Local Lifestyle

Friday, Dec 07 2012 09:49 AM

Love survives, even inside a sanitorium

By The Bakersfield Californian

A few days ago, a sweet woman called and reminded me why I like Bakersfield. She has loved one man, lived in one house and her life is full of stories.

Her name is Ethelene Wyatt Graham, "Polly" to some people because she helped them with her first name by referring to polyethylene, and they found "Polly" easier than "Ethelene."

Ethelene had a question about the late doctor Hans Einstein and a story about Buddy, the boy who did not get away.

"Do you think anyone is going to write a book on Hans Einstein?" Ethelene asked. "In 1954, I had TB and spent six months at the Stony Brook Retreat in Keene. He was my doctor."

Einstein died in August, and the Cesar E. Chavez National Monument in Keene was dedicated in October.

Before the property in Keene was a national monument, and the UFW headquarters, it had been the Keene Hospital and the Stony Brook Retreat, Kern County's tuberculosis facility.

The 31-year-old Einstein, who had recently moved to Bakersfield from New York, was the assistant medical director of the sanitorium. Sixteen-year-old Ethelene Wyatt was one of his patients.

"I was a sickly child," Ethelene said. "My father had died four months before I was diagnosed and they think his death triggered the symptoms."

If you had TB then, you had to go away. Ethelene was sent to Stony Brook, a beautiful place, she says, but it still felt like a prison. Her mother, and her new 19-year-old boyfriend, Buddy Graham, who had given her his class ring a few months earlier, drove her up the mountain on a rainy day.

Ethelene checked in and said goodbye to Buddy and her mother. The women and children were housed in the preventorium -- 20 beds set in a row. There was no privacy.

Ethelene began to cry. She was comforted, if you could call it comfort, by one of the patients, who told her:

"If you don't stop crying, they're going to send you to the Patton State Hospital for the Insane."

TB treatment in 1954 revolved around heavy drugs and total bed rest. For the first two months, patients were allowed to be up twice a day ("two ups a day") to go to the bathroom. From 2 to 4 p.m., they had to lie in bed and couldn't read or listen to the radio. Visiting days were Wednesdays and Sundays. Saturday was movie day.

Once a week, Hans Einstein, whose own mother had had TB and had been in a sanitorium in Switzerland, came to check on Effie, as he called her, as well as the other patients.

"He was so handsome," she said. "He had lots of women who wanted him to check on their hearts."

Einstein was dashing, but Buddy was the most important man in Ethelene's life. Buddy attended BC and worked in a service station at night but he wrote constantly and visited as much as the hospital and Nurse Cooper would allow. When he ran short of paper, he'd write his girl letters on adding machine tape.

"One night, there was a full moon and I looked outside my window and there was Buddy's motorcycle," she said. "It wasn't a visiting day so he couldn't come inside."

Letters began with "Dear Beloved."

"Hello Honey. I shore miss you all the time. I had a another song dedicated to you."

The letters were eager, sweet and without an X-rated moment in them.

After months of bed rest, Ethelene was ready for surgery. The doctors removed half of her left lung and inserted lucite balls in them (not unusual in those days) to fill in space.

The day before her surgery, Buddy brought her an engagement ring he had bought from American Jewelery Company with his father. After she was released from Stony Brook, the county said, "No school for two years and no children for five."

Buddy brought her home. He asked Ethelene's mom if he could marry her.

"If she can't work or go to school," Buddy said, "I want to take care of her."

After dating for four months, they were married on New Year's Eve. Buddy had promised to take care of her and take care of her he did.

"When Buddy and I got married, it was like I got well for 35 years," Ethelene said.

For 35 years, they fished together, traveled together to the coast and kept each other company. They were rarely apart.

"My brother once told me that if Buddy and I ever split up, it was time to give up on all marriage," Ethelene said.

Buddy died at 55. For Ethelene, there was never another man who stuck. She still lives in the same sunny house on Real and Palm. She has a rescue dog, a Yorkie, named Ginger, her son, Joel, and a stack of neatly bound letters from Buddy.

Occasionally she still dreams about the big blond, beautiful boy next door. The boy who parked his motorcycle outside her hospital window under a full moon just for the chance of seeing her.

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