I have been sifting through family pictures and “stuff” quite a bit lately. This week I found one of me in a July 4, 1954 neighborhood bicycle parade. One picture and one million memories. I close my eyes right now and I am there, and the sadness creeps in too.
My dad once told me how proud he was to buy his first house. It was a little brick rancher – about 1200 square feet. He had just finished his medical residency in cardiology and had opened a private practice on the east side of Detroit. I was two years old when we moved from our tiny apartment in Detroit. It was just the three of us; Mom, Dad, and me. My baby sister had died at the age of six weeks the year before. That story may be found in an earlier post titled 58 year old family secret laid to rest: OS post helps.
I have pictures of those days; however, most memories are vague until July 4, 1954. A brother was born in 1951 and the next three years were just, well, normal childhood years. That was all about to change.
July 4, 1954. We were having a red, white and blue bicycle parade on Lancaster Street. The sun was shining bright - a perfect Michigan summer day. Mom fell down pushing one of the wagons in the parade and scraped her knee. She couldn’t get up and Dad carried her into the house, knee bleeding through a towel. Some other parents started arranging things and someone took us outside to rejoin the parade.
“Your mother isn’t feeling well and is going to rest awhile.”
That seemed fine. Then an ambulance backed up into the driveway and we watched from the side. Mom was “sick” and needed to go to the hospital.
“She will be fine.”
That seemed fine. The next memory I have is visiting her in a hospital in Detroit several days later. She would stay there three months. Ten weeks after that fateful July 4 day my mom gave birth to my third brother. I would later learn what a miracle that was. Mom had polio and was paralyzed from the waist down for the rest of her life. She was over six months pregnant when she contracted polio that day, and she never walked again. Oh, she tried. How hard she tried.
After these months in the hospital in Detroit she went to Warm Springs, Georgia, with financial assistance from the March of Dimes. It’s the same place that FDR went to, and it was THE place to go for rehabilitation. She went there to learn to walk. It didn’t really work out so well. My newborn brother was sent to live the first year of his life with a close relative in Albany, NY. Dad took care of the two of us with assistance from grandparents at first, and then live-in help. More details are available in the eulogy I wrote and posted.
We went to Warm Springs during that year to visit her. I remember being struck by the red clay roadsides on the drive down from Atlanta. I also remember seeing my first bathroom signs marked “Colored” and “Whites.” Some things are never forgotten. I expected to see Mom up and walking. She had been learning to wear braces and was very shaky; but, she was walking. We stayed a few days and went back to our life in Detroit.
Mom came home that next year. She tried to use her braces and be “normal.” That was her word. “Normal.” Today I hate that word. She hated not being able to walk. She was determined to prove to all that she could raise three boys ages six and under and lead a normal life. We drove from Detroit to Albany to pick up my little brother and we stopped at Niagra Falls on the way.
One evening she was cooking dinner while wearing her leg braces and her legs slipped out from underneath her and she fell and cracked her head open on a counter top corner. I found her and was able to call Dad, and then put the fire out on the stove (we had an extinguisher nearby and I had been taught how to use it “Just in case.”) And the ambulance came – again. She was okay after a few days in the hospital and she got some stitches.
She never tried to walk again. The rest of her life (50+ years) was spent in a wheelchair. She hated it every day of her life. I know, because she used to tell me every day.
That seemed fine. It was our normal. I hated the word normal. It wasn’t fine. I still hate normal.