English: Thanksgiving Dinner, Falmouth, Maine,...

Thanksgiving Dinner, Falmouth, Maine, USA 2008 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Thanksgiving turkey is now mostly eaten–the remains becoming soup or turkey salad (with mayo), or sandwiches for the kids’ lunches.  (Some leftovers might even be put into the freezer for later…)  The festive food preparation, eating at the Turkey Day Table, the family conversations and discussions, football games and scores, and the trip home are fast becoming memories.  Another Thanksgiving….

My memories of Turkey Day Vacation of 1961 may be “outdone” by others’ recollections; but at age 20, I had a holiday vacation like no other since then.

College students home for holidays lose sleep, party hearty, visit relatives, stay out late, go places (like dances, movie theaters, or Black Friday shopping events with others in crowded places), and sometimes travel long distances to get to the traditional Turkey Day Feast (See Planes, Trains and Automobiles, the 1987 film written, produced, and directed by John Hughes).

An Illinois Central Railroad diesel locomotive...

An Illinois Central Railroad diesel locomotive on static display in Carbondale, Illinois. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For some, these activities weaken immune systems.

In 1961, to my Chicago home from school in Saint Louis: 300 miles.  Thanksgiving holiday: Wednesday to Sunday.  A round trip on the Illinois Central Railroad.

Now I cannot recall the specifics of my arrival home, the turkey dinner (November 23, 1961), the activities with friends and family–and how much sleep I did not get.  But pneumonia I did get somehow and somewhere.

 “Pneumonia is an infection that inflames the air sacs in one or both lungs causing cough … and difficulty breathing.  A variety of organisms, including bacteria, viruses and fungi, can cause pneumonia.  Pneumonia can range in seriousness from mild to life threatening … most serious for … people with underlying health problems or weakened immune systems.  Most people with pneumonia begin with cold and flu symptoms and then develop a high fever, chills, and cough…  Pneumonia usually starts … after having a cold or the flu.”

The Chicago weather that November ranged from a high of 55 to a cold 30 degrees.  Some nice days, some much colder.  Not much snow around, just crispy and cold at night.

My holiday ended Sunday night, the 26th, but not before I took out the dog.  I was in my shirtsleeves, I remember: no jacket, walking the dog in an open field, 39 degrees–colder in the wind near our place near O’Hare Field.  Walking into the warm house I got the chills.

“Off you go”–or something like that my dad said to me, as I boarded the Illinois Central late Sunday night.  (I took the Illinois Central, for its train routes allowed me to leave later from home and have more vacation time.)

I did not feel well; I had the chills.

The only seat I found was in a small compartment chair-like seat next to the door between train cars.

All night, as I tried to sleep, people would be opening and closing the door, letting in the cold air, letting the cold air blow on me.  No other place to move to.  I was getting cold and colder, despite being dressed in my heavy black wool overcoat.

At three o’clock on Monday morning, my friend met me at the train station.

Saint Louis RR Station

Not much sleep.  Didn’t want breakfast.  Into my dorm room bed I went.  No class attendance: I became feverish and delirious by suppertime.  By six, I was being driven to the hospital where I fainted in the X-ray room, as I remember.

xray-barnes-1951X-Ray Barnes Hospital 1951

(I have no remembrance of ever sitting in an ER.)

Admitted.  Put into bed.  A small bed–in the pediatric wing!  (The hospital census, I was later told, was high with few beds left.)

So my Thanksgiving vacation included a five-day stay in a hospital.  The latter required medications, rest, and more rest.  But did meet a young college student like me, also admitted to pediatrics.  Female.

When I returned to campus activities and classes, I found myself running on SLOW for a few months.  Yet, though I was later deemed “fully recovered” and released from a doctor’s care, my lungs were never “as good as new.”

That’s my storied Thanksgiving memory.  For now….

© James F. O’Neil  2013

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