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Friday, 30 March 2012

Living in the Desert

By Marcy Belson

The first thought that comes to mind about childhood in the desert is running outside as the rain began and standing with my mouth open, turned upward to catch the raindrops.

It was such a novelty, rain, beautiful wonderful rain. Perhaps once a year, there would be a rainstorm with water collecting in the street gutters. My mother wasn't a big fan of letting me play in that dirty water but I was thrilled if I had the chance to take my shoes off and get my feet wet.

I also remember, during the polio epidemic - in our household, no trips to the public swimming pool at the high school. No one knew why or where the polio germs were coming from, but the news of children and adults living in an iron lun, were reason enough to be very cautious.

Some of my friends did use the city pool and I was very jealous of them. I would ride my bike over to the pool and stand outside looking through the bars that surrounded the pool.

I was allowed to wear my bathing suit, sit on the ground under a chinaberry tree in our front yard and stick the water hose down the waist band of my suit. Too bad someone didn't get a photo of that pose.

My husband and I took our children and stood in a very long line at a local school to get our first shots of the Salk vaccine in 1962. There was a lot of discussion about the choice of using the Sabin oral medication or the Salk "shot.”

I only knew one person who had suffered from polio. He was a handsome man with a wife and children. Shortly after they were married, he came down with the illness and spent the remainder of his short adult life using a device that looked like a turtle when he slept to help him breathe.

He used a wheelchair and lived a busy life for about 10 years.

One of my favorite memories of life in the desert was the night skies, a riot of stars. The air was usually clear, and the valley was surrounded by mountains in the distance. A couple of times a year, the dust storms came. If I was nearby, I would rush home and close every window and door.

No matter, the dust and dirt permeated our home. You could feel the grit in your teeth. We had the paint on the front of our car blasted by the sand on a trip through a storm.

Another hazard was crickets; they came in swarms one summer. Under the street lights, the road became slick with crickets, attracted to the lights. My dad would take me with him, early in the morning, to gather crickets for fish bait.

To have leather seats in your car was not a great luxury in the summer when the average temperature could reach 115 degrees. The metal steering wheel would scorch your hands and the leather seats would burn your legs. Air conditioning was not an option for most people - in their homes or cars.

My parents, as newlyweds living in the country, moved their bed outside under a tree. My mother awoke one night to discover a man searching the pockets of my dad's pants. They moved the bed back inside the house and suffered.

I never lived in a house with air conditioning until I married and we bought our first home. I thought it was a small miracle to be comfortable during the summer months. Our first cars didn't have air conditioning but my husband paid to have a unit installed in my car since I worked out of town.

I love living in Oregon. I love the rain, the cold weather, the dark skies, the dreary days, I love it all. If you see an old woman, standing in the rain, with her face uplifted and her mouth open, it's probably me.

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. PLEASE read instructions for submitting.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


I remember the "Sabin on Sunday" polio immunization events.

There would be publicity all week about scheduled immunizations and that day all the local churches would make announcements. After church, carloads of families drove to their local school, registered, and each person received a small sugar cube infused with the oral medicine.

We had two boys with polio on our block. They both recovered, although each was left with a slight limp. One became a commercial artist and one a police officer.

As for air-conditioning, we had our first window AC in the 1970s. I worked rotating shifts as a police dispatcher and often had to sleep during the heat of the day when the AC also provided sleep-inducing "white noise"

Thanks for the memories. I, too, grew up in the desert, dreaded iron lungs and love Oregon for its rain.

I live in the desert now, and this time of year is glorious! Flowers and sunshine...the scorching heat of summer yet to come...I love this time of year!

I was, briefly, an "iron lung" baby. I was too young to consciously remember it but in 1990 I had a heck of a time fighting the panic of being strapped inside a small enclosed capsule which keeps you motionless and holding your breath for endless periods while a camera moves in a 360 degree arc around you and the revolving gurney/capsule, taking pictures of your beating heart.

Until that point I'd never suffered (or suspected) that I have claustrophobia.

When I told my much older sister about the experience she said, "You don't remember being in the iron lung do you?" *Remember?* I hadn't even been told about it by our mother. I was 14-17 months old.

I too spent years living in the desert in the 50s and 60s, when the sky was a tapestry of stars and the sheets burned your skin when you went to bed at night.

I still love the desert, though I no longer live there either. Thank you for the lovely story, it brings back many memories... not all pleasant, but that's life.

In the desert I used to hope that Heaven had clouds because I missed clouds. We might not miss life's "clouds", but life wouldn't have the depth and richness it has without them would it?

Thanks for the wonderfully descriptive account of life in the desert - I too remember the polio epidemic and the forbidden swimming pool (and just about any other public gathering) - a member of my school class had it and lived in an iron lung after that for many years until dying young - and after I attended medicl school and was praticing pediatrics, I volunteered to help give the oral vaccine at a clinic not far from where I lived. A major problem today is the fact that too many of today's young parents have no acquaintance with the contaagious "children's diseases" and have a lackadasical attitude toward vaccines. They've never seen anyone with polio or a baby with whooping cough or a child with diphtheria or tetanus or measles encephalitis. Vaccines are one of medical science's greatest gifts to mankind. (Just some musings from an old retired pediatrician.)

Dropping off the mountain, into the desert, will always be "going home", but I'm happy to be an Oregonian now.
Thank you for the comments, I have enjoyed reading them!

I love visiting the desert when it's raining and cold in Seattle, but I am always glad to get home to the wet air and to open my mouth to the rain. Thanks for the memories.

What an image, you standing on the outside watching all the kids playing in the pool. Polio held so many people prisioner, even when they didn't have the disease!

How well I remember the first Salk Vaccine.

My children were born in the 50's and when they were still very young the first Polio Vaccine was announced. But, shortly after that,there was a scare as they stopped the vaccine for a time because several children had symptoms of Polio after having been given the vaccine.

When they determined exactly how to prepare the vaccine it was reintroduced but some people,including myself, were now afraid of it.

I had a wonderful young Pediatrician looking after my children's health and he had one son who was his pride and joy.

When he suggested that I have him give my kids the Salk vaccine I asked him if he had given it to his son yet and he said,"No." I told him to let me know when he had given his boy the vaccine and I would bring my kids in the next day.

About 6 months later he called and told me he had given his son the shot and,true to my word, I took my kids the next day and they lined up for the Salk Vaccine and I have never regretted my decision.

I grew up in Az in the 50s. I remember no pool, no gatherings and 3 polio shots
We had those dust storms plus squalls so it rained mud-going in a car with leather seats was painful! Even now my cars will never have them- but the smell after rain was heavenly!

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