I think I must have been four or five, standing in the sun with my father and older brother, in the Sportscenter parking lot with every other child in town close to my age. I may have been older, I don’t know, there is no one left to ask. But I remember rows and rows of long tables, the short ends touching to snake back and forth across the vast sea of concrete, army men everywhere.
We would see these men again soon, as we practiced our “duck and cover” and mock civil defense drills, but that afternoon lacked any particular drama, although there was a sense of occasion, expectation, some big something emanating from the adults around us.
We formed snaky lines, too, and stayed more or less in order, while the army men, who were probably the National Guard, barked orders, or probably they didn’t bark, with their uniform sleeves rolled up past their elbows, green camouflage caps on each head. Perhaps one or two whirly-gigged their arms to keep the conga line of children and parents moving, moving.
On the tables sat hundreds of tiny white paper cups, much like the ones Sunday school teachers used at parties to nestle jelly beans to look like Easter eggs. In the center of each little pleated cup was a sugar cube.
And somewhere within that cube of sugar was the magic elixir —the Sabin vaccine—meant to protect us from polio, that dread and awful disease, the one that worried our mothers into near states of panic every summer, the awful disease that robbed children of healthy limbs, and sometimes their breath and sometimes their lives.
There are those of us who remember the click and shuffle of a child walking in leg braces, the heroic stiff-legged and encumbered runs around the bases on the playground, the way we all knew, and didn’t know, what those leather and metal contraptions were about.
But we all knew our mothers’ fear, so palpable, unrelenting, even when they tried to keep it from us. I can’t imagine it, thinking of it now, how long those summer nights must have been for our young mothers, their babies asleep down the hall, no breeze to be had through the open windows, and they more vigilant than usual, but not sure what they were listening or watching for.
We didn’t go to Sunday school and church, we didn’t play with other children, and we certainly didn’t go swimming. I remember none of this, but my mother spoke of it often. Sometimes, I got a glimpse of “Life” or ‘Look” and saw the full-page images of iron lungs in hospital wards, life-saving but horrifying to imagine, what little I comprehended of them.
It was the early 60s, and we believed in science and the community protection of the National Guard, so we lined up in a parking lot and took our medicine.
Vaccines for COVID-19 are out now, and I wish for long tables in the Sportscenter parking lot. You should see — and hear — the riotous dinging of my WhatsApp, as friends track down and follow up every possible lead and rumor about who has shots, what is the protocol, and how do you get an appointment for one — in a geographic area spanning five states.
It is important to note, that “five state” statement is not an exaggeration.
I have signed up for the vaccination, many weeks out, at a time I think, and hope, my age group will be eligible. If something should change in the production chain and I can get vaccinated earlier, well, I certainly will do that. If I have jumped the gun and need to reschedule, I will do that, too. But all the talk and scheming and finagling and wrangling to procure a vaccine–anywhere– has heightened my anxiety, not lowered it.
Right now, I think, it should be enough—more than enough —to know that the vaccine will be in my arm soon. I am working to relax into this knowledge. And then I will get the second dose. When that happens I will sleep easier at night with one less little worry nagging at me. A luxury my mother had to wait years for.