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Monday, March 10, 2008

In a perfect world

My mother’s side of the family was small in number. She only had two brothers, no sisters. Besides her, only one brother married and had two children. I was an only child until I was eleven. My boy cousin was born only one year after me. When I was four years old my uncle brought his family to visit my grandmother in whose home I was living at the time. I had heard the name Randy often growing up and have only childish spotty memories of that visit. Then as quickly as the visit was over, the mention of his name caused my grandma to turn her face away.
New ghostly words floated around our house, like iron lung, polio, and the March of Dimes. Following his visit, my three-year-old cousin was one of the polio statistics in the 1950’s. Too young to understand the implications, I was fascinated by a snapshot of Randy ‘asleep’ in a casket, his young life ending hardly before it began. I thought grandma was saying ‘basket.’
Like the many experiences of 1950’s children, we accepted the answers given to our parents about civil defense, nuclear testing, busing, missiles, and vaccinations. I remember that my parents were tentative in giving permission for me to have the Salk ‘dead virus’ vaccination in elementary school. When Sabin’s ‘live virus’ oral vaccine in a sugar cube was recommended in the early 1960’s, again we absorbed our parents’ uneasiness, stood in line and munched on the sweetness of safety. Too young to fathom the global cooperation and exploitation of large world populations needed to refine the vaccination, it is very apparent now that we American children were used as experimental test animals as much as monkeys, Russian or African children. Setting out for perfection the researchers found a suitable way to stop poliomyelitis in its tracks before I left elementary school.

However, whenever I meet someone named Randy, first I wince, then I smile, and finally. . .wish.

'experimental' writing for Sunday Scribblings. . .see more here.

13 comments:

Beatriz' suitcase contents said...

Noni, you have such a way with words, I love your SS postings. Love the picture too, sweet memories of a young life.

Marianne said...

I can't even begin to express how this makes me feel... those photos, two very sweet children...

I remember going for those laced sugar cubes, so unaware of 'the whole picture' at the time, only that it was for the grown ups also, and Very Important.

Here's to Randy...

LittleWing said...

gee, made me cry thinking abt this post and Randy... my sister use to work for an attorney who handled the cases where children have been affected by vaccines... she couldn't handle it and soon left.. how is the weather down south? the snow is starting around here... can finally see the ground...spring is soon sprouting..

GreenishLady said...

Oh, that is so touching.

LyRy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Linda Jacobs said...

What a wonderful command of language you have! Your story spun out and captured me in its web.

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

Yeah, I don't think I'd ever be comfortable with someone named Randy after that.

And how interesting that you consider yourself to have been a guinea pig. I'm younger than you, so I guess my knowledge of things is colored by revisionist history.

Interesting. I'll have to look more deeply into the development of the vaccine (not easy in the town Jonas Salk worked in).

Old Wom Tigley said...

This is such a good post, I have many of them memories of injections and the sugar lumps. I have a friend you suffered some form of Polio, but he grew up to become a local blacksmith.. I still see him now and then.

Julie Schuler said...

All our lives are fraught with peril, yet the sickness and death of children seems doubly cruel. Thanks for writing this, and for sharing your observations on that liminal state, that barbarism, between mortal illness and, well, mortal medicine.

Jo said...

A beautiful piece, so well expressed.

Granny Smith said...

This makes me weep. What sweet pictures of a child who might have grown up to make a difference in the world. I can't believe how trusting Otto and were in entrusting our four to what we believed was already proven safe!

I can't seem to make your email work, so please look at my posts. There's a little something for you there.

Inland Empire Girl said...

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sister AE said...

I never thought about it being an experiment, but it certainly was!

Meanwhile, this brings echoes of things my dad used to tell me. He never knew his older brother who died in 1915 in a flu epidemic. That "missing" brother is why he became a doctor.