Theresa J. Elders
656 Pend Oreille Loop
Colville, WA 99114
Daddy and Raggedy Ann
By Terri Elders
One afternoon when Grandma visited me at my hospital bed, she
said that Daddy would visit me on Sunday. I knew some things, like all the
names of the days of the week, but I didn’t know how many days it was until
Sunday. I’d just turned five that summer of l942, and was so proud I could hold
up a whole hand full of fingers when anybody asked my age.
When Grandma first brought me there I’d heard the doctor who
poked around my chest say it would take a miracle to save me. So I wanted to
ask Daddy what a miracle was. Every time I heard footsteps by the door, I
prayed it would be Daddy. He was in the Navy and I longed to see him in his
Then one morning, just after the nurse finished pounding on
my chest and had made me breathe in some horrid nose drops, Daddy appeared in
his navy blue bell bottom trousers and shirt trimmed with white stripes. He
carried a big brown bag.
I was so happy to see him that I’d tried to sit up, but as
soon as I lifted my head from the pillow I broke into a chorus of coughs. Daddy
hurried over and leaned down to kiss my forehead. “She feels awfully warm,” he
said to the nurse, placing his bag on the floor next to my bed.
“That’s to be expected with pneumonia. But she’s past the
worst part, we think.”
“Daddy, I fell down at the Piggly Wiggly,” I said. “My chest
hurts.” I remembered shaking so hard that my teeth chattered when Grandma
carried me to the car and drove me to the hospital. When the doctors said that
my lips had turned blue because I had double pneumonia, she started to cry and
that scared me.
Daddy sat by my bed for a long time. He said he soon would sail
off to fight in the war. To cheer himself up he’d gone to see a movie called Yankee Doodle Dandy. Daddy said he could
tap dance just as well as James Cagney in that movie. He sang one of its songs
for me, “Grand Old Flag.” I had been to the movies once with Grandma, and had
seen Dumbo. But I didn’t remember the
elephants singing or dancing. I told Daddy I would love to be able to tap
dance, just like Shirley Temple whose picture I saw on the covers of Grandma’s
When the nurse brought me some warm apple juice, he encouraged
me to sip some, even though I found it so hard to swallow. “If you finish your
juice, I’ve got a surprise for you in the bag.”
Even though it hurt, I downed all my juice. Then Daddy
opened the bag and took out a doll with two button eyes, red yarn hair and a
cute little triangle nose. She wore a blue flowered dress.
“It’s Raggedy Ann,” I cried with delight. I hugged the doll close,
and then remembered I had something to ask Daddy about.
“Daddy, what’s a miracle?”
“What do you think it is, Terri?
“I thought it might be a big dog. I heard that some dogs
save people who get lost in the snow. The doctor told Grandma that it would
take a miracle to save me.”
“No. A miracle isn’t an animal. It’s just something
wonderful that happens, that you don’t expect. For instance, let’s unbutton
your doll’s dress.” Daddy helped me slip the buttons out of the loops. I was
surprised to see the little red heart on her chest. It had some letters on it.
“It says ‘I love you.’ I want you to remember that I love you after my ship
sails out. And when I get home after the war maybe we can tap dance together.”
Weeks passed before Grandma finally took me home, but I had
Raggedy Ann there to comfort me through the coughing fits, runny noses and
headaches. When I finally got up from that hospital bed I couldn’t quite remember
how to walk because I had been down so long. It took a few days before once
again I grew steady on my feet. It might be a while before I could start to
learn to tap.
Two years later when Daddy returned from the war, he came to
Grandma’s house and I showed him how I had learned to tap dance. We danced
together, humming “Grand Old Flag.” Daddy
said he had danced aboard his ship when they had a talent show, and his
shipmates agreed he was just as spry as Cagney.
Several years later I learned that in l942 it was still commonplace
for children to die of bronchial pneumonia. I indeed had been lucky to survive.
It wasn’t until the close of World War II that miracle drugs appeared on the
home front in the form of penicillin and other antibiotics, and countless children’s
lives were saved.
Decades later, I worked for Peace Corps, providing technical
assistance to health projects in dozens of developing countries. To my
astonishment I learned from the World Health Organization that pneumonia is
still the forgotten killer of children, causing two million deaths worldwide,
more than any other disease…more than HIV/AIDS, malaria and measles combined. I
urged our child and maternal health program managers to train Peace Corps
Volunteers how to alert parents in developing countries to the symptoms of this
deadly disease so their children could get access to needed treatment.
That my life was spared in childhood so that I could help
spare the lives of other children might just be coincidence…but I think it
might have been a miracle. I only regret that when I looked at Raggedy Ann’s
heart on her chest I forgot to look to see if she had wings on her back. As for
Daddy, well, he was never an angel, but he sure could dance like one!