A CHILD OF THE SUN
The last time we spoke on the
phone you suggested I send you an email with my story, and, well here it is.
It was May 1944 and I was a
seven year old attending St. Titus School in Titusville, Pa., anxiously waiting for the Sunday when I would make my first
communion and get to wear my beautiful new white dress and little veil.
I lived with my mother and five year old brother and my father was in the South Pacific where he was a Seabee.
One day during school the school
nurse, complete with her white hat, hose, shoes, dress and a flowing navy cape showed up at our class door. She and Sister Norberta spoke a few minutes and then I was called out to the hall. I immediately was terrified as there had been occasions, I must admit, when I went out into the hall for
some sin, always venial and there either met the “magic stick” or had some type of penance to pay and I thought,
“Uh-oh, what did I do”? I don’t remember if my mother was there
also or not, I just know I ended up at the hospital for tests and x-rays. The
next thing I recall is my mother crying and after my First Communion, my mother, my Aunt Josephine and little I were on a
train going what seemed to be far away.
We ended up at Cresson TB Hospital
that appeared to a little girl to be absolutely huge and terrifying. I know my
mother left and I was in isolation, scared, away from home, all alone. With my
father off fighting the war and my little brother so darn cute, I truly thought I was at an orphanage. My first night there I was so frightened that I wet the bed and in the morning the nurse who came in was
not especially happy to see the little blonde girl in the RED BED. That’s
what happens when you wear red pajamas. Being in the room all alone, no mother,
a huge bathroom with a toilet and urinals, which I thought was where I would get my hair washed, was just too much, I was
afraid to get out of bed.
Then came the tests, most of
which, even if they didn’t hurt, were so scary. I think I was absolutely
traumatized by all of this. To make things even crazier our nurse, Mrs. Troy,
had a hunchback, and if she was nice I couldn’t say, I was too afraid.
Doesn’t this sound like
some crazy “Psycho” type movie? I couldn’t have imagined all
this, I am not that smart.
Eventually the two week isolation
was over and I went to a regular dorm with other little girls and proceeded to settle into life in Cresson. I had my long blonde pigtails cut off, I remember that, and of course at seven could not see how
taking care of long hair on a little urchin could be such a chore, you must grow up to appreciate that. I went to school with the other kids, in shorts, always shorts; after all we were the “Children of
the Sun”. We learned in a screened in porch type room and played outside
in all sorts of weather. After all, it was sun and fresh air that was going to
Life developed into some normalcy
and I adjusted. I think I may have been a bit of a spirited little creature as
I do remember being punished – one time I remember I had to sit in the boot area and I entertained myself by trying
on everyone’s boots and parading all over the room.
At one point after all our
temperatures were taken every day, I had a fever and off to Isolation I went. The
big kids (teenagers) would tell us scary stories how there was a ghost who rode in a wheelchair and dragged a chain who would
patrol up and down the Isolation area, so of course my baby blues were on alert, but thankfully I didn’t see him.
I also remember the dining
room and the big kids (teens again) would crack their hard boiled eggs on our heads on their way back to their table, so didn’t
particularly like sitting on the end, but then I sat where I was told. We had
to eat what was put in front of us and to this day I cannot eat peas.
Christmas was coming and again
I remember being punished and kneeling out by the stairs and watching people decorating the lobby area. Then a great day, my mother and father came to get me and to take me home.
Just like that, I was sprung!
For years every time I had
a physical or needed a TB test I would disclose that I was in a sanitarium but I didn’t have TB and people sort of gave
me a look – you know, what kind of crazy is she?
It was just recently, seeing
Chuck’s website and reading Cynthia Connelly’s book, “Saving Sickly Children” that I got it. Fear of TB was at a fever pitch and kids who were on the scrawny side, sickly, with
ear infections, bronchitis, that sort of thing and who came from lower income homes were considered perhaps a risk to the
general population and it was the governments job to take them and put them in a hospital and get them well. I can understand the thinking as I have lived long enough to see very little in black and white terms,
but it sure made an impact on that little seven year old JoAnn Marie living in Titusville Pennsylvania.
I am happy to report I went
on to live a very happy life and at 72 years young take only one generic prescription, work out at least five days a week,
so I guess perhaps they were right and I think the old gal will see many more sunrises.
Chuck hope you post my story
and perhaps that will encourage other to write and keep you glued to your computer screen.
JoAnn Mihailov Eck
Sugar Land, Texas