Monday, June 1, 2009
Falling: Living with Polio and a Peculiar Family in Dayton, Ohio (1938-1957)
I've got a pile of books to read on my nightstand and precious little time to do so. But when I found out that Falling, my late college mentor's memoirs, was available, I pushed everything aside and eagerly dove into reading about his family history and early life.
His purpose in writing his memoirs was to share his experience with having contracted polio at age 8, and to show how it shaped his character. It was a part of his history that was painfully obvious when strangers looked at his twisted body, but one that those who loved him ceased to notice.
Particularly poignant were the memories of his time in the iron lung, from which some of his wardmates did not emerge alive. It was a horrible disease that he believed he contracted through the innocent act of swimming in the public wading pool. And when the vaccine came too late for him, I felt like I was right alongside his sobbing mother.
Of course, the "cheerful warrior" persona that the local media tagged him with stuck with him to the end, and so the book is not maudlin and contains plenty of charmingly odd stories of his Appalachian ancestors and his attachment to his siblings. When his father admonished him "Don't step in anything," I laughed and cried at once. He'd issued that same literal and figurative warning to his own kids--and me.
Another point at which I broke down was when he spoke of a high school teacher who "decided" that he should attend Earlham College with the same force of conviction with which Sam determined that I would attend the University of Evansville. And so I did, and Sam's influence changed my life--and those of countless others.
I am biased about this book because I loved Sam. But I do believe even those who did not know him will be entertained and enlightened by this folksy but learned memoir.