We did not know any other diabetics for many years while I was a child. It seems now that might have been a disease that diabetics would hide and be ashamed to reveal. I was a “closet diabetic”. I never told classmates prior to going to college. Only my closest friends knew in college. My teachers knew nothing about diabetes. None of my relatives had type 1 diabetes, so far as we know. There was one of my father’s second cousins who was reputed to have some of the symptoms of type 1. She lost weight rapidly and died when she had stopped eating. There was never a diagnosis of her condition. Her parents may not have taken her to a doctor. I had relatives who believed in home cures and medicines and did not go to doctors. Many mountain folks were that way back then. My Grandmother would gather parts of some tree roots, berries and bark and things and boil them in water and give homemade medicine to her 5 kids. Mother had a sister and three brothers. The medicine seemed to work very well.
My relatives did not talk to me about my diabetes. They would talk to my parents in private. I will never forget one visit to my grandparents house one summer, about a year after my diagnosis. I was playing with my cousins and the door to the living room closed. The talking in that room grew much quieter. I was suspicious and I pressed my ear to the door and listened. My grandparents and uncles and aunts were asking about me. We had not all been together since I was diagnosed. It was a reunion of Mother’s family. They asked Mother if I was going to die. Mother had a hard time answering that question. She told them she did not know and that the doctor did not seem to know much about how she should take care of me. She explained how she never gave me sugar, candy, cookies, etc that contained sugar. I did not want them to know I was eavesdropping so I left the door and went back to my cousins. I was very frightened about what I had heard. I thought I might die soon! I was very quiet on the way home and I never told my parents I had heard that conversation. I wish I had never listened , the thought of dying caused me a lot of depression in the months to come. I should have talked to my parents about it but I never did. That visit will always linger in my mind, like it was yesterday.
We went to visit one of Mother’s uncles not long after the family reunion. It was early evening and my aunt wanted to serve refreshments so she took me by the hand and led me to a room down the hall. It was kind of dark in there but I could see well enough to eat part of the big apple she handed me. I wasn’t really hungry. I could hear the rattling of dishes where the rest of them were having cake and lemonade. I didn’t care that they were eating their cake, I was hurt because my aunt did not want me to be with them. I never liked her after that visit. Of course I was permitted to join them after they were finished but I just wanted to go home. I never got much of an explanation for what had happened. I suppose my aunt thought it would be cruel to have me see them eating cake.
When I was diagnosed we knew nothing of artificial sweeteners. I’m not sure there were any. A few years later a drug store was selling saccharin in liquid form. It was about that time that unsweetened Kool Aid was introduced. There were no artificially sweetened drinks until we had the combination of saccharin and Kool Aid. The Kool Aid was in little bottles in concentrated liquid form. I thought I was in heaven! I loved Kool Aid. Mother used the saccharin and started making me pies, cookies and other desserts, I always had one of her delicious desserts at dinner and supper. I had sweetener for cereal at breakfast. i had lemonade in the summers. Life was definitely looking up!! There were so many carbs in the pies, cookies, and cereal but we thought they were OK since they did not contain sugar. I ate so many potatoes, corn, homemade bread and rolls, chicken and dumplings (my favorite dish of all time) and the overload of carbs caused me much high urine sugar. Oh how I wish we had known about carbs back then.
I finished my freshman year at Roanoke College with very good grades, except for chemstry. I went to campus for the fiest day of classes in my sophomore year. I was shocked to learn that the pre-engineering department had been closed down. I could not afford to go to Va. Tech to continue at that time. It was only about an 80 minute drive to Tech from my home but we decided it would be too much for me. I needed my income from the supermarket to pay my tuition. I had to continue at Roanoke College. I was tempted to quit college, my dream of becoming an architect was shattered. Then Dr. Walpole, head of the math department, entered the picture. He knew my situation and he told me I was such a good math student and I should consider becoming a math major. I was very hesitant but I thought that was better than quitting college.
I worked 20 hours per week at the store and 30-40 hours per week during the summer and vacations, whenever classes were not being held. The manager at the store was very cooperative. He had wanted to go to college but his parents were very poor and they lived too far from a town or city for him to get a job. With all those hours I was able to pay my way through four years of undergraduate school. The store manager even gave me days off when I needed more time to prepare for the harder tests and final exams.
I had to take physics in my sophomore year. That was the hardest subject for me in undergraduate school. It was the same situation as with the chemistry. I did not have the prerequisite high school physics and that made college physics seem almost impossible. Two more C’s but again I made several A’s and a couple of B’s for the rest of my grades that year.
I also had my first date ever that year. Her name was Linda. She was a senior in high school and a good friend of my sister. I felt weak when I approached her front door. I wanted to turn around and go home. Too late, I saw two faces at the window looking out, with the curtain pulled back. She did not seem shy like me. Sweet, pretty and a great smile. I had a hard time talking to her. We went to a movie. That was a relief since I did not have to talk to her or even look at her. WHEW!! I did not hold her hand. I felt like a miserable failure. I asked her for a second date. I was shocked when she said yes!!! I probably just sat there in the car with my mouth hanging open in disbelief.