When Wilburn was 18 or 20 months old, the family lived near the Pettit Community between Gustine and Comanche, Texas, and Wilburn developed Infantile Paralysis, called Polio.
I found an old Comanche Chief where a little girl from Blanket was afflicted with Polio in 1913, and this is the only mention that I can find in the newspapers of Polio in Comanche County at that time. Later, there was a bad outbreak of Polio in Comanche County.
In this photo, Wilburn to be about five years old and Geneva was less than a year old. You can see that Wilburn’s left hand is closed from the Polio. Our mother said his fingers on the left hand were clenched so tightly that she could not get a wash cloth under his fingers to wash his hand.
If you will look closely at his left leg, you will see that it is shorter he is wearing two different pairs of shoes, one for the right foot a smaller shoe for the left. You will also notice that the sole has been built up to the correct height. All of his life, Wilburn had to have his left shoe built up with a thicker sole.
Daddy and Mama moved to West Texas in the mid 1920s. They lived 24 miles from Big Spring and did most of their buying there or in Midland. Wilburn was a young teen at the time, and when they bought him shoes, he had to have two pairs.
Mama said a merchant at Big Spring told them about Scottish Rite Hospital in Dallas, Texas that was for crippled children. This merchant was a Mason and contributed to this hospital so he wanted Mama and Daddy to take Wilburn there to be examined. At that time, this was free care for children. Mama and Daddy did not have thousands of dollars for medial bills.
They made arrangements to go to Dallas and they went in their Ford Touring Car in 1929. Mama said that Daddy drove all over Dallas and didn’t get lost one time, that they had no trouble driving at all. Of course, driving conditions in Dallas were different than they are today!
They saw doctors, and Wilburn was examined and plans were made for him to go to the hospital for three different surgeries, one on his left hand, one on his left ankle, and one on his left foot.
Geneva talks in our book about the cold weather of January 1930. Daddy and Wilburn went on the train from Big Spring to Dallas to enter him in the hospital, and Geneva said it was horribly cold. A friend and neighbor, Ollie Faye Nichols, came and stayed with Mama and Geneva. She helped Geneva take care of the livestock during this terrible cold spell.
They told funny stories, sang songs, and did anything they could think of to try to get Mama’s mind off of the fact that Wilburn was having surgery and she could not be with them. Wilburn would be at the hospital for four months and would not be coming home until the last of April.
Wilburn talked a lot about what good care he and all of the children received at the hospital. One time, and these boys were all in a big ward, there was a boy across the room from Wilburn and he was really badly sick. The next morning his bed was empty and Wilburn asked the nurse if he had died.
She told him yes but for him not to tell the younger children and scare them. Wilburn was such a fine young man that the nurse could trust him to keep her secret.
After his surgery on his hand, Wilburn went through lots of therapy at Scottish Rite Hospital. He also made a ring and two bracelets of small beads strung on fine wire. His family still has these. Everything possible was done to help the kids exercise and strengthen their muscles.
I was born on April 30 while Daddy was gone to bring Wilburn, who had been in the hospital since January, back home. He took the train, and Mama and Geneva were thrilled that Wilburn was coming home!
Wilburn said that when he came home his left leg was still in a cast, but he was so anxious to ride his horse that Daddy helped him saddle up. As soon as he was mounted, Wilburn was off to chase the chickens!
According to Wilburn, his horse stopped suddenly in front of a bush, refusing to jump as the boy wanted it to; he went over the horse’s head, falling off. He jumped up as fast as he could, checking to see if anyone had noticed, and then remounted quickly.
Mama said she saw this from the kitchen window, her heart in her mouth, but Wilburn got right back on the horse and went back to chasing chickens.
After the cast was off of his leg, the doctors wanted him to lie in the sun to tan and strengthen the leg. Wilburn would lie on the porch with his leg in the sun.
Wilburn was the finest man I have ever known. All of his life he was burdened by being crippled, and kids sometimes made fun of him, calling him crip. However, he always had lots of friends who helped him fight his battles. He worked hard and could break horses, work in the fields, drive trucks, and do anything anyone else could do.
Written by Missy Cox Jones