My son, Baldwin Keenan
Alma Baldwin Denègre Keenan Reed; New Orleans; 2011
I am called Nenette. My full name is Alma Baldwin Denègre Keenan Reed. I have signed my paintings with any combination of those names. I am going on 93 now and live at Poydras Home in New Orleans. I have 5 sons (only sons), born from 1941 to 1949. Baldwin, number four, visited me in January. He asked me about what I recalled from when he had polio in 1950. All I really remember was him crying that his hip was hurting so badly that he couldn’t get up from the floor. (I have given him the index cards I had kept to record his medical information.) At first the doctors thought it was an inflammation of the hip joint lining (synovium). His left leg got worse and he limped for a long time. They diagnosed it as polio in December 1950. Baldwin got stronger and he ran around and played with his brothers and friends without really noticing what polio had done. Of course, I worried, but raising five boys didn’t give me much time for it.
His lower left leg had quite a hook to it and his limp got more pronounced as he got older. On his 8th birthday in June 1956, he had the first of three surgeries which involved tendon transplants, insertion of metal staples in his foot, as well as some bone welding. He hated the smell of ether. Baldwin didn’t much like being in a wheelchair during summer vacations. Our neighborhood was full of children that he could only watch running up and down the street. Sometimes another boy who also was having polio surgeries came over and they played for hours on end. After Baldwin’s last surgery we could see how much straighter his leg was and he no longer dragged his foot when walking.
When Baldwin was 13, I about gave his orthopedic surgeon a heart attack when I proudly sent him a picture of Baldwin in his football uniform. He rang me up immediately and not so calmly explained that unless we wanted to undo all the good the surgeries had done, Baldwin was never to play contact sports. I thought about this admonition eleven years ago when Baldwin told me that he had developed post-polio syndrome after badly twisting his knee referring a teen soccer game.
In his early teens, Baldwin was very self-conscious about the skinniness of his left leg. The calf was gone. A couple of years later he just accepted it and he was always active with sailing and high school activities. As were his brothers, he was always interested in girls. All of them are married to strong-willed women -- that’s what they need. Baldwin’s wife, Roni, was no exception and ended up becoming a doctor.
Baldwin has explained that the late effects of polio have slowed him down a lot. However he seems to be doing well. He was on crutches a few years ago. Now he says he doesn’t need them with the new brace he uses. I’m the one using a walker. I love when we go together for walks around Poydras Home. Baldwin and Roni gave me some new tubes of water colors. I sketch a little but just can’t seem to get up the energy to paint. My sons’ homes are full of my work. They’ll get by if I don’t do any more.