In my family, you had to be actually sick to stay home from school.
That guy on “House M.D.” who solves the medical mysteries—he had nothing on my mom, who could not be fooled.
If you qualified for a sick day under her thorough questioning, first of all, you were on the couch. The living room became the infirmary.
Second, out came the Robitussin cough syrup, the Vicks Vape-O-Rub and the ginger ale.
I don’t think Robitussin had any proven medical benefits, but it tasted so bad that you were going to rise like Lazarus just so you could stop taking it. It was like gasoline with alleged cherry flavoring—except the weirdo who invented the flavoring obviously never tasted an actual cherry.
I’d have rather eaten the Vicks, and truth be told, I’m surprised I didn’t.
Despite coming in tiny jars, we were NEVER out of Vicks, and my mom slathered that on our necks and chests, dabbed some under our stuffy noses—and, if necessary, there was the nuclear option. Let me explain.
This may have been an Italian thing, because the only people I’ve ever had tell me they went through it too were all Italians. Italians revere Vicks-Vape-O-Rub.
If you were really illin’, they’d sit you over a bowl or pan of boiling hot water, into which they plunged gobs of Vape-O-Rub. You had to lean over the water and deep-breathe the vapors, and just when you thought you couldn’t take it any more, they threw a towel over your head to trap those vapors right into your schnozz.
Talk about having a moment of clarity. You could breathe through your nose, mouth, eyeballs and every pore. I don’t know if it’s still recommended, but I still use it when needed. Or just to punish myself for something.
At this point, you’re home, you’ve had Robitussin spoonfuls, you’ve confessed to some plane hijackings, thanks to the Vicks waterboarding, and you’re sipping room temperature ginger ale.
Now you ask if you can watch TV.
“Only a little, and nothing crazy” was the response. These were the ’70s. Daytime TV. There wasn’t anything “crazy”. That came in the ’80s.
But, for us, there was “The Price is Right” on Channel 7.
I realized when the news of Bob Barker’s passing broke how closely-tied he was in my memory to school sick days. After all, when would a kid ever see daytime game shows? Not in the summer or Christmas break, we were out the door. It had to be sick days.
Watching overcaffeinated people guess the price of toasters, stereos and Dodge Darts seemed oddly comforting.
And Bob was good, solid company. “Nothing crazy”. Seemed like he was already a nice old man even then.
As a kid, I thought he and other game show hosts actually knew all the answers and prices and stuff. I marveled at how he could memorize all that when he went shopping.
Of course, he probably didn’t know squat about Vicks Vape-O-Rub.