Escaping Polio

Courtesy WikiMedia Commons

Courtesy WikiMedia Commons, New York City Skyline


We moved to New York City at the start of World War II as “immigrants.” Until then, my father had served the Standard Oil as an expatriate business man in Shanghai and other Far Eastern ports. I grew up in the city with its many cultural opportunitieWes—museums, entertainment, and shopping. We got around on buses, subways, and the occasional taxi. My parents had a car, but they left it in the garage all winter.

We saved our gas rationing coupons for our annual trip to Maine. During those years, people left the city in summer if they could because of the danger of polio, also known as infantile paralysis. Polio was rampant and easily acquired around public swimming pools. Just imagine—you’d send your child to the pool for some fun. The next day he’d have a fever. Soon after that he’d be paralyzed.

The 350 mile drive to Maine took two full days. The wartime speed limit was 35 mph and turnpikes did not exist. We stayed in tourist homes because they were casual. Back then if you stayed in a hotel, the bellhops wore tuxes and insisted on carrying  all your luggage for you.  They expected  a tip for each piece..

Dad didn’t like this. “I’ve heard of this new kind of place out west where you can stay called a motel. You drive your car right up to the door and carry  in your own suitcases,” he’d say. “Keep your eyes peeled for a motel.” Unfortunately we never saw one. There weren’t that many travelers. Since most of the gas went for the war effort, people vacationed near home. Motels weren’t built until after the war ended in 1945.

What do you remember way back when?

6 responses

  1. I just love NY! I was last there on vacation for a week last year, but I always think about going back.:)
    Have a great weekend…greetings from Germany!

  2. Hi Paula, you bring back memories of our early times and also the issue of polio. We probably met around the time you are recalling. You were six when we met. Hope all is going well with you and Mike and your family. Looking forwarding to read your book.
    Your friend of many years,


  3. When we drove to Maine-also from New York, we sometimes stopped in roadside cabins- little cabins that had no heat and rudimentary plumbing- (some of it outdoors). We kids disliked that so much that sometimes my father would just drive through the night to get to our summer house.
    One year we took the steamer- a ship that took cars and had little state rooms with bunks. from Boston to Portland- a great adventure.

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