This was a lot of brand new word learning for a someone who just wanted to play Superman or Lone Ranger.
Unknown words, like “school,” “astronaut,” and “lunchbox,” were cropping up. Heck, I was just interested in understandable verbage like “Up Up and Away” or “Hiyo Silver.” “Kemosabe” was stretching it. But the one that caught me off guard was “Mosquito.”
Mosquito sounded frightening. And when I saw the concern and quick actions of response from my dad and grandfather to them attacking us, it was pure terror.
A few days after the mosquito bit our mother, my baby sister and I were wisked away to our grandparents house. Dad rushed our mom to his parents’ physican, Dr. Gossett.
Time has faded my memory somewhat. Perhaps it’s a built-in survival mechanism, but I tend to have a proneness for blocking out tragedy and catastrophic events that cut deep to the core.
What I do recall was sleeping on different couches, beds and pallets. Against the confusion and insecurities that a 5-year-old “big brother” had, I marshaled whatever was available in me to take care of Bobbi. It is the first time ever that I recollect feeling protective of my sister.
Our father had only been a police officer for a few years. With the support of both sets of grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends, on his days off he’d join up with our maternal grandmother to do what they could for Mom and us.
It had not been so long ago, just a bit over a month, our family had seen Roy Rogers and Dale Evans live in the Joe Freeman Coliseum at the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo. Even Roy’s horse Trigger was there.
Topping it off was my new Space Explorer lunch box with a rocket thermos jug inside. It was so fancy, I would be taking it to someplace called a “school” in September. Life was going so good.
But our Mom? She was just a “Sleeping Beauty” right now, my Dad explained.
Several doctors had looked over our mother, but there was no progress. She remained in a motionless, lethargic stupor. No talking. No awareness. Almost “like a statue, just laying there in bed,” my grandmother told me years later.
There was a young doctor, Ron Botkin, who offered hope. I don’t know how they found him originally, but Dad said he wasn’t fond of Dr. Gossett. Botkin had delivered my sister Bobbi just 16 months prior.
“Gossett acted like he was more interested in getting back to his cows on his ranch than he was helping Mama,” he explained years later. “I talked with Dr. Botkin. He seemed smart and had the knowledge and latest perspectives of practicing medicine. I trusted him.”
Soon Dr. Botkin summoned our father and grandmother to his office on South Presa.
“Has she by any chance been bitten by insects, maybe a mosquito?” he asked.
Immediately they said yes and told them about the front yard mosquito invasion on the night of astronaut Alan Shepard’s flight into space.
The doctor explained that lab work indicated she had an “arbovirus,” a virus commonly transmitted by mosquitos.
“This confirms my suspicions and diagnosis that Geraldine has encephalitis,” Dr. Botkin announced. “It’s commonly called ‘sleeping’ or ‘sleepy sickness.'”
I kept a 1961 San Antonio Light newspaper clipping indicating “Outbreaks of mosquito‐borne encephalitis in 13 states, reaching epidemic proportions in at least two, have led Federal health officials to forecast that this will be the worst year in the last decade for the potentially fatal, virus‐caused disease.”
“As of last Friday, the Federal Center for Disease Control in Atlanta had recorded 357 probable and confirmed cases, including 42 deaths.”
“Although the epidemic has subsided in Mississippi, where there were 224 cases and 32 deaths, new cases were being reported last week at an increasing rate in other states. It reached epidemic proportions in Illinois, which reported 90 cases, including eight deaths concentrated in the Chicago area.”
Weeks went by and I missed my Mom. But any Baby Boomer from the 1950s and 60s can understand how I found solace with my heroes. Roy Rogers, Davy Crockett, Alan Shepard and the Lone Ranger. They were there to help me assemble the courage needed to help with Sister and “be a good boy for Momma.”
Momma and I had this routine every Saturday. She’d make us snacks just in time so we could watch American Bandstand. Dick Clark, as televisions’ favorite DJ type host, would announce the Top Ten Songs each week while popular teens would wiggle, shake, glide and slide to their latest dance moves.
We enjoyed special guests like Dion and the Belmonts singing “Runaround Sue,” or Chubby Checker introducing “The Twist.”
Mom and I would dance along with regulars like Arlene and Kenny or Justine and Bob. She and our next door neighbor, Betty Lewis, could tell if any of the dance couples were more in love than the week before and who was not. It was quite an event if a couple switched partners even during just one dance on any given broadcast.
During the weekdays we would watch “Pete and Gladys” (with Henry Morgan) together. Neighbor Scott Lewis and I would play while his mom Betty and my mother would watch a new series, “Dr. Kildare” and the soap opera “As the World Turns” and “One Life to Live.” When we were lucky, his sister Vicki would entertain us with her award winning baton twirling talents.
My favorites to watch with Dad were “Roy Rogers” and “The Lone Ranger.” But by myself, I obediently viewed the “Our Gang-Little Rascals” series, “I Love Lucy” and especially “Superman.”
In fact, every night when I prayed to God, I would ask if he would “pretty please send Superman to San Antonio to save my Momma from the Sleeping Sickness. I miss her God. I love her and I love You too. Amen.”
You’ll never believe what God did. Or maybe, you will.
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Part 3 The Day Superman Rescued My Momma