I HAVE always loved school, so in the summer of 1948, when I was 11 years old, I was quite devastated when Mum told me we would not be able to go to school for quite a while.
She told me there was an awful disease that made people very sick and others died. It was infantile paralysis, or polio as we now call it.
We were given sun hats, which mainly had neck protection. If not, Mum safety-pinned one of Dad’s handkerchiefs or a well-washed salt bag onto the back of the sunhat.
My brothers were 13, eight, and six years old and we lived without a phone, washing machine, fridge, heater, electric jug or heater. Even bath water was heated in the copper and food cooked on the ancient coal range.
The outside toilet was one where the night soil man called once a week and left an empty can. The boys were encouraged to wee at the base of the lemon tree and at night we all used the huge enamel potty under the bed . Then Mum emptied it at the base of the rhubarb plant (more than 70 years later I still can’t bring myself to eat rhubarb).
We slept two in each single bed, with wire wove base and kapok mattress, grey single blankets and unbleached calico sheets, which got quite scratchy when new. There was no electricity in the two bedrooms and Mum would read to us the classic version of Uncle
Tom’s Cabin and The Water Babies by the light of the kerosene lamp.
Our father, who had been in the air force during the war, worked away from home a lot and on his weekends off usually went hunting for deer, pigs or rabbits to feed us and neighbours.
We never had a car, just an old iron-horse bicycle, which I learnt to ride that year and Mum would send either my older brother or I one mile down the road early each morning to get fresh milk from a lady who had a jersey house cow. We paid six pence (five cents) for this.
With a huge vegetable garden, we ate raw turnips, swedes, carrots, green gage and damson plums, gooseberries, red and black currants and cranberries. No wonder we never got sick. We were used to rationing as we were just recovering from World War II.
Way up high where us kids couldn’t reach it, was an old valve radio and at 9am each weekday we got school lessons broadcasted, mainly consisting of reading, writing and arithmetic.
Mum encouraged our imagination and we wrote great essays with no computers, cellphones or calculators to help us. My older brother was sent correspondence every two weeks as he was due to start secondary school.
We were free to roam, play cowboys and Indians, build a fire and cook potatoes in the embers, as long as we were back before dark, washed hands and seated ready for our huge plate of vegetable soup, usually followed by doorstep slices of white bread and cheese.
It didn’t worry us that we couldn’t go to church, movies, school or swimming. This carefree existence was starting to grow on us. In May, we went back to school after four months of lockdown, but it worked. Out of over1000 polio patients only 70 died. The population then was under 2 million.
Today we have so many tools and medicine to fight Covid-19, and with more than double the population of 1948 to help care for us modern communication will help us keep in touch. Food and toilet hygiene have vastly improved. Even travel has moved light years ahead.
Self-isolation will give us great opportunities to write our autobiographies, clean out the workshop, or our most loved chore, clean the oven. In Jacinda’s words, we are all in this together.
Stay healthy and as the last line of the Women’s Institute prayer, “Lord God Let us not forget to be kind ‘’.
By Elaine Bell