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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

"Blue" ~ Another Interview with a Polio Survivor

This is another interview with my mother in connection with Joyce Moyer Hostetter's book "Blue," which I've reviewed below.  "Blue," recounts the story of the Great Hickory, NC Polio Epidemic of 1944, during WWII, of which my mother was a victim as a child.

Mom, you want to say more about the time you got home from the Polio Hospital?

Yes, we lived near the Cotton Mill in Whitnel, NC.  We lived in a big house, sharing with my aunt and uncle.  We lived in 3 rooms, large rooms...a 2-story new house...pretty, white and yellow house.  My friend and I played in the field behind the house.

My friends would come visit me after the Quarantine was put up on our front door.  The Quarntine notice was big, as big as my television is now...."Warning!"  It was against the law to come into the house.  My neighborhood friends would sit in my window while our mothers were at work.  I had a large, first floor window, and the kids would sit in the window, a bunch of them.  They loved the danger!  It was forbidden, and they loved that it was sneaking!  It was in the summer.

A health nurse would come in about every week and would check for bed sores, and to see if the polio had spread.  She would put salve and powder on me.  She showed my mother how to take care of me.  Because you couldn't go back to the doctor anymore. 

Why couldn't you go back to the doctor?

Because they were afraid a germ could spread from the doctor's office to other people of the town.  If you went home, you were not allowed to leave your home  If you were in an iron lung, the iron lung went home with you, too.  Families were just left to care for it themselves.  A friend of mine, a teenager about 18, had one in his house.  In those days, even babies were born in the houses with midwives.  So, alot of medical attention took place in houses.

What else do you remember about coming home?

We had a potty chair by the bed.  Mother had to work, so I was alone.  At first my legs were like a new, wobbly baby.  The neighborhood kids would visit and sometimes they would slide down into my bed.  I was pretty sick after I went home.  I was nauseous and it was hard to eat. 

Were you still hurting when you went home?

Not really, not in my legs, but I did have most of the trouble with my thighs and left arm.  I always have had trouble with my left arm.  Weak and aching in my arm.  I've always leaned to my right arm because it.  My mother would wrap me in hot water, wrung out towels like they had in the hospital.  That's all we knew to do.  That's all the hospital had done.

My mother always worked for the March of Dimes.  Every year she worked so hard door-to-door for March of Dimes.  Her story was because they had saved her daughter's life.   She also collected votes for political campaigns!

What else do you remember about coming home?

My aunt and uncle and 3 little cousins left our house because they were afraid of the polio.  But we just mostly lived in the two big rooms.  I lost school time, too.  When I got better I just went back.  They didn't hold me back, but I just went back and fit into the middle of the school year.

Do you think you're affected in any way now by the polio's residual?

I have alot of pain and weakness in my left shoulder and arm.  I have nerve problems in my face on the left side.  My toes are numb on the left side.  I remember my shoulder hurting back then, when I was a polio child.  I've not told my doctors about it before, but I'm going to now that I'm more aware of it.  I've recently read that polio survivors are having new problems associated with the disease.  I never even thought of it before now.

So, Ms Hostetter's book "Blue," has made you more aware of the residuals of the polio, and has reminded you of your polio experiences...

Yes it has. 

Are you aware of what they've found causes polio, Mom?  Did you know it comes from a virus from infected water?  It may have come from water infected by animal feces or something like that.

No, I didn't know exactly what caused it.  I haven't known that.
I told my mother when I got it, "I know where we got it, Mother!  I got it from the water and vines and the farm.  I went with my Uncle Coy to the dairy with the cows and cutting tobacco.  There were mosquitos and things."  Nobody in town where I lived with my mother, got it.  Just my friends and I from the farm.  So, I knew where I got it.  When I went to the farm, I was considered "the city girl" from Whitnel in the eyes of the farm children. 

So, when you went back to school you thought you were cured?  When did you feel you were all well?

I don't know.  I just went back when I felt like it. I didn't hurt anymore. Well, you just "leaned to it."  (Which I take to mean that she learned to use it sparingly...to "favor" that side...)  Kept it to yourself.  For years my mother put those hot towels on me.  When there was recess or games, I would just watch.  I was never expected to play.  I couldn't do that.   I was very free.  But, I was limited by leaning to the polio.  I just didn't think about it much after a while.

Did you hear about President Roosevelt's Georgia Warm Springs Foundation?

He lived there sometimes, I think.  I heard of it.  I think there were springs that came off the mountain.  They were not polluted.  The idea was that they were so pure and you could soak in the water because of that. They were thought to have healing powers for their purity. 

In school they would turn the radio up really loud in the cafeteria and we would listen to the President's speeches or any news about him.  I remember them talking about his Georgia Warm Springs trips.  I also remember the train coming through NC a couple of times. 

My mother was very political.  She and her friends loved Roosevelt and they would sit in the evenings around the radio and would talk.  I just remember the comfort and security of those nights in dimly lighted rooms around that radio...her friends talking politics.  They were cotton mill workers, but intelligent and interested and involved.

Well, thanks, Mom.  I'll send you Ms Hostetter's 2nd book in this series called, "Comfort."  It's about Ann Fay going to President Roosevelt's Georgia Warm Springs.

Oh, I really want to read that!  I want to read both of the books! 

By the way, Mom, Ms Hostetter has let me know that she recently spoke in the Whitnel, NC, school district to children in the 4th grades about the Epidemic!  She just realized you were from Whitnel and wants to see if you would want to be interviewed for the children.  She and one of the school personnel in Whitnel are making a media presentation for the children and she thinks your being from there and being a polio survivor would be a great contribution.  What do you think?

I would love to be a part of that!  I could even go there and talk to the children.  I'm sure I know some of their grandmothers or great grandmothers.  I could tell them so much about the Epidemic and Whitnel of those times.

Okay, good, thanks, Mom.  I know you're tired and your Soap is on!!  LOL   We have to find out what "Victor" is doing on YARestless!   Thank you.

I look forward to hearing from Ms Hostetter. 

So ends my interview.....    Thanks for reading this continued information on the Hickory, NC, Polio Epidemic of 1944.


PS:  I hope you'll leave your comments and suggestions!!  I miss hearing from you!!



Hi Deb! I still find this really interesting. I recently talked to my mom about this epidemic and apparently my great aunt was affected by polio as well. I am not sure if she contracted it during this time or sometime later. She was born and raised right outside of Lenior, NC. Thanks for posting these great interviews! I Hope you have a great weekend :-)


Joyce Moyer Hostetter

Oh my, I missed this great post. And I haven't contacted the librarian at the school in Whitnel but I will make a note to do that. So great to hear more of your mom's experiences.

Thanks for sharing an awesome interview.


Lindsay Rosenwald http://knol.google.com/k/lindsay-rosenwald/biography-of-lindsay-rosenwald/1o9w67occ8qjz/1 Biography Of Lindsay Rosenwald and various many achievements credited.

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