For the second week of the October Memoir and Backstory Challenge, the theme is Relationships. I’m going to do something that I thought of at the end of the challenge last year — explore how my life compared with my mother’s life at three different ages to see what I can learn about us.
On my mother’s 6th birthday, the doctor was called to see her at home, as they did in those days. He declared her so ill that she needed to go to the hospital immediately. Her diagnosis was rheumatic fever. She was hospitalized for more than a month. At one point, she received blood from her sister Lloyd.
My mother made some autobiographical notes and this is what she said about one treatment she received in the hospital:
A needle was inserted into my chest to withdraw fluid. I screamed. The doctor said I couldn’t feel it. I suppose I was numbed in some way because I don’t remember any pain. I just remember the sensation and the slurping sound of fluid being withdrawn from my chest cavity. I was in a Catholic hospital and the attending Sister (nurse) said, “Doctor, you’ll kill her if you do that.” The doctor said, “Yes, but she’ll die if I don’t.”
The year was 1943. There were blackouts at the hospital, I suppose because of the war although central Indiana would surely be far from any real threat. My mother remembered being terrified when all the lights went out.
At home, there was a long convalescence. She remembered making colored paper chains, listening to radio soaps, and pasting pretty things in a scrapbook. She rang a bell when she needed her mother’s attention. But, mostly, she was bored and lonely. She was the youngest of ten children, four years younger than the next nearest in age. Her oldest siblings were married, some with children of their own. The ones closer in age were at school all day and helped with endless farm chores at home.
My life was much better at age 6. Health is a blessing, isn’t it?
There was a big change in my life at that age, however. A couple of months after I started first grade in Salt Lake City, Utah, we moved to Louisiana, Missouri where I had to start a new school. I don’t remember this being hugely traumatic. I must have been a little scared, unless I was more extroverted at that age than later, but mostly I was excited. Mother would have encouraged that attitude. Compared to the boredom of a sick bed, I was pretty lucky to get to move half-way across the country and experience a new place at that age.
The first three weeks, especially, were a grand adventure. We lived in River’s Edge Motel while the house was being fixed up for us to move in. The room had a view of the Mississippi and, all night long, we heard trains and barge horns — an early introduction to the rhythm of a river town.
We tried out every restaurant in town since our room didn’t have a kitchen. I don’t remember this, but I think the story was that no restaurants were open on Thanksgiving so our meal came from the vending machines at the plant where my dad worked. Even that would have been exciting at age 6!
What do you remember about age 6? What do you know of your parents’ lives at that age?