Thursday, May 30, 2013


Psalm 69:2
I sink in deep mire, where there is no standing: I am come into deep waters, where the floods overflow me.

I looked at the chilling, blue water of the overcrowded pool and swallowed. The thought of the challenge I had just accepted, to swim across the deep part of the pool and back, overwhelmed me.

As I jumped in, I was aware of the constant buzzing of voices, pierced by an occasional shout of the other swimmers. I kept telling myself that I wasn’t afraid, that I could do it. Besides, if I couldn’t make it Judy would see me waving my hand and come in to get me. Prompted by the false sense of security that thought gave me, I began splashing my way to the middle of the pool.

The sun was bright, almost too bright to be warm. Instead, it seemed as if that orb in the sky had turned into cold, shiny steel. A tingle ran down my back as I paddled towards the center ropes. I could do it!

I wasn’t lacking courage the way Judy and Marianne had said. Yet, in the back of my thirteen year old mind, I was plagued with fear. The fear of water which had been with me since I was three when I had almost fallen out of a speeding boat on the Mississippi. I shut out the thought as I saw the rope in front of me. Taking a deep breath, I turned around to face the side I had just come from. I couldn’t grasp the ropes to rest because the lifeguards were very strict about that sort of thing.

My stomach felt like I had swallowed part of the sun, part of that orb of steel. Shivering, not only with cold but now with fright, I began to panic. The water stung my eyes, tears came, my vision blurred. I blinked and felt myself slipping down, down, down. Touching the bottom, I gave a shove and shot to the surface. I gulped a breath of fresh air and managed to get the water out of my eyes while thrusting my hand in the air to signal Judy. As she jumped into the water I kept telling myself to hang on, keep calm and don’t panic.

Would she never come? Goose bumps were tingling all over me like tiny pin pricks. Going under again, I tried to push off the bottom. I couldn’t make it to the top, I just couldn’t. My mouth burst open and I gulped a mixture of air and chlorinated water. I was choking now, where was Judy? Drowning is painless, need air, am so tired….


I grabbed, we both went under. As we surfaced, she tried to hold me away but by that time all reason had left me. I hung on tight to what I thought was my last hope. We struggled, she flung me off. I swallowed more water which sickened my stomach. Gasping, I yelled for help, nobody heard me.

I had never felt so all alone in my life yet totally surrounded by other people.

Something grabbed me. I choked on more water before I realized that it was Marianne. She was able to keep us both up for awhile and I could breathe.

I clutched her around the neck in an effort to get further out of the water. We submerged and then we surfaced. She threw me off and again, while falling, I yelled for help.

When I landed it was on my back. Float. Simple idea, why hadn’t I thought of it before?
I was gasping and panting as my head bobbed up and down, in and out of the sickening, blue water. Float. Lift an arm, then pull it. Lift the other arm. I drew a deep breath and choked again.

Must keep calm, steady, splash, paddle, pull….almost there. I felt a hand in mine. I had made it! Judy and Marianne pulled me up onto the edge of the pool.

Even now, years later, I can never go swimming without thinking…. without reliving part of the fear of the past.

(C) Marijo Phelps all rights reserved.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Heart Gifts

“Nooooo, go away, you can’t come in!” I implored my sister, Colette.

“How come? What’s the huge secret?” she asked.

“It is a secret and don’t you dare open my door!”

“Well, fine, I’ve got my own secrets too.” She replied walking across to her room, loudly closing the door.

“Hey you two, I need a little help out here.” Mom called from the kitchen.

I quickly stuffed the doll bed I was making into a drawer. I had used an oatmeal box cut in half lengthwise. Carefully lining it with left over material, I made a little mattress stuffed with cotton. I planned to use my best hanky for a little blanket. This was Christmas for my sister and Nancy, her favorite 8 inch tall Ginny doll.

Dad was an electrician. The TV was on the blink and had been sitting in the basement for months waiting for him to fix it. I personally thought he didn’t care much for TV. Well, the good thing was it gave us more time to be creative. This was good, because money was scarce.

I hurried to the kitchen to help mom. By now we were used to the orange crate cupboards. The house was new but we bought it before it was finished. My Dad worked on it evenings and weekends. We had orange crates, painted and with cute curtains instead of doors, for four years before he had the time and money to make real cabinets.

“Girls, would you like to put some of your allowance towards your dad’s gift? He’d love to get a Jacob’s chuck for his drill.” Mom mentioned to us.

Lately that was all Dad talked about. Looking back I realized it cost hardly anything but was something we girls could help buy and feel proud to present our dad on Christmas.

“Mom, do you still want to get that Electrolux vacuum, the hose on the old one cracked clear through yesterday, more dust went out than in.” I said, thinking how all she’d hinted about for months was that vacuum.

“Oh, I sure hope so.” She said with a twinkle in her eyes.

The doorbell rang, it was Mr Stopple from Stopple Feed and Seed bringing a huge box of delicious apples that Grandpa sent us for Christmas.

Grandpa always seemed pleased, as pleased as his stoic German self could emote, to get home canned goodies and baked goods from us each year. We had a big garden out back, though we lived in the city. Even Inky, the cat had a job to keep the birds off the raspberry bushes. Then we canned and freezer packed produce in the summer heat for weeks. I guess the watermelon pickles, green beans and beets were a gift of love to Grandpa.

In just a few more days it would be Christmas. Dad pulled us aside and swore us to secrecy. He showed us a little Electolux savings bank – it looked just like the vacuum mom wanted. He planned to wrap it…..

Christmas Eve came, Grandpa was there with us. He passed out little envelopes. Colette and I got five dollars each and that was a big deal back in the 1950s. Dad wouldn’t let us see what his contained. Mom showed us later that she got a fifty dollar check. Somehow after Christmas mom took my sis and me shopping. We got a pair of shoes, underwear, a sweater and a new dress! Wonder where her fifty dollars went?

It wasn’t until years later that we found out Grandpa gave Dad a check which covered the mortgage on our modest home for the year. I wonder how many hours of “lawyering” he had to do to earn that. He knew that the folks were paying off doctor bills from my sister’s polio and 9 months in the hospital.

It was Christmas Day! I grabbed the box Colette handed me.

“Colette! When did you do this?” Inside was a bracelet she had made. She used her favorite little heart she’d won at the fair. She made that, just for me and gave me the heart!

Dad gave mom the bank. She looked pretty disappointed when he told her she could save for her Electrolux.

Then he said, ”Ah, Ma, I have one more thing.” From the other room we heard a vacuum turn on.
You just wouldn’t believe the smile on mom’s face as she threw her arms around Dad hugging him close.

(C) Marijo Phelps all rights reserved. Use with proper credits.

Selling All Occasion Cards, Wrapping Paper and Ribbon, Our First Job

Proverbs 22:6 Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it. (We learned about working but no one in the family had a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus – that time was yet to come)

It was brisk in the autumn winds. My sister and I pull our wagon loaded with cards, wrapping paper and ribbons down the street amidst the swirl of colorful leaves; red maple, rusty oak, pretty elm yellows surrounding us and sometimes smacking us in our faces.

We go to our neighbors and then a few blocks beyond. On weekends Dad takes us to other neighborhoods we have known. Back to the house where Colette and I were born, we knew everyone. Over to my grandma and grandpa’s area where we had lived while our house was being built. We were twelve and ten with our little note pad for orders and our change bag for those who bought from the wagon.

This is the wagon that I pull Colette to school in. She had polio the year before the big epidemic in 1952 and is left with a limp and legs which don’t always do whats she wanted them to. She might have to sit down on top of the boxes of cards but we have a business to be proud of.

We end up selling over $400 worth of cards and other items available from this company which netted us $100 in profits. Yes, we did this for several years and had repeat customers.

And poor Dad, he doesn’t get paid for his time or gas money but I think he is using this to teach his two young girls some valuable lessons. Yes, there are a few rude people but most are gracious and listened to our brave little voices telling the potential customers what we are doing. Many invited us in so they can  look at an example of our items for sale. That give us a break from the Minnesota weather and a chance to warm our cheeks and hands for a time.

Did either of us excel at sales in later years? Nope. But this was a great first job. The thing which made it the best are the people we talked to and who bought from us, also the company which has such great cards and other items to sell. The very best is having a Dad who cared and is taking time to help us even though he already worked six days a week at his paying job. He is spending evenings and Sunday building the home we have moved into. We have “carpenter’s floors” (plywood only) for years before we can afford to get some tile and an area rug. We have orange crate cupboards in the kitchen for four years before he make real cupboards. Yes, the orange crates are painted and have cute curtains to close them from view. Did we feel strange or funny compared to our neighbors who bought their homes finished and ready to move in? No, we know we have hardworking parents who care about what really matters. We are always their special daughters who are taught, encouraged and challenged to do our best by our parents who really did care.
Are they perfect as in “Ward and June Cleaver” – nope, but they try and we all learn and grow through the mistakes.

I loved that first job and my family which made it possible.

(C) Marijo Phelps all rights reserved - use giving proper credit only

Monday, May 27, 2013

Lake Ripley, Simple Summer Times

Luke 8:22[ Wind and Wave Obey Jesus ] Now it happened, on a certain day, that He got into a boat with His disciples. And He said to them, “Let us cross over to the other side of the lake.” And they launched out.

I was thumbing through a notebook of poetry I had written. I found a poem entitled Wilderness I.

Cool fields on a summer day,
Crystal lake with wooded bay
Solitude with beauty blessed
That's my idea of wilderness.

Those simple rhyming couplets took me back to my first time at Lake Ripley.

Drifting in the canoe in the middle of the boomerang shaped lake, I could see my grandparent's cabin protruding on the point. It was small and white safely nestled against dense, green pines. 

The clear bluish water lapped against the side of the canoe as I gazed lazily around the lake. Peacefulness, quietness, restfulness, Peacefulness, quietness, restfulness, each wave seemed to impress upon me more than the one before it.

Directly across from the snuggled cabin were two dirt roads. They led almost straight up a hill and seemed to go into the sky. They appeared too steep for a car to descend, so what was the purpose? They cut the lake from the world and made it mine.

A great splash on the other end of the boomerang shaped lake caused me to turn just in time to see two deer. The tawny velvety bodies streaking back and forth. They played in the water, unaware that I was watching them. The shore they were on was the only one on the lake not thick with trees. It was at the foot of a steeply sloping grassy hill. At the top of the hill was the sky in its cool, blue splendor.

Peeking out from under the cottony clouds was the warm, penetrating sun which made my eyes water as it glinted on the lake's liquid surface. 

At the opposite end of the lake was a great, sandy beach. There were a few old green shacks barely visible in the pines above the beach. The shacks and several half sunken row boats were all that remained of the boys' camp which once made the shores of Lake Ripley lively with excitement, I was told.

They were gone and I was the only one left, alone and at peace in this seemingly forgotten place of wilderness.

(C) Marijo Phelps all rights reserved.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Mr. Bull Frog’s Reluctant Relocation

Genesis 1:21 So God created great sea creatures and every living thing that moves, with which the waters abounded, according to their kind, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.

“Raymond, that bull frog is waking up the whole lake, how can we sleep with him carrying on?”

I turn over on my cot, it is only then I can hear a muffled “hmph” of the supposed offender. My sister and I would have a new project in the morning, I can tell. It is dark, way too early to think about all of this right now. Pretty soon the only thing I can hear was Grandpa’s timber rattling snores in the other room.

Dawn is peeking in the windows as the sun rises over the blue waters of Lake Ripley. I wiggle my sister’s foot so we can get an early start.

“Hey, Squeeky, do you think we can catch a bull frog with a net like we make to catch butterflies?”

“Huh? I’m sleeping. What’s the matter with you?”

After breakfast we get a plastic bread wrapper from Grandma, a metal coat hanger and a wooden yard stick. With those and some tape we’d make a frog net. We make sure to poke some holes in the bag so that the water will drain out when we catch the offending bull frog.

At the ages of 10 and 12 we are allowed to take the row boat all over the lake, so long as we have life jackets on and stay close to the shoreline in case of bad weather or an accident. The folks sit on the porch and keet an eye on us through binoculars. Today is no different as we tell them of our plan to capture Mr. Frog and take him over to the adjoining lake, Little Ripley. We get peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, apples and some drinks. Soon we are paddling to the lily pads where we suspected the bull frog is living.

“I hear him! Go a little more to the right, see, there are those bulging eyes sticking up. Look how huge he is – bigger than my two hands together, and greenish- brown colors too.”

“Where, I only hear a splash.”

“Stop the boat and let’s listen, just be really quiet. He is over there by that lily to the left.”

“Do you see him, under that leaf? Quick!”

I splash the bread bag-net into the water and after several tries come up with the bull frog! “Man, he is huge, no wonder we can hear him at night.”

“I didn’t hear a thing except Grandma getting all excited.”

“Oh, he is really interesting! Look at those eyes, he doesn’t seem happy to be here in the boat, does he?”
“DON’T let him get out!”

We rowed and rowed, keeping that frog in the plastic bag with some water in the bottom of the boat. He doesn’t even let our one “hmph” on the whole trip. The sun is glinting on the quiet waves as it warms up. We take off our sweatshirts and keet going.

Squeak, dip, slosh, squeak, dip slosh were the hypnotic sounds we heard from the oars as I paddle around the lake towards our bull frog’s new home.

“Hey, what is that huge splash, did he get away?”

“Nope, I just saw a large pike jump on the left side of the boat.”

“Boy, I thought we’d lost him. Look at that darning needle.”

Squeeky and I both saw the dragon-fly hovering over the oar lock, with its beautiful glistening wings slightly in motion. The frog must have seen it too as his tongue began flickering in anticipation of a snack but the dragon-fly stayed just out of reach.

“Hey, Mr. Frog, soon we’ll have a brand new home for you in another batch of lily pads and far enough away so we’ll never hear you again in the night time.”

“Look, there are some cat tails coming up and this looks like the place to go into Little Ripley!”

I knew from past explorations that the water here gets really shallow between the two lakes but they are sort of connected. I jump out with my flip-flops squishing in the mud pulling the front of the boat behind me. Here we are in Little Ripley.

“Look, there are more lily pads!”

“Come here, you wiggly guy, off you go into your new home.” My sister grabbed the bread bag and its greenish-brown occupant and unceremoniously dumped him over the side of the old row boat.

“Hmph, hump” was all we heard as our passenger dips out of sight under flowering lily pad.

And Grandma slept well the rest of the summer. So did the rest of us but maybe for a different reason!

(C) Marijo Phelps all rights reserved

Saturday, May 25, 2013

When I was Young…..

But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.

A few neighbors had bomb shelters to be used when the tornado sirens went off and if Russia hit the button. There were something like 42 kids younger than I was in our immediate neighborhood and a couple older. I was the first year of the Baby Boomers born in 1946 through 1964. We battled polio and some lost, my sister was one of them who had it and she is still alive to tell you about it today. It really didn’t slow her down much even when she was using braces and crutches.

We played. Yes, outside with all those kids; kick the can, red rover, badminton and croquet were some of our favorites. We made tents over the revolving clothes lines. Mom didn’t need a dryer, she had two daughters to hang clothes which came in the house smelling like fresh wind and sometimes a bit of rain. Yah, they were stiffer that those eventually dried in the drier but that smell!

We took pride in not making anything from a dreaded “box mix” but all goodies were from “scratch”. Our 2 chest freezers consumed more cookies, cakes and breads that any two families on our block. They were packaged and frozen and where did they go?

Years later my sister and I confessed that when mom left a note telling us to have ONE cookie we’d sneak down the basement and clean a whole top layer off the frozen ones and ,munch contentedly in the basement without mom having a clue even on the days she was home. We were all sitting on a water bed for the telling of this tale and we laughed so hard that mom almost fell off the bed backwards. She really didn’t know. She was home until my sister got into junior high and I was in senior high when mom went back to work to earn money for our college education.

We were allowed to watch TV three hours a week, IF our homework and piano practicing was all finished. Bonanza and Rifleman were our favorites. What in the world did we do with the rest of our time? When we were younger we played with Ginny dolls by the hour and actually read library books, imagine that! We also maintained at least a B plus average in school.

Our bicycles took us to friends, the “little store” which was about 5 blocks away and to school. When my sister was much younger I pulled her to school in our wagon as she couldn’t walk that far with her polio.
It was a kinder and simpler time. One family around the block didn’t even have a car and I don’t remember any family who had two cars. The city bus stopped 3 houses away and came about every half hour so why would you need two cars?

We canned, froze and sewed. We did the canning during HOT summers with 98%humidity and 98% temps even in the middle of the night – no air conditioning in Minnesota during those years and I don’t even remember having an oscillating fan. I do remember many sleepless nights dripping with sweat in front of an open window. That part I don’t miss at all.

Neighbors brought casseroles if someone was sick or had to go to the hospital. We shared home-made jam and bread with people who moved in to the block. The ladies had coffee together and the kids played and played outside.

People cared, people prayed, people gossiped and were judgmental even back then. People helped one another and actually knew who lived next door to them. Kind of like what Mick and I have been blessed to find now, some 60 years later in the mountain meadow we call home. I am glad we found this sense of community once again.

(C)Marijo Phelps all rights reserved - use giving proper credit only.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

A Family With Polio from the Heart of An Eight Year Old – “Little Boy”

1 Corinthians 10:13 No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.

I am back at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. No, the summer isn’t over but Dad is coming to get me. He can’t stand having all of us gone anymore and will pick me up on the weekend to take me home. Our neighbors will watch me while he is at work. He and I can wait together for the time Mom and Colette will come back home on the train that took them away. Colette is getting better and doing more and more with her polio stricken legs as they have treatments several times a day at Spears Hospital in Denver.

For some reason many of my aunts, uncles and cousins are at Grandma and Grandpa’s. They all decide I needed a hair cut before Dad picks me up. Out comes a large kitchen towel which is fastened around my neck with a clip clothes pin. I don’t remember who begins the hair cutting process. One starts, then another decides it needs a bit of evening up on the other side. The infamous photo is snapped when Uncle Wes has the scissors and is trying to make the left and right sides even. I look down and see hair all over the floor. About then someone says “we’d better quite before she looks like a little boy”. I know Dad has us two girls and maybe he always wanted a boy but I sure am not about to volunteer at this point.

I look in the mirror, where has all my hair gone? At least I am going home and my hair would grow. Everyone keeps saying that over and over “your hair will grow.” I wonder what else they are thinking?

Grandma gives me a quarter the next morning and I get to walk to the dime store again. I get some blowing bubbles and a small number puzzle to work on. I hope the hours will soon fly and I will see Daddy driving in with our green station wagon. I even miss that old car, I can’t begin to tell you how much I miss my Dad!

Of course, the hours dragged by. I help Grandma make a cake to have when Dad gets there. There are no more thunder storms, it is as if even the weather knows I am going home and is on its best behavior.  It is a wonderful day with sunshine, blue skies with puffy white clouds and peonies, now that I know how you have to spray them to leave the ants outside, in order to take the flowers inside, I can help Grandma even more. I remember the first time I sniffed them and got a nose full of ants. That was icky.

I have Frisky and just know Dad will love him. My Frisky wouldn’t water the trees in front of our house like the neighbor’s dog does either. I have my bottle for my big doll and so many things to tell Dad about that have happened this summer. Not to mention, there will still be a little summer left before school starts and I can see all my friends at home.

I hear the crunch of tires in the driveway. There is that old green Plymouth. I run, yes, the screen slams and I don’t even get in trouble because I am jumping into my Daddy’s arms. Tomorrow we’d go home! I think this is the best day in my life. The only better one will be when that old steam engine train finally chugs to a stop and I get to see my Mom and Colette once again. That is now just a few weeks away.

“Daddy, Grandma and I made you a cake with seven minute frosting and coconut! And we cooked pork chops, mashed potatoes and gravy for your dinner.”

“It smells wonderful, did you help her?”

“Oh, yes, she helped me to be a good cook while I was here.”

I didn’t know then but those cooking lessons and the ones Mom gave me would come in handy as Mom was going to be in bed most of the following year. It was at this point my eight year old self learned how to take the city bus downtown and get all Mom’s shopping list at several department stores with her charge card. Colette and I also did meals, housework – all except ironing because we weren’t tall enough. None of this hurt us a bit. Dad was right there beside us walking us through. I know Mom had several kinds of arthritis crippling her. I am sure the stress from Colette’s polio might have taken its toll and Mom had pneumonia too. I remember the mustard plaster blistering her chest. I remember her joints all swollen up and red from the arthritis. I also remember how she helped Colette with her exercises to strengthen her legs every day. Mom talked me through breathing exercises to strengthen my lungs from the times I had pneumonia. An RN might be the patient, as my Mom was that year, but she never stopped being our RN too.

Colette and I learned many valuable “life skills”. We could cook, make brownies and cakes from scratch, we learned how to plant and keep a vegetable garden. We hung wash and hurried to get it in before the rain came. We learned all about cleaning from Mom. Dad helped with all the housework too. Dad took us fishing and we went on picnics. We played with our Ginny dolls by the hour. There might have been some things we missed as a family due to polio but love and closeness were not among the number of things missed. We had that richness as our family “glue”!

(C) Marijo Phelps all rights reserved - use giving proper credit only.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

A Family With Polio from the Heart of An Eight Year Old - Frisky

Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.

This week I am going to Aunt Jeanette and Uncle Leo’s place in Slinger, Wisconsin. My Mom and sister, Colette are still in Denver getting treatment for her polio and Dad is the only one at our home in Rochester. I wish I could be with him but his Mom was too old to take care of me all day while Dad works, so I am traveling all over Wisconsin from cousin to cousin.

Aunt Jeanette takes me upstairs to show me my bed. Right in the middle of the bed was the neatest stuffed dog. It was a cocker spaniel just like my best friend’s dog. Cheryl lives two doors up the street from our house and I love her Frisky. I look over my shoulder to my Aunt Jeanette “Whose dog is

“It’s yours Marijo”

I get the biggest grin and hug Frisky tightly to my chest. “Thank you, thank you!” I remember when my sister first got polio 3 years before Aunt Jeanette and Uncle Leo brought her a big stuffed fox. She had that fox with her all the time she was in the hospital for nine months, he is sitting on her bed at home right now. I sure am glad that my Aunt knew we kids would love stuffed animals.

The room was really hot. Nobody had air conditioning back then except for some of the very well to do people. We sure didn’t. We didn’t even have a little fan, just slept with the windows open and our beds pulled in front of them hoping to get a breeze. It could be midnight and 90 degrees out and the radio said it was 90% humidity too. We stuck to the bed sheets, we stuck to chairs, especially those with the plastic coverings. Get out of the bath tub and before we got totally dry we were wet again from sweating. And we all still had to take naps in the afternoon so we wouldn’t catch polio. Everyone took naps even us bigger kids.

My cousins at this house are Danny and Joey. They are fun for boys but they are boys, younger than I am by several years. By this time I just want to be home and in my own bed.

Aunt Jeanette takes me shopping. I see a baby bottle that would be perfect for my sister. We both have life sized dolls that wear a size two toddler and we don’t have bottles for our babies. I had a little money Dad had given me before I left Rochester and I knew where I would spend part of it.

“Aunt Jeanette, I want to get that baby bottle for Colette’s big doll.”

“OK, we can even mail it off to her. Do you think she’d like that?”

I thought that was the best idea yet. No, we didn’t have our big dolls with us but this would be a great surprise. “Oh, can we?”

We get the bottle and package it up taking it to the post office to send to Colette.

A few days later I am taking my nap, which means I am tossing and turning in the upstairs bedroom trying to get quiet until it was time to get up. I heard feet on the steps and there is my Aunt with a box in her hands. “This came in the mail for you, Marijo”

She has scissors with her and hands them to me with the box. It is from my sister. I tear it open to find a juice sized baby bottle for my big doll. I can’t believe that Colette and I have the same idea for a gift the very same week. I asked my Aunt if I can fill it with cold water. We do just that. Then I have cool water to drink during my “nap time” in the hot, upstairs room. I offered some to Frisky but he didn’t want any so I drank it all myself.

I know, a child psychologist would have had a ball with that one and me eight years old. But it was way before sippy cups were invented and it sure tasted good to have a cold drink of water during my nap time at Aunt Jeanette’s, and know I had a bottle for my big doll, Joey, when I finally got home to him.

(C) Marijo Phelps all rights reserved use giving proper credit only.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

A Family With Polio from the Heart of An Eight Year Old – Yucky Eggs

Matthew 19:14 But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.

This week found me at Aunt Shirl and Uncle Jack’s house. I am making the rounds this summer of my Mom’s relatives while she and my sister get treatment for Colette’s polio in Denver. Dad is home in Rochester working six days a week. I am in Wisconsin.

Debbie is my ten month old cousin. I get to help feed her and play with her. She grins, slapping hands on her high chair table. I am joyful with her.

“OK, let’s see if we can get her to eat this soft boiled egg……” My aunt spoons a mouthful into Debbie’s lips while saying “yum, yum.” Aunt Shirl then turns her head away from the baby to look at me and stuck her tongue out mouthing “yuck”. Oh, my goodness, someone who likes runny eggs just as much as I do, I laughed out loud.

“You don’t like them either, do you?” With that question Aunt Shirl won my heart while Debbie innocently smacks away at her breakfast to my aunt’s “yum, yums….”

We play and build with blocks. When Uncle Jack comes home from teaching school we get the stroller and go out for a walk around the neighborhood. Debbie is excited about everything from the neighbor’s dog to a fluffy tailed squirrel which scrambled up the maple tree scolding and scolding us for interrupting her nut gathering process.

It is still hot and sticky, Wisconsin in the summer, but I am enjoying this. Aunt Shirl lets me help her with dishes and setting the table but most of all I love helping with baby Debbie. She is a most delightful cousin.

There is the old Royal typewriter in the hallway on a little table and I am looking at it. Well, OK, I am touching it and I break it! Some of the keys go up and will not go back no matter what I do to them. I feel terrible. I walk away. How can I say anything? I have wrecked the typewriter. I know I shouldn’t have been playing with it. I am sad and upset. Am I going to be in big trouble? I wished I was home. I miss Mom, Dad and Colette. I miss playing dolls with my sister and going fishing with my Dad. I miss talking to my Mom.
I go back to the typewriter, touching those broken keys again, getting ink all over my fingers. Then all of the sudden both keys go back down where they belong. I am so relieved. I run to find my Aunt.

“Aunt Shirl, I thought I broke your typewriter.”

“What happened honey?”

“Two keys stayed up and wouldn’t go back down no matter what I did.”

“Let’s take a look, they seem to be fine now. Sometimes two get stuck together and you have to carefully un-stick them like this.”

And my aunt showed me how they stick and how to un-stick them.

I can’t help it. I get tears in my eyes. Aunt Shirl drew me into a big hug with her arm which wasn’t holding Debbie. “That’s OK honey, it happens all the time and you didn’t break anything.”

But my tears were then for something more than the typewriter. My family has been broken by polio and my heart is too. My Aunt Shirl’s arm hugs me tight. Knowing she cares is more than enough for that day as I smile through my tears. Someday maybe I can go home again and we do not even have a typewriter to get stuck. I sure hope it will be soon.

(C) Marijo Phelps all rights reserved - use giving proper credit only.

Monday, May 20, 2013

A Family With Polio from the Heart of an Eight Year Old –Cousins Giggle

Sleepy Cat Ranch with family 1953

Matthew 28:20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.
We were supposed to be asleep but this was too much fun staying with my cousin who was a year and a half older than I was. I missed my family with my Mom and sister in Denver getting therapy for my sister’s polio and Dad, home working 6 days a week at the Rochester Light Plant; but I was enjoying spending time with cousins too.

“All right you two quit your giggling and get to sleep. Tomorrow is the big day when we all start swimming lessons.”

Swimming lessons, oh, no, I needed to tell my aunt what the doctor had said.

“Aunt Marvene” I called out as I got out of bed and went downstairs “Aunt Marvene, does the place where we are going have chlorine?”

“Well, sure it is a swimming pool and you have to have chlorine or you could get polio.”

“Dr. Chambers told Mom I couldn’t ever swim in a pool that had chlorine again or I could go blind for life.”

I then told my aunt about the horrible reaction I had from swimming in a pool with chlorine and what our family doctor had said. She didn’t seem very concerned at all. Patting me on the bottom and scooting me towards the stairs she told me “well, we will make sure they don’t have you put your head under water. Now go to bed.”

Why couldn’t she call my Dad or Mom? I know, long distance was expensive and you only called when somebody died or maybe at Christmas, but they could tell her. They could explain. It was almost like she didn’t think I knew what I was talking about but I heard Dr. Chambers and Mom talking and I knew it was serious because nobody had let me go to the swimming pool since then.

I tossed and turned and finally the sun came in the room through those white ruffled curtains. Oh, no, this was the swimming lessons day….

“Come on girls, breakfast is ready.”

My aunt had fried squishy eggs. I really hated squishy eggs and was supposed to be allergic to them.

“Aunt Marvene, I can’t eat runny eggs.”

“Oh, why is that?”

“I am allergic, they have to be cooked really hard.”

“What happens when you eat them?”

“I get really sick to my tummy and might throw up.”

“Well. These are farm fresh eggs and I bet you’ve never had them before so you can eat just one.”

(Aside: I really was allergic to the eggs – protein is changed by heat and when they were cooked hard the protein I was allergic to was changed by the heat and I could handle it. How could an eight year old explain that to an overzealous aunt?)

I choked down the egg. My tummy revolted but not to the point of tossing it back up. And then we were getting our swim suits, towels and beach bags, a day to remember.

The instructors didn’t make me put my head under water and actually the lessons were kind of fun. My eyes were really red but it was probably more from sleeplessness than chlorine. I survived the lessons and definitely had something to tell the family MD but I actually never did get my head in the water, did I?

We got home and my younger cousin, Richard, caught a butterfly. It was in a jar with holes poked in the metal top with a nail. The butterfly was trying and trying to get out and kept hitting its body and wings on those sharp holes.

“Paula, do you think Richard would trade me his butterfly for a pack of gum?” My Dad had sent me to the relatives with about 10 packs of gum in my suitcase to cheer me up and give me something to share with the cousins I would visit.

“It can’t hurt to ask him.”

“Hey, Richard would you trade me your butterfly for a pack of spearmint gum?”

“You mean I get a whole pack of gum just for me, sure” He handed off the butterfly jar in my direction and grabbed the gum in his four year old hand.

I took the top off the jar and let the butterfly go. Richard saw that and ran crying into the house.

“OK, which one of you let Richard’s butterfly go?” My Uncle Newell was not happy. I tried to explain that I had traded the butterfly for the gum and the butterfly was getting hurt on the holes in that jar.

“You two are older and supposed to be setting a good example. I want you to go and weed the garden for ½ hour beginning now.”

Paula looked at me rolling her eyeballs, “But you traded for your gum….”

My uncle came in ½ hour and told us we were done and he hoped we had learned something. Hot and sweaty we ran to the hose for a drink of water. Yep, we learned something. Adults just don’t seem to understand and I was down a pack of gum. But the butterfly was free. Sometimes that summer I wished I had been that butterfly.

(C) Marijo Phelps all rights reserved - use giving proper credit only.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

A Family With Polio from the Heart of An Eight Year Old – Teary Goodbyes

Sleepy Cat Ranch vacation with my grand parents and folks

2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.

The teary goodbyes were over or maybe had just begun. I had gotten to my grandparent’s home in Platteville with Daddy as my chauffer carrying my packed suitcase and doll’s suitcase. It was three years after my sister, Colette, had been paralyzed by the polio she had come down with a year before the big epidemic in 1952. She and Mom were off for the summer to get treatment at a chiropractic hospital in Denver after the Mayo Clinic had held out little hope for her walking again without braces and crutches, falling down every third step.

What I left behind besides Dad was our neighborhood. Our block went from 14th Street to 10th Street with only one intersecting street. Within those blocks there were forty kids. I was one of the oldest. This was the “post war baby boom” era. We always had someone to play hide and go seek, kick the can, red rover, jacks, jump rope or dolls with. They lived just a couple houses away.

Grandma and Grandpa lived in a huge house near downtown Platteville. Yes, it had five bedrooms but they had raised eight kids so that made sense. The wrapped front porch was big enough to roller skate on although I don’t think we dared. The front door went into Grandpa’s insurance office in the foyer. To the left was the living room which ran the length of the house, to the right was the curving stairway which went upstairs. Straight through was the dining room. Did that huge table really seat over twelve people? Behind that was the kitchen and back entry. Eventually they had a half bath put in there. All told there were steps that led to the basement, first floor, second floor and whole attic way up there. This house made ours look like a cabin.

“Grandma, what can I do?” My eight year old heart was begging. On one side of the house was an apartment building, I never met one person who lived there. On the other side was Mrs. Murley. I think she was related to Mrs. Santa Claus as she looked about that old. We visited her, she occasionally produced a cookie but she didn’t have anyone in her huge house to play with me.

A block away was the “down town” where Grandma and I could get groceries, clothes, bubbles for blowing and see many of the people she knew. We walked and she introduced me to lots of grown-ups. Eventually she’d give me a quarter to go down to the dime store and see what treasures I could find. I could go all by myself. She probably produced those magical quarters when she couldn’t bear to hear “Grandma, I’m bored” one more time. Yes, I helped her. We did dishes, ran the wash through the wringer washer, into to rinse tubs then out to hang on the clothes line. We fixed tea in the pot that matched the green walls in her kitchen.  We worked in the hot, sweaty garden too. Peonies, they were pretty and ruffled – pink and reddish and white. Bet they smelled good I thought  as I bent to take in a big whiff. “Grandma, they have ANTS and one went up my nose!”

“Yes, my dear, we need to spray them off really well before we cut them. Then we shake making sure we got all the ants off. Would you like to take some into the house?” They were gorgeous on the table and without their ant companions.

Grandpa traveled selling insurance and was gone a lot. That was OK. Grandpa had a “telephone long distance” voice. When he was home he boomed on the phone and off. I remember laying awake house because of that booming and then getting in trouble because I was “still awake”.

Tonight Grandma had tucked me in way in the “back bedroom” where Colette and I usually slept. That bed was huge without my sister. The shadows through the window were pretty monstrous too. The wind picked up,the huge tree branches were scratching against the house. Soon the lightening and thunder began, it was going to be a long night. Somehow I drifted off and was awakened to a loud scream, mine. Grandma came rushing up the stairs to tell me that we were having a thunder storm but it was going to be OK. She straightened the covers over my shoulders and patted me as she kissed my forehead and left.

But I saw those monsters by the window, shadows flitting, some inside and some outside. Finally that night was over. We went outside to see a huge limb from the biggest tree in the yard laying on the ground. Yes, it still had green leaves on it but not for long. Our family was like that tree all ripped up by the thunderstorm polio had caused in our lives and laying on the ground…..

It was later that week when I parked my suitcase and my doll’s. I was going to visit my favorite older cousin, Paula and her family. I loved Grandma and Grandpa’s but that big old house was empty without my sister.

(C) Marijo Phelps all rights reserved - use giving proper credit only.

Friday, May 17, 2013

A Family With Polio from the Heart of An Eight Year Old – Daddy Cried

Colette, Rhonda, Marijo and Danny (a few of the Curnow cousins)

Isaiah 40:11 He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.

I’d never seen my Daddy cry before until today. That train pulled our slowly gaining speed and Mom and my sister, Colette waved from the window as they swatted the tears running down their cheeks.

Daddy held me high so I could see them as they got smaller and smaller. “Daddy, are you OK?”

“Sure I am Muh-Muh Jo, I am just going to miss all of you so much.”

I knew in a few days I would “get to” go to my grandparents in Wisconsin. Soon I make the rounds of about six batches of aunts and uncles getting to know many cousins for the summer.

Colette and Mom were going to get treatment at Spears. It was a huge chiropractic hospital we lived across the street from for a year and she went twice a day for therapy. When she got polio we lived in Rochester, Minnesota where the Mayo Clinic is. People came there from all over the world to get help but they told my parents that Colette would never walk again. She’d have braces and crutches and take two or three steps then fall down. Although Grandma Schacht was related to the Mayo family she encouraged us to seek other help. We had moved to Denver in 1952. Colette had already been in a hospital for nine months and cried a lot because her legs hurt so much. Shortly we moved to Denver for a year and Colette got much better. Pretty soon she was walking without the braces and “crunches” as she called them. She could even hitch her hip around and go up the small step on our front porch. Daddy couldn’t get a good job. He still had his job back in Rochester, they said, so we went back to Minnesota.

Colette had gotten polio the year before the big epidemic. She was almost 3 years old when she bit off her big toe nail and it got infected, finally getting so bad that Mom and Daddy had to put her in the hospital for treatment. There were some other kids on that ward and apparently their diagnosis later was polio. When they shared space with my little sister no one knew that. Her toe healed but she got something much more sinister than a toe infection. Numbers of days later she began throwing up and had a high fever. I remember that night so well. She ended up back in the hospital and couldn’t wake up. Mommy said she was in a coma, I guess that’s what it means. They talked about encephalitis and other diseases with big names. Everyone was real scary faced and no one smiled much.

I missed my sister so much, it hurt to see that little girl crying in pain. I had just turned five when she came down with polio and I was eight this summer.

Before polio my sis hardly ever cried. I remember when she was eighteen months and fell off the couch. Mom took her to the doctor and wanted x-rays.  That doctor lifted her by both arms and said “mam, if she had a broken arm she wouldn’t be sitting there without showing pain, would she?” Mom told him to please get an x-ray. That doctor looked really weird when he put those pictures on the box with the lights inside to look at her arm and said “oh, my goodness, she has a green stick fracture….”

She got a cast and we both got suckers but none of us liked that doctor very well. Boy, did Dad get an earful that night. No, she didn’t cry. My sister was tough.

After she had been in that hospital for a long, long time Mom and Daddy decided they were going to sneak me in to visit. Someone had decided that she was no longer contagious by that point but they weren’t sure what to do with her to help her get well. They gave her so many shots she got allergic to penicillin. Years later they found out that penicillin didn’t help polio anyhow. So we got off the elevator, they grabbed a little wheel chair and put me in it so I’d look like a patient. We got to Colette’s room and heard sobbing. She choked out a story in her little three year old voice that she had to go potty really bad. She put the light on for the nurse and no one came. She had to wait so long she wet the bed. Finally, the nurse came and she was really wailing. She’d been potty trained forever and was embarrassed that she wet herself. That nurse looked at her and told her if she didn’t hush up her parents wouldn’t come to see her anymore. My five year old heart broke for my sister. I couldn’t understand anyone talking that way and lying like that to a sick kid. It was after that that mom and grandma took turns staying with Colette. Not that they hadn’t been there every day before but now they were always with her.

I hugged Daddy’s neck as I saw that steam coming out of the train’s smoke stack. It was so far down the tracks, then turned the corner and was gone. I was glad they were going to a place that had helped my sister walk again. Yes, she had a “hitch in her git along” but at least she could do a bit of walking now. I mostly pulled her to school in the wagon when we didn’t ride with Daddy.

My Daddy hugged me tight as we turned to go back to the station wagon. Soon we’d load it up and I would go to Wisconsin. My Grandma Schacht was now 75 and I guess too old to keep up with babysitting me for the whole summer so I was going to have an adventure with Mom’s family in Wisconsin. All I knew was that my sister and best friend was being taken far away by that old steam engine. And I would miss her so.

(C) Marijo Phelps all rights reserved - use giving proper credit only.