Emily Lee and Jericha Rendon

Recorded October 9, 2020 Archived October 9, 2020 39:16 minutes
0:00 / 0:00
Id: mby020105


Emily Lee (72) speaks with her daughter Jericha Rendon (30) about her experience growing up with Polio, pursuing her education, her close relationship with her grandmother, and how her Baha’i faith has influenced her life.

Subject Log / Time Code

EL talks about growing up in Pembroke MA and being close to her grandmother and loving to be outside and explore before contracting Polio in 1953.
EL talks about how she contracted Polio by swimming in a freshwater pond and that her siblings got Polio as well, and describes the symptoms she experienced.
EL describes being taken to the hospital and recalls seeing iron lungs everywhere and the treatments she was given.
EL describes seeing her father cry at the foot of her hospital bed and hearing that she had lost all movement in her legs.
EL describes going to school for the first grade after convalescing and the special arrangements the school made for her to attend for half a day.
EL says that her grandmother was killed in an accident and that it affected her mother deeply, and says at this point her mother decided it was a good time to get EL some corrective surgeries.
EL describes being out of school in the hospital for 2.5 years and then being dropped into middle school after taking an IQ test.
EL says she went to Boston University and got a degree in photojournalism and two days before her graduation was scheduled her brother was killed in a fiery car wreck.
EL describes meeting JR’s father and moving to New Mexico to be together and that the Baha’i faith was important to the both of them.
EL says she didn’t expect to live as long as she has and how much she loves JR’s son and getting to spend time with him.
EL gives some advice, including encouraging parents to vaccinate their kids.


  • Emily Lee
  • Jericha Rendon


Partnership Type



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00:01 I'm jericha, Rendon. I'm 34 years old. Today is Friday, October 9th 2020 and I'm in Madera California. I'm here with my mother Emily.

00:22 She can introduce herself. I am 72 years old on today the 9th of October in 2020 in Madera, California. My daughter here is Jericho turned on and there we are.

00:41 So your story is rooted in the polio epidemic and here we are doing and so there's a lot of things movie talking about that have a special residence listeners right now before we get into that, but I wanted to see if you can remember anything from before that time. What was life like is a four-year-old Emily that was running around in Pembroke, Massachusetts. I was in a very active kid. I had a brother who was two years younger than we live in the country with my parents and my grandmother live nearby. She was really remember about that. She was so loving and she just took us around. My mother was tired all the time for some strange reason.

01:41 To take us a long walks. We lived out in any country and remember the flowers. We pick the fields. We tramped through the little stream. We explored the face. We watch the birds. We watch the blueberries we fix. Beatles and they coming out with shapes and sizes and colors and thought I just love getting out and watching them live their lives around everywhere. I climb trees or wherever an insect might be found that went up the trees down the holes into the water on my own two feet back then I wanted to see during that time ended up getting

02:42 In full swing is that right? When you got it? Like they was warming up. There was one more epidemic two years later in 53. It was getting there but that it was still facing clinical trials or two of them and they were facing clinical trial. So so it took a while in the offing. How did you feel about you? Remember it being for knowing about it? Okay, so so up until you got polio you didn't know about it. I just knew about bugs and bees and flowers and other speaking of rivers in fish. Could you tell us a little bit about how do you got volume?

03:41 Apparently knew it was a pandemic and an epidemic but they didn't dwell on it. I mean we were out in the boonies Massachusetts and this about she and her husband had a big boat and they wanted to take us out on the water off Cape Cod. So we went down there to Hyannis and we had to wait in the motel overnight for them to get there. And while we were waiting list very hot. It was the end of July in 1953.

04:16 Want to do something and I think she got tired of hearing that.

04:22 Or something like that. So my mother took a swimming it was unfortunately but the case that you could get polio by swimming in human feces and pleasant it look like a pretty little pump. So all three of us riding around comparison with the coronavirus it takes a while you can be infected for what like a week before you really know. How long did it take before it was a few days in here?

05:19 What kind of symptoms do you experience a high fever you ate everywhere. You don't have any appetite could just lay down and tell them everywhere aches and pains with fever.

05:39 My mother and my brother did what they were told and they stayed in bed course, my mother knew she was older person and she was a nurse but my brother was 3 years old. What is this tomboy type and I wanted to go out and then let's play my moment when I felt a little bit better. So I took off in a living room light just went out the front door and up the tree and I started back in I don't remember but at any rate that night my fever went up to 105 and my grandmother also a nurse was sitting there in a rocking chair in the room with me and she realized that if I had that temperature I was going to have brain damage. So she called the doctor and he refused.

06:39 Next morning. She simply called my aunt who was the only responsible it down. She could think of could do this to take me to the hospital and that's what I did. Do you remember going to that hospital so many children coming down with polio at the time? That's what they had to offer us. So I my aunt carried me in and I was in a bit in the whole side of it was line with iron lungs. I didn't know when I was but it look like a big canister. Each canister was a human being could not breathe their head stuck out. There was like a like the aperture in a camera these little things that held your neck, but it didn't let the air out and it breathes for you.

07:39 It was before ventilators and there were people of all ages stuck in those tin cans. They hold me down the card or not was so sick. I didn't really respond like a hater a hug me down to a room table and stuck needles in my spine and I'm saying it's another Polio. I remember being put into a bed, but I passed out and my mind.

08:19 When he calls, what are the treatments which was invented by a non was big on polio in those days was to wrap of the patient and hot wet wool blankets a it was August. We were having a heatwave in the hospital had no air conditioning be I'm very allergic to wool.

08:40 So I remember waking up screaming.

08:50 Things like that and I don't remember all of it because eventually I remember them catheterize in Need For some reason or other didn't like that at all. I screeched a bit and then I remember when I was beginning to get a little better being put into a crate where there were people of all ages and it seemed like the beds were so close together. The staff would almost have to walk on us like walking on little Islands in the Stream to get through their teenagers right? Beside me one night the little girl beautiful little blonde girl. She died in the middle of the night and when I woke up then nurses were there and they were kind of crying I just wasn't a climbing a lot of people are dying, but this is the one I saw and they were talking about her family.

09:50 They were crying and crying and I and my mother and my grandmother were members of the Baha'i faith.

09:58 And as such they had strong beliefs that after this world you go on and it just a special nursing for children. And so I was thinking why doesn't somebody tell them that she said she's been a good place now, it's okay, but I didn't see that ended and eventually they know one other thing that I remember vividly as if it was a little girl and her parents refused to take her home because her brain has been damaged and then what's the matter with her and she said, oh she has Encephalitis and then she told me what that meant and I said well, when can she go home and she said we'll never her parents don't want her back.

10:58 Oh my God compilation and it woke up on my bed with curtains all around it. And then my father was sitting at the end of the bed crying and hold daddy. What's the matter? And he said my teeth hurt the doctor came in and he sat down on the bed beside it and talk to my father for a few minutes and he demonstrated my legs no longer moved at all. And he said she's getting her arms back. They may come back some more but sir, I don't think her legs are ever going to come back and I didn't.

11:45 How long was that from when you first went into the hospital? Do you have a record and throw us out? Because those of us who were convalescing because they're having a chickenpox.

12:11 All right, so you went home after that six weeks or what-have-you but was that the last time that you were in the hospital, where are used to run? I could now crawl at my legs don't move ahead and take that away from you. It attacks the spinal column and then the American there and so I lost that I lost some of my arms and lost a lot of my back and stomach muscles, but I could crawl around but you can't do that for somebody. They haven't given you any you do anything to help you to move. So they didn't know I spent a year almost in there at least 10 months. I think it was a good Hospital.

13:11 Got ready, and I had to walk up and down parallel bars for a while to learn how to manage that but I enjoy the experience so little that I kept going on.

13:24 Bring me the hamburgers and bowls of cereal and all kinds of things and I was just at you know, I got so tired and I like I took a bite and spit it at somebody I was really awful and sign the nurses were all presently start uniforms stupid like she was very young and friendly and she came in and she said she said Okay, and she went away with it.

14:23 Timer around in the braces and quite ready to start school at school you could have that was my next question, Did you start school on time? Will I get the name me all these special arrangements for me to come in for half a day, but it was quickly learned. They didn't have them back then.

15:23 Grandmother and mother Miss Lily and Dunn she came to my house with your soul was diabetic and she almost passed out from not remembering to eat. Luckily my mother the nurse recognizes and then from there only affect your your schooling more generally as you were growing up the person that would have it and so a lot of the parents of the children had told their kids don't go anywhere near and because you get polio and still

16:23 There I was just a little kid. So happy to be back in society and all these kids wouldn't come running up to me and make a screeching halt and turn around.

16:34 This happened a few times and the teacher was a seasoned old hand and a parent family friends. Then she would set them straight and my mother would come in and talk to them and say, you know, she wouldn't have been allowed out of the hospital a year ago if she had still been contagious and you can't get polio. Anybody was at it it is not communicable after a certain about you. Is there anything else you want to share about growing up with polio?

17:16 That way. Better I got used to it. And I think you would a pretty fast when you buy here's old and once I still had the Tomboy thing and she said I had to go off on the crutches now and I love to go over and watch the horses to work horses in my right on and uncle's Barn. I love nothing better than to be around those horses and their cow recent make a little Excursion long enough. So you could you said before that when you were growing up you really tried to be normal because it was seen as as something like a shameful that you had this handicap. Well the doctor that I had wanted my sister to my mother that I never have any adaptive AIDS other than the braces and crutches. No wheelchair I had to learn how to do.

18:16 Things with the least possible. So I took it seriously and I didn't rest I could be good and I went I wanted to have a full life polio. People are tough.

18:38 And so I went to school and you know what I put up with whatever they said. We don't remember. I just remember being so happy to be there and learn things from the 2nd to the 4th to half of the fourth grade and then I went off to another hospital. That's right. Yeah. Well then I went to a hospital with a rehab hospital and my grandmother had been killed she had run in front of a car accidentally coming home in the dark one night and she died and she was like the light of our lives and she was gone and my mother was so depressed. She really didn't know how to manage so she

19:38 Good time to have some surgeries attended to for me because I because of the

19:45 Inequalities of the losses of muscles I was at risk with certain problems like a scoliosis and so on that could play me for life. So she's the doctor orthopedic doctor. I've been seeing insisted that they needed to do some surgeries. So she sent me off to this Rehab Hospital.

20:08 My father was so out of harmony with this plan that low living in the same. Very large house. All those years. They did not speak to one another for 1 year living side-by-side in the same house. They missed each other every day for 365 days. Is she really needed the time? I ate at the time I didn't like that but later on I could understand in the hospital. I had surgery of such sure that they would put me in bed for 6 months straight in a body cast so that my back but he'll probably 3 x 5 years and during that time. I didn't have too much in the way of school. They had that little one-room school that you can go to in between surgery.

21:07 It didn't come to much. I am occasionally because they thought I was a gifted child provided me with a student teacher so we can come to my bedside and they would be so condescending that I really didn't like them very much and I made it the business of my life and I would do such things when they would try to teach me things that I already knew quite well did I would do things like cuz them to become angry enough that they would drop their notebooks into my on heating mashed potatoes or I would encourage their notebooks like being talked down soon. Can you tell me in general then? So you had a lot of

22:07 Exactly back into middle school. I had not had any math since the fourth grade. I was learning to multiply and divide when I was snatched out of my class and put off into that hospital. They went into that school out of the hospital.

22:40 I love English.

22:41 I read way ahead of my age group. I knew a lot about all kinds of different things from Magazine with my parents at all kinds of different things. I was able to have my own except for me and a teacher in the 7th grade saying to my mother she is hopeless.

23:08 My mother got me a tutor who is a decent guy and I don't like him either cuz he too was a rather condescending, but he held me some like the teacher so I did fairly well until I became hopelessly board consecutively or I will eat you or a little worse by the time I reach my last couple years. It was fully happy here and I missed

23:43 Which half do all together overall? The number of Dickey's I miss you, but I still passed all the tests. I show up to turn in my homework. Nobody called they may not have had truancy. I just you know, if you weren't Just Sports and everything you are nobody and I wasn't nobody but I just didn't like it. I love science though. I love English. It was couple put down. I loved English 8 plus student. I read way ahead of my lovable. I could I knew grammar. Well all that stuff any of my grade teacher was a daughter of a woman.

24:43 I just got all these days off of her.

24:50 You shouldn't be an accelerated group. You need to go back to the group of students who going to be in service secretarial work something like that so that she can put you on a catheter work for you and your life as you are now, and I was so incensed by the Iowa State where I was I'm glad you had her to stick up for you to have me in his class. You said she's on crutches. She will cause accidents and he had an artificial leg.

25:49 Volume brace the humanities

25:55 Man, I wanted to jump forward a little bit. It's okay. I wanted to see your brother passed away, and I wanted to ask you a little about that experience.

26:18 The day my graduation. Cancel because of the all of the Kent State stuff and violin stuff going on that they were here full of glass. So I went home early as a result of that and it's two days before my graduation was scheduled at the way. It was canceled. My brother got killed in a really seriously awful fire fire Prairie car wreck. He was doing stupid things driving this race car around in the dark and rainy night with a friend and a hard time and I had plans to maybe go off and get a job in the Civil Service on play. He's her and I'll go and see the world. But when he died my parents were both so horribly have ended.

27:14 I felt like I owed it to them being the one surviving kid to hang around and comfort them for a while and I got a little bitty job in state of work there.

27:29 Are you a to go by and I just so bored there. I just couldn't stand it. But I did somehow because of the loss of my brother little bits and pieces from the Baha'i faith with my mother had taught as many things. We had books we had prayers and she used to tape recorder and Baha'i prayers. And so I remember those things and I started to want to find out more about it. But especially I wanted to know more about what we have in the my brother. Now, we was gone, you know teachings about life after death and that when you your purpose here is to gain the skills and the tools that you will need when you get to the next one just like when you're in the womb you're gay

28:29 Census in the skills to live in this world as in person the soul in the body.

28:36 In this world, we are a soul in the body and it's the soul that's learning what it needs to go to the next World and is as based on how we are how we act in this world how we treat one another respectful of God. We are in this world. It's important for us in the next wanted to know more about my mother had some mobile hide contacts on Cape Cod and started going down to see then and then like two weeks later or dare.

29:14 Yeah, and the Baha'i faith is obviously moving forward New Found Love created me. I want to see if you could talk a little about that different things about him came back to me. When I heard that this New Mexico had been a night in a mountainous town. Okay in a mountain this time. He had been hit by a drunk driver and it's like smashed.

30:14 It wasn't that long before I went decided to move there and we would investigate one another.

30:23 It was it was quite a thing, but eventually I did we met in the middle you was coming from New Mexico and I was coming from the Massachusetts. We met in Wilmette, Illinois at the Baha'i house of worship and then went back to weirdos on the Mexico together and things together that are different jobs at the end of the year. We were going around the country to a few different communities that needed by their Bhai communities needed more people for a little while.

31:09 And now we would go and we would help them there.

31:14 Eventually, we live in New Mexico for a while, California for a while and we went back to Massachusetts to be landed back in Massachusetts for 14 years and that point during those years you were born but you know he could cuz he had a son from his first marriage.

31:58 Do you remember anything about when I was very little and how obviously you weren't able to move around quite normal and I can't do I have a one-year-old. There's so many squats and you know awkward Maneuvers I do for him. And what choice do you have to love them more than anything? I had my husband and my dad was really sick with lung cancer. They had a huge house and I left my job at Boston University thinking that I would go back in six months, but very little rain so we moved.

32:58 And I I was under the crutches and braces. I was able to lift you into the stroller and into your crib and back and forth. And so I would really around the house and just push you around in the stroller together outside the heat, you know, I made it work and it was a big enough yard. Now that way when you are old enough and just like your grandson is learning how to navigate safely around you now navigate to power wheelchair. Don't worry about

33:59 It's one of life's great experiments. They have a child but have a grandchild and you still lied on my life. Now. I didn't really expect to live this long. I wanted to see y'all so maybe we can just fast forward because I'm well, maybe it's worth spending woman talking about your choice to come back to New Mexico with me when I was a kid before we go all the way Grandma had my mother had advanced.

34:39 Alzheimer's by then. She she pretty much went off the deep end the night. My father died, they loved each other dearly and he had lung cancer and he died in hospice and she took care of him and then write he died. She just went and met me and told me that she had it and he knew when that happened.

35:06 Like I made some plans I felt like if my parents weren't going to be there that much longer. My mother was probably going to have to be in a nursing home and jericha was in going to be in school. We did stay there for a few more years and in those few years. We took care of the house and went through some stages with Jerica growing up and my mother being dementia because For Me growing up in Massachusetts. It was just the one place but where I was it was so unilaterally white middle-class. We wanted to be in a place where that be all kinds of different people from all kinds of different places. And since we both know my husband and I wanted to go back there and put Jerica and in school where they were Native Americans and black kids and a lot of Hispanics in Spanish speaking kids.

36:06 And that's what we did. And so you grew up with all those cultures in the Mexico and I hope you appreciate it in the minority is a as a Caucasian person in my school special and now we live in California and I'm happy all though you are very seriously still as your whole life. You have been think you're still able to maybe now a little more than before to ask for help with don't know where my arms out completely. I'm happy you can live with us. We still have a job related to that and I'm really grateful to be able to have your hair with Dante as he grows up.

37:06 Now I just pray for the people who have to deal with it and lost their jobs and all because of it. I'm feel very blessed and I'm here and maybe they'll be a vaccine and I can start to just have a spiritual relationship with more people. Do you have any words of wisdom you'd like to share more generally about because of your experience with polio or because of this current time. Is it person who suffered from a communicable disease it is vaccinations like that is nothing more important than getting your kids vaccinated.

38:06 Some of these awful things I would like to invite anyone who is resisting the idea of having at the very least polio vaccine for that. You'll send them to me. I'd be glad to show them what they're potentially going away. Just because you don't see it everywhere. It was little bacteria can viruses bacteria whenever they are infectious little thingamabobs are still out there. They can give people polio and this is a whole lot about it that will never go away. It's been around forever. It's not going to disappear kids don't need to have this disease. They don't need to have any Disney but send them to me.

38:51 It's not anybody's fault, but if anybody can be prevented from getting it go for it.