Coping With Polio And A Demanding Stepfather Tom Domingue was 8 when he contracted polio, which left him with braces on his back and legs. Domingue recently told his wife about how his mother coddled him then — and how his stepfather helped him get back on his feet.
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Coping With Polio And A Demanding Stepfather

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Coping With Polio And A Demanding Stepfather

Coping With Polio And A Demanding Stepfather

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DEBORAH AMOS, host:

Time now for StoryCorps. This project records Americans talking about the experiences that shaped their lives. Today, a story about growing up with polio. Tom Domingue caught the virus in 1945, as did tens of thousands of others. It was a time when polio epidemics broke out in the hot summer months.

Tom was eight years old and had just finished second grade. He spent months in the hospital, and in this interview, Tom explains to his wife what it was like to come home.

Mr. TOM DOMINGUE (Polio Survivor): When I got home, I had a back brace and two leg braces, and I could barely move my head back and forth.

Ms. DOTTY DOMINGUE (Wife of Mr. Tom Domingue): How did they take care of you?

Mr. DOMINGUE: My mother, of course, spoiled me. I was a cute, little, curly-haired kid and could do no wrong, so she doted on me all the time - anything I wanted. If I didn't like my lettuce because it didn't taste good, she would put sugar on it - things like that. And she wouldn't let me walk. She would carry me everywhere. And my stepfather could see how she was starting to influence my living habits. So he finally talked her into going, getting away, Tommy's fine, I'll be with him.

Why don't you go shopping and visit friends. And the first time she left, as soon as the car disappeared, my stepfather - a great big longshoreman - he grabbed me. And here I am with my back brace, which is killing me, my leg braces; and he plunks me up and walks over and puts me in the middle of the floor of the living room with no furniture around - and said okay, damn it, walk or fall.

I hated him. I was crying. I wanted my mother. I was so mad at him. And I took a step and I was teetering, about to fall, and he was right there and he caught me. He said oh, that's great, you did great.

And we kept that a secret. We didn't tell my mother what we were doing. So he would encourage her to leave, and he would do it again. And I would ask to be plunked. And eventually I started gaining more and more strength. And I did it because of him and never looked back.

(Soundbite of music)

AMOS: Tom Domingue with his wife, Dotty, at StoryCorps in Georgetown, Delaware. Their interview will be archived at the American Folk Life Center at the Library of Congress. Subscribe to the StoryCorps Podcast at NPR.org.

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