My Friend Barbara
Barbara Hawkins has been a friend of mine my entire life. When we grew up and got married our husbands became friends. This picture is not of Barbara but is typical of the brace she wore. She wore one brace and used crutches.
I had a little playhouse in our backyard. Barbara and I spent many days in that playhouse or in my treehouse making “wine” out of mulberries. We were happy to make it and smart enough never to taste it. As I remember the recipe was mulberry juice, salt, and pepper. It sure doesn’t sound very good now but then… we really thought we were something. I don’t remember just how we got Barbara up to and down from that tree house but as I recall there wasn’t much she couldn’t do.
Barbara was one of the last kids in Hughson to get Polio in the epidemic that passed through our nation when we were babies. She said when her mother put her to bed one night she was fine and when she went to check on her in the morning she could no longer stand. By the time we got into school I think Barbara had already had her spine fused. It didn’t matter to most of us, in fact, more than once I’d stiffen my leg and limp like she did. It was different so it was fun. I never thought she was different, she just had to figure out how to do some things that were easy for everyone else.
There were a couple of little bullies in our class. One was Billy Ray Bell and one was Larry Dunn. They would poke fun at anyone for anything and they were merciless towards Barbara and her crutches.
Barbara walked to school. Many days her first stop at school would be the bathroom where she would unbuckle her brace and leave it in a corner. She’d come into class with just her crutches. I know it was harder for her without her brace. I know sometimes her leg hurt a lot.
When the bell rang at the end of the day all of us who rode the buses would run one direction and the kids who walked to school would use the other hall. Barbara would retrieve her brace and buckle it back on hoping her mom wouldn’t find out she’d gone all day without using it. One day while she was waiting to cross Main Street Billy came up beside her and began to tease her. She lifted up one of her crutches and gave him a good wallop to the head. He recoiled in tears. The bully had received justice. He didn’t come around Barbara much after that and when he did he didn’t tease her.