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The health department days gone by

There were two institutions located on Harvey Street when I was growing up. If you count the high school, then I guess there were three. I am talking about the two located between Swindell’s and Mrs. Canady’s stores, directly across from one another.

They were John Small School, where we received our elementary education, and the health department, where we got immunizations each year. That was the brick building that no one wanted to enter. Unfortunately, they both are demolished now, but let me tell you about the health department and how scared we were to enter this building. It would always smell like a small hospital or doctor’s office, but the inside was clean.

Every year before the summer began, Bubba, Betty, Jane and I were to go to the health department to get our tetanus shot before we could go swimming that year in the river. (At least it seemed like every year). If we did not, we could get the “Lock Jaw,” if we cut our foot while in the water. That was the excuse our parents gave us in order to make sure that we went each year. We were just as susceptible to getting cut in our neighborhood building our forts. They knew how much we wanted to go swimming, and without our tetanus shot, we were not allowed.

So, each year in May, we left John Small after school was dismissed and got our tetanus shot. I can remember that we dreaded that shot, because it was such a long needle, and the nurses were not careful as to the way they stuck the needle in our arms. Going first was usually what we preferred, but we had to decide who did go first, and once it was over, that person got to watch the others.

The other shot we received from the health department before entering the first grade was our small pox shot. This shot has left a permanent make on my left shoulder and many my age still have that mark on either arm. It would cause a scab to appear, and we could not get it knocked off, or we had to have another shot — at least that was the story I was told. My parents took me to get that shot and, boy, did it hurt! This was a shot that was required in order to enter school and was kept on our permanent records, along with other immunizations. Again, the health department!

The recent pandemic and the recommendation to self-quarantine is something my generation has never experienced. The same health department helped us go through a time that was scary to us all. Remember the polio vaccine? The health department vaccinated us all, and on Sunday afternoon, we gathered at the health department and waited in line to get our three sugar cubes. These cubes had a drop of medicine that helped us fight polio, which was a crippling disease. The line was out the door and almost all the way to John Small School, but we waited. This was in my early years of school, and Mom and Dad did not have to tell me and Rose Ann about the vaccination. We went without a word being said.

I have written about collecting dimes to help fight polio and putting them in a card. The class with highest amount of dimes got a free banana split from Pam’s Soda Shop, courtesy of Mr. and Mrs. Gene Alligood (Pam’s Mom and Dad). Like today, we all did our part to fight this dreaded disease, but we never had to self-quarantine.

Today our health department is located out by Smallwood and is a nice and clean facility. I have received flu shots from there and urge everyone to do the same each year. It is a first-class facility, and I am thankful to our county that we have such a facility as this within reach of our citizenry. Thank you to all the health care workers for all that you are doing/have done for our safety. You are true heroes, then and now! Thanks!

They were the best of times with the best of friends and in the best of places, Washington, N.C.! The Original Washington!

— Harold Jr.

Harold Robinson Jr. is a native of Washington.