove under the covers so Santa wouldn’t know I was awake. Morning was still days away; but for tonight, the quarantine had melted and Santa was on the way.

On that long-ago Christmas Eve, Santa’s sleigh was an obvious creation of my unrestrained excitement, childlike trust and perhaps a dash of fever. Who knows?  But I saw him and I remember.  Happily, logic and Santa have nothing in common. His sleigh assured me that no matter what happens in life, some things don’t change. They never will. Even when quarantine, disease, and fear seem to have won the race, they have not and never will.  Even for a child with red spots.

 In Mr. Dickens classic, A Christmas Carol, he shares a timely remedy for this bah humbug year. “There is nothing in the world so contagious as laughter and good humor.” I welcome his contagion with a hardy handshake. The future lies in the Creators’ hands, just where I want it to be. God bless us every one!

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