A Child’s Memory: The Red-haired Girl

By Susan Camp

Photo from Amber Case

post-childsmemoryWhen I was growing up in Hampton, Virginia in the early 1950’s, I don’t remember going to fairs or beaches or summer picnics. All of the neighborhood children had to go inside and rest on summer afternoons. Our mothers frequently felt our foreheads for signs of fever and grown-ups whispering in the kitchen made us fearful of a terrible secret that we weren’t to know about.

There was something dreadful lurking at the beaches and fairs and picnics. It was called “polio” and it could make you sick so that your arms and legs didn’t work right. Some kids died or had to stay in a giant, metal iron lung that would breathe for them.

I don’t remember when I had the polio vaccine, but I remember hearing about a Dr. Salk who had invented a shot that could help prevent kids from getting polio. Gradually, the crowd restrictions eased and when I was about six, we went to a big picnic with people from my dad’s office at Langley Field. My dad packed my green Huffy bike into the trunk of the car. I hadn’t mastered riding it yet, and he was determined that I would learn that day.

Most of the boys and girls brought their bikes and dads were helping us littler ones learn to balance. As I practiced, I saw a thin girl with long-red hair watching us. She wore a brace on one leg and leaned on tiny crutches. “Mom”, I whispered, “Who is she? What’s wrong with her?”

“Her name is Anna”, my mom said. “Anna had polio and that is why she has a brace on her leg.” I smiled at Anna, but she didn’t smile back. By the time we left the picnic that day, I could ride my bike like a champ. I have always wondered if Anna ever learned to ride.


Susan Camp is a retired Pediatric Nurse Practitioner and nursing educator. She enjoys growing flowers and trees and puttering in the garden. Susan also writes poetry, short stories, and gardening articles. She reads a lot and loves cats. Her husband Jim is a member of Gloucester Point Rotary Club.


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