When you grow up with something, you tend not to think too much about it. It's just there, like your family's weird fondness for peanut butter, lettuce, and mayonnaise sandwiches or my grandfather’s kindness and my uncle’s polio.
I can't remember a childhood summer that didn't involve water in some way. Mama would pack us up in the car and off we'd go almost every day to one
Northern Virginia pool or another. Or even
better, we might spend a few blissful weeks visiting the aunts - Aunt Dotty at Uncas on Connecticut Thames or Aunt Nell in . Often my mother's brother,
Uncle Sam, would be visiting. He and my mother were both excellent swimmers,
with an effortless freestyle stroke, cutting through the water, arms rotating
as regularly as a paddle wheel, heads rising for air. Madison
There was a reason for their expertise. Both of them had contracted polio when they were young. My mother bore little evidence of it, aside from possibly shortened stature, but my uncle was - as they would have said in the 1930s - severely crippled. Swimming had been an important part of his therapy and as a result, they both became adept in the water.
As a child I gave no thought to Uncle Sam's appearance or how his much smaller left leg looked below his swimsuit when he was there on the beach with us. I was just glad he was visiting - in spite of being single, he always brought my sister and me the best gifts. Yes, he walked differently, his hips rotating with each step, the delayed swing of his weaker leg. But that was Uncle Sam. It was what made him who he was, just like the occasional ear-shattering shriek of my grandmother's hearing aid was a part of her.
His was not an easy childhood; most of it was filled with painful operation after operation, followed by months in bed. He did become so proficient at knitting that as an adult he made all his own argyle socks, and I'm sure the hours spent reading were a factor in his becoming an English professor.
Like everything else I never questioned or thought too deeply about, his father was just my grandfather, the kind retired geologist poring over oil leases in his retirement, or the person who told me pixies really did live in the shade garden under the big magnolia. I gave no more thought to my grandfather’s inner life than I did to those pixies.
Before Uncle Sam died I said something to the effect that wasn’t it wonderful how determined his father must have been, trying to conquer this horrific disease with all those operations.
Uncle Sam just looked at me with a jaundiced eye.
That adult moment with my uncle suddenly made me wonder exactly who my grandfather did it for.
Polio was such a part of our childhood. One family in our neighborhood had two children contract the virus and suffer paralytic deformities. I went to school with a girl in a complete leg brace. It was all around us.ReplyDelete
I remember my mother's friend Maudie, who had spent countless hours in an iron lung and was still in a wheelchair.Delete
This is a very thoughtful post. Makes me wonder about why Sam had all those operations. RIP, Sam. :-)ReplyDelete
My neighbor across the street had polio. He was from Korea. They recently sold their house, and that man worked so hard to pull it all together before they put it on the market. He had a difficult time getting around, but did more work than the rest of the neighborhood put together in a week's time.ReplyDelete
Polio was common when I was growing up in the 40"s and 50's. Now we rarely hear about it. It's hard to realize it devastated so many lives. Your uncle faced the challenges and you remember him for his over all strong person.ReplyDelete
Horrifying to see that it's still going on in parts of the world today.Delete
Our parents had us lined up at the polio clinics for the shots...three of them over a span of time....and then breathed a sigh of relief that they had saved their children. It was a frightening time.ReplyDelete
My mother made sure that my sister and I were there the first day those shots were available.Delete
my dad had polio as a child and as a result, one leg was shorter than the other. he always had to buy two pairs of shoes, one pair a size9 and the other a size 11 (I think) so that he would have shoes to fit his different sized feet. my mother told me one time that they feared I had it when I was very young but if I did it was so mild as to leave no reminders. I remember going to get the first polio vaccine when I was in elementary school, a pink drop on a sugar cube. it was kind of scary but the whole family went and got it.ReplyDelete
I too remember when polio was common. Our doctor thought that I had polio. I had been in bed sick. The doctor came to the house daily to check on me. I didn't understand why he wanted me to get out of bed so he could see me walk. I didn't know until much later that he was worried that I had polio. Mama must have been scared to death.ReplyDelete
I remember the polio scare well and the avoidance of swimming pools until the polio vaccine surfaced.ReplyDelete
I grew up around the fear of polio but only saw cases of it on newsreels at the movies. As an adult, I have met several people who were affected. Thank God for the vaccine and Jonas Salk.ReplyDelete
vaccines made a huge difference in all sorts of way. so many diseases have disappeared ; it’s tragic that some or on the way back. When I was little we had that famous drop of something on a sugar cube too.ReplyDelete
I remember a girl in primary school who contracted polio, (contracted always sounds to me like you signed a contract agreeing to have it), she spent several years in an iron lung and eventually came back to school in grade seven with a brace from ribs to ankles and two elbow brace walking sticks to help her walk. She continued to improve and by the end of the year still had leg braces but just one walking stick. I believe she still wore a full brace to bed at night though.ReplyDelete
I also remember a movie made about polio and an Australian nurse who developed the hot towel therapy to relax the spasms in the muscles so the contracted muscles wouldn't be permanent and the fight she had to get it recognised as an official treatment, because it really did work. I don't recall the name of the movie. I heard several years ago that the actor Alan Alda had polio as a child and had the hot towel treatment, thus ensuring complete recovery.
We had the vaccine when the van came to our town, it had a door on either side and we went in one door, got the jab and went out the other door. My older sister is so terrified of needles she sped in one door and out the other without getting the vaccine. Mum and Dad had to take her back in and hold her down for it.