BFtP — Health Care

Today’s, Blast From the Past, brought to you by: The Grownups Wanted Us Dead

Health Care

Melmac Dinnerware: plastic, practically indestructable. A must for every modern home circa 1950's.

I loved meals at the Jay home.They had gourmet food. If I went home for lunch I’d be given a bologna sandwich, a piece of fruit and a glass of milk – boring. At the Jay home lunch was usually peanut butter and jelly in a rolled cold pancake and a pint jar full of Kool-Aid. What more could a kid want?

Lunch was the safest meal to eat in the Jay home. We weren’t required to sit at the table. Sit down meals were dangerous. Mrs. Jay was a wonderful woman, but she still wanted us dead and she always tried to kill us as we left the dining room .

The dining room table at the Jay house was huge. It easily sat the twelve Jay kids, their parents and two or three neighborhood kids. Mr. And Mrs. Jay served the meal together from the head of the table. A prayer preceded the meal, but what proceeded the meal was not holy.

Children were dismissed one at a time from the Jay table. Mr. Jay always started at the top left and called each child away one by one. When dismissed every child, Jay or not, was required to gather plate, utensils and cup and carry them to the kitchen where Loving, the eldest Jay daughter, stood in front of the sink and supervised clean up. We each washed, dried and put away our own eating implements. We tended to dawdle over the washing. The Jay’s probably had the cleanest plates and silverware in town. I can’t tell you how many times I tried to scrub the flowers off the Melmac. Ultimately, with sweet sympathy, Loving would shoo us away from the sink – and into the clutches of Mrs. Jay.

Despite the fancy Melmac dishes, Mrs. Jay was not a modern woman. She lived in a six bedroom, one bathroom house with thirteen other people. The heat came from a wood stove. The air conditioning came from children swinging doors on their way in and out of the house. The washing machine was electric, but it still had a wringer for squeezing water from cloth. The clothes dried on five ten-foot lines out back.

Nothing new-fangled for Mrs. Jay; and that included multivitamins. She had a pill for every letter of the alphabet and then some. Each of those pills had it’s own unique – and disgusting – flavor. No fancy time delay coatings back then. No “easy swallow” coatings, either. We just had to choke them down – all twenty-eight of them – before we were allowed to leave the room.

Mrs. Jay never bought the argument that I wasn’t her kid and she shouldn’t waste the vitamins on me. Perhaps it was because I was at her breakfast table so often that she really couldn’t tell me from her own kids. Or maybe it was because she knew the vitamins weren’t what I was really trying to escape.

The woman was diabolically patient. No matter how long we look to swallow the pills, no matter how many sips of water we took, or how many gagging sounds we made, nobody left the dining room without the entire “health” regimen. One could not even complain of being too full from the pancakes, vitamins and water. She would just motion to a ladder-back chair and suggest rest until the complainant found room within for the last two daily doses of death.

Those last two doses were liquid. Each child would stand quaking in fear as Mrs. Jay measured them out. Well, one of us didn’t. Stinky Jay loved those last two doses. She always begged for more. I frequently suggested that she didn’t need any, but I was only eight. Nobody listened to me.

(You know, in the process of writing this it just came to me that Mrs. Jay measured those doses for each of us using the same cup, and the same spoon. That means, in those times I was at the back of the line, the spoon jammed into my mouth had already been forcibly poked into at least twelve other people. That’s proof she was not doctoring us to keep us healthy! Now I would know how to use that argument to my advantage, but then, when we all drank from the same bottle of pop, went to the restroom together, and took turns chewing the same lump of gum it probably wouldn’t have made much of an impression.)

Have you noticed I am still stalling the taking of those last two doses? Even now, forty some years later, just the thought of them makes me shudder. I remember all too well standing in front of Mrs. Jay trembling as she poured and measured. First she prepared a small plastic cup. The two ounces of liquid within resembled mud. Then she would hold a spoon full of amber liquid up and smiling – smiling! – say, “Open.”

It was a truly weird phenomenon, but as my mouth would open, my eyes would squeeze closed. No matter how I tried, I could not open them both at once. If my eyes were on the spoon, my mouth remained firmly closed. I was not brave enough to look death – or cod liver oil — in the face.

When administering the cod liver oil, Mrs. Jay would jam the spoon to the back of her victim’s throat and pour the vile substance down. She claimed that was to prevent us from tasting it, however since the spoon lodged in said throat always induced gagging, her claim was suspect.

As the final stroke, with her victim gasping and gagging in front of her, Mrs. Jay would press the small vial of brown liquid into the child’s hand and urge, “Drink! Drink!” No matter how often this happened the victim would comply. The urgent need to cleanse the cod liver oil from the palate would lead the him or her to knock back that shot of prune juice anticipating relief. Instead, the torture compounded. The choking, earthy sweetness of the prune juice would mingle with the fishy sliminess of the cod liver oil, causing the victim to bolt for the bathroom and gargle with – whatever. One kid would be taking a swig from a bottle of Listerine; another would be swigging Aqua Velva. Neither astringent cut the cod liver oil very well, but both effectively numbed the taste buds long enough for the mouth to cleanse itself.

And even over the gargling Stinky could be heard from the dining room begging for more.