Every season takes us across a threshold, where we leave behind what we have known and shift into something new. In this time of the pandemic, other thresholds present themselves as well. Today, on the edge of winter and the storytelling season, I have a story for you.

Why was I feeling anxious? The Prime Minister had just announced that the whole country was now moving out of Level 4 lockdown and into Level 3. This should have been good news. But coming out felt like approaching speed bumps that had grown hard ridges and even spikes. And would the car start anyway, after lying idle for so many weeks?

In reality, social distancing would continue under level 3. No cause for alarm.



Following the thread


In my hand, I held a thread. As I tugged gently, time unravelled, back to 1948, the year of a significant epidemic in New Zealand.

I had just started at primary school, but after the first exciting term, school was closed. There would be no return from the summer holidays, no swimming in the town pool or on any beaches. Children and their mothers were in lockdown.

This was the scary time of a disease that claimed young lives and crippled the legs of children so they were unable to walk without iron callipers. The disease was known as infantile paralysis, a terrifying name that was eventually replaced by the more neutral term of polio.

The epidemic had struck before. 1925 was the worst year, with 173 deaths. My parents would then have been 13 and 14 years old. So when the epidemic struck again, two years after the war, they knew what it meant.

My mother said we, her five children, used the time well. We were always creative in our play. Correspondence lessons came through the mail and over the radio. The disease kept spreading with 963 cases. Anyone who went out had to keep 6 feet away from others.


Anxious parents


When the Minister of Education declared that schools would reopen on March 1, so many worried parents protested through letters to the newspapers that the time of quarantine was extended until April 19, 3 weeks after Easter.

My mother, like many others, must have been very anxious about the breaking of quarantine. Would her children, exposed to others at school, catch the disease?

As it happened, our family had a narrow escape. During the quarantine, my eldest sister who had just turned 12, became ill with a fever. Infantile paralysis was suspected. She was rushed to new Plymouth hospital 12 miles away, by ambulance.



An isolated child


The health system was cruel to children in those days. My sister was shut in a large room containing a solitary bed in the middle. The bed was so high she could hardly climb in and out. She was frightened that she would fall. No visitors were permitted, not even our parents. She was told nothing. In those days the giving of information was not counted as an essential service. She had nothing to do, not even a book to read.

My mother, an unassertive woman except where her children were concerned, mustered her flock together, and by some miracle transported us to the path outside the hospital window. There we stood, waving and calling out to my sister. Even though my sister is now in her 80s with memory loss, the image of us standing there is ever fresh, and with it the feeling of comfort at a time of need.

‘I couldn’t hear what you were saying,’ she said, ‘even though you tried. But just seeing you was enough.’ After some days she was declared free of the disease and returned home.

And so, as I pull back the memory thread and wind it up here, I now know why coming out of lockdown feels more dangerous than going in. And I’m ready to smooth back the speed bumps and bravely go forward into the world once more.


Blessings to you, whatever threshold you are on,




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