“Gifts of time and love are surely the basic ingredients of a truly merry Christmas.”
“All three of my kids are sick,” I heard my mom explain to Dr. Cunningham over the phone. Releasing the furrow between her brows, she sighed, “Thanks. So sorry to bother you on Christmas Eve. See you later.”
In those days, doctors made house calls and it wasn’t unusual for him to be called out at all hours. But on Christmas Eve? As children, we dreaded his visit, not knowing if we might need a shot. My mother, however, felt bad that we needed him when he could have been home with his family.
What disappointed us kids even more was that we wouldn’t get to go caroling, visiting relatives, eating all kinds of special Christmas treats, and going to church—all joy-filled traditions we usually observed the night before Christmas.
Surprisingly, however, that Christmas Eve turned out to be one of my most memorable, an evening touched by joy, despite not feeling the best.
I don’t remember exactly what ailed us. I only remember being in our pajamas most of the day. We helped decorate the tree my dad hauled in, but our efforts lacked the usual enthusiasm for the task. Feeling sorry for us, before our baths my mom allowed us to open the packages that contained cozy flannel pajamas. A simple, practical gift, new jammies were something we all loved and looked forward to receiving each Christmas. I think Mom also wanted us to at least be clean and wearing fresh sleepwear for Dr. Cunningham.
Dr. Cunningham had white hair, bushy salt-and-pepper eyebrows, and smelled slightly of medicine overlaid with a liberal amount of aftershave. He was a big-boned man with large hands. I never saw him in any other attire than a rumpled black suit, white shirt, and a black tie, loosened for comfort.
Dr. Cunningham arrived at our home about 11:00 PM. He took our temperatures and listened to our breathing with his stethoscope. He looked in our ears and peered up our noses. He told us to open wide and say, “Ahhhhh.” After asking my mom a few questions, he gave us each a shot and handed over small white envelops of little tablets with instructions hand-written on the packets. He was a great believer in penicillin and camphor pills.
Although Dr. Cunningham was as gentle and kind as he could be, getting a shot always caused us to shed a few tears. However, what I remember most is how he took the time, not just to treat us medically, but afterward to calm and cheer us. He asked us what we hoped Santa would bring us, successfully diverting our attention from our sore bottoms.
What he did next surprised us all. This weary, overworked doctor said he was going to teach us a trick. He told me to bend over and reach both hands through my legs. Dr. Cunningham then grabbed my hands and, quick as a wink, he had flipped me completely over! It was exhilarating!
My siblings all wanted a turn. We clamored, “Again! Again!” until our mom intervened. “That’s enough now. It’s late and I’m sure Dr. Cunningham is tired.”
Afterward, the good doctor sat in the kitchen with my dad. He sipped a cup of coffee and enjoyed a few Christmas cookies while they talked. I’m sure Daddy offered Dr. Cunningham something stronger, but he refused. Well known for falling asleep while holding a stethoscope to a patient’s back, the dedicated but exhausted doctor probably felt he would have enough trouble staying awake to drive home without the influence of alcohol, or he may have had other patients he needed to see that night.
Although it wasn’t a typical Christmas Eve, it’s a night I have never forgotten because of the good memories it holds. The excitement, laughter, and joy of the season prevailed, despite three sick children.
Guess Dr. Cunningham knew the truth behind Proverbs 17:22, “A joyful heart is good medicine . . .”
©2016 Pamela D. Williams