Congressional Record, April 12, 2005
I was struck with polio when I was 2 years old. My dad was overseas fighting in World War II. Polio was similar to having the flu--you felt sick all over. Except when polio went away there were residual effects. In my case, when my flu-like symptoms went away, I had a quadricep in my left leg that was dramatically affected.
My mother was, of course, like many mothers of young polio victims, perplexed about what to do, anxious about whether I would be disabled for the rest of my life. But we were fortunate. While my dad was overseas my mother was living with her sister in east central Alabama, only about 40 or 50 miles from Warm Springs. As everyone knows, President Roosevelt established Warm Springs, where he went to engage in his own physical therapy, as a center to treat other polio victims. So my mother was able to put me in the car, go over to Warm Springs, and actually learn, from those marvelous physical therapists who were there, what to do.
They told my mother she needed to keep me from walking. Now, imagine this. You are the mother of a 2-year-old boy. And we all know how anxious little boys are to get up and get around and get into trouble. So my mother convinced me that I could walk, but I couldn't walk--a pretty subtle concept to try to convey to a 2-year-old. In other words, she wanted me to think I could walk, but she wanted me to also understand I should not walk. Now, obviously, the only way to enforce that with a 2-year-old is to watch them like a hawk all the time. So I was under intense observation by my mother for 2 years. She administered this physical therapy regiment at least three times a day--all of this really before my recollection. But we now know the things that happened to us in the first 5 years of our lives have an enormous impact on us for the rest of our lives.
So this example of incredible discipline that she was teaching me during this period I always felt had an impact on the rest of my life in terms of whatever discipline I may have been able to bring to bear on things I have been involved in. I really have felt my mother taught me that before I was even old enough to remember.
So this went on for 2 years. My first memory in life was stopping at a shoe store in LaGrange, GA. We had left Warm Springs for the last time, and the physical therapist there had told my mother: Your son can walk now. We think he is going to have a normal childhood and a normal life. We stopped at a shoe store in LaGrange, GA, and bought a pair of saddle oxfords, which are low-top shoes--my first recollection in life.