A few months out of the hospital, late 1951

A letter from Daddy

My niece died recently, of ALS. Going through things she had saved, I found a scrapbook my mother (her maternal grandmother) had started in the mid-1920’s, with lovely cards given to her by her first husband, my sister’s father. My niece would have said, “My grandfather wasn’t your father,” but this was my mother’s scrapbook, so, I brought it home, saving it from a dumpster.

After I had been through all the cards and other mementos my mother had saved from the early days of her first marriage, I decided to put the book in our dining room curio cabinet, which is full of other vintage memorabilia. I stood it up behind a decorated metal box that had also been my mother’s. I couldn’t recall what was in the box, having not looked in it for decades.

Upon removing it to the dining room table and opening it, I discovered a treasure trove of documents: my father’s birth announcement from 1914, my parents’ wedding license, the deed to their house along with the amazingly low price they paid for it in 1952. And lots of letters. Here is one from my dad, written to me from the little town of Willows, California, southwest of Chico and northwest of Yuba City, when I was in the hospital with polio at age three in southern California. My dad, an entrepreneurial milkman, was looking for a milk route to buy so we could move north.

Postmarked April 19, 1951

R D Allen

c/o Capital Dairy

Willows, Calif.


Miss Carol Francine Allen

c/o Nursery, Kabat-Kaiser Inst.

1815 Ocean Front

Santa Monica, Calif.


Dearest Little One,

I hope you are coming along fine and hope your leg is getting stronger. Keep working hard so it will be well soon.

Don’t forget to write me a “yetter” and tell Mommie I still love her, even though  she seems to have writers cramp. Also tell Mommie to write to your Grandmother for me, please.

I had an uneventful, sleepy trip back up here and was glad when it was over.

We have had very nice cool weather this week and hope it stays that way.

I hope you get a pass so that you can go home with Mommie this week end. I won’t be able to come to see you this week end, but will be down the next one.

Be a good girl and give my love to Mommie.

Lots of love,


When I first was diagnosed, in January, 1951, they told my parents I would never walk again; I’d be in a wheelchair the rest of my life. At some point, they decided I might regain enough strength in the most-affected leg to walk with a brace and crutches (which years later I was able to put away, and of course needed assistive devices again in middle age). I had always wondered how far into my six-month stay they had started giving me physical therapy and teaching me to walk again. Now I know that I had at least begun physical therapy halfway through my stay, although it must have been earlier than that if I was already “working hard” three months in.

I could not pronounce L’s when I was little, and said, “I yike that” rather than “I like that.” Thus the “yetter” reference.

My parents had moved out of our rented house in Los Angeles into a two bedroom apartment in Santa Monica, not far from where I was in rehabilitation. My mother came to see me daily, but I believe was only there for an hour or so a day; this is my recollection, among many clear memories of that time; I believe I remember her later telling me she came for an hour each day. She was not working, and was only cooking for one while my dad was travelling, and, as my sister later told me, only occasionally saw her siblings who lived in southern California. Whereas I would have been delighted with having so much free unscheduled time on my own, she wrote in one letter that she was “going nuts” with nothing to do. She did write to my dad, several times a week, as he did to her, but it sounds as if he was lonely on his scouting trip, and craved even more word from her.

There are more letters in that box, so I’ll see what else the two of them had to say…

(Edited and revised, Sept. 24, 2021)