In the years following WW II, people were still talking about what Hitler had done and wondering how people could have accepted the way he and his administration treated people. People were terrified of polio; and trying to protect themselves, they did some things which in later years they would never admit that they did.
Those with polio lost the ability to control their muscles, and those with severe cases were put in iron lungs. These were iron tubes which encased the body, except for the head. By moving a piston, the air pressure in the iron lung was changed. Lowering the pressure drew air into the patient’s lungs, while raising the pressure caused the patient to exhale. Many considered this a fate worse than death. If a person in an iron lung wanted to scratch his nose, he could not. Someone had to feed him. If electric power failed, the patient could not breathe.
Since the method of transmission of polio was not understood, and there was no cure except keeping the patient alive until the body fought the disease, people were terrified of the disease. Kelly, a first cousin who lived one-fourth mile down the road, was diagnosed with polio. Jimmy was to be confirmed at St. Paul Lutheran Church. The church leaders told the family that it would be better if Jimmy and the family stayed home.
On confirmation Sunday, we all went to church. Jimmy was seated against the wall on the right side of the church. The other confirmands were seated against the wall on the left side of the church; several pews behind Jimmy were vacant.
We were seated on the back row of the church on the right side. Several pews ahead of us were vacant. The only person who spoke to us as we entered the church was an usher who told us they would be happier if we did not attend, but if we did, we needed to sit in the back pew on the right side so we did not infect any of the members. As far as the congregation was concerned we were all failures because we had shown up trying to infect them with polio.
We sat down; and Uncle Jack, an uncle by marriage, came and joined us. Up to that point, he had just been Aunt Eva’s insignificant husband. That day he became our favorite uncle.
When people are frightened enough, they can be very cruel. Only a few people have the courage to rise above that cruelty.
Herb learned to reach out to seemingly insignificant people and learn from them. While working for Corporate America with fancy titles such as Director of Research, the only diploma he displayed was his Junior High Diploma. In that manner a man whose major business asset was his ten-year-old pickup could talk to Herb as an equal, and Herb could learn from him.
Uncle Jack never talked about his service in the Great War. Uncle Jack’s son seemed to be ashamed of his father because his father never seemed to accomplished much. After Uncle Jack died, his son, while going through papers, found a photo of him receiving the Victoria Cross at a ceremony at Buckingham Palace. How many other insignificant people are out there with a secret like that?