Vignette

 

    The young mother spends her interminable days flat on her back, paralyzed below the neck, nothing to distract her from her own frightened thoughts. It’s 1952, and only a lucky few own televisions, certainly none to be found on the third floor polio ward of North Side Hospital. Visitors are limited to three hours a week.

    It’s a kid thing. The polio epidemic hit a disproportionate number of young kids, so most of the beds in the large open ward where the young mother is kept are children. Whenever visiting moms & dads leave, it prompts such wailing from the stricken children, throwing the ward into such turmoil, that the staff decreed the three-hour visitation window.

    One blustery Saturday afternoon in March, the young mother’s favorite nurse comes by to check on her. She says she has a surprise and starts to wheel her patient’s bed over to the bank of windows on the other side of the room.

 

    The young father is harried these days. Holding down a full-time job at the steel mill and trying to raise his one-year-old little boy while his pretty wife lie hospitalized was taking its toll. He doesn’t get to visit her near as often as he’d like, and he knows it upset her to miss their son’s recent first birthday.

    He has next Saturday off. It’s not an authorized visiting day, but he has an idea. He calls the hospital and asks to speak to Nurse Benton in the polio ward.

 

    The toddler senses that something is wrong. Passed among a series of aunts and grandmas, he rarely gets to see his real mother. Today, Dad dresses him in the blue one-piece snowsuit and takes him for a ride in the car, frequently using the word “Mommy”. He doesn’t know where they’re going, but after a while they pull into a parking lot and get out into the bracing air.

    At precisely 2 p.m. the young father lifts the toddler onto the hood of their Chevy. He starts waving toward a bank of windows on the third floor of the adjacent building and coaxes his little boy to also “wave to Mommy”. The toddler can only see a big, ugly, brown brick building, but is happy to do as his Daddy asks.

 

    The young mother, with Nurse Benton at her bedside, is propped up barely enough to see into the parking lot below. She sees her two beloveds down below, husband and son, waving and waving. She doesn’t know if they can see her—they don’t know if she can see them—and none of them know when their little family might once again be made whole.

© 2017 Tom Manche