7/29/2005

Sightseeing Amid Memories



Jim and I are curious people so its no surprise that we really enjoy sightseeing and visiting museums. Jamie's visit is a good reason to re-visit places we know but have not seen in a long time.
Before we reached the museum our car was stopped by armed security at the Walter Reed front gate for an ID check. The new world reality intrudes on even an innocent sightseeing excursion.

The National Museum of Health and Medicine at Walter Reed Army Medical Center is only twenty minutes from our home so it was a quick trip. And, it has gory curiosities that appeal to a 13 year old as well as good information about the history of battlefield medicine.





Jim enjoyed the exhibits and like always takes time to read the fine print. I am more of an essence person and can skim through quickly until something grabs my attention - then, I read the fine print. Jamie, it turns out, is a combination viewer. He quickly gets the essence and then goes back through to study the fine points. I was not surprised that he spent the most time in the exhibit with the real skeletons and the real specimens which demonstrate the development of a fetus. I remember our kids being fascinated in the same places. Grandchildren are such joy - for themselves and for the memories they stir in you.









Jamie stopped at the exit to add his comments.

I peeked over his shoulder and saw just the first word,
"awesome."


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Several things on exhibit stirred other memories for me.







Iron Lung circa 1940s

During the summer of 1944 and 1945 there were polio epidemics in Charlotte NC. Advisories were issued by the Health Department. Polio hit children first and hardest. Children under 14 years old were not to attend large gatherings or public places like movies and swimming pools. Parents were afraid.

To move my sister Lynda and me out of Charlotte - and harm's way - my mother sent us to the country. She asked the Sisters of Mercy at Sacred Heart Academy in Belmont, NC - 13 miles away - if we would come there for the summer. They agreed. And - that is another story.

Remembering Janice Thompson.
My cousin Janice Thompson was a couple of years younger than I was. I remember her as a happy, laughing red-haired six year-old little girl with freckles. On a sultry summer afternoon, without realizing the danger, her mother, Alice Thompson, took Janice to Suttle’s Swimming Pool. Within days Janice was in an iron lung and quickly dead – a victim of the polio epidemic.

Two summers ago (2003) when I was reading old newspapers on microfilm at the Charlotte Public Library the “lead” of an article on the front page of the Charlotte Observer caught my eye - First Charlotte Child Dies of Polio”. I read on and was startled – it was about Janice. I knew what happened that summer but I never knew the particulars. She's been dead 60 years - - but I felt as though she had touched me.

I asked Mama what she remembered about it. “That was the saddest thing. I can see Janice in her casket as if it was yesterday. She had that pretty red hair. Alice had dressed Janice in the navy blue dotted swiss dress – she had just worn for her birthday party. But what was the saddest of all were her shoes. They were brand new shiny white patent leather Mary Janes – just a little bit scuffed.”

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A Bit About Jim






Jim and I met at Johns Hopkins Hospital. He was in his third year in medical school and I was a new nursing student. Jim was very intense about his studies. Often our dates became "study" dates and we spent hours in a hospital library with Jim's nose in his books and me sometimes dozing. Jim often helped me tackle difficult assignments. Learning all the bones of the skull offered quite a challenge.

One night when Jim came to pick me up at Hampton House (the nurses residence) he was carrying a round package wrapped in newspaper. He offered it to me. "I think this will help you learn those bones." I took it.

I felt the round hardness of a skull in my hands. Jim had borrowed it for me. I swallowed hard. "Thank you." I took it to my room and left it while we went out.

When I returned later I unwrapped the skull and stared at it. The sightless eye cavities above the gaping toothy mouth stared back. I set it on my desk and got into the bed with a book. Shortly, I turned out the light. I could still see the skull on the desk because of light from a streetlight outside. I turned away but I could not relax. I knew that skull was looking at me.

Finally I got up, picked up the skull and moved it to the closet. I set it on the floor and closed the door. I turned back toward my bed. Then hesitated, and - all right, all right - I did feel kind of stupid as I turned the key and locked the closet door.

That's where the skull stayed until I returned it to Jim.

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