Jerry Nelson: Hurling ominous curses is a lost art

Jerry Nelson
Special to the Farm Forum
Jerry Nelson

Hurling ominous curses has become a lost art. An enraged modern person might throw such oaths as “A scourge upon your email server!” or “May your Wi-Fi be glitchy!”

Shakespeare was a master of ominous curses. One such, from the tragicomedy “Romeo and Juliet”, goes, “A pox on both of your houses!”

This proves that difficult relationships with in-laws has a long history. But one also wonders: what did Shakespeare mean by “a pox”?

I have first-hand knowledge regarding this issue, having endured chickenpox.

I was in first grade when an unspeakable tragedy struck. Our Christmas break had just begun when I started to feel feverish and yucky. Even more alarming were the scores of small red lesions that erupted on my skin.

Based on my vast medical experience, which was comprised of watching veterinarians treat our farm’s animals, I concluded that my condition was terminal. I broke the heartbreaking news to Mom, who replied, “Don’t be silly. You just have chickenpox.”

Try as I might, I couldn’t determine how I had gotten chickenpox. We had a flock of leghorns, and collecting their eggs had its hazards. But it had been a long time since an angry hen had left a mark on my hand as I filched the warm eggs from beneath her downy bottom. How could you get chickenpox if you hadn’t received any chicken pecks?

The sole source of heat in our old farmhouse was an ancient Siegler fuel oil stove. My feverish siblings and I – by some cosmic coincidence, we had all come down with chickenpox – huddled close to the stove, jostling for a position that would maximize the absorption of radiant energy. Shoving and recriminations inevitably ensued, followed closely by, “Mom! He pushed me!” or “Mom! Tell him to keep his smelly feet away from me!”

A houseful of kids who are afflicted with chickenpox is truly a pox on the home. But worst of all was the fact that my case of chickenpox consumed the entirety of our Christmas break. I recovered just as classes resumed in the new year. My Christmas vacation had been stolen, an atrocious injustice.

The poxes gradually began to scab over. We were told not to scratch ourselves, but that was like telling someone to not think of an elephant. We couldn’t help it; we scratched like a troupe of monkeys who were thoroughly infested with hyper-caffeinated fleas.

The results of this can still be seen all these years later. It turns out that scratching your chickenpox can lead to permanent skin pocks.

I wish that our parents had done things differently. It’s true that a chickenpox vaccine wouldn’t be widely available for another 30 years, but that’s a poor excuse. Our parents should have invented a time machine, traveled into the future and brought back some chickenpox vaccine. At least enough for me.

The sense that I had been shorted by our educational system never faded. This, in turn, caused me to get into trouble during my high school years.

Because I felt that I had been unduly deprived of my first-grade Christmas vacation, I had no compunction about skipping some of my high school classes. My buddies and I would waste the time allotted for algebra by driving around in our cars as we talked about cars and spun fantasies about our dream cars. You might say that were motivated by our mode of motivation.

Our absences were reported to school administrators, which led to me having several stilted conversations with our high school principal, Mr. Grebner. During these meetings, Mr. Grebner tried to explain the importance of attending class so that I could receive passing grades and, eventually, graduate. I remained silently defiant, still miffed about the Christmas break that had been stolen from me.

Mr. Grebner was unimpressed by my stoicism. Still, he saw his way clear to signing my diploma, although he was probably just happy to get me gone.

Some years back, my doctor advised me to get the shingles vaccine. I wondered what he knew about the condition of our roof, but he explained that having chickenpox had left me susceptible to getting shingles. It seems the chickenpox virus wasn’t done with me. It was still lurking in my system, waiting for an inopportune moment to paint me with a constellation of angry red lesions, not unlike the acne outbreak I suffered during the senior prom.

So, I got the shingles jab. The following day, my shoulder ached as if it had been whacked by an elephant.

But that was much better than living through the curse, “A pox upon your face!”

Jerry’s book, "Dear County Agent Guy," is available at and in bookstores nationwide.