Early childhood was full of ups and downs for me, perhaps in a more extreme way than for normal kids. On 1950’s evening TV, there was Your Hit Parade, with Gisele MacKenzie (what a name!), Snooky Lanson, Dorothy Collins, and Tommy Lionetti, and eventually there was the Ed Sullivan Show. I loved music and movies, and looked forward to my afternoon TV rest time and also the evening variety shows. There was so much life out there, so much to being an entertainer! I began to aspire to be on stage or in front of a camera, not realizing this was likely a pipe dream, as I had far from the requisite perfect body my future young woman self would need for star power. No one on TV or in the movies was limping. But I knew all the songs and sang them, sometimes while dancing about the living room. Yes, I could dance, albeit in the lame way you’d imagine a little girl with a paralyzed foot would dance.
Not having any ankle motion, not being able to lift the “toes end” of one’s foot, is a very distinct limitation and disadvantage and also puts one at risk of tripping, so there are a lot of physical endeavors for which I just take a pass. I would love a dollar for every time in my life I’ve said, “I can’t do that.” And five dollars for each time some well-meaning person has said either enthusiastically or in exasperation, “Oh, just TRY!” and then said quietly, “Oh. I see.”
In early school days, my off-balance skip was my substitute for running, and it sufficed for getting up and down the block quickly when the sidewalk was hot and we were all going barefoot. At school, the children were not always as understanding as in my own neighborhood, and by first or second grade I had been tagged with the moniker “Hop Along Cassidy” by one boy in particular, Steven. He started picking on me as early as kindergarten, where he once pinned me up against the wall with his big stomach at recess. I was frightened and squirming as he stared down into my eyes, while he savored his power over me.
My heart was racing a little – that begins to happen even now, thinking of how terrified I was – but even at five, I realized he was not going to get away with much damage right there in front of everyone in the kindergarten play yard, and, recess did have an end. At long last, the bell rang and he had to let me go or the teacher on duty would have caught him at it. The vulnerable feeling stayed with me, though, as it was clear to me I was only lucky this time, and learned at the tender age of 5 ½ that I needed to stay clear of bullies, since I was tiny, and could not run.