Judy Spooner — Memories: good times and fears of polioAs we approach the official beginning of summer later this month, I think back to my youth, shortly after the Spanish-American War, a time without air-conditioning.
As we approach the official beginning of summer later this month, I think back to my youth, shortly after the Spanish-American War, a time without air-conditioning.
Summers in the ‘40s and ‘50s also meant living in the shadow of polio epidemics.
My mother closed all the windows and drapes during hot weather to keep the cool air of the night and early morning in the house. She spread a sheet on the living room floor after lunch and told my sister, Connie, and I that we had to lay down and be quiet. We were asleep in minutes.
For dinner, we had milk to drink but on really hot days, mom made iced tea and added frozen orange juice and lemonade concentrates. It looked awful and tasted wonderful when poured over ice cubes in tall glasses.
In 1950, when I was 9 years old, my mother told us we could not go barefoot or run through the sprinkler on hot days because “you could get polio.”
I didn’t know what that was but I heard the concern in her voice.
One summer day, I was riding my bike when I saw smoke and rode to a house in the next block to see what was happening.
There was a bonfire in a back yard. A neighbor watching it told me a girl my age had died of polio. They were burning furniture and things from her bedroom. I don’t remember being afraid but I adhered to my mother’s restrictions.
In school, we were told that polio paralyzed people. If they survived, they had to spend the rest of their lives on an iron lung, a metal tube with a pump that helped them breathe.
We raised money for the March of Dimes.
People were afraid the virus would attack their children so they watched for symptoms of headaches, fevers and sore throats.
We weren’t allowed to go to the State Fair and public beaches in the metropolitan area were deserted, even in very hot weather, because many believed polio was in the water.
Although the American public was not aware of it until his death, President Franklin Roosevelt, elected in 1931, had polio as a youth. He wore painful leg braces and was in a wheelchair part of the time.
White House reporters knew of his affliction but never reported it. I suppose it was because they knew how admired he was by the public.
The epidemic peaked nationally in 1952 with 57,000 cases. Two years later, Dr. Jonas Salk developed a vaccine, which was replaced with an oral vaccine in 1962 developed by Albert Sabin.
Our daughters were born in ‘62 and ‘64 and I remember taking them to Hillside Elementary School for oral vaccines in 1966.
I talked to some elementary school students today about what they look forward to doing during summer vacation.
I’m thankful they don’t have to fear polio.