The Villain in Our Childhood

If you grew up in the 1940s you remember this villain who could – and did – strike anyone.  Did you have a special experience?

Not all memories about this era make me smile.  A villain lurked in all our childhoods back then.  We talked about the villain, but always in quiet tones.  We worried because we didn’t know when he might strike or who might be stricken next.  We heard he could strike when you took a drink at the water fountain in the Hollis Theater or went swimming in Learned’s Pond.  Parents couldn’t protect you.  Nothing could protect you from polio.

One Saturday morning before we went to the movies, a bunch of us went to see a boy who was in an iron lung because he had polio.  He lived on a nice tree lined street near Butterworth Field, where we played baseball.  We lined up in silence and walked single file through the house to a quiet, front living room.  All I could see was his head lying on a pillow, sticking out from the round cylinder of a machine that made hissing sounds. polio He had dark hair, and I didn’t know his name, but I said “hello” and he said “hello” back.  He was smiling.  His mother followed us out and called to us as we walked away, “It was very nice of you boys to come by.  It’s not contagious, you know.  Come back again.”

I had never had so much as a cold and couldn’t imagine what that boy must have been feeling.  I became sad every time I thought about him lying there, trapped in that steel tube, not able to be outside.

They were great times, but let’s remember they were not perfect.


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