Polio Parties

by Leroy Creech

In the 1940's and 1950's when polio was running rampant, my father was chairman for the Infantile Paralysis Foundation for Cook County. The towns around the county would put on President's Birthday Balls to raise money for the March of Dimes. After the death of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, they were called Polio Parties and were held in schools, town halls and anywhere else we could get in for free.

To maximize the take, my father and I donated the music for these dances. Each party was different. Most had some sort of auction to raise money; some included pie socials and basket socials.

The party at Grand Portage on the Indian Reservation was held in the old log school gym, which was large enough to hold four squares when square dancing. At Grand Portage, they always had a basket social. We would bid on a basket and get to eat with the lady whose basket we bought.

The teachers at the school were a married Indian couple from a different part of the state, Mr. and Mrs. Johnson. Mrs. Johnson was a pretty lady and I knew Mr. Johnson would kill for her basket, so I caught the attention of a young lady who had gone to school with my sister and got her to show me which basket was Mrs. Johnson's, and then, of course, which was her own.

The auction started. I had $32.00 in my pocket. Baskets went for around $5.00-$10.00 each. I bid on some of them, but was careful not to win.

Mrs. Johnson's basket came up. When the bidding went past $15.00, and Mr. Johnson and I were the only bidders, the crowd knew I knew whose basket it was and I was really going to make the schoolteacher pay. When I got to $32.00, I stopped bidding. Mr. Johnson got the Basket for $33.00. When my friend's basket came up, I got it for $10.00.

The next year I did the same thing. I had my friend signal when Mrs. Johnson's basket came up. This time I had $35.00 in my pocket, so Mr. Johnson got it for $36.00. But when my friend's basket came up, the mean old schoolteacher bid it up to $34.00, so I got her basket for $35.00!

Originally published as Basket Social, May 2003, goodolddaysmagazine.com. Used with permission.

The Creeches

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