Something was wrong.
It was the winter of 1985-’86, and I was really sick. Like, REALLY sick. I missed weeks and weeks of school, made numerous trips to different doctors and specialists, and filled countess tubes of blood for testing.
What was the diagnosis? There wasn’t one. We still don’t know what was going on.
I had stomach problems, chills, sinus issues, and went through a period of not having much strength to speak of. At one point the old-school family doctor we had came out to my parents’ car to treat me. With the benefit of hindsight, I also clearly went into a depression as the situation stretched on.
Anyway, at one point I was sent to an allergy specialist in South Burlington, VT, and he decided to do a series of scratch tests on my back. I had to lay on my stomach on the exam table, with drops of various allergens scratched into my skin. As it turned out, I was allergic to many of the allergens placed on me, including horses, cigarette smoke, and goldenrod.
Due to the allergic reaction, my back itched like crazy. I couldn’t scratch, though, which was a real challenge. My mother offered to distract me by reading to me. Unfortunately, the only book in the room was The Berenstain Bears and the Messy Room.
I was 12 years old at the time, and there was no way I was going to be read a little kids book by my mom. It didn’t matter that my back itched or that I was sick or that I was on the verge of tears.
Plus, I couldn’t stand – and still can’t – the Berenstain Bears. What a bunch of boring, self-righteous, and lame characters. When he wants to be bored, Babar the Elephant reads about the Berenstain Bears.
Eventually, my inability to tolerate the itching outweighed my loathing of the whole storybook bear situation, and I asked Ma to read the book to me.
She must have read it through three or four times, and it worked.
The stinging was still doing is thing, I still didn’t know what was wrong with me, and tears still stung the corners of my eyes. But I was only partially there. I was also with those two messy cubs and their overbearing, preachy parents.
And then the specialist was back, and it was over. I still had weeks of not being in school, struggling to keep up with my work from home, going through each day not knowing what my body was doing to me or why. But that uncomfortable test was done, thanks to my mother and a book I didn’t particularly care for.
In the years and decades since then, I’ve been in Ma’s position, reading books to others to provide comfort.
Whether it was my own children when they didn’t feel well or autistic clients who savored the same tales repeated again and again, even reading aloud to myself to calm my nerves during particularly difficult adult times.
There’s comfort to be found in books, and I’m grateful for that. I’m even grateful – grudgingly so – to the Berenstain family.