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At the start of the summer, Christy meets 23-year-old ...
At the start of the summer, Christy meets 23-year-old Kathryn Slade. Once a beautiful young woman, Kathryn is now a quadriplegic after a battle with polio that nearly cost her life when she was 17. However, despite Kathryn's physical limitations, she and Christy develop a strong and intimate friendship.
As Christy struggles to grow up, he must learn to deal with the problems that usually beset a much older boy as he also confronts issues of sex and familial betrayal. Yet the friendship, wisdom and vitality bestowed by Kathryn serves as a guiding light. At the same time, Christy helps to give Kathryn new joy and six weeks of hope. Their summer ends with the ultimate victory of lives lived and loved.
"Shortly after 10 A.M. tomorrow, the answer to the question mankind has been anxiously waiting for will be given." —front page, the New York Times, April 12th, 1955
The news from Michigan was so stunning that, at school, it was broadcast over the P.A. into all our classrooms: Dr. Salk's vaccine worked.
It worked. We were safe again. At our desks, we cheered as if the Orioles or the Colts had won a big game.
Outside, we could hear car horns honking and church bells chiming in celebration. We had conquered polio. That was always the way it was phrased: we, first person plural, and conquered—just as sure as hell as we were going to do to the communists next. Polio was now Exhibit A that we could not lose at anything, not for forever and a day.
There weren't many of us in any classroom who didn't know somebody who'd had polio, and most of us even knew somebody who'd taken the worst of it—paralysis or death. Anyway, you couldn't avoid polio then. The fight against polio was ongoing. It was marshaled by the March of Dimes, which had peppered little coin-slot containers in almost every corner of commerce. At amusement parks, they would actually park some poor polio patient in an iron lung right there on the arcade amidst the thrill rides and the games with the Marchof Dimes cannister next to it. We all gave, and we all thought: there but for the grace of God....
The March of Dimes was run by, significantly, the National Foundation. That was all: the National ... could there be any other foundation in our nation? Was there any other disease? Polio was different—even from what AIDS is now. After all, polio struck down children. Infantile paralysis. And it appeared capriciously, at random. Remember this, too: at that time we could go about, as we pleased, everywhere. Night or day, in the United States of America, we were safe. Doors were unlocked. Children didn't shoot one another. They didn't take drugs. They didn't even know drugs. Oh sure, there were the communists. But even as we climbed under our desks for Civil Defense drills, nobody ever seriously considered the possibility that the commies might dare actually drop an atom bomb on us. Come on, get real.
Only polio was the something else again. If we actually didn't any longer still have a president with polio, we did always have a beautiful poster child to remind us that nobody—not even the prettiest—was home free. This year, there were national poster child twins wearing gingham dresses above their braces. Polio Pointers for Parents were sent home from school, and regularly, there was the Mothers March on Polio. Fathers worked, mothers marched. Every summer, when the epidemic surged again, the newspapers would dutifully publish a daily tally of infections and deaths, just as they toted up a "holiday death toll" for automobile fatalities on the Fourth of July and Labor Day and such.
Of course, even if official reminders of the menace were everywhere, there was nothing like the personal drumroll our mothers kept up on the subject. For God's sake, Christy, don't ever go there, you might catch polio. Watch it—they just mowed the lawn there. So? Because why? Because polio. Don't you dare drink out of a water fountain. Are you crazy, Christy? You did what? Do you want to get polio?
Of course, I knew Mom was being ridiculous. That was because I was still a kid, and therefore, not unlike the United States, I was invincible and eternal. Only everybody else was a prime candidate for polio. But Mom, being a foolish grown-up, was unaware of this truth. Mom never missed a Mothers March on Polio. One year, when we still lived back in Terre Haute, she was even our neighborhood's chief Mother for the March.
Yet as blithe as I may have been about polio vis-à-vis me, I was certainly never unsympathetic about other people's polio. On this glorious day of deliverance, as soon as I got home from school, I ran to my bike and pedaled furiously over to Kathryn Slade's house so we could celebrate the good news together. I knew Dr. Salk's vaccine couldn't help her. I knew it was too late. But I couldn't imagine that here we had immunization, we had Dr. Salk's magic elixir—we had conquered!—and it couldn't do anything for Kathryn. At all. I had to believe the cure would come next. Soon, surely.
But however happy Kathryn was for the rest of us, she would not let me get too excited for her chances. She just shook her head ruefully. It was still one of the few things Kathryn could do as well as the rest of us: shake her head ruefully. And then, as quickly as she could, she changed the subject. "Just six more weeks, Christy," she said happily. "Memorial Day. My father still calls it Decoration Day. Anyway, Decoration Day or Memorial Day—just six more weeks 'til the Grand Opening."
That was when Kathryn's pool would be back in business. Early that Summer Before: 1954
The decision was made: I would join Pop in Baltimore as soon as school let out. I didn't want to go. Sue and Hughie were going to stay with Mom in Terre Haute until we could sell the house there. Actually, Mom had wanted Sue to be the one to go live with Pop. That certainly made more sense, inasmuch as Sue was a girl and therefore she knew how to cook and make beds and sew some, so she could help take care of Pop. Sue was seventeen, too, which meant she could drive, so she could even go to the market for Pop.
At that time, however, Sue was terribly in love with Danny Daugherty (and he with her). It was a romance of such longstanding that Pop even referred to Danny as "His Nibs"—although, of course, only out of Sue's hearing. But both Mom and Pop felt guilty about making Sue leave Terre Haute because she only had one more year left in high school, so he said, "Well, Cecelia, let Christy come. It'll be good for a father and son to camp out together. We'll go to ball games." The Orioles had just come to Baltimore that year from St. Louis. My father explained, "It's a big-league city now—and just when the Bannisters are going there."
"That's an omen," Mom replied. "Big league."
So Pop sat me down and explained what the plan was. "You will have four years before you even go off to college," he told me. "You will have all your best years in Baltimore. You'll make so many friends. Hell, soon you'll even forget Terre Haute."
That irritated the loyalist in me. "I will not either, Pop. I'll never forget Terre Haute."
"Hey, kiddo, I'm sorry. I didn't mean it like that. You'll always be a Hoosier, Christy. But it will fade. Things fade in life. Eventually, even Danny will fade from your sister's life. But it is unfair that Sue won't have her senior year here. Why, I think she could even be prom queen. I think Sue's got prom queen written all over her."
"Yes, sir." As much as I hated to admit it myself, I had to begrudge Sue that. She was "pretty as a picture," according to all my parents' contemporaries, and she had "a great pair of jugs," according to my own contemporaries. Whatever, Danny Daugherty was one lucky guy, undeserving of her, I believed, even if His Nibs was the best player on the high school basketball team. Even now, when I think of my first appreciation of beauty—coming of age, sex division—I think first of my sister Sue and how perfectly glamorous she looked in 1954, the year we left for Baltimore.
Of course, at the time, you can be damn sure I never told her that.
The reason we were moving was because my father was going to become the president of a company. That was very exciting. In the abstract. My father, the president. But then, the honor meant we had to pick up and leave where I'd lived all my life, where we had our roots. Me, I would've preferred staying in Terre Haute and just telling everybody my father had had an offer to be a president. He had qualified to be president, but he had turned down the opportunity. I thought you could be just as impressed about my father that way without us all going somewhere else where he would actually be a president.
Mom never said it, but I'm sure she didn't want to go either. She was strictly midwestern and suspicious of the East. She was convinced it was overrun by communists back there. And she was just so settled. As Pop told me, "A man has his work, Christy. You could put me down in the middle of Bora-Bora, but as long as I had the plant to go to every day, I could still be happy. But it's different with a woman. Terre Haute's been your mother's home for almost twenty years and Indiana all her life. This is one big move for her."
Besides, it killed Mom that Sue couldn't be prom queen. Mom even asked Pop if Mr. Gardner, whose family owned the company in Baltimore—Gardco, it was called—couldn't just hold the job for a year. But Pop explained, "That isn't the way business works,
Excerpted from An American Summer by FRANK DEFORD. Copyright © 2002 by Frank Deford. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Posted June 2, 2005
This is truly one of my favorite if not my actual favorite book. I read it last year and I still think of it often. I borrowed it from the library and now want to buy it to read again. I LOVED it.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 11, 2003
I loved this book!! Frank Deford made these characters so special. I truly enjoyed the developement of Cheristy and Katherine's relationship. Growing up in the '50's, I could relate to much of the timeframe. This is an easy summer read, but not a light story.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 20, 2003