When LaVeta sick-walks, it's a cold day in hell

ILLUSTRATION: RICHARD HARRINGTON
ILLUSTRATION: RICHARD HARRINGTON
Posted: June 04, 2013

FOR MOST people, the common cold is no big deal. As long as you have the wherewithal to buy some cough medicine, you can muddle through, knowing that in a week or so you'll get better.

Not my wife. When LaVeta gets a cold, the Jones household enters into a bad episode of "The Twilight Zone," complete with Rod Serling walking out of our kitchen.

"LaVeta has a cold," he'll say with his lip curled tightly over his teeth. "That means Solomon is about to experience a viral apocalypse. It's not a biblical plague, but it might as well be, because each time LaVeta coughs, she'll act as if she's going to die. But don't worry. The sniffles are only fatal in . . . 'The Twilight Zone.' "

Unfortunately, Rod only appears in my imagination. But this isn't about Rod. It's about LaVeta, and the fact that her colds are invariably accompanied by more drama than Kerry Washington's "Scandal."

The theatrics begin with LaVeta's special brand of coughing, which I am convinced is choreographed, because she coughs in sets of three, and three is a nice round number. The coughing is accompanied by a hunched, lumbering walk that's best described as Fred Sanford meets Grandma Dynamite. I call it the "sick walk."

If the sick walk doesn't produce the required level of sympathy, LaVeta is not above shivering dramatically. Nor is she shy about blowing her nose 30 times a minute. And if the shaking and nose-blowing don't make me get up and play nursemaid quickly enough, there's always the outfit.

That's right, my wife has "sick clothes."

This theatrical getup consists of old pajamas, a head scarf and a Mr. Rogers sweater that has lint balls older than our children. When you combine the condition of her "sick clothes" with the coughing and nose-blowing, you can measure the extent of her illness using a formula I like to call "The Misery Quotient."

What is the Misery Quotient, you ask? Well, if you multiply the number of coughs by her tissue use, divide that total by the age of her pajamas, and add that to the number of lint balls on her sweater, you can usually tell how many times she'll try to make me feel guilty about her sickness.

The guilt normally starts about an hour into her illness with a question like, "I take care of everyone else when they're sick, but who's going to take care of me?"

The job used to belong to my mother-in-law, who was such a good and loving nurse that she provided LaVeta with a sick bell to ring so she wouldn't have to yell down the stairs.

Me? I can't do the bell. Not that it matters.

When my wife starts saying stuff like, "Who'll take care of me?" I know what it means. It means I have to get cough medicine, make dinner, wash dishes or fetch tissues. Refusal to do any of the above can lead to dire consequences, such as the dreaded argument trump card. That card, according to the marriage rule book that is apparently distributed to every wife, can be played at any time.

Here's how it works. I ask for something. LaVeta looks at me like I've lost my mind. Then she pulls out the argument trump card and slams it on the table with a statement like, "Do you remember back in 2013 when I was sick and you didn't drive 30 miles to get me that liniment Aunt Suzy said would cure me?"

"You had a cold, LaVeta. There is no cure. Besides, we're 75 years old now. Let it go."

At which point she pulls out the marriage rule book and cites Section 5B, subsection 10, paragraph 15, which gives the wife the irrevocable right to bring up anything at any time.

Game. Set. Match.

Fortunately, it may not have to come to that, because while LaVeta is still being dramatic about her latest illness, I think I've discovered a cure. It's radical and experimental, but if it works consistently, I may be able to market it worldwide. I might even be able to package it in a mobile app.

What is it? Why, it's a song of course. Actually, it's a whole collection of songs - Negro spirituals, to be exact.

Apparently if I sing old church songs in the voice of 93-year-old Sister Suzy Mae Jenkins, LaVeta will stop hunching, coughing and nose-blowing just long enough to crack a smile.

So "Wade in the Water" and "Go Tell it on the Mountain." I've finally found a sweet chariot to get me out of "The Twilight Zone," and it's comin' for to carry me home.


Solomon Jones is the author of 10 books, including his latest novel, The Dead Man's Wife (Minotaur Books), and the humor collection Daddy's Home: A Memoir of Fatherhood and Laughter. The married father of three has been featured on NPR and CNN, and has written on parenting for Essence and other publications. He created the literacy program Words on the Street. His column appears Tuesdays. More at Solomonjones.com.

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