Marian grew up during the Polio epidemic in the 1950s. She was 13 at the time and remembers the disease sweeping through children, teenagers, and young adults. Like today, they had to distance themselves from their friends and family. So Marian stayed inside, only occasionally playing outside with her brother and only in the backyard. No more swimming in the pool, no more walking to the creek. Because there was no internet at the time, they couldn’t attend classes. They didn’t even have a television. They quarantined for a year and a half before a cure was found.
We face difficult times again, and Marian hopes that her story offers some perspective to those of us who have never been asked to sacrifice our movement or social lives. For Marian, who grew up during wartime rationing, making sacrifices did not seem strange. “Times were tough,” Marian says. “But we didn’t know any different. You did what you had to do.”
As we continue to social distance, we can take comfort in the strength of past generations to make similar sacrifices for the good of their loved ones and community.
Barb grew up during the Depression in a large family of five children, and she learned to make do with very little. Her father was a railroad man who bought a plot of land from the railroad to raise his family. He purchased another plot of land where he planted corn and potatoes by hand. Sometimes, Barb’s father would dry the corn from his garden into popcorn, which the family would put in small bags and bring to baseball games to sell for 5 cents a bag.
Barb’s brothers would pitch in by searching for chickens that were too sick for local farmers to take care of, and their mother would try to feed them and make them healthy again. Sometimes she was successful, and they raised the chickens for food as well.
Barb learned how to be resourceful and to be content with what she had, a trait she thinks would be very handy in our current circumstances.
Joyce is 92 years old, and remembers how difficult past times have been for people more unfortunate than her. During the Great Depression, her family lived in Brainerd, MN. Her father would have been out of work, but he was a carpenter and there were three buildings under construction in the city. Joyce says her family was fortunate; they were never poor. But she remembers rationing food. Her friends and their families would stand in line for food. They weren’t as lucky as Joyce.
Then there was the smallpox outbreak. Joyce remembers getting vaccinated, but they were segregated from the children on the reservation who were not so lucky. She remembers feeling fortunate, but also worrying about the other children. She had met many of them, since her father would often help out their families, even giving some of them a place to stay if they needed it. He was kind to everyone, she remembers.
During the polio epidemic, she remembers seeing the quarantine signs on certain houses and how scared that made her. Today, she can still remember that fear, but she also remembers the kindness of her father and how it filled her with hope.
Sandy was around eleven when the polio epidemic began. Her mother, a reporter who covered stories about the epidemic, knew of the dangers early. Her mother kept Sandy and her sister inside, safe. They weren’t allowed to leave the house, not even to play outside. That made Sandy feel locked in, and it made her feel angry.
Just like today, Sandy remembers that during the polio epidemic no one had any idea what the future held. There wasn’t a clear solution … until the vaccine was found.
That gives her hope today. Even though we don’t know what the future holds, Sandy knows we can get through this together. It will be tough, and we will lose a lot, but we will find a solution in time.
As she did during the polio epidemic, Sandy is fighting the boredom of social isolation. Today though, she can talk to friends and family. She also trims her own hair and paints. She’s keeping busy, and she has faith we will get through this together.