I'll get to why I put this photo up in just a minute. First some background. The senior software engineering guy recently came home from visiting his parents and brought back a binder full of something that he said his dad had found. It had belonged to my mother. Now, some years ago my mom helped to take care of my mom-in-law for a spell and some of her things were at the in-laws' house. When my mom passed away in 2006, I thought we'd gotten everything.
Being that it is the Christmas holiday season, the engineering guy thought looking through this binder of my mom's might make me sad. I thought about it, but then felt that sadness was okay. In fact, last week I wrote a short article at BlogHer titled "It's OK to be Sad at Christmas." 'Cause it is okay. Life is Life, no matter what holiday it might be.
So I took a look at this binder. Apparently, in the mid-1990s when my parents were living and working in Honolulu, Hawaii, mom bought a creative writing course. All through my growing up years, she had talked about the possibility that she might do some writing someday. Mom was an avid fan of romance novels...I once told her that because she had read literally hundreds, maybe even thousands, she could probably write one in her sleep. But what she was really interested in writing, was first-person accounts and remembrances.
I opened the binder to discover that it was divided up into learning chapters, filled with how-to's and lesson assignments. From what I could see though, as I leafed through it, was that mom hadn't done much. However, tucked in the back of the binder was a yellow-lined notepad and from the looks of it, she had jotted down notes with the intent of writing an article.
What a surprise I got when I read it. Turns out my mother, in the late 1930s, had been one of hundreds of American kids who'd been sent to 'preventoriums' in the hopes of building up their health so they wouldn't contract tuberculosis. TB. It was - and is - a disease to be dreaded. I'd never heard of preventoriums. Well, I'll let my mother's words speak for her:
PREVENTORIUM = It is as it sounds, a place to prevent something from happening. In Murphys, California, on the side of a hill, was a tuberculosis hospital and preventorium. The hospital area was separate for those who already had TB - on the left side of the complex was an area for children: boys and girls whose health was run down to the point it was possible they might contract the disease. One wing was kept available for those just arriving to be separate for a period of time to be sure they did not already have TB or some other childhood disease.
And that's all there was in her notes. I never knew about this. All I have is a memory of mom talking about having suffered from rickets as a kid and being sent to a sanitarium. But now that I read her words, the story is very different than my faulty memories. I did a little research and there isn't much online about 'preventoriums.' The best I could find was a review of a book titled "Saving sickly children: the tuberculosis preventorium in American life, 1909-1970."
Was I sad to look through that binder? Sure. However I'm so glad I did. It was a wonderment to read my mother's own words, writing about her early history...and a bit of American history of which I was unaware until now. There is one other notation on that yellow pad, mom wrote that she had memories of her time nursing her dad when he was stricken with polio.
Oh, the photo above? I could find no photos of a preventorium in Murphys, so I went to the 'Visit Murphys' website - that historic hotel was there when my mother was there, she would have seen it. In her lifetime mom never published her work. I dedicate this post today to her and hope you enjoy reading her short account of the time when she was 9 years old. In 1939.