Life Going Upside Down

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The house in the picture above is the first house for our family. At that time, the family was my mother, father, brother and me. It was one of the small suburban bungalows going up after the Second World War to house the “baby boom”. The house was in Richfield, Minnesota which is a suburb of Minneapolis. This photo was obviously taken in the winter. My story is about the summer of 1949.

There were so many children in the neighborhood that it was hard to be lonely. We played the usual childhood games of the era like “cowboys and Indians”, “cops and robbers”, “house”, tag, hide and seek and so much more. I was also allowed to go to the corner store which was about 3 blocks away without having to cross any busy streets to buy things for my mother. We played from morning until the street light came on which could be as late as 9:00 at night.

I remember on rainy days, Mother would play some music on the phonograph so we could dance in the dining room. Se liked to play the “Beer Barrel Polka” and would pick us up in her arms and whirl us around. She walked with us. During the winter, we went skating with her.

One of the neighbors got a TV and everyone in the neighborhood went over to see it. It had a tiny screen. It was so small that I could barely see it in the crowded room.

About the middle of summer, I noticed that Mom would listen very carefully to the news telling me to shush when certain things came on the radio. It was the report of the number of polio cases. I was too young to know what that meant. Mom told me that it was the number of sick people with polio in Minnesota.

I didn’t know what polio was. I had measles the year before and was quite sick. Mom said polio was worse. A little boy down the street was taken away in an ambulance. Mom said he had polio and I knew Joe. As the summer went on, the kids weren’t allowed to play together any more. We were all confined to our yards. We could sit on the edge of the property and talk to other kids. We didn’t play in each others houses any more.

Mom scrubbed and washed all the food. She peeled grapes. She peeled the tomatoes. Sometimes she let me help. My brother got sick and my parents got worried. Dr. Robb came by our house to see my brother. He got better and my mother got sick.

My brother and I were not allowed in her room. Mrs. McDonald from across the street came over and got our lunch. My Aunt Darcy took us to her house. We went home at night when my Dad got home. I knew things were so very wrong. My Dad cooked us breakfast for the first time in my life and didn’t smile.

After a couple of days, Mom went to the hospital. They said she had polio and I couldn’t see her. They told me she was in an iron lung.

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After some time, she could breathe without the iron lung. They told me she couldn’t move her arms and legs very well. She was still in the hospital. My brother and I were not allowed in the hospital, so Dad drove us to the hospital and pointed to Mom in a window. We waved at her.

Some days we were with Aunt Darcy and my cousins. Some days we were with Aunt Betty. And some days we were with Mrs.McDonald. It was a crazy time where things changed every day. Everyone changed. Mom was in the hospital with only day visits for about six months.

Very slowly, Mom got better but never fully recovered. She needed help doing some things and had difficulty walking. And slowly, the world righted itself again while we all got used to a new reality.

In 1949, there were 42,173 cases of polio and there were 2,720 deaths in the United States. The epidemic was also in Canada and the UK.

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My brother and I on the front steps of the house. I recently got a lot of pictures of my childhood and memories are being revived. I have also found that some of the memories have changed a bit when I see the pictures.

11 thoughts on “Life Going Upside Down

  1. I just love your old photographs. i am really into this sort of thing to do with history. I think it is amazing how far we have come and to where we are going. My grandmother could not imagine my life and I can’t imagine what my granddaughter’s will be like when she is my age!

    • The massive package I got has pictures and letters from the 1800s. I am a bit overwhelmed. The letters are hard to decipher. I was shocked that they wrote about some racy stuff. Trying to get it in order and read it all…

      • I am grateful that polio it is mostly in the past. It is fun to be able to look around at some of history through memory rather than only hear or read about it.

      • Not so entirely unlikely. The immunizations are apparently not as effective as the earlier versions. And many people are not immune, at all. It should have gone the way of small-pox. Nature abhors a vacuum, so what it would be replaced with, HIV, Lymes, MS, who knows ?????, various encephalitis, various Herpes ???? is not so great either. Still it is not epidemic. Now. Yet. Though these other nerve affecting problems are.

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