A Family With Polio from the Heart of An Eight Year Old Part 3
by Marijo Phelps
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We were supposed to be asleep but this was too much fun staying with my cousin who was a year and a half older than I was. I missed my family with my Mom and sister in Denver getting therapy for my sister’s polio and Dad, home working 6 days a week at the Rochester Light Plant; but I was enjoying spending time with cousins too.
“All right you two quit your giggling and get to sleep. Tomorrow is the big day when we all start swimming lessons.”
Swimming lessons, oh, no, I needed to tell my aunt what the doctor had said.
“Aunt Marvene” I called out as I got out of bed and went downstairs “Aunt Marvene, does the place where we are going have chlorine?”
“Well, sure it is a swimming pool and you have to have chlorine or you could get polio.”
“Dr. Chambers told Mom I couldn’t ever swim in a pool that had chlorine again or I could go blind for life.”
I then told my aunt about the horrible reaction I had from swimming in a pool with chlorine and what our family doctor had said. She didn’t seem very concerned at all. Patting me on the bottom and scooting me towards the stairs she told me “well, we will make sure they don’t have you put your head under water. Now go to bed.”
Why couldn’t she call my Dad or Mom? I know, long distance was expensive and you only called when somebody died or maybe at Christmas, but they could tell her. They could explain. It was almost like she didn’t think I knew what I was talking about but I heard Dr. Chambers and Mom talking and I knew it was serious because nobody had let me go to the swimming pool since then.
I tossed and turned and finally the sun came in the room through those white ruffled curtains. Oh, no, this was the swimming lessons day….
“Come on girls, breakfast is ready.”
My aunt had fried squishy eggs. I really hated squishy eggs and was supposed to be allergic to them.
“Aunt Marvene, I can’t eat runny eggs.”
“Oh, why is that?”
“I am allergic, they have to be cooked really hard.”
“What happens when you eat them?”
“I get really sick to my tummy and might throw up.”
“Well. These are farm fresh eggs and I bet you’ve never had them before so you can eat just one.”
(Aside: I really was allergic to the eggs – protein is changed by heat and when they were cooked hard the protein I was allergic to was changed by the heat and I could handle it. How could an eight year old explain that to an overzealous aunt?)
I choked down the egg. My tummy revolted but not to the point of tossing it back. And then we were getting our swim suits, towels and beach bags. a day to remember.
The instructors didn’t make me put my head under water and actually the lessons were kind of fun. My eyes were really red but it was probably more from sleeplessness than chlorine. I survived the lessons and definitely had something to tell the family MD but I actually never did get my head in the water, did I?
We got home and my younger cousin, Richard, had caught a butterfly. It was in a jar with holes poked in the metal top with a nail. The butterfly was trying and trying to get out and kept hitting its body and wings on those sharp holes.
“Paula, do you think Richard would trade me his butterfly for a pack of gum?”
My Dad had sent me to the relatives with about 10 packs of gum in my suitcase to cheer me up and give me something to share with the cousins I would visit.
“It can’t hurt to ask him.”
“Hey, Richard would you trade me your butterfly for a pack of Spearmint gum?”
“You mean I get a whole pack of gum just for me, sure” He handed off the butterfly jar in my direction and grabbed the gum in his four year old hand.
I took the top off the jar and let the butterfly go. Richard saw that and ran crying into the house.
“OK, which one of you let Richard’s butterfly go?”
My Uncle Newell was not happy. I tried to explain that I had traded the butterfly for the gum and the butterfly was getting hurt on the holes in that jar.
“You two are older and supposed to be setting a good example. I want you to go and weed the garden for ½ hour beginning now.”
Paula looked at me rolling her eyeballs, “But you traded for your gum….”
My uncle came in ½ hour and told us we were done and he hoped we had learned something. Hot and sweaty we ran to the hose for a drink of water.
Yep, we learned something. Adults just don’t seem to understand and I was down a pack of gum. But the butterfly was free. Sometimes that summer I wished I had been that butterfly.
(C) Marijo Phelps all rights reserved. Use with proper credits.
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