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'I'm going to die in these shoes.' Ga. woman loves shoes — despite polio's effects

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

It's Friday. And here on MORNING EDITION, that means it's time for StoryCorps. In 1950, Shirley Duhart got polio. She was only 2 years old at the time. And although she struggled to walk, shoes became very important to her. She came to StoryCorps with Dale Strasser, her doctor for the past three decades.

SHIRLEY DUHART: I was raised in extreme poverty in Vine City, Ga., and it was a segregated area at the time. But even though my mother worked long hours, the neighbors were very caring and looked out for us. And you dare not create a problem because you knew you were going to have to answer for it when your mother came home. But I think a lot of that also drove my independence...

DALE STRASSER: Yeah.

DUHART: ...To try to be as little of a problem as I could be. One day I was in the backyard playing. And all of a sudden, I said, mama. Mama, I can't walk. They realized it was polio, and she was very fearful because that was the pandemic of the time. When I was young, a little girl, I had the full-length iron brace, and I wore the high-top oxfords.

STRASSER: And those aren't real stylish shoes.

DUHART: Those are not stylish at all. They looked like military boots, almost. Then slowly, I improved some. And when I was in the eighth grade, we bought some little pumps. A lot of the neighbors came out on the porch - said, oh, Shirley got on some dress shoes. It was kind of like a big event because that was a close neighborhood.

STRASSER: And how did that make you feel?

DUHART: It made me feel that I had a little bit of control over my situation, considering I couldn't control the fact that I did have that disease.

STRASSER: I do remember from our very first encounter, I suggested in a diplomatic manner that you really ought to consider some other shoes that would provide a little more balance. Well, I heard in no uncertain terms that those shoes were not going to be changed.

DUHART: And you heard me, and you're probably my longest physician that I've had. I wanted people to see more than just my disability.

STRASSER: Right.

DUHART: I wanted them to see a whole person and a stylish person, a person with a happy spirit. You know, I thought that we were all architects of our own life, and all you need to do is just make up your mind and go for it. But since maybe 20 years ago, I'm not as mobile, and all those cute, little shoes don't fit quite as well as they had before.

STRASSER: But I know your personality. You're going to remain in charge.

DUHART: Oh, yes. That's the way I am. Don't let anybody else define you. Define yourself. And you know, I'm 74, but I hope to live to be 95. And I'm going to die in these shoes.

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MARTIN: That's Shirley Duhart and Dale Strasser in Atlanta. Their StoryCorps interview is archived in the Library of Congress. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Halle Hewitt
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