Sunday, August 17, 2008


It's a bit uncanny how while writing Comfort (my Blue sequel) I have been given little emotional glimpses into my story.

A few examples:
1. For the last two years the airwaves have been flooded with stories of post war trauma
2. World War II info has also been commemorated repeatedly through films and books.
3. I heard on NPR an actual 1945 radio announcement that I'd referred to in Comfort.
4. Last week a Warm Springs alumni spontaneously sang "I've Got the Polio Blues" for me. I had the words for that song - it directly relates to my book and just to hear the tune - wow!
4. On Praire Home Companion last night someone sang "Mary Don't You Weep" - another song that figures into my story but had previously been only a title for me.
5. And then, yesterday, I bent over and whomp!
Just like that I was on the floor trying to find a position that did not bring on more pain. I had a serious muscle spasm which eventually released through massage. I was at church during our all-day Vacation Bible School so there was no shortage of advice being handed my way. I tried it all, massage, stretching exercises, ice pack, heat pack, medication, and prayer. Someone pointed out that I appeared to be favoring my right side. I didn't realize until then that my spine was out of whack! I found a mirror and, sure enough - I looked like the letter l italicized (only I was leaning to the left!) Hmmm, Why do I think there is a chiropractor in my Monday morning schedule?

So what does this have to do with Comfort? I'd written about Ann Fay sitting on the sidelines -watching others go about life.

Later, when we left the classroom and all the other girls had friends to walk with, I said Imogene’s line again. I said it at recess while I was sitting on the wooden bench by the dusty red ball diamond—watching the other students play softball.

After Mrs. Barkley helped the class choose teams she sat on the bench beside me. “How’s it going so far?” she asked.

I shrugged. What did she expect me to say? “I’m so excited to be in your class instead of Mrs. Hamrick’s.” I liked Mrs. Barkley already and not just because Peggy Sue had liked her. I could tell she was a good teacher. But I wished I’d had her when I was supposed to be in eighth grade.

I didn’t know what to say about how things were going. What should it be like? After you have polio, I mean. Were other people supposed to carry your books for you the rest of your life? Did you have to sit at the front of the bus with your little sisters while everyone else sat in the back and talked about you? And warm the bench at recess?

“I used to play softball real good,” I said. I don’t know why I said that. Maybe I thought Mrs. Barkley would try to understand. I used one of my crutches to write a big A in the soft red dust at my feet.

“I know,” she said. “I saw you out here playing when you were in seventh grade. You had a knack for hitting the ball where other players couldn’t catch it.”

“Really?” I looked at her. “You actually noticed that?”

Mrs. Barkley laughed. Her gray eyes twinkled. “I’ve been watching you, Ann Fay. I’m glad you’re finally in my class. It won’t be the way either of us expected it to be. But you and I are about to have a good year together.”

I didn’t know what she meant by that. But all of sudden I thought maybe sitting on the bench wouldn’t be so bad. Not if she was there beside me.

When I injured myself yesterday I was suddenly watching life from the sidelines. I let my hubby go through the food line and bring me a plate of food. I'd help set up the stage for our Bible School drama but I couldn't tear it down at the end of the day. I'm used to being healthy and capable. Suddenly I felt useless and irresponsible.

And I realized that I hadn't entirely understood that that was how Ann Fay's disability would affect her. She was used to being responsible. And while she would certainly be concerned about her social life and she'd hate being a misfit, she would also struggle with feeling like she was letting others down by not doing her share.

Ultimately I think that is why polio as a subject has touched me. There is that realization that people, who were perfectly healthy, found their lives and their image of themselves changed in a day.

I don't actually have a clue what that feels like. I'm a little tender at the moment and definitely not moving as freely as usual but my life is not drastically altered. However, I hope that being an observer is giving me more compassion for those who find their lives permanently altered by physical disabilities.


  1. I love how you take something like your spine being out of place and see a bigger picture through different eyes.

    I must add that you did your share of tearing down yesterday!

  2. It will be ironic if, when "Comfort" is published, people think you jumped on the WWII nostalgia bandwagon ... when in fact you started way before all the commemorating began.

  3. Well, Amy I think I mostly bossed you around! Thanks for all your help!

    Dave, Yeah, actually I was trying to avoid a war story. The truth is it all started with an assignment to find something in my backyard. Just so happened our epidemic took place during WWII. But also true is that I have always been drawn to this era. I think it started with reading Anne Frank's book as a young person.