I was six years old when my mother picked me up during first-grade at the local Catholic school. Since I was an obedient child, I didn't question her motives. I'm sure she told me because I was sickly I needed special care. But I didn't realize a separation from my parents and my new baby sister was imminent.
I recall a long drive past fields and thick woods from Jackson, MS, to a town called Magee, MS. There I was led to a large dormitory, shown a bed(not unlike double bunks of metal frames) and a locker, had only a few minutes to say goodby to my parents, and I was left to assimilate into a new way of life. A lady handed me a pair of white panties and a tee shirt. My good clothes went into the locker, a four-some at the end of two sets of bunks. I wore those clothes home six months later.
Within a short time I was regimented into sleep, play, sit and listen, weekly examinations by doctors, eating three full meals a day, and school. Visitors were allowed twice monthly. I always had someone visiting me on Visitors Sunday. The idea that isolation and protection from the germs that could be brought in from outside would be minimized. The medical team there thought sickly children could more easily take TB and needed special care not otherwise. At six years of age I weighed 20-25 pounds. I had chronic illnesses that gave me a slow start in life. I've often told my own children I resembled a war orphan then. My parents blamed my skinniness on their inability to provide milk and proper food during the years after the Depression.
The Missisisippi State Sanitorium opened its Preventorium in 1929, so my presence years later gave the staff plenty of time to be organized. Actually the system of taking care of sickly children lasted into the mid-70's. The lifestyle of nutritious food, the outdoors, and rest was an experiment. Since the weather is so wretched this time of the year, the Preventorium would have had a difficulty time running in the summers today.
Services provided a swimming pool, a play village, and a golf course with a duck pond. The course was for the adults, but I remember the pond. My sixty-odd years of memory have almost dissolved like sugar in hot water. I recall as the cooler weather came, we still wore our white bloomers with a sweater. Fresh air was most important, yet, no one thought that that air being circulated from the Sanitorium past the Preventorium and in and around the nearby town of Magee could be tainted. The Sanitorium, I recall, had TB paitents in their beds on porches and in the yards, enjoying the same air.
Our schedule allowed us schooling in the mornings, play, fat-rich meals, an hour's rest, and medical examinations. We were introduced to music. I recall hearing Kate Smith sing "God Bless America" for the first time when all children were gathered in a general meeting room. I remember having to shut our eyes while lying on our backs at the beginning of our naps so the head mistress could glance from her perch to check on us. That simple activity has lasted my entire life. I love naps. Christmas came and we celebrated opening our gifts from home. We made simple cards for our family to send home. In February the doctors declared they had done enough for me, I was TB free. I assume that meant I had gained enough pounds to be considered average in weight.
I never felt unloved, ignored by the family, or put in the Preventorium for any reason but a good one. The experience has always been in my memory and I appreciate my parents for having the good sense to follow the doctor's orders to send me there. The only regret is that I don't remember any of the other children who were present. Although I'm on a Yahoo message board for children of the Preventorium, no one has remembered me. But that is because those who belong to the group are younger and have better memories from the 1950's to 1970's. The reunion today in Magee MS will gather many former youth, but I will skip that. I doubt anyone from 1938 will be there.