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Friday, August 19, 2011

JAN'S STORY

Here is another story from my collection for the book of memories of girls growing up in the South. Although she is 83, Jan's, mind, unlike her body, is active and agile. She is the sweetest lady in the world, gentle and funny, and an admirable Christian.

(Recorded on 2/3/05)

I grew up on a farm in south Alabama. The country was coming out of the worldwide Great Depression. We’re talking about 1928 – 32 & 33. I was born in 1928; six months later, in summer, I had polio.

As I remember, my parents said I cried for 3 days and nights and I don’t know why they didn’t throw me away. But when I stopped crying, they noticed that when they put me down, I would play with my hands, but my feet wouldn’t move. I couldn’t kick. They took me to the doctor, a pediatrician. I’m surprised back then they had a specialist. Dr. Kannady, in Dothan, Al.

We lived 18 miles from Dothan, in the country, and Dr Kannady, my father said, took a match and pocket knife and trimmed the match off sharp. He tickled my right foot with it and my foot wouldn’t move. And he said, “ This child has polio and she will never walk.” This is what my father told me, years later. He told them some things to do that might help me.

One was to give me sun baths every day. They would put me on a pallet outside in the sun after my mother took the oil from peanut butter and rubbed my foot and leg. Agnes, my sister, was 10 years older than I was. She would have to take me and put me on the blanket or pallet outside. She said I was so slippery one day from the oil that she dropped me. We had a family hound dog and he would lay out there in the sunshine with me. He was protective and stayed with me.

Agnes said I would have to stay ½ hour. She would watch me as I flailed my hands and they would time it. When it was time to come in, I must have been really slippery. She said we had the driest peanut butter she ever saw. Back then peanut oil would come to the top in the jar. You were supposed to stir that oil into the peanut butter, “but all that oil went on you,” Agnes said.

I didn’t walk until I was 2 ½ or 3 years old. Mother told me I was holding onto a stool one day, and I pulled up and my mother told my father, “Coleman, that child is going to walk someday.” It was a prophetic statement because when I was around 4 years old, my daddy and mother took me to Warm Springs, GA, from south Alabama.

That was a long trip back then. We did not have a car, but my uncle, Phillip Killingsworth (mother’s brother), was a contractor and we thought he had money. Well, he could own a car. He and his wife, Aunt Cora, took my daddy and mommy, their little boy, and my smaller brother, Bobby and me to Warm Springs. There were eight of us in a Model A Ford. We were sardines!

My family took me to Warm Springs for help. It was so expensive! I am told my parents were very discouraged because the only thing they could afford was a short leg brace with an ugly brown high-top shoe for the right leg. That didn’t seem to help much. But my father never gave up. He was a determined man and my mother had a lot of good common sense. She was the educator in our family, too.

When I got to be five years old, she said, “We knew we couldn’t send you to school if you didn’t have more help. Because my foot was so deformed I walked on the side of my foot. And falling! I tried to walk so I could go outside and play. I always wanted to be where the action was. Mama would beg me not to go outside because I had permanent scabs on my knees. I remember falling and seeing the blood run down my legs (I was around 5 years old).

By this time, the March of Dimes must have been established (established by Franklin D. Roosevelt as "National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis in 1938). My father found a children’s hospital in Mobile, Alabama that would take me and help me. I don’t know how he found this out. The first time I went there, a lady named Ms. Collins took three children to the Mobile Infirmary in her car. She had a lot of energy; her hair was pulled back in a neat, stylish bun. She always carried a dish pan because often we children would get car sick. Bless her heart. I don’t remember ever vomiting, but I remember helping her hold the pan for other children. It was traumatizing for me because I had never spent one night away from home.

Did I mention that I was number five in a family of seven children? I had a sister, Jeanette, who was 14 months old when I was born. As we went through childhood, we were the same size and people thought we were twins. Of course, I never went far from home; we had no car. Mobile is 200 miles from Dothan. The first time I went to Mobile, I thought we were going around the world! That 200 miles is a long way when you don’t have any of your family with you. The first time Ms. Collins took me and that night we got to the hospital. I remember about 5 beds in my room. We were in a ward, and I remember homesickness. I sucked my thumb on my right hand and that was my salvation – that and sleeping.

Next day, Ms. Collins left and didn’t take any of the children with her. I don’t remember how long I stayed the first time, maybe the whole summer. It seems like I always went in the summer. That was the first of 15 trips I made to Mobile. The other times I went alone on a Greyhound Bus. My father would take me to Dothan to catch the bus and mother would pack my little cardboard suitcase.

The first time I went to Mobile, they didn’t operate on me. The anesthesia they used then was ether. It’s not used any more. They didn’t put me to sleep the first time, but several people held me on a surgical table. They pulled my foot around and erect. It was called a dropped foot and a curvature. Of course, it was so painful they had to hold me and they put a cast on it. Back then they were experimenting. They left my foot, which was very painful, in the cast with it pulled around straight. When they took the cast off, it went back to its old deformity.

They would send me in a taxi from the hospital to the bus station and I would always sit on the front seat because the driver was responsible for me. The next time I went to Mobile, I went on the Greyhound Bus. Each time I would go my father would console me. He didn’t mean to lie, he meant it, saying, “The next time you come home Honey, you are going to wear shoes like Jeanette.” That was the incentive I had. I would go with the hope that one day I would have feet and legs like Jeanette, because she always had the prettiest feet and legs. She is an old lady now and still has pretty feet and legs. But that never happened to me.

The second time I went to the hospital in Mobile, the doctors performed an amazing surgery. My heel string was shortened by polio – my heel would never go down on the floor and I walked on my tippy toes on that foot. The first surgery I had, was a heel string graft (hamstring) They took sheep tendon and cut my heel string and grafted the sheep’s heel string so my heel would extend to floor when I stood. It was amazing, remarkable, the most successful surgery I had. It worked wonderfully.

Many times, I would go to the hospital for evaluation or observation or wondering what they could do for me. One time they operated on my ankle and braced it with sheep bone. That time they sent me home with a cast on and evidentially they sent me home too early because I remember the cast bleeding through. When I got home, my foot started swelling and my toes began to turn purple. My daddy got to a phone (we didn’t have a phone back then) and he called the hospital in Mobile. They told him to get me back as soon as possible. That was the only time that my mother went with me. She said she could not let me go alone on that bus in pain. I was so elated that I had somebody to go with me that it didn’t matter if I hurt. I wanted the world to see that I had my mama.

But I didn’t know what was ahead of me. I thought she could see my friends there and I would show them that I had a mama! When I got there, they brought a container with vinegar and eye dropper and cut a trench down my long leg cast .They let me drop the vinegar down that trench to soften the cast. I guess they thought that occupy me and keep me out of trouble. I thought that mama would stay or that she and I would go home together. But the next morning mama left and I had to stay so the doctors could take the cast off, check the incision for infection, then put on a new cast. Then I would go home. I don’t know how long I stayed, but I must have stayed another two weeks. They seemed to send me to Mobile every summer so I wouldn’t miss school.

I started to school on time. I remember my daddy buying a little red wagon. The hospital would send me home without any crutches. Even though I had a cast or brace, I never had any crutches. My sister, Jeanette, would put me on her back (I was as big as she was) and take me outside so I could see my brothers and sisters play. I never knew why I didn’t have crutches when I was a little girl.

We had to walk a distance for the school bus; it didn’t come to our house. My brothers and sisters, Jeanette, maybe Ed, they would pull me in that red wagon to meet the school bus. I guess I didn’t do much walking after I was at school. I don’t remember that much.

But they helped me in Mobile. After surgery, I had a short leg brace and a hightop shoe. I never knew why I had a long leg cast and short leg brace. I think the worst problem I had at that age was my foot that was turned over or deformed from having polio.

In all those visits, I never had one visitor; I was so far from home. One day a class of elderly Sunday school ladies came to visit the hospital. They looked old to me. I don’t know how old they were. One lady came over to my bed and said, “Little girl, is there anything you want? Can I send you something?” And I said, “Yes, ma’am, I want a coloring book and some crayons.” To this day I love to color. She said, “I’ll send you some”. Made my day! I would wake up and say, “The coloring book is coming today.” I had told my mom not to write to me, “If I see your handwriting, I’ll cry.” I thought it was better not to read any letters to make me cry. So I didn’t expect any letters from home. I turned home off, and turned my thoughts to what was happening in the hospital.

If didn’t have surgery, I would help the nurses. I could work pretty well. I was not confined some of the times that I was in the hospital. Every day nurses would take us out under the large oak trees with Spanish moss hanging in them. The ice cream truck would come by, and each child would eat an ice cream (there were wheel chairs for those who couldn’t walk).

Now I looked for the postman. I was waiting for my coloring book and crayons. The postman was happy guy, came in whistling. He would throw the mail onto the beds and we would catch it. He came and I got no coloring book. I kept thinking, “Maybe she’ll send the coloring book tomorrow.”

Then one day the postman came in and threw a brown paper-covered package on my bed and I tore into that package and it was crayons and coloring book! I opened the first page and it was already colored! I thought, “She has sent me a used coloring book, second-hand!” Then I looked down at that page and started crying because somebody had signed it and it was Nette (my sister, Jeanette). Then I grabbed package and saw it was addressed in Mama’s handwriting. And it was God. My mama sent the coloring book and crayons and I had mixed emotions. I was so proud of that coloring book and angry with that lady who didn’t come through. I really learned right then, at an early age, you never promise a child something without following through. I never have forgotten that lady who promised me a coloring book. She probably forgot it and never thought of it again.

Other things happened there that God did even though I didn’t know the Lord. One time I was so homesick and I told the other children. A girl said, “I heard that if you hold a Bible and let it open randomly and if you make a wish and hold your hand on the verse “And it came to pass,” it will happen. I got a Bible and opened it. It seems like I had to open it several times before I found “And it came to pass.” I said, "I wish to go home on Tuesday." It must have been Wednesday or Thursday of that week and I was going to give it several days to happen. I sort of forgot about it, but Monday morning, somebody ran into the girls’ ward shouting, “Needham Hunt has company! His daddy is over there.” Boys stayed on one side of the hall and girls on the other side. Needham was a teenager and I was a little girl, but I think I had a crush on him. We got in trouble together sometimes. We got in our wheelchairs and raced down the hall. It was a semi- basement – I could look out the window and see feet walking by, but couldn’t see the whole person. The hall had a decline -- we could go down fast. But we were not supposed to do that. But we would slip around. I raced with Needham and I knew that Needham’s home was not far from mine. I wanted to meet that man. I was forward (I have never been shy anyway). “How long are you going to stay?” I asked Needham’s father. ”I have to leave tomorrow.” he replied. “I could go home if someone could take me, I hinted. ”Would you take me home with you, I live in Headland.” Needham stayed, but there I was available, hitch-hiking, never seen the man before. He took me home and as we rode, I thought about that wish several days ago on the Bible. I didn’t pray, I wished, but don’t you know God was in that? He knew the desire of a little crippled girl’s heart. And it says in the Bible, “God knows the desires of our hearts.” Tuesday night, a car pulled up in front of my house. They weren’t expecting Jan but I was home. It was night when we got there. A full day’s journey – a long drive. Wasn’t that something? I really believe that my faith in God started way back then, when somebody told me to find a Bible. I know that it’s not true, wishing on the Bible – but that’s what happened anyway.

I don’t know how many surgeries I had but the ether was taking its toll on me. One time in the recovery room I woke up screaming for my father. (He was my friend. See I have memories of him swinging me in a swing on the front porch. He would put his feet up in the swing and hold me in his lap. I loved to smell him – he smelt like Prince Albert smoking tobacco. He rolled his own cigarettes. He would let me hold his can of smoking tobacco -- a tin can -- and I would put my nose in the can and smell the tobacco. It’s a wonder I didn’t turn out to be a smoker, but I didn’t.)

I thought I was hollering, but my diaphragm had collapsed. That’s why I have a speech problem today. Recently - -2 yrs ago, I had an appointment with an orthopedist. He and I talked and I asked him, “Dr. Edwards, why don’t they ever use ether now?” He said it is too dangerous. I told him about the time I had my 3 or 4 surgeries and was screaming with no sound. He said my diaphragm collapsed –“you almost died”. Well, the ether was so terrible I felt like I was smothering. He said ether cut off a patient’s oxygen for a time then eased up on it once we were asleep. He stated, “It is so dangerous you won’t smell it in a hospital again.’

One time I came home and my nerves were shot. I had nightmares and, even in daytime, mama said I would cry out. I would see an old woman who would “yah yah yah” at me. I guess I was hallucinating. My mother told daddy, “She’s had all she can take. She’s not going back to the hospital.” I needed another surgery to stabilize my ankle, to bring my toes up and stabilize it. Mother had common sense. “This is it. Fifteen times she has had surgery. We are not going to send her off.’’

I had to wear such an ugly shoe! When I was almost in high school, I came home from school one afternoon, and said, “I am tired of this ugly shoe. I’m never going to wear it again.” I took off the shoe and threw it hard on a pile of corn and it made corn start falling down. I guess I walked into our house barefoot.

So Daddy bought me some penny loafers. He had to buy two pairs, because my right foot was two sizes smaller than my left one. I wore size 6 on the left and 4 on the right. I would take white gauze and strap my ankle up and put on socks. That’s how I went through high school. I believe it was good for me because I used no corrective shoes, stick, or crutch. I had the best time in high school.

. In 11th grade I went out for cheerleading. I liked to perform and was not shy. Before my diaphragm collapsed, I was in every play in school. The teachers had me singing, acting, and everything, because, I think I was good. After my diaphragm trouble, I started stuttering and hesitating and having speech problems. I went to speech school. At high school try outs we had to perform for the student body and they voted on us.

Jan's story ends here, but she went on to live a life filled with love and accomplishment. She had no children of her own, but "took in" an Asian boy and she and her husband raised him with such love that they not only have him as their son, but his wife and children who loved her husband, T.W., and love "GranJan" immensely.

Note: From T.W. Snider (Rev. Snider, now deceased, was Jan's husband. He lived -- in excellent health until the very end -- until 1 day past his 100th birthday) on Jan’s condition:

Jan is in a wheelchair at all times, except when in bed. However, she has a “lift” on the rear of the car which carries the chair. The chair is electric. Polio finally got her back and legs and is now working on her arms.

When one has polio and the germs do their job, the go to sleep in the spine. Then, 60% of the time, they awaken long later and do much harm. Now they are after Jan’s arms. I can’t cook because of ignorance. She can’t because of inability. So we sit and wait and the food comes to us!

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