February 2023
Leaves from My Notebook
Elaine Greensmith Jordan


Standing in the doorway of my college dorm room, Diana looked like a visiting angel.

“Can I rest here a minute?” she asked, pale and smiling.

“Of course!” I said, and turned from my typewriter on the table my father had built, fitting it across from my tidy bed. An orderly setting.

“I’m not feeling well,” Diana said, moving to sit on the bed. “I’m washed out. I occasionally have these spells. You are so kind.” I’d never been called “kind” before and felt I’d been addressed by a saint. “This is … the result of my polio …. If I could lie down.”

Polio! Our neighbor boy had been a victim of polio. We kids could hear his cries from our backyard. Those sounds made such an impact on my soul they stole my good sense. “How long since you’ve, recovered?”

“Since high school. I was stuck in bed for a year.” She smiled. “I found that memorizing Shakespeare helped.”

Shakespeare! I loved all things literary. I was eighteen. It was the Fifties.

The stately gates at the entrance to the campus kept us removed from the realities of postwar America, and we frolicked in a California college wearing white gloves and frothy gowns, far from that other America, where other young people were fighting a real war in Korea.

Diana and I shared a larger room the next year. I turned in my assignments on time while she let hers languish in heaps on her desk. I made excuses for Diana. I helped her walk when she needed my strength. I tidied her room and carried her laundry. She responded with flattery and spiritual truths I’ve since forgotten.

The brilliant images in Diana’s conversation became mine. I find them now scattered through my writing and language like rosary beads. When I try to recreate our conversations, they turn into comedy, but I can’t laugh, not after a last meal with Diana’s family that sucked the enchantment from everything.

“Mother is so controlling,” Diana told me one day while she brushed her hair “She’s coming out here again in that ridiculous Cadillac to check on me. I can’t tell you what a strain it is to see her. Unfortunately I need the meds she’ll bring me. Thank God Daddy’s a doctor.

“That’s an irony,” she said, smiling.

Diana smiled a lot. I turned to it like a pansy to the sun.

We talked often of our graduation, when we’d have to separate. Diana made the June event sound tragic, and I dreaded it too. Worst of all, Diana told me she’d be going to a nursing home after graduation. A nursing home! Evidently the paralysis had advanced without my noticing. I thought about saying, “I’ll take care of you! I’ll teach and support you,” but I didn’t. I wanted my upcoming marriage and those long-awaited sexual encounters. Did I mention this was the Fifties?

At my last supper in Diana’s home in the Los Angeles Hills, I sat with her family in a formal dining room. I told them I was sorry Diana would not be able to live at home any more. “I hope I can visit her in the nursing home if it’s in this area.”

“Elaine,” her father said, “Diana’s not leaving here for a nursing home. I don’t know what she’s told you, but she’ll be fine.”

I looked at Diana for an explanation. She met my eyes as if to say, “It’s all right. Forget it.” He added, “Diana’s polio has not left her needing more care.”

I don’t know what she’s told you. I stood and left a table laden with tempting food and drove away in Mother’s car back to my home on the flatland, crying all the way.

In the days that followed, we graduated into separate realms. Diana didn’t seem concerned about the incident. She wrote a poem for me when I married.

I became cynical. I snapped at imperfections everywhere. Behind new defenses — gates as high as those of our college — sarcastic bullets flew from me. I don’t like to think of what that scorn may have done to my students when I began to teach.

Diana married the son of the president of an eastern university. When her first child was about to be born, she called and asked me to be with her through the birth. Unable to deny her, I hurried to her side. The baby boy born that night is the man who contacted me these many years later to tell me that post-polio syndrome had claimed her life.

Darkness and light suffuse my memories of my Diana days. I hope they’ve turned from hurt into wisdom as I revisit events that formed my character with such power.

Elaine Jordan, author of Mrs. Ogg Played the Harp, is a local editor who’s lived in Prescott for thirty years.