Polio Interview with Starr Tillman

Since I enjoy researching and writing about the WWII American home front and polio, I’m delighted to introduce you to my friend, Starr. I met Starr through the Post Polio Facebook page and I was so inspired by her love for life and her beautiful heart. As I got to know her, it became apparent that a beautiful heart is all about perspective. Starr, thanks for letting me interview you and for sharing your life with us.

starr-baby
Starr as a baby, in early 1960s.

My character, Laurie, contracts polio in 1942, a time when America was engulfed in the throes of a world war, but also, fighting a home front war, the war against the crippling disease. What is your polio story?

Where should I begin. I have thought about it for a long time. I became sick at age 6 months old. I was born to teenage parents, Mom was 16 and Dad 15. They did what all parents do and I was vaccinated on schedule. It was my third dose, which was the live virus which I contracted polio. I have had good times, bad time, sad and happy. But looking back I would not change a thing. It is what made the person I am. It got me to where I am today. I love my life and I feel very blessed.

I know hospitals are not fun, but you’ve talked about some fascinating stories between you and a boy you met while in the hospital. What is your favorite memory?

This is an easy memory for me. Christmas Eve, the hospital was empty just a few of us there. They would take us to the auditorium and show Laurel and Hardy’s March of the Wooden Soldiers. We had popcorn and laughed a lot. My husband and I were friends back then. We both were in and out of the hospital and it seemed it was always at the same time.

I’m sure being in and out of the hospital was a love-hate relationship, especially because your best friend became your husband. 🙂

How did you spend your summers after polio?

Well, I discovered early on that I was different. I didn’t go outside that often, most were spent indoors either at home or the hospital. But I found ways to enjoy the change of seasons. I watched the colors change, and saw life from a window. In my teens, my parents bought a horse, they thought it would be good therapy. And it was, because the horse became my legs. I was able to go where ever I wanted. I know this sounds strange but I would go to a grave yard with a pad of paper and draw nature. And talk to the graves as if they were old friends.

My character had a horse, too, and had to learn how to ride again. Riding is wonderful therapy for anyone.

How did you meet your husband?

prom-with-husband
Starr and her husband Steve at the prom.

We met when we were six. Both in the hospital for two different reasons. We were on mats in physical therapy waiting our turn. He and another boy were behind me laughing. They took turns pulling on my pig tails. I cried and they [nurses] had to take me back to my room. Yes, and I married him. But there were many stories between then and our marriage.

That’s funny and cute. I’m sure he’s glad you decided to marry him, too.

What is your hobby?

I have many. I paint, draw, write poems, write short stories, crochet, cook, compose music and play many instruments. I sang and gardened prior to PPS.

I enjoy poetry and the hope it gives. You wrote a poem about “Whispers of Heaven.” I liked this section you wrote:

A life unvarnished rattled with pain

And back to this life I did reclaim

The time has since has passed seeming far away

But still I am here and will remain

thinking of time and that I must stay

For all we are now, and all we’re to be

We must follow the path that leads to thee

I know not where nor do I the time

What life I now have alone it is mine

But knowing what waits beyond is not pretend

For each of us holds to love when it’s our life’s end.

From my research, I’ve learned that Post Polio is a syndrome where the challenges of polio come back after a 20-40 year span. What is your approach to PPS?

I deal with it day by day. I try to enjoy every day, and am very thankful that I am here. Because I know life can be gone in an instant.

Through your life experience, how have you become a better person?

I am more sensitive to other people feelings, and am very patient.

People/things that make you happy?

Well right now it is being a grandmother. I have wanted to be one for such a long time.

Who was instrumental in shaping you into the wonderful person you are today?

spinal-surgery-help-her-sit-up
Starr after spinal surgery that helped her sit up.

I would have to say my Mom, because she pushed me. She was hard on me, but did it to make me stronger. And also all the staff at the children’s hospital i spent most of my life in.

Encouraging advice to others, and something that I can infuse into my own character’s life?

Never be defeated, defeat the circumstance. Let go of pain, both emotional and physical. And last is to forgive all those who have hurt you, and forgive yourself. It will lift such a weight off you. I have found that if you allow the sorrow to fill you with hate, you will never have the love you seek.

Thanks for sharing with us today, Starr! Your story is beautiful, inspiring, and a great reminder that we can have confidence no matter what we go through. We all have challenges in life, and I’m encouraged by your outlook on life.

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3 thoughts on “Polio Interview with Starr Tillman

  1. Enjoyed your interview with Starr. I have known her for many years. You could not find a better person to interview. She is very special and I consider myself so lucky and privileged to call her a friend.She has always been a blessing to those around her.

    Like

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