I’ve been married to my wife for just over a dozen years now, and not a day passes that I don’t bless her. Sometimes I bless her once for every year we’ve been together.

Let me explain. Anne suffers not from an excess of husbandly devotion, the kind that results in gifts every Valentine’s Day of outsized teddy bears, but from sternutation, an ostentatious word for sneezing.

Frankly, I never heard of sternutation until last week when it showed up as Word of the Day on my daughter’s laptop. She enjoys forwarding these little language morsels to me when they strike her as especially arcane, and inquiring, “Did you know this one?” Only rarely can I answer in the affirmative, or as most of us ordinary mortals call it, “Yes.”

I feel better knowing that there is such a thing as sternutation. It sounds serious enough to make my frequent “bless yous” seem warranted. On those occasions — and they’re frequent — when she sneezes, say, a dozen times in a row, I have felt perhaps I was overdoing it, even mocking her, by invoking these blessings as if they were somehow obligatory.

I’ve never fully understood why we say “bless you” or “God bless you” when somebody sneezes anyway, but it seems compulsive, even among total strangers. I don’t know how many times I’ve sneezed in some public place and drawn blessings from people I’ve never laid eyes on. Nobody says a word when I cough, blow my nose, burp or clear my throat. In fact, such behavior is more likely to draw disapproving glares than earnest prayers. So why the special treatment for the sternutators among us?

Never mind, don’t send me Wikipedia’s explanations of this peculiar phenomenon. I could look it up myself if I weren’t more interested in getting this piece to the editor on time.

The sneeze most memorable to me happened when I was a kid in the seventh grade. My teacher, Mrs. Harding, a prim and aging lady, had a habit of carrying a facial tissue in her bosom. One afternoon, while she was standing in front of our class, discoursing at length on some middle-school subject, her face wrinkled suddenly and she started to sneeze. She reached into her dress top in alarm and tried to retrieve the tissue. Too late. Her violent ker-choo reverberated across the room, and she sneezed all over a boy named William Pomeroy, seated in the front row.

“Jesus Christ!” he bellowed, stunned by events. “Uh-oh,” we all thought to ourselves, “He is really going to get it now,” and we braced for what seemed certain to be an unforgettable cataclysm.

Mrs. Harding, embarrassed by her inability to stifle her sneeze, but composed as ever, looked at him sympathetically and said with what was unquestionable sincerity, “I’m very sorry, William.” I remember thinking, “Wow, what a great lady.” I’m not positive, but I think William asked and got permission to change his seat.

As for Anne, I have no idea what causes her ongoing issue with sternutationism. She lives with it, and I do too. An allergy of some sort, I’d guess, maybe to black pepper. I continue to bless her though, day after day. Maybe she’s allergic to me, who knows? Today is her birthday. Happy birthday, kid. Eighty-seven is nothing to sneeze at.
Sid McKeen’s column appears in The Worcester (Mass.) Telegram & Gazette. He can be reached at mckeensidney@gmail.com.