Tina, the walking doll

Somewhere in a dark corner of a box in our storage unit lives Tina. Tina has a short pink satin skirt attached to a gold and white brocade top. She used to have a black bolero with gold rickrack trim, but that’s disappeared somewhere along her travels. She’s a hard-plastic doll, and is about a foot tall. She will be either standing firmly in the box vertically, in which case her eyes are open, or lying flat, in which case her eyes will be closed.

Tina is almost exactly 58 years old (though, as they say, she doesn’t look a day over 4). I know this because she was a gift from my mother when I came out of hospital in October of 1953, having spent a week in the infectious diseases ward, with polio. I was seven years old.

I didn’t go home. Home was 60 miles away, in the country. Instead, my mother and I stayed at my grandmother’s house in the city, where I was to wait until I could get into physiotherapy at the desperately overcrowded city hospital. I was paralysed throughout my left side, and lived on my grandmother’s living room sofa.

Tina arrived a day or two after I did, while I was still in mourning for the favourite doll I’d taken into hospital with me. She’d had to be left behind because she might have polio germs, and besides would be a wonderful friend for other little girls in the hospital. I understood this, and approved, but still felt sad. So it was good to get a new doll, remove her from the box, and give her a beautiful name. She became an instant friend.

The thing about Tina was, she could walk. Because she was plastic, she could stand practically on her own, and if you held her ever so lightly, and guided her just so, she would move one leg smartly out, and shift her weight, and then move the other. With my right hand, I could walk her along the sofa, the floor beside me and the coffee table nearby. (My cousin Ted, with his wild boy ways, would practically TROT her all over the room.)

I have read that when you have polio, in what’s known as the IPI – the Initial Polio Incident, you lose over 65% of your motor neurons. They just wither and die and never come back. But nonetheless a miracle occurs, and the remaining 35% marshal their resources and cause a resurrection.

My 35% ultimately left Tina’s elastics-and-plastics for dead. I went on to run again, which Tina never managed to master. I learned to skate, I rode a bike, I jived and swam and married and had children – and Tina never did. But she was there when I needed her for those first steps, with her steady gait carefully putting one foot in front of the other.

So she stays around, currently in storage, as part of a complex and loving memorabilia.

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  1. Polio who? | SHEDDERS, by Heather Bolstler

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