Two kids separated by time, but not by love. The 13-year-old kneeling is my son. The kid in the chair is my dad. He's "been there, done that" when it comes to being 13. In fact, he was trying on 13 back in 1941.
He didn't know it at the time, but he was about to try on Polio, a disease which killed or paralyzed thousands of children.
Dad was a normal 13-year-old and did all the usual kid things, ball, fishing, riding bikes, and swimming. It was probably the swimming that gave him polio.
A friend's father had dynamited a swimming hole in a tidal river called the San Sebastion. The San Sebastion forms the western boundary of old St. Augustine and is an estuary. In the 40's it was also the recipient of raw sewage from many houses along the river.
Boys don't always think about such things and the prevailing idea of the time was that the "tide took everything away". So, unbeknownst to my grandmother, Dad went swimming in the San Sebastion. He has told me that once in a while....um...brown floating objects would float by on their way downstream. He and his buddies would splash the smelly offender away and then continue swimming. Tough boys...
If you look up polio, you'll find that the most common method of infection was contact with feces or fecal contamination of water.
I wonder sometimes, what was it like to be 13 and be told you have a disease that killed and paralyzed children each summer. How scary that must have been. As a parent, I can imagine the anguish my grandparents must have felt as their firstborn was diagnosed with this viral killer.
Polio made itself known when Dad fell in the bathroom and could not get up. The disease attacks nerves that control movement and breathing. Many children wound up in iron lungs that breathed for them. Many others wound up dead.
My grandparents wanted to send Dad to Warm Springs, Georgia for therapy. President Roosevelt spent time there for his own polio therapy and had made the small town famous. At first, it didn't look like Dad would get in...there were so many polio kids back then.
Then my grandfather sat down and wrote a personal letter to FDR, pleading for his son. A slot at Warm Springs opened up. Dad went.
Decades later, I remember my Grandmother (Nana) breaking into tears as she described the day she left Dad at Warm Springs. The pain of separation was still there 40 years later.
Somehow, Dad survived Polio, but the disease left its mark. His right leg is weaker and slightly shorter that his left. Growing up, I knew my Dad wore a built-up shoe, but I never, ever considered him physically handicapped. He's wiry and strong, even now at 77 (today is his birthday), his biceps are toned and defined.
After he retired and got a little older, the weaker leg caused a few falls with resulting bone breaks. After a couple of these, he began wearing a leg brace...you can see it in the picture.
To my kids, "Grampsy" has always had the brace...and the gray hair. They probably wouldn't recognize the Superman I see when I look at him.