In the early 1950’s the polio epidemic was at its height. No one could avoid knowing someone that had been inflicted with the terrible disease. In the neighborhoods it was the talk of the families. Should you go out to public places? Which families were inflicted? Are parks bad? Zoos? Restaurants? There was talk of a new vaccine that stop children from getting this dreadful disease but it was still being tested. Didn’t Dr. Salk already give it to his children? People were mad, people were worried and they were scared.
One mother, confined to her house for most of the summer with a new baby boy born in July, a two year old girl and a little boy that just turned one in June, decided to get herself and the children out of the house, to take a walk in the park, in the woods by the river, letting the children play on the playground. Some said that you shouldn’t do that with the polio epidemic, but it was the end of summer and a beautiful day.
One week later the one year old little boy started running a fever. Panic swept the household. The little boy’s mother called her brother, the doctor, who drove over immediately and confirmed the diagnosis of Polio. He was rushed to the Hospital and put in an iron lung and wrapped in hot towels. As the Boy lay in the hospital the mother was told by the doctors that it was a severe case of polio. The Boy might not survive. He probably would not walk and could very well be confined to an iron lung for the rest of his life. The mother swore she would never forgive herself. She never did.
The Boy recovered and was sent home. The mother was told he would be able to sit up and use his arms but most likely not have the use of his legs. With a baby and a young little girl the Mother had her hands full. She wanted so bad to hold the baby making up for what she blamed herself. But demands required her to lay the boy down. But the little Boy wouldn’t stay still. He would use his good arms and pull himself up, only to fall down. So the Mother put the Boy in a padded playpen where he would pull himself up only to fall over and over again. The Mother finally screamed “stop it”, then sat down and cried.
The Boy grew up with steel braces on his legs and learned to walk with his arms on crutches. He ran on those metal crutches with his brothers and kids in the neighborhood. He thought he was pretty fast. He didn’t think he was different. When it was time to go to summer day camp, the now 5 year old boy was told he couldn’t go. His Mother was against it. She was worried about him getting hurt. The Boy would not take “no” for an answer. So the Mother checked with the people in charge, everyone agreed it would be Ok for the Boy to attend. He was thrilled. He wanted to be like everyone else.
Soon thereafter the Boy left on the bus in high spirits to summer day camp to walk in the woods, to play and be like all the other children.
On one of the days during summer camp the children were divided into groups of ten and two councilors. Each group went out for a walk with a bagged lunch in a brown paper bag. The Boy’s group was deep into the forest when a large thunder was heard. The children were frightened. The councilors were concerned. They quickly packed up the lunches and told the children to run back to camp headquarters before the storm hit.
The 10 children and 2 adults started running down the dirt path. The Boy on his crutches ran too, as fast as he could, with all the effort his arms could give because he was also scared. But he tripped and fell. It did not take long for all the others to out run the Boy. The Boy yelled but no one could hear and they kept running further ahead before disappearing around the bend, leaving the Boy alone in the Forest.
The rumbling of thunder continued and lighting flashed across the sky and the rain began to fall. The Boy sat for a little thinking that someone would return. But no one came back. The boy stood up alone in the rain that was now coming down so hard he could hardly see anything in front of him. And he started to cry. And as rain drops mixed with the tears on his face he began to realize that he was not like the other kids and that he was not going to always keep up with them. He also realized that he couldn’t depend on others. He was alone. So the Boy made the decision that he was no longer scared, but mad. He yelled out “it is only water!” and he slowly started to walk back down the soggy muddy path through the pouring rain.
The rain began to let up as he approached the camp. One of the adults in charge spotted him walking down the path all alone. The adult ran out to pick him up and carry him to the building, away from the rain. The Boy would not let the young man near him. “It is only water” the Boy yelled spitefully. When the man insisted the boy swung his crutches and kicked. The man stopped trying and they agreed to walk back together.
When the Boy entered the building all the kids were working on craft projects. No one else had gotten caught in the rain. They all stopped and stared at the Boy on crutches who was soaking wet standing by the door. Some whispered, some laughed, but they all stared. Realizing what they had done, the two councilors that had left him in the woods rushed up filled with apologizes asking forgiveness from the Boy. He told them it was OK, “it is only water”.
As the adults argued and blamed each other the Boy sat down on a chair near the door. The rest of the children went back to their crafts. When the adults decided that the Boy needed to take off his wet clothes the Boy said no. When one of the male adults in charge tried to unbutton his shirt the Boy hit him as hard as he could. It hurt. The young man had never had been hit by a boy that walked on his arms all his life. He became angry. He grabbed the Boy and was going hit him back when a young lady jump in and yelled “He’s just a boy!” It was then that “those who were in charge” decided that it was best to leave the Boy alone.
Soon the young woman sat down next to the Boy and talked to him. She brought him a towel and he agreed to put it over his shoulders and wet head. She brought over a craft and showed him what the kids were doing. The Boy remembered the kind young lady with such pretty eyes for the rest of his life.
When the bus came to take them back, the Boy was still wet. He would not let anyone help him get into the bus and sat alone looking out the window. He had stopped being mad.
The bus arrived back to where the mothers were waiting. The Boy saw his mother holding his baby brother standing outside the car. As the kids departed from the bus the Mother noticed that none of the children were wet except for the Boy. She demanded an explanation from those that were in charge. They explained and the Mother was furious.
The Boy walked back to the car and sat next to his brother holding his crutches close to his wet clothes that clung to his body. They looked out the window at their mother holding a young baby in her arms yelling at “those that were in charge” asking how something like this could happen.
That day the little boy learned a valuable lesson at an early age. He realized that he was not the same. He realized he needed to be tougher and smarter, but not the same. The Boy sat back and turned to his brother, the one that was one year younger, the one that he would be close to for the rest of his life….and said “it is only water”.