Country Doctors – A Fading Memory

House Call (CCBY20 tedkerwin)

At eighty-seven, Dr. Russell Dohner still sees patients who come by his office off the town square in Rushville, Illinois, just like he has done for the past sixty years. But time marches on, and Dr. Dohner has been forced to more than double his fee for a first-come-first-served office visit. On their way out, each patient now pays Edith Moore, the eighty-five-year-old secretary, a five dollar fee.

Dr. Dohner doesn’t accept medical insurance–he says it’s not worth the bother. “I always just wanted to be a doctor to help people with their medical problems and that’s all it’s for. It was never intended to make a lot of money.” You can read more of Dr. Dohner’s story here, in the LaCross Tribune.

From the late 1950s, I grew up in a small, rural town in northeast Ohio. There was a little white house across the street from us, where Dr. List had his office. With wisps of gray hair, black-rimmed glasses, and a white coat, Doc List stitched me up when I fell partway through a glass storm door, prescribed medicine whenever I got sick, and he even fitted me with my first pair of glasses. My parents always paid him in cash. Back then, Doc List either didn’t take medical insurance, or we didn’t have that kind of insurance. I’m not sure which was the case, but whenever we needed medical care, we just walked across the street.

Fortunately for me, Doc List’s son followed in his father’s footsteps. When I was about thirteen, and too sick to even walk across the street, the young Dr. List made the last house call I can remember. He ended up sending me straight to the hospital with a 105 degree temperature, and a bad case of viral pneumonia.

In the story, An Irish Miracle, Doc McGowan makes a house call to look after Alastar Connolly, after he took a nasty fall and split his head open. Dr. Dohner, both Dr. Lists, and Doc McGowan are caring, dedicated country doctors. The only difference is that Doc McGowan was a large animal veterinarian, affectionately, a horse doctor. Since his patients usually weighed well over 1000 pounds, it wasn’t really his fault that he might have been a little heavy-handed with the local anesthetics he administered to Alastar.

Would you trust an old country doctor, like the ones in this story, with your medical care today? Their training and methods might have been from a bygone era, but they each cared deeply for their patients, many of whom were also friends and neighbors. Going to a doctor’s office these days seems to begin with “Has your insurance changed?” instead of “It’s nice to see you, how are you feeling?”, and end with a string of cryptic billing statements and frustrating telephone calls that can stretch out for months afterward.

Something in between might be nice.

All the best,
Rob

A Skyline Drive Memory

Pig Farm from the Skyline Drive

A dear fellow blogger, Cameron of growing grace farm, wrote about a recent drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway with her daughter. Her post, What Tunnels Can Teach Us About Awareness, is a lovely metaphor about remembering to travel through life with a heightened sense of the world around us … and it sparked a childhood memory I’d like to share.

Cameron’s mention of the Blue Ridge Parkway brought back a childhood memory of my dad. A 1960s family vacation found us on the Skyline Drive, winding along the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, above the Shenandoah River, and through some of the most beautiful countryside in America. At one scenic overlook, Pop pointed out a pig farm down in the distant valley. The white farmhouse had a lazy curl of smoke rising from its chimney. In the sunshine and crisp, late summer air, a slight breeze brought a hint of woodsmoke and further evidence of the pigs far below up to our noses. It was a good, earthy smell. It told us of the family farm, teeming with life below.

The Skyline Drive is over a hundred twisty miles long, and the speed limit back in 1966 was something like thirty-five miles an hour. But with so many sights to see along the way, Pop drove it slowly, with frequent stops for “Kodak moments”. It was late evening by the time we reached the northern end of the route in Front Royal, Virginia. We hadn’t planned ahead very well, with only a bag of butterscotch candy in the car, so we were all very hungry by the time we found a restaurant. I’d never seen grilled pineapple on ham before, but the smoke from the charring steaks didn’t sit well with my over-hungry, eight-year-old stomach, and I couldn’t eat much.

The smokey restaurant didn’t bother Pop in the least, however, and that night he had what he said was one of the best meals he could remember. He had a huge Black Angus steak, but he talked about his baked potato, rubbed with rock salt, for the rest of the trip. When we got home, he looked forward to duplicating that delicious potato for himself.

It’s odd how certain things stick in an eight-year-old’s memory for the rest of his life. My guess is that Cameron’s daughter will forever remember the drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway with her mom, and how all the dark tunnels through those thick, old mountains made her feel on that late summer day, way back in 2012.

All the best,
Rob

Once in a Blue Moon

August 31, 2012 – Last Blue Moon Until 2015

There was a full moon on August 1, 2012, and today, August 31, marks the second full moon of the month. Using the commonly accepted calendar definition of a Blue Moon, tonight’s moon will be the last Blue Moon for nearly three years, as the next one won’t happen until 2015. But if you side with the Farmers’ Almanac definition of a Blue Moon, the next one won’t happen until 2016.

No matter which definition you ascribe to, Blue Moons happen because the lunar month, which is always about 29-1/2 days, don’t exactly match up with our Gregorian calendar months, which vary from 29 to 31 days. (I still have to count knuckles.) Confused? Here’s a brief explanation.

In the English language, the earliest recorded uses of the term “blue moon” had religious connotations, but the 19th and early 20th century history of the term is a bit closer at hand.

Farmers’ Almanac Blue Moon

The four seasons–spring, summer, fall, and winter–divide the year into quarters, and each season usually has three full moons. Ancient cultures around the world have always named each of the full moons. Farmers’ lives are dictated by the passing of each successive season, and in North America, the farmers have names for every season’s full moons, too.

  • Spring starts on the Vernal Equinox
    • Early Spring, or Egg Moon
    • Mid Spring, or Milk Moon
    • Late Spring, or Flower Moon
  • Summer starts on the Summer Solstice
    • Early Summer, or Hay Moon
    • Mid Summer, or Grain Moon
    • Late Summer, or Fruit Moon
  • Fall starts on the Autumnal Equinox
    • Early Fall, or Harvest Moon
    • Mid Fall, or Hunter’s Moon
    • Late Fall, or Oak Moon
  • Winter starts on the Winter Solstice
    • Early Winter, or Old Moon
    • Mid Winter, or Wolf Moon
    • Late Winter, or Lenten Moon

But very little in a farmer’s life is ever easy. Because of the difference in length of the almost uniform lunar month and the varying lengths of our Gregorian calendar months, a fourth full moon creeps into one of the seasons, every once in a . . . while. These absurd, extra full moons threatened to disrupt the farmers’ meaningful “early-mid-late” naming convention, but by necessity, farmers are very resourceful folks. So any time a season had four full moons, the THIRD one was called a Blue Moon, so the last full moon of that season could continue to be called the Late Moon. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, the Maine Farmers’ Almanac always listed blue moon dates for farmers.

Calendar Blue Moon

Don’t worry, this is a much shorter explanation.

In 1946, in an article he wrote for Sky and Telescope magazine, James Pruett misinterpreted the 1937 Maine Farmers’ Almanac, which described years with blue moons as having “… eleven months with one full moon each and one with two.” Pruett wrote that he interpreted this to mean the second full moon in any given month was a Blue Moon. This “non-traditional” definition became widely adopted when it was broadcast on a popular radio program in 1980. Don’t believe everything you read on the Internet, either.

By the way, a Blue Moon isn’t really blue. Today, the phrase “Once in a Blue Moon” is taken to relate to absurdities, impossibilities, and events that only occur on rare occasions.

Full Moon

August 25, 2012 marked the passing of Neil Armstrong, a truly great American and a boyhood hero of mine. Neil’s family issued a statement shortly after his death:

"For those who may ask what they can do to honor Neil, we have a
simple request. Honor his example of service, accomplishment and
modesty, and the next time you walk outside on a clear night and see
the moon smiling down at you, think of Neil Armstrong ...
and give him a wink."

I will never be able to look up at the moon again–whether it be an Egg Moon, a Harvest Moon, a Lenten Moon, or a Blue Moon like tonight’s–and not give Neil a thought, a thanks, and a wink.

The Stone Mountain Highland Games and Alex Beaton

Stone Throw

During our time in Georgia, my family would always look forward to October and the Stone Mountain Highland Games near Atlanta. We would watch the highland athletic games and dance competitions, falconry and sheepdog herding demonstrations, and pipe and drum bands competing from all around the country. At least once in your life–on a grassy field in the middle of a beautiful evergreen forest–I hope you get to hear Amazing Grace and Scotland the Brave played by a massed band of hundreds of bagpipers and drummers. The drones will give you goosebumps, and the chanters will bring a tear to your eye, they will.

Massed Bands at the Stone Mountain Highland Games

Deep into the woods, past all the colorful clan tents displaying their crests and tartans, we were always drawn to the music stages. With a canopy of blue sky and pine boughs overhead, and a nip in the October air, Celtic music rang from the likes of Clandestine, Alasdair Fraser and Natalie Haas . . . and from Alex Beaton.

Alex Beaton at the Stone Mountain Highland Games in 2007

Alex cuts a dashing figure on stage, with his wavy salt and pepper hair, gray mustache, and a broad smile hovering above his white Polo shirt and tartan kilt. When he begins to play, the music flows from his fingers, through the acoustic guitar around his neck, and out to his rapt audience. (For some reason, the first several rows of folding chairs in front of Alex’s stage are always packed with smiling women of all ages.) In between ancient warrior ballads and bawdy pub tunes, Alex often tells stories from olden-day Scotland, like the Massacre at Glencoe in 1692, or the First Jacobite Rebellion of 1715. Those well-told stories always end with a sideways glance at the audience, a grin, and in Alex’s powerful baritone brogue:

“I remember it well!”

The people of Scotland and Ireland share a common Celtic ancestry, and they share a common musical heritage. Born to a Scottish father and an Irish mother, Alex Beaton is a guitar-playing folksinger and storyteller who has been entertaining audiences all around the world for over forty years. I’ve had the pleasure to listen to Alex perform live at the Stone Mountain Highland Games, and to shake his hand and tell him how much I enjoyed his music on several occasions. I listen to one of Alex’s many CDs almost every day, so I still feel a connection with this gregarious Scot.

About a year ago, it was with great sadness that I learned Alex had fallen at his home near Nashville, and suffered a severe spinal cord injury. After a long stay at the Shepherd Spinal Center in Atlanta and more rehab work near Augusta, I understand that Alex has returned to his home and is even doing some traveling, although he’s still confined to a wheelchair and working hard to regain more and more movement. If you feel moved to send Alex a card or note, a few dollars to help with his mounting medical expenses, or drop by his website and buy a CD or two, I know he and his family will deeply appreciate your kindness.

If you enjoy traditional Scottish and Irish folk music as much as I do, here are a few of my other favorite artists:

Do you have a favorite Scottish or Irish folk musician or favorite tune? If I had to pick, mine might be Alex Beaton’s rendition of Maggie. I’d love to hear about your favorites, too. And if you happen to drop Alex a card or a note, please give him my best wishes for a swift return to the stage. I, along with all of his many fans, miss him most dearly.

Rob at the Cal Erin Forge, Stone Mountain Highland Games

Glory Morning

CC BY 2.0 by MarilynJane on Flickr

Stirring first, I eased back the light covers and slowly swung my feet to the warm, wooden floor. A light breeze from the open window above the bed brushed across my bare back, the last vestiges of night air mixed with the warm promise of a perfect August day.

Two salt and pepper shadows trailed me through the living room, past the darkened pane of glass that would only later be allowed to connect me with the fire and brimstone of the outside world. The coffee pot had awakened to its task as I was finishing with my sleep, and the steamy aroma of the rich, black liquid silently drifted across the kitchen. The boys even ate their kibble quietly. No one seemed to want to interrupt the stillness.

Hot cup in hand, I slid the heavy glass door open and stepped down to the terracotta patio that runs across the back of the house. To my bare feet, the irregular tiles were rough and cool, having given up the previous day’s heat to the night air. Barely lit from the left, I could just see shaggy outlines, as the boys trotted to the far edge and hopped down to the narrow strip of recently mowed grass that separates the patio from the garden. Shoulder to shoulder, they disappeared down one of the vegetable-lined paths. Beyond the garden, morning light glinted off the upper windows of the outbuilding, where the end of Dillon’s story waited to be written, vying for my attention with the half-finished harvest table in the workshop below.

I sat at the round, mahogany table and gingerly set my cup down, still trying not to make a sound. My eyes drifted closed, and other senses took in the gifts of a peaceful country morning. Sunlight filtered through the trees across the field to the east and bathed the side of my face with a hint of warmth. My fingers traced the smooth edge of the table, softly rounded with my router years before. The air moved and brought cut grass, coffee, and green smells from the garden, pleasant reminders of so many summers now past.

In the stillness, my good ear strained to hear the first faint sound of the day. As it grew to a familiar whisper, only my eyelids moved, rising ever so slowly. An arm’s length away, a beautiful hummingbird hovered in the air, studying my careful smile. Her ruby head and green body were iridescent in the magical morning light, her beating wings almost invisible. My tiny visitor stopped time for an all-too-brief moment, and then she was gone.

As if on cue, the boys raced out of the garden and bounded onto the patio, demanding their morning treats in a chorus of barks and whines. With the silence duly shattered, a perfect August day was fully at hand.

 

Now that I’ve shared what my Glory Morning would look like, I’d love to hear from you. In your heart of hearts, how would you choose to start each day?