I seems that the first thing that my friends and family question is, "Why on earth did you choose such a title for your blog?" The answer is actually very simple and relates to my contracting Polio at the age of nine -- and the years following -- up through high school.
As it turns out, I have been writing my life history. There is a chapter therein that chronicles this time in my life. So I include the following excerpt as an answer to the question. If you have an interest in reading more of the story of my life, you can click on Life Story. I guarantee you a few chuckles.
LOS ANGELES – 1943-44 – 8 & 9 YEARS OLD
When I was about 8 years old, my mother placed my brother and me in a boarding house, while she got settled in the Los Angeles area. World War II was well under way (early 1943) and I can remember cities on the West Coast practicing “blackouts,” camouflage nets over the aircraft plants, and our fighter airplanes practicing aerial dog fights high overhead. I liked the time spent at the boarding house. Some of us boys had created a special secret room that you entered by crawling under the house and then climbing up into the space under the stairwell. We had pictures on the wall, some special toys, and candles for light (it’s a wonder we didn’t burn the place down).
One of the inhabitants of the boarding house was a 10-year-old girl named Molly, who we called “Mean Molly.” Somehow she found out about our hideaway and decided to challenge our “boys only” rule. I decided to fight her to keep her out. Big mistake - I didn’t have a chance. It was a one-punch scrap! I suppose it was my first encounter with women’s lib.
Boarding house Sundays usually meant pancakes for breakfast. Because there were so many of us, this also meant we would be served one pancake and then wait maybe 10 minutes or more for the next one. On Saturdays in the summer, we would often go by bus to the Bimini Plunge, a large public swimming pool near the Los Angeles Olympic Coliseum. It is here where Doctors later decided I probably contracted Polio.
This was the summer of 1944. I was 9-years old, and my mother took my brother and me on the famous Southern Pacific Daylight Passenger Train from Union Station in Los Angeles, along the coast to the Bay area and then by bus to Yuba City, to spend the rest of the summer with my father and stepmother. On the train I remember having an almost unbearable headache. It was probably the first sign of the polio bug settling in. I also remember being able to see simultaneously, the locomotive ahead of us and the rear of the train coming out of a tunnel as we wound our way through the coastal mountains.
In Yuba City, it wasn’t long before I began to show symptoms. I tried to climb up a ladder but was too weak. I had a fever and the doctor soon decided I was coming down with Polio and ordered an ambulance to take me all the way to the San Francisco Orthopedic Hospital. The hospital would be my home for the next nine months. My father and stepmother were quarantined for two weeks and could not leave the house. (My father blames me for the birth of my half brother nine months later).
SAN FRANCISCO ORTHOPETIC HOSPITAL – 1944-45 – 9 & 10 YEARS OLD
I have lots of memories of my stay in the hospital -- mostly positive. When living at the boarding house my mother had worked very hard with me to teach me to read. But I had a serious mental block and was about to be put back to repeat a grade. So I arrived at the hospital not only with a serious disease but I couldn’t read worth a darn. Nevertheless, as with many disheartening happenings in life there are often silver linings. For one thing, the March of Dimes was handling the major financial costs. Secondly, and of great significance, the Sister Kenney breakthrough treatment had been introduced -- instead of splints they used hot pads and constant exercise of your limbs to promote recovery and reduce permanent muscle loss. And then there were two other blessings: I was not affected in such a way as to need an Iron Lung and I was not in a particular growth spurt which often results in some limbs being much shorter than others, since Polio inhibits growth in the paralyzed areas until the paralysis subsides.
Some other good fortune -- I was being treated in one of the most up to date hospitals in the country, AND – the hospital had a portable library stocked with a series of books that I grew to love by Frank L. Baum called Oz Book (The Wizard of Oz, The Tin Woodman of Oz, etc, etc). With lots of time on my hands, & a little help from the nurses, I taught myself to read quite well and have been an avid reader ever since. In the hospital the nurses and fellow patients began calling me Ozzie, a nickname that stuck until as a Junior in High School. I finally got fed up with schoolmates saying, “Hey, Ozzie, where’s Harriet?” By the time I graduated from High School I had most of my friends converted to calling me Mike. By the way, I have a collection of Oz books that is growing in value.