Sophie and Daniel struggled to keep their small trucking business open just before the Great Depression. Their only son Wesley was small and sickly, and at age three his right leg started to wither. They took him to the doctor and learned he had polio for which there was no cure and no recognized course of treatment. Every trip to the doctor was a strain on their already limited finances. The only thing they could do was buy a tiny leg brace to help him walk, albeit with a pronounced limp.

A month later Wesley was afflicted with a chronic ear infection, and Sophie was forced to consult a specialist. For weeks the screaming child was subjected to a variety of treatments with no result other than more expenses. Something had to be done.

Daniel held Wesley down while Sophie poured hot oil into his ear—a folk remedy from the old country. Eventually, the infection cleared, but Wesley’s eardrum was punctured, resulting in deafness. Sophie yelled at Daniel she couldn’t care for the child anymore. She needed a break.

They packed a small bag and told the boy they were going for a drive to see the countryside. After an hour, they stopped at a large brick building—Westchester Institute for Juvenile Delinquents, where a scowling attendant escorted them to a small room with four beds and a tiny window. They told Wesley they’d be back soon but started to cry, and the boy realized something was wrong. He grabbed Sophie’s dress and wouldn’t let go. Daniel pulled him away, and Sophie ran out of the room and got the attendant who held onto him so they could leave. Then the attendant left the room and locked the door. As Daniel drove away, Sophie looked back and saw Wesley waving hysterically in front of the tiny window, begging them not to leave.

At the end of eight weeks, they signed papers to release Wesley and took him back home.

***

Sadly, I’ve never celebrated Mother’s Day or Father’s Day. I still wear a brace, but there’s relatively little physical pain.

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Margarida Brei
Margarida Brei(@margarida-brei)
15 days ago

Preston, an interesting emotional read which explored so many dramatic events/occurrences- the Great Depression, polio, crippling medical bills, parental dilemmas. Also, I appreciated how you moved from the third person to first person telling.

Fuji
Fuji(@fuji)
12 days ago

After reading your comment, Preston, I see now why the third-person section was a bit stand-offish, not bringing the reader too close to the raw pain all three members of Wesley’s family must have felt. It must have been difficult for you to recount such a horrible childhood – of your own father. Bravo to you for the courage to write this. I do hope your father had or has a happier adulthood than his childhood. What a truly tragic story.

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Greene M Wills
Greene M Wills(@greene-m-wills)
8 days ago

Such suffering for such a young child and his parents hard choice!
He was his own man when he chose not to forgive…
I loved the narrative switching from third to first person. Very clever!

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Allan Neil
Allan Neil(@allan-neil)
3 days ago

It struck two chords with me, Preston. Firstly, my younger sister was struck down with polio. Although the brace came off fairly soon, she walked with a noticeable limp all her life. Secondly, I remember as a 4-year-old contracting scarlet fever and being shut in a room at an isolation hospital where my parents could only look at me through a closed window. I was dying for a hug and cried my eyes out when they had to leave. A poignant tale with a personal pang for me.

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