[EDITOR: The following excerpt is taken from two chapters in Brenda Serotte’s memoir, The Fortune Teller’s Kiss, to be published in March, 2006 (University of Nebraska Press). It has been edited slightly for publication in New Mobility. In this section, the author writes of her coming home from “The Institute,” where she had been taken after contracting polio in 1950. The setting is a Bronx neighborhood where the author grew up in a Sephardic Jewish family whose first language was Ladino, a variation of Spanish. Now she must confront a more obvious difference, her disability, which will shape her life from this day forward.
To Brenda Serotte’s family and friends, Brenda’s polio was something shameful. In this wedding photo, the bride’s skirt covers Brenda’s legs to conceal her braces.
It was full autumn by the time I came home from the hospital and the crisp Bronx air, that late November day, stung my nostrils. It smelled just as I remembered for that time of year, like peppermint and burnt leaves, a sensory treat I looked forward to in the fall because it signaled my birthday and the holidays after.
Dad drove a borrowed car I’d never seen before, a mint-green Buick with red leather seats, and I sat in the back, my metal legs stret