Jo Ashmore writes: Like all kids of my generation, we lived in fear of polio.
My first memory of polio was in the summer that I was seven, 1946, and we were living in South Omaha. My mom, brother and I always took the train to Minneapolis in mid-July and spent the rest of the summer with both sets of grandparents. But that summer, the relatives told us not to come, because there was polio in the next block.
One of my Minneapolis playmates died the following year. She was so pretty and had shoulder-length, shiny blonde hair that I envied. Even now, I think of her whenever I am in Minneapolis, because my route takes me past the house where she lived 74 years ago.
But another childhood playmate who contracted the disease survived and is still a good friend – Betty, who was always called “Tiny,” was in second grade when stricken. “I was in isolation in the hospital for about two weeks,” she said, “and I couldn’t have any visitors. After that, my parents could come, but only one night a week, and they had to take the streetcar because we didn’t have a car.”
Because her legs and feet were affected she had to wear special shoes that she hated – probably they were what we called “clumpy.” Luckily, she and her best friend, Karen, wore the same size, so they’d meet at Karen’s house before school and trade shoes.
As a result of polio, one of Tiny’s legs was always smaller, and she did have a couple of surgeries – followed by additional, painful therapy – but she learned to compensate with her right leg.
Tiny became a very talented dancer and later taught dancing in Omaha. A couple of years ago, I lost one of my closest friends in adulthood, who had survived polio as a little girl. It affected her spine, and she missed one whole year of high school after she had a spinal fusion – her spine was curving forward, and she said it would have affected her heart function – but that didn’t stop her from living a full life. When she was a senior, she was homecoming queen at Morris High.
Our church first made changes last March in response to the coronavirus. We are fortunate to have relatively low numbers of cases, but if we were in New York City we would better understand similar fear.
We all pray for science to again give us a cure, but until then let us resolve to live our faith like Tiny and so many others. Jo’s generation faced their challenges, and they are an inspiration for us to do the same.
Rev. Steve Norby serves as lead pastor of Calvary Lutheran Church in Park Rapids.