Tag Archives: Polio

Gathering early bits and pieces- Summer Surprise

The most exciting phone calls I remember as a young girl came not for or from a boy, but from my Dad.  As I mentioned he owned a Hardware Store in our small Midwest town and to accommodate the farmers, he stayed open until 9:00 on Saturday nights.   It was an economic necessity for us , but it made for a very short weekend!  He usually came home for supper from 5:30 to 6:00 on Saturday nights.  But two or three times a summer while my brothers and I were growing up, the phone would ring shortly after he’d gone back to work.  Without suspecting anything we would answer and he would say, “Ask your Mom if she can be ready to go camping by 9:00?”

We knew what it would involve, it would be work for everyone, especially for Mom.   However, Mom wouldn’t miss a lick, she’d smile and say, “Tell him, we’ll be ready.”  Then we four would switch into high gear!  Mom would have to go to the grocery store, because camping food required a special menu.  My little brothers would run out to the shed and start wrestling our heavy canvas tent out to the driveway so it could be put in the trunk when Mom got home with the car from the grocery store.  The boys ranged between four and twelve in those days.  I’d get the picnic basket out from under the bed , our house was small so we stored where we could.  I started counting out the silverware, glasses, plates, cups, spatulas, coffee pot, hot pads, and so on.  The boys would then patiently get the lantern, check the kerosene can , line up the tackle boxes, the axe, and the small pistol that Dad kept unloaded by the bed plus the box of ammunition.  They stacked it all up along the side of the house so that when Mom came back they could help her carry in the groceries, then they would load the car quickly.

Because my father was crippled with Polio, my brothers learned how to do things capably at very early ages.  Dad trained them, so they knew how and what to do.  By the time John was 7 or 8 he could “straw boss” the packing pretty well.  Mom and I went to work in the house while the boys were outside, we lined up the food, the bedding, towels, and bathing suits.  We added a flashlight and my Dad’s pride and joy, the short-wave radio!  Since Dad owned the Hardware Store we had one of the best short-wave radios in town.  We never went camping without that, it was our highway to adventure in the night.

Even now I can see the kitchen table piled high with the necessities.  The screen door would slam as the boys ran in and out carrying things to pack into the car.  The moths and bugs came in with the boys, attracted by the light, but Mom didn’t fuss.  She knew Dad was probably “full up” with the he store  and anxious to get into the ‘great outdoors’, as he always called it.  To facilitate life for him required loving tolerance on her part.  Dad had grown up in Nebraska on the shores of the Ponca River and he never really did get enough “outdoors” after he became a bookkeeper, then a Teller in the bank, and finally a store owner. But he knew all the tricksof how to put up the tent.  He would position it, the boys would lay it out according to his instructions, then he would crawl around to pound the stakes in, because he used the back of the axe and he was afraid they’d get hurt.  However, they were very capable and careful and it wasn’t long until they could put up the eight person 70 pound tent by themselves and dig a trench around in case of rain.

When the Mercury was loaded, it would be almost 9:00.  We three kids would crowd in the back seat with our feet carefully placed around and on things, then our 80 pound dog would join us in the already crowded backseat.  Oh well, such is love, we didn’t fret about his bad breath, big feet, or crowding!  The adventure had begun.

We would stop by the store and pick up Dad, he was ready except he would change out of his good work clothes when we got to our site.  Our camping spot was on Rosebud Indian Reservation land down by a river called the Little White.  There wasn’t really a road in to ‘our’ spot, it was more of a trail and I can remember  after the 90 mile drive, seeing headlights shine up into the tree leaves as the car bumped over the trail.  “with luck boys”, Dad would say, “you’ll have the tent up and the beds made by the time I have the fire started and the coffee perking.”  The nights stars looked big and gorgeous in the sky- it was so different from the view of the night sky in town.

Actually, they would have to scout wood before they started putting the tent up, but usually there were some dried pieces along the river and with Frisky along we weren’t too afraid of snakes.  Then Dad would fix the fire ring by clearing brush and putting stones in a circle , while Mom got out the frying pan and other essentials for hamburgers at midnight.  Dad always made coffee in an old percolator when we camped and I can hear the wonderful sound now of that pleasant little “burp”, “burp”, “burp” against the background of the river rushing by.   Dad usually sang a few bars of “I want to drink my coffee from an old tin can, while the moon is riding high.” Dad rarely sang, so it meant he was feeling happy and free.  The Stars were low overhead, above the tree tops and it seemed, nothing could be more wonderful than the five of us and Frisky out there in the middle of the ‘great outdoors ‘.

I’m sure none of us could imagine how life could be better than it was then.  The folks never told us to go to bed when we were camping.  After we’d eaten hamburgers and fresh fruit, and topped it off with a candy bar, Dad would tune in the short wave, accompanied by lots of static, of course.  He’d tune in “far away places with strange sounding names” and he’d talk about the wonderful age we live in.  “someday you will travel and see these things.”  He would say to us.  One night in particular I remember we listened to Mozart’s sonatas from a live broadcast in Germany on the BBC and he said , “Someday you’ll hear them live in a great concert hall and remember this night beside the Little White River in South Dakota.”  We have indeed all three grown up to travel internationally, something my Dad could only dream of doing.

Finally, one of us kids would think about swimming or fishing in the morning, and slowly we’d peel away into the tent.  Mom and Dad would sit up even later and talk and drink coffee and stare at the fire and just be glad to be alone together, with us!  The next morning we’d slip on our suits and go swimming in the river.  Dad’s only rule was that there had to be at least two together, so we worked it out.  We had wonderful games with “rustlers” sneaking up on us and peeking over the bluffs, or Indians about to attack, however, we were always warned in time by our faithful dog Frisky that danger was near!  Oh, the games we played In that shallow sandy  bottomed river.  We’d dig deep holes and bury each other and, it was a giant playground that makes Disneyland seem mild in comparison.  Eventually, the wonderful smell of bacon and coffee would get us out of the water and we’d all have breakfast together.  The folks would wash up and then luxuriate over the Sunday paper.  Later while Dad cut up the vegetables and meat for his famous ‘camp stew’, Mom would come swimming with us.  She knew all kinds of rhymes and songs that added  to the sunny free feeling of the day.

We camped in kind of a draw on very sandy soil.  A real death trap should there be a flash flood upriver, but when it was dry there was no problem.  If it rained much we would leave early, but if it was just a sprinkle of rain, we would linger, swim, fish, then eat Dad’s famous camp stew and fresh bread.  Just before dusk we would head home, because Dad had to open the store early Monday morning.  There would be a sandy mess for the rest of us  to contend with but such a glorious time was well worth it.

Laterwhen I was dating, my boy friends liked to go camping on the Little White with our family too.  In fact I sometimes wondered if I was the total attraction or if they just liked being on our family outings?  “Well”, my Dad would say to Mother, “it’s better than leaving them in town and the current beau can help out our boys.”  If I had a boyfriend along, we took two tents and he slept with my brothers in theirs.  It seemed our family was special and the town boys liked the freedom, the swimming, the eats, and the target practice.  They had never experienced anything  like late night ‘cruising’ on the short wave and the conversations around the camp fire that it occasioned.  I guess it was Dads answer to teen-age temptations.  Neither my brothers nor I had much desire to get into trouble, there was just so much to do.  There were always those exciting phone calls to anticipate on weekends and one year Dad called and told Mom to get ready, he had heard there was a free concert in the Park in Denver, Colorado on the 4th of July.  That was 10 hours away, but what a 4th of July that was for us.  After the concert and fireworks we drove a couple hours  and camped in the Rockies.  My Dad was a master of surprise entertainment for his wife and kids.

When John was about ten Dad bought a reasonably priced, folding canoe which added to the delight of all!  Though it made work for my brothers, it was fun! There was a creek nearby our camping spot and it could be carried there and was great for boat rides and fishing. Before I knew it those years were over and it was time for me to go to college and see what “attracting” I could do on my own.

Many years have gone by and I have received many phone calls since then, but they have not compared with the delightful unexpectedness of my Dad’s voice suggesting a late night camping trip.  Sometime soon, My Heavenly Father’s voice will call me, perhaps unexpectedly, with the suggestion of the greatest outing yet, only this time He will call me to the Jordan, and my heart will beat high  with excitement knowing that I’m already prepared, as I rush to answer His call.

Early Bits and Pieces-Third grade in the hospital

I spent most of the next year in Hot Springs , South Dakota in the hospital.  At that time, Sister Kenny’s program of hot baths , swimming, massaging and daily exercises was all that they knew.  They had not yet determined just when the infectious stage was over, besides there was no possible care at home.  Nowadays, many experts would think my life was blighted because of the separation, for I was not allowed to even see my Mother for almost four months.  Dad owned a Hardware Store that was open six days a week and was open until 9:00 on Saturday nights. He could not often get away and since he didn’t drive he had to catch a ride the 220 miles up to see me. But he did write often, I have many of his letters still.  In the meantime, my brother John was born and he was fine.  I was so glad about that, even though I couldn’t see him, I felt joy that our family had increased and everyone was okay.  What fun it would be to have a baby brother!  They named him John Loren Osborn.

At the hospital I was caught up in the friendships and feuds of our smaller world there in the Children’s Ward.  My second grade class mates from home sent packages and letters from time to time, and there were some very caring nurses, life was okay. Though I did want to go home as soon as they would let me ,my psyche suffered no permanent damage that I noticed….

In the late spring of that year, I was released.  I had a wheel chair and some very small crutches, that I could use more or less adeptly.  Also they had put primitive half leg braces on me, later they would realize they were inadequate for my degree of disability, but at the time, I was equipped thus.  I liked the wheel chair much better than struggling with crutches, but I’d been used to wide halls at the Hospital and getting around as I chose.  Going home was to be very different.

The first day I got out of the car, Mom brought the wheel chair for me to get into.  We were parked on the hillside where our house was.  My Mom offered to help me get in, but very smugly I assured her that I could do it myself.  I got into the chair fine, but  when I had to push it up the hill and turn into the sidewalk that led to the front door, the chair tipped and I fell out.  Mom rushed over to help, but Dad wouldn’t let her.  “She said she could do it herself Dorothy, let her, or let her not be so quick to refuse help in the future.”  It was a wise word, and I learned from it how things would be in my life from then on.

I have found out now as a Chrisitian, that God deals with me  in that way also.  I can have His help at anytime, but if I am too proud to ask, or if I refuse the offer of His solution (as it is written in His word), then I am on my own.  He’s there, ready to guide or help, but I must humble myself to ask  and then I must heed His directions.  If I am quick to refuse His help, He will not insist!  I can go where the path is easy and straight with His support, or I can struggle along on my own, but His offer to help is always there.  Well, it didn’t take long in a small crowded house to see that crutches would be much more useful than a wheel chair, so I set about mastering them.  When we sat down to eat and Dad and I leaned our crutches against the wall, it was amusing to see the big  and little crutches side by side.  I’m sure that having a crippled father helped me adjust more easily to the situations.

Hot July

My mother loved me, but she longed for a larger family, two of her babies died after birth, one when I was three and another when I was five, then when I was seven, she was again pregnant.  This time Dr Studenburg was taking no chances.  She would be sent nearly 250 miles away to the big hospital in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.  The baby would be taken by c-section so he could be monitored there from birth.  She would be going to the hospital in late July.  Two of my uncles lived in our home town, they were younger than my father and talked to my Dad about going on a hunting trip in the Black Hills.  They urged him to go, since it would be his last chance for a week end off before the new baby would come.  My father had had polio when he was a child, he used both a brace and crutches.  While he was an excellent shot, he was dependent on someone else to get him close enough to be able to hunt.  He was tempted to go with them, but reluctant to leave my Mother after all they’d been through with the previous pregnancies.

She, however, encouraged him, “It’s a month away yet.” He said.  Though she too was fearful, she feared more for my father if something should again go wrong than she did for herself.  It was very hot that summer.  Before my Dad left town he brought me home a gift, a pair of roller skates.  He told me seriously to take good care of my Mother.  Mom didn’t feel very well with the terrible heat wave, so she mostly sat by the fan, but I spent all that day outdoors going up and down our hill on my new skates.  My legs ached that night when Mom put me in bed, but “That’s logical, you aren’t used to skates and I’m afraid you over did it,” she said as she smiled and hugged me good night.

The next morning I woke up early, anxious to go skating again.  But I knew my mother was still asleep, so I got some books off the shelf by my bed and read for awhile.  Then I had to go to the bathroom.  When I stood up from the stool, my legs buckled.  I wasn’t hurt, just surprised!  There was no sound yet from Mom’s room, (I could hear through the closet) so I got up and went quietly back to bed.  After awhile I decided I’d very carefully get myself some cereal, but when I slid off the bed, I fell down again.  This time I was afraid and called Mom.  She was afraid too!  She called our family Doctor.  He came right over to the house, his concern for Mom made him more than willing to do a house call.  He suspected polio, and told my mother to go get Grandma to stay with me and he said for my mother not to come back home until he called her.

With the high fever now raging, the dreaded diagnosis came; it was indeed polio!  Dr Studenburg was reluctant to tell my Dad who had had polio when he was seven.  But he decided Dad must come right away to be with me.  He would not allow my mother to come home so near her delivery time.  She must stay at Grandma’s.  Where was my Dad, that was the question.  He and John and Jim had gone hunting in the Black Hills , but beyond that, who knew where the hunt might take them?  Dr Studenburg called the State Troopers and asked them to find Lorne Osborn.  It was urgent he told them then he gave them the description of the car.  Meanwhile he did what he could for me.  I was burning up with fever by this time, for polio does it’s damage –of killing muscles– in the high fever stage.  He and Grandma used cool rags, aspirin, cold baths and whatever they could there at our house.  They didn’t want to take me to the local hospital because for the unknown nature of the disease.  No one knew for sure then how it was transmitted.

When the State Trooper pulled Uncle John over sometime the next morning, the brothers figured he wanted to check their hunting licenses, but when he said, “Which one of you is Loren Osborn?” they knew licenses were not the problem.  My Dad answered and immediately thought of Mom. “I don’t know what it is about Sir,” the trooper told him, “It’s a medical emergency and they need you at home right away.” What a total surprise it was when they got back to town and found the problem was with me not Mom.  My Uncle John and Dad took me up to Hot Sptings that afternoon in our car.  They had a section in the hospital for polio victims, even a children’s ward, since so many had polio that year.