Part 1: "Lord in the Morning...."
Part 2: "Work, for the night is coming."
Part 3: "Some poor faint, struggling seaman you may rescue, you may save."
Part 4: "I walked in the garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses."
Part 5: "And the darkness shall turn to dawning, and the dawning to noonday bright."
Part 6: "Rock of Ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in thee."
Part 5: "And the darkness shall turn to dawning, and the dawning to noonday bright."
. . . 1
Little Dr. Nina was happy. As she traveled the streets of Scranton in her rented horse and buggy, she sang softly to herself. Her practice, so slow at first that she often went to bed hungry, had increased until now she was able to pay for her office, with a cot in a small back room; to buy enough food; and to send a regular hundred dollars a month to Charles for the sanitarium building. The building itself had been completed three months ago; the delay in opening was only a wait for the last of the equipment to arrive. But Nina had claimed Charless half of the bargain the day the builders had finished building. He had come, she was no longer a virgin, she was pregnant. Good for Charles! She was so happy, the whole world looked to her like a Christmas tree with lights a thing she had seen only through other peoples windows. In the Seventh-Day Adventist Church in those days, Christmas wasnt celebrated. The teaching was that the day of Jesus birth was deliberately shrouded in mystery so that worldly celebrations could not distract His people from their primary purpose: to spread the truth about His second coming. She dreamed about the Christmases to come with a tree, green and aromatic, softly glowing on the faces of her children.
She was also eating forbidden fruit; forbidden meat, to be more accurate. One day a week she went to a restaurant to eat, each week a different restaurant, until she had located the cooks in Scranton who, at a reasonable price, prepared food with understanding and care. She no longer chose a vegetable dinner with the added request for as little seasoning as possible; she liked and respected vegetables and always ordered five or six with every dinner, but the big adventure was meat. She ate roast beef, steak, lamb chops, mountain trout, chicken, turkey; sometimes her heartbeat was so rapid at her own daring that she could hardly swallow. She ordered coffee and drank it; she ate dessert without caring if the crust had or had not been made with lard. She still would not order pork, but years later, when we were all feasting on her gourmet cooking and blandly assuming that everyone ate so well, she cooked succulent hams, and a roast pork dish with red cabbage, tart apples, red wine, spices, and chestnuts that could make strong men faint with anticipation before dinner was announced.
One day she passed a nickelodeon. She stopped. She decided she should see a moving picture show not for herself, she reasoned, but for the sake of her children. They would do everything she had never done, see everything and know everything so that each one would find her own path to Heaven. She herself should know enough about worldly things to guide them away from actual danger. She bought a ticket and went to the door. There she hesitated. She turned back and said to her guardian angel, in her mind, Please wait for me! She laughed; of course guardian angels waited. That was their job. If mortals went into an evil place, the angels folded their wings over their faces and waited outside with infinite patience until they could go on with their guardian work. She gave the ticket to the usher, enjoyed the piano music and the moving picture, and found no wickedness at all.
As her viewpoint on religious observances changed, she began to feel more at home in the world. She was no longer a stranger. Her patients and their families became her friends. Wherever she went she was treated with the natural courtesy the unself-conscious and candid people of the world draw out from others. She had rejected once and for all the church tenet that Heaven was an exclusive place where only one sect could enter, so she could feel kinship with anyone who needed her. The response was beautiful. Her patients trusted her, followed her instructions, and in partnership with Dr. Nina, recovered health. The boys at the livery stable, the waitresses at the restaurants where she ate, the patrolman outside her office on Wyoming Avenue in Scranton watched out for her and worried if she broke her routine. However small it was, however tentative, she had made a place for herself in an increasingly friendly world.
When the last of the equipment was installed, the sanitarium was opened. Dr. Nina had seven patients, although there were private rooms for twelve. Five were obstetrical patients, one had jaundice, and one was "nervous." The nervous patient was over sixty, a pleasant, reasonable woman whose only nervous trait was a recurring disdain for wearing clothes. Her daughter and son-in-law and their children had been getting more and more nervous themselves as Grandma, who lived with them, appeared more and more often at dinner, even when there were guests, clad only in her pale-white, aging, sagging flesh.
The hospital was located somewhat outside the then tiny town of Mt. Pocono, and just on the edge of a privately owned property locally known as the Devils Hole. The entire tract encompassing the Devils Hole, more than five hundred acres of forest land, had been bought by a New York banker, enclosed by a chain-link fence, and stocked with Canadian elk. No one knows why the owner wanted an elk preserve of his own, but there the elks were, hundreds of them, in a compound already becoming inadequate for their numbers. The fence was intended to keep the animals in, not to keep people out, so the gates were never locked. Local people often came on summer Sundays to walk around inside the preserve, feeding indigestible goodies to the elk, which, like goats, seemed willing to eat anything. Until, that is, the sixth spring, when the male elk, fully matured, turned out to be dangerous animals. A local farmer, wandering around the preserve counting fawns born during the early spring, had been attacked and killed by a male elks flashing hoofs. From then on, anyone coming too near the fence itself was apt to hear the thunder of hoofs as the males rushed to the defense of their small territory.
The routine at the hospital settled down. The wife of a nearby farmer came every day to do the cleaning, and her husband, Phil Utterback, did the mowing and wood-chopping outside in his spare time. Charles installed two church members, Brother and Sister Sinkler, in a log cabin on the property. Brother Sinkler acted as hospital orderly and admittance officer. Sister Sinkler was supposed to do the cooking but she was a dismal cook. Dr. Nina took over, with Sister Sinkler as her chief assistant and kitchen helper. Charles was seldom home; he appeared only briefly between preaching engagements and Bible study with groups around the state.
Nina would rise early, cook a good breakfast for the staff and the patients, make rounds, borrow Phils horse and buggy to make house calls on outpatients in the area who had come to her sanitarium for help. She would cook a big dinner at noon, check her patients, hold outpatient office hours, and fix a supper of soup and homemade bread with homemade applebutter, preserves, and cheese. In the evenings, before her last patient check, she made baby clothes. With all the fresh air and good food, twenty-five-year-old Dr. Nina grew rounder and rosier and happier with every day that dawned. Obstetrical patients came and left with their babies, other medical patients came and went, the nervous woman became such a fixture in the little establishment that even Phil, working outside, would lead her back in to his wife or Sister Sinkler or Dr. Nina when she wandered out, naked as Eve, pleasant and gracious and willing to be led back to the unwanted clothes.
But one night, during the last bed check, Dr. Nina found the woman gone. Her nightgown was on the floor. Everyone else slept, so Dr. Nina went out into the bright-lit full-moon to retrieve her patient. She searched, but it was not until twenty minutes later, as she quietly neared the elk preserve, that she saw her. There the woman was inside the fence in an open glade, dancing in the moonlight, her white skin gleaming, and around her in a full circle the shining, terrified eyes of dozens of wild, mature elk. Dr. Nina opened the gate latch without a click. Slowly and quietly, keeping an eye on the path to the glade to avoid twig noise, she walked up to her patient, took the womans hand, and slowly, without a word, led her, still dancing, back up the path. The nearby elk, their opaque eyes flashing as they wheeled to watch, breathed hoarsely in fright. Nina slammed the gate behind her with a bang, knocked the latch with a loud click, and the spell broke. The elk came thundering to the fence, their towering, muscled chests bowing out the strong unyielding wire. "For thou hast been a strength to the poor, a strength to the needy in his distress, a refuge from the storm, a shadow from the heat, when the blast of the terrible ones is as a storm against the wall."
. . . 2
The first time there was an inkling in Dr. Ninas mind that there were serious difficulties in her marriage was when she happily announced to Charles that she had arranged to have no patients at the hospital from a week before her baby was due until three weeks after the birth. Charles went into a black rage. No kindness and courtesy then; shouting and recrimination and bitterness.
"I told you it was foolish to have a child. You wouldnt listen! You said a baby wouldnt keep you from working and already, before its even born, its crippling your work!"
"Its only for a month that I wont be working." Nina was astonished by the bitterness in his face.
"Youll never be able to run a place like this with a baby. Well be ruined. Youll spoil all my plans because of you stupid idea of having children." Charles was so angry he sputtered and choked.
He was even more angry when he found that she intended to go to Philadelphia for the birth so that Dr. Tenant, of the Department of Obstetrics of the Womens Medical College, could attend her. Nina, having no money of her own except the amount she had put away to pay Dr. Tenant, and knowing that Charles would never agree to pay for a room at Pavilion Hospital, where she longed to be, had arranged with Dr. Tenant and Charless sister, Caroline, for a home delivery at Carolines house. Charles washed his hands of the whole problem, packed his valise, and went away.
Its hard to make Charles Baierle seem real because he is not very real to me. Our ways parted before I was three years old, so there are only flashes of special events involving my natural father that can be called to mind, even with intense concentration. He was a preacher and a church worker full time and an artist in his leisure time. I hold the theory that he would have been a happier and more competent human being if he had been a full-time artist. One small oil that has survived the divorce and the years since then shows real merit. The discipline imposed by work necessary to perfect a talent, even a small one, might have given strength and purpose to what, perhaps unfairly, has always seemed to me to be his rather weak and opportunistic character. Moreover, he often received a "call" to fresco the altar walls of new Seventh-Day Adventist churches, tiny white churches in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and New York. Fresco is a demanding technical artistic medium. I remember well the huge figure of Christ at his second coming, complete with angels in glory, on the altar wall of the little church that was once on Second Street in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania. The colors were Raphael-like, salmon pink, tender blue, burnished gold; and the shadings in the blowing robes and in the cherubs wings seemed to me to be miraculous.
Charles and his older sister, Caroline, had been brought to this country as small children by their Bavarian parents. I have met other Germans from Bavaria and some have struck as being excessively metaphysical, overly mystical, and too often willing to con others into assuming their practical problems. Charles had chosen to be a preacher, perhaps so that his occupation, involved as it was with theology and supramundane concerns, could put him firmly above onerous daily annoyances. He was an emotional speaker who regularly reduced the congregation to tears. He had a beautiful voice.
It is easy to see, looking back, that this marriage was not made in Heaven. Neither Charles nor Dr. Nina could remotely understand the other. Nina was to learn, slowly and with pain, that no matter how energetically and imaginatively she tried to bring it about, he would never love her. Charles was to learn, with fright and distaste, that she intended they should love each other no matter how long it might take to begin.
The baby, Roberta, was born with great difficulty. Nina was too small to have any baby easily, especially the first one. She also reacted badly to the anesthesia, which had to be discontinued during the hardest part of the birthing. For two days after her little girl was born, Nina hovering between living and dying, semiconscious. Then she began to mend. Her recovery was slow, but at the end of three weeks, after Caroline had notified Brother Sinkler to cancel all patient admittances for another month, Nina packed her satchel, dressed the baby in her prettiest clothes, and took the train from Philadelphia home to Mt. Pocono. She was so exhausted when she arrived that she went immediately to bed. Charles, who had arrived two days before from Bible study in New Jersey, found the bay uninteresting, even in her prettiest clothes.
Charles was upset by the delay in reopening the sanitarium. He stalked about tight-lipped and glowering. He tried to persuade Nina that one more week would be long enough for her to loll about, but the doctor knew more about the state of her recovery than the preacher. He was furious.
"I guess you dont want to help me. You look as strong as ever. Having a baby oughtnt to cripple a woman forever. Indian women had their babies and caught up with the tribe and helped with the work the next day!"
"I read a lot about Indians in California," Nina said. "They were magnificent! American Indians have a great physical heritage. Ive often wished I were part Indian."
Charles, unconvinced and resentful, left the next day to preach on Saturday in Allentown, where he planned to remain until Sunday night.
Sunday was a lovely July day. Brother and Sister Sinkler had gone to visit one of their daughters; Mr. And Mrs. Utterback were at their farm; Nina and Roberta were alone on a summer day gold with sun and flowering wild mustard, a day of olfactory brilliance with red wild phlox mixing the dense, sweet scent of their heavy, multiflowered heads with the dry, clean smell of the golden hay ready for mowing in the big meadow between the hospital and the railroad tracks.
Nina had bathed the baby and was feeding her when she heard a crackling noise. In the olden days in the country, before electricity, outside noises were all the more evident and less ominous than now; a farm cat stalking a field mouse through dry grass would crackle through an open window. Ninas mind only noted the noise, but ten minutes later she was aware of a roaring sound, like a big wind blowing around a house corner. She glanced out of the window, thinking a storm must be brewing, but the sun was shining brightly and no branch moved. She put the baby on the chair and went to the back of the sanitarium. As she approached a back window, she was aware of intense heat.
Through the window she could see great billows of black smoke curling over the meadow, and she saw something running down the windows. With horror she realized that what appeared to be water was actually melted glass dripping from the upstairs windows. The entire top story of the back of the sanitarium was on fire. It had been constructed from secondhand lumber salvaged from abandoned houses in the area, and a fire started by sparks from a passing train had swept across the ripe hayfield and had found ready tinder in the dry wood. Nina raced back to the baby and out the front door. She met trainmen from the railroad and neighbors rushing up the road. There was not much anyone could do except put out spot fires catching in the woods surrounding the blazing sanitarium.
So Mothers first hospital burned down. One would surmise that from then on she would have been freed from the onerous burden of being what she had no intention of becoming, an administrator and record keeper. But she would have a second husband whose first act of love would be to build her yet a second hospital. That which she most feared kept coming upon her.
She and Charles and the baby repaired once again to Carolines house in Philadelphia. Charles was exuberant, all kindness and courtesy. The building and equipment had been fully insured, and he had already received an astonishingly generous offer from the New York elk man to buy the land to enlarge his preserve. Nothing could be finer for Charles than to be free of worry and to have considerably more money than hed ever had before. The insurance company, with the usual grumping delay and bureaucratic reluctance, paid off in September, two days before the settlement with the New York banker took place. The next week, Charles announced that he had decided to take a trip around the world.
. . . 3
In 1911, this was an astonishing announcement. Nina, now twenty-six, and Caroline, over fifty, were equally astounded. Today, many of us have been around the world, and up and down and catty-corner from far place to far place. Those of us who have traveled less know many people who have seen it all. But in 1911 in the small steamships, the great ocean was truly great and dangerous and the trip seasickening and interminable. Throbbing, churning machinery broke down and help was not easily found in the lonely lanes of the heaving sea. Babies were born and sick passengers died and were gravely dumped into the salt water to feed the fishes, a whole era of each life was given over to the effort to survive the difficult journey. Charles suddenly became a very surprising and foolhardy man to his wife and sister.
It became clear, however, that he didnt mean what he said. He wasnt going "around the world," he was going to Europe and the Holy Land and to Egypt. Charless mind was imprecise. He planned to write a series of lectures on Palestine and Egypt. Nina was bewildered.
"What are the baby and I supposed to do while youre gone?" Nina knew that a trip of that sort in those days would take at least a year to accomplish.
"With part of the insurance money, Ive already arranged for a new house to be built in Delaware Water Gap. I designed it myself. The materials have already been bought and the contractor paid. It will be ready in the spring. You and Caroline can live together until then. Ill leave some money in the bank for your share of expenses. When you move to the new house, you can start working again. If you cant find anyone to take care of Roberta, you can take in two or three patients to make ends meet until I come back." Charles was handy at planning the lives of others to suit himself, but probably no more selfish and autocratic than other men of his era. "Ive been terribly upset by this whole thing the fire, and all my plans destroyed. I need a vacation." He intimated that when he came back, they might start a new life together.
The night before he was to sail, Charles forgot about waiting until he returned. He came into Ninas bedroom. Charles was becoming worldly indeed. Nina put aside the resentment she must have felt for his surliness and his rejection of their child; she was always single-minded when reaching toward a goal. She was still intent on the achievement of love between them. She may even have been heartened that he came on his own decision to her bed. And there is no doubt that Nina was sexy, the quality of passion given to some is not lacking in one sphere while being manifest in all others.
Charles sailed away "around the world," leaving no itinerary. In those days before travel agencies, once the mighty ocean was behind them, travelers crossing Europe disappeared for months as they worked their way with on-the-spot railroad reservations past hostile borders and through the primitive Balkans. Once Charles arrived in the Middle East, any letters he might write would have been mailed from places he had already left. He would be unreachable until his return.
Nina went to Gimbels bank, where her husband had his account, and presented a check, Charless bankbook, and his withdrawal card. It was the first time she had ever been in a bank. She was awed. The teller took her documents and went away. When he returned, he was grave.
"Im sorry. Mr. Baierle withdrew all his balance in this account last week. He opened a savings account, but he left no money in the checking account. The account is closed."
"I dont understand! He said he left money for us. Hes gone on a trip to Europe," Nina said earnestly. She was sure that if the teller could understand the problem, he would solve it.
"Im sorry. Thats too bad. Maybe you misunderstood; maybe he left money in some other bank." The teller looked at her intently.
Mother was always sure he thought she was trying to get money that didnt belong to her. She was dreadfully embarrassed. I doubt that he was suspicious. The sight of a beautiful and respectable young woman bewildered by a financial problem must have engaged his sympathies as much as any tellers sympathies can be engaged. Nina left the bank and sat in a nearby coffee shop to absorb her new problem. She had a small reserve of money made up from checks given as gifts by friends and patients for the new baby. There was no point in worrying Caroline with the problem. Caroline adored her younger brother, and besides, she lived on a pittance left to her by their parents; what possible help could Caroline be? Nina would have to find a job. She was forlorn.
The job-placement office of the Womens Medical College was always helpful to the graduates of the institution. Nina consulted with them, and a week later she was appointed resident physician at the Barkman Dispensary in the slums of South Philadelphia. She would receive board, room, care of the baby, and $25 a month.
Caroline was, naturally, indignant.
"Havent you job enough taking care of your baby? You cant turn Bobby over to the care of strangers for twenty-five dollars a month!" The baby, Roberta, had already been nicknamed Bobby, a name she is still called today.
Mother was always sorry she did not feel free to tell Caroline the real reason for the move. All she could do was point out that the experience she would gain in obstetrics, other young woman doctors would be glad to pay for. She moved to the dispensary, leaving a disgruntled and disapproving Caroline behind.
Six weeks after Dr. Nina took charge at the Barkman clinic, she finally had to admit to herself that she was pregnant again. She wasnt sorry; she wanted children, and pregnancy was a boon to her health. In those days pregnant woman stayed indoors out of sight, but Dr. Ninas patients were poor, undemanding, and pregnant with her. They enjoyed having a pregnant doctor.
She worked as long as she could and saved every cent she earned. Two weeks before her baby was due, Nina took Bobby and their belongings on the train to Stroudsburg, where she decided to open a practice. She has arranged to live with a Mrs. Mary Kotz, on Ann Street, until the baby was born and Nina was well enough to move into the just-completed Delaware Water Gap house. Mrs. Kotzs niece, Mary McNeal, called Mame, was to be little Dr. Ninas lifelong friend, a woman of good humor, sturdy common sense, and strong opinions, all in favor of her friends and her kin. No fact could ever cause her to question the virtue, the rectitude, and the right to special consideration of anyone in either of those groups. Would that each of us could have such a friend! Dr. Nina arranged with the towns oldest and most respected doctor to attend the birth.
On a warm spring day at the end of May, when labor began, the doctor was called. He harnessed his horses to his carriage, and on arrival began immediately to assist in the birth. Dr. Nina was horrified; he smelled of stables and leather and he had not stopped to wash his hands. She suggested, between pains, that he do so. He pooh-poohed such city nonsense. He had delivered hundreds of babies without newfangled notions. He cut the cord with unsterilized scissors dug out from the bottom of his black bag, and left with all seeming to be well. Two days later the baby began showing signs of an infection around the umbilical cord. On the third day Dr. Nina, frantic with concern, rose and dressed and took the baby to Philadelphia. Everything that could be done was done at the Pavilion Hospital, but not much in those preantibiotic days was helpful. The baby died.
Nina borrowed enough money from friends at the Womens Medical College to pay for his funeral and to get her through the first three months of the new office she planned to open in Stroudsburg. The baby was buried on a balmy June day. The sun shone through the trees at Woodlawn Cemetery, making patterns on the bright green grass. Nina sat by the graveside after the little white casket had been lowered into the ground. She thought of her mothers baby; she thought of the baby born to King David and the widow of Uriah, the man whose death David had so cruelly arranged; she thought of all the babies born in the slums of Chicago and Philadelphia, all the babies who had had life for such a brief moment of time, and she wept bitter tears for them all.
. . . 4
Thackeray once said that nature has written a letter of credit upon some mens faces which is honored wherever it is presented. That was in the olden days; nowadays, one has to prove by other documentation who one is in order to get a signed, valid plastic credit card accepted. Who looks at faces any more? But in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, in July of 1912, little Dr. Nina got credit for everything she needed. She and her little girl had moved into the newly completed house on a hill above the village of Delaware Water Gap. She had bought a bed, a crib, a stove, pots and pans, and one chair, all on credit. She had found a small office in Stroudsburg, the nearest town on the trolley line, and, with the money she had borrowed, paid the rent for three months. She went to the Stroudsburg National Bank. She was too intent on arranging a loan for office equipment and furniture to be awed by the second bank she had ever entered. The bank was helpful; her office was readied for patients.
She came in to her office every morning on the clanging little trolley that clicked and clacked its way between Stroudsburg and Delaware Gap, ending its brisk run at Seventh and Main Streets, to circle around the block and start its return trip. At first she took Bobby with her, and as her practice increased they trotted around town and into the hills with a horse and buggy rented from the town livery stable. By the end of three months she could pay her bills and she and Bobby could both eat well. One of Ninas new patients offered to keep Bobby during the day in exchange for doctoring for the entire family. The patient lived near Dr. Ninas office so Mother could stop in often to see that all was well. When her afternoon office hours were over, she picked up the child and clicked and swayed back to Delaware Water Gap on the busy little trolley.
I wonder why we gave up trolleys. It seems to me incredible that we threw away, all at once, this economical, efficient means of public transportation. Trolleys were great. They were sometimes uncomfortable, but so are public buses, even with expensive and wasteful frills added. Trolleys moved with real authority; they clanged; the sound of the metal wheels on the metal tracks brought immediate respect; the shining tracks were fixed in place so that when a trolley came careening down the street, everybody else moved aside. Trolleys made no fumes. They carried the nomad urban public efficiently from one place to another, which is all one can ask from a vehicle of transportation. They did an honest job of work. How could we have been so feckless as to throw them away? The trolleys that Washington, D.C., disposed of in 1962 now are clanging around the streets of Sarajevo in Yugoslavia, scattering peasants, animals, cars, bicyclists, and smiling young girls who wave gaily at the placid passengers being moved with dispatch to where they want to go. I wish we could have them back. In Sarajevo, theyre not called trolleys or trams. Theyre called Washingtonies.
Long letters from Charles were being forwarded from Philadelphia. He described the country he was currently touring, the towns and cities, food, clothing, and customs. He suggested that Nina use the letters as a basis for writing a series of lectures for the tour he planned after his return. He never told her where she might reach him; he never asked how she was or how things were going for her. There was never a personal word. Nina was too occupied making a living ever to write lectures.
Charles came back in April of 1913. He was annoyed that the lecture series had not been written, but there was now a new detachment in his attitude to Dr. Nina. Somewhere inside he had sailed away from her. She must have known he was gone; all of us know when a close friend suddenly becomes an indifferent stranger. A bell tolls in the heart gone! gone! before the reluctant mind accepts the already felt loss. But Nina wasnt one to accept defeat easily. Almost six more years of trying were to pass before she acknowledged that he never, never would love her, although she attracted love from all directions.
I can surmise all this with confidence because, in the notes and reminiscences about her first husband, she wipes out the next five-plus years wipes them out with a bold, sturdy stroke. She recounts her disillusionment, her growing distaste for this man, her awareness that he was a poor bargain she could no longer accept. She rents an apartment in Stroudsburg, moves her furniture, her child, and her office into it, files for divorce. By the end of 1913 she is free and able to start a new life.
Except it didnt happen that way. She didnt leave Charles until the winter of 1919, and she didnt divorce him until 1923. In the meantime, they had two more children, both girls, my sister Carol and me. When she wiped out those five-plus years, she wiped us out, too. Its eerie for us, and yet I can understand why, in her notes about her first marriage, we do not exist. When she wrote them, many years later but before Charles had died, she was looking back in bitterness and anger at his detachment, his rejection of her in 1913. How could she possibly explain two more children? She couldnt, so she didnt. It is, perhaps, a measure of the amount of emotion she had invested in their marriage that she could hate him so much for so long. The mirror image, the antimatter of one deep emotion is its opposite. It was not until he died before he was sixty years old that she forgave him for not loving her and was through with him. "A wind that passeth away, and cometh not again."
In fairness to my natural father, Charles couldnt have been all that dreadful. He too was trapped in a bad bargain. That he made the bargain when he was of an age to be wiser than he was is unimportant; wisdom arrives for each of us in its own time, and sometimes never comes at all. He reinforced his emotional detachment by a physical removal to answer a church call to become the preacher for a church in Parkersburg, West Virginia. It is interesting to find that his second wife, with whom, as far as I know, he lived a calm and happy life, came form there. Do you suppose they met then, in 1913? This would explain why Dr. Nina should suddenly, in May of 1914, leave her growing practice in Stroudsburg, pack her child and her belongings, and move in with Charles in West Virginia. Such a move seems incomprehensible, but the reasons for it may be very simple. Mother was not one to give up trying to achieve what was important to her. She may have decided to try again. She never mentions West Virginia in her notes, but fortunately there is external documentation and there are my memories of the West Virginia episode told to us as children.
She arrived in Parkersburg on May 13, and the next day she took the state medical examination to be licensed to practice medicine in West Virginia. She had no time to study or worry about lack of preparation. A medical emergency existed in that area, and a special process had been created to license doctors from other states as quickly as possible. The examination started at eight in the morning and was to end at six in the afternoon.
The last hour of the examination was in a laboratory. Each doctor candidate was given a test tube full of urine and all the equipment necessary to test the specimen to determine the disease of the patient. All the doctors set out busily, some on one test, some on others, to isolate the patients problem. All except Dr. Nina. She sat quietly at her lab station and concentrated on the specimen itself. Her clear, light-blue eyes were fixed with such intensity that she seemed to be breaking the fluid up into its components by willpower. It was this quality of intense concentration that, applied to her patients, made her a noted diagnostician. She looked and listened with her whole mind, and her patients, flattered and disconcerted by such close attention, went beyond a recital of large symptoms and added little seemingly unimportant details, one or more of which often gave Dr. Ninas trained, concentrated mind a clue to the real problem.
A faint warning light in the back of her mind was flashing. The specimen didnt look right to her. It didnt smell right. There was something queer about the specimen itself. She put her finger in the test tube and then in her mouth; she glanced up to see the doctor who was monitoring the examination looking at her with a big, bright grin and laughing eyes. She smiled back and wrote on her test paper: "If this is a urine specimen, the patient came from some other world. The specimen is water, sugar, and a coloring agent, and no one yet has died of it." She signed her paper and left. She was notified the next day that a license to practice medicine in West Virginia had been granted, and she joined the local doctors to help with the medical emergency.
What had come upon Wheeling, Parkersburg and the little town of Fairmont, West Virginia, was the first outbreak of what, four and a half years later, was to sweep through our country the way smallpox swept through Europe and measles through Africa and the South Seas: the Great Flu Epidemic. Why first in West Virginia? Who brought it there in 1914? It is fortunate that deep in the hills travel was hard. The disease was confined because few people came or left. For Dr. Nina it was a valuable experience; she not only treated patients ill with the virus, but she saw firsthand the complications that developed after the disease had run its course the pneumonia, the lung abscesses, the emphysema that finished off more patients than the influenza itself, and, where life continued, were to cause additional complications years and years later.
. . . 5
For the period from the end of 1914 until summer of 1917 there are no written notes. Dr. Nina returned to Stroudsburg, and Charles, at some unknown time, answered a call to preach in a town in New Jersey. Dr. Nina had another baby, my sister Carol, in the Womens Medical College Pavilion Hospital in Philadelphia. She resumed her practice in Stroudsburg at her old office in the Stroudsburg Daily Record newspaper building on North Seventh Street, just down from the courthouse and just off Main Street. She and the children again lived on the mountain above Delaware Water Gap. Charles came at infrequent intervals, often bringing church people with him from New Jersey and Philadelphia, for whom Dr. Nina had to provide beds and meals.
It was in the early summer of 1917 that a new dimension was added to her medical practice. She began the medical care of one of the wildest, strangest, and wariest of all the deprived, neglected, and exclusive minority groups then known in the United States Pennsylvania mountaineers who clustered in tiny settlements in the Poconos, far back in the hills where no one not of their own was allowed to come.
There were nine or ten little settlements of houses, each group a scattering of shacks, some within hollering distance from each other, in the solitude of trees at Brushy Mountain, Sals Crotch, Skunks Misery, Long Pond, Wildcat Hollow, and other then remote regions whose names are lost to me now. The inhabitants were remains of the great lumber camps that swept through the Appalachian Mountains in the last years of the nineteenth century. The vigorous lumbermen swept on to western Pennsylvania, Ohio, Tennessee, but the weak ones, the shiftless, the misfits, the tired, and the gentle stayed behind, the second growth of trees sheltering them and the wild animals they needed for food. Their groupings were off the wagon trails. There was no visible way of communication between them, but they communicated. Warnings of danger, news of disasters, notices of shad runs and movements of deer herds flashed from group to group, no one ever knew how. The women who stayed with the lumbermen were camp followers. Among them all, even at the beginning, there was scarcely one tradition, scarcely a single set of moral values upon which a cultural community life could be constructed. Unlike the Virginia and Kentucky mountaineers, they started out with nothing of background or character and went on, by themselves, from there. Their marriages were by common law, but as moral precepts, never embedded, paled from generation to generation, intercourse was frequent between family members; mothers had sons by their sons, fathers by daughters, sisters by brothers. A wild, wooly, hairy, malformed, often idiot, sometimes brilliant clientele, and, to anyone who was fortunate enough to listen to Dr. Ninas stories about her fifteen-year care and service to them, hilariously funny and wonderfully, beautifully touching.
Theyre all gone now, the best of the children absorbed into our everyday American life. The outside world started buying motor cars and demanding roads to drive them on. Progress was ruthless in cutting between and into and over their wilderness homes. What revenue agents and truant officers and health authorities, cowards all, failed to do, Henry Ford and mass production accomplished without bloodshed. But the shades of our Pocono mountaineers, flickering like Indians among the dappled trees along the highways, should not be entirely forgotten. They fought the intrusion of an alien world upon their solitude with courage and perseverance and they lost the battle, maybe the last battle ever fought in the East against the Industrial Revolution. And they adopted Dr. Nina as their own and trusted her forever.
One summer afternoon Dr. Nina was packing her medical bag to start out on her round of home visits when she heard someone enter the waiting room. The man standing by the entrance door was tall and lean, and his long, lank hair hung down to his shoulders. His clothes were scarecrow rags. The skin of his face was creased and folded and burned to the color and texture of cowhide that had been exposed on a barn door to sun and wind. His eyes were narrow, deep-set. There was a strange tension about his body, so that for a moment Dr. Nina wondered if, should she say the wrong thing, he would leap upon her, or if he would leap back out of the half-opened door. He seemed poised for violent movement.
"Be ye the woman doctor?" he asked. Dr. Nina said that she was. "Tommy Allen, back to Wildcat Holler, is sick for days," he said, "n today hes struck with death. His mas carryin on an wants for you to come. Kin you come?"
For a moment Dr. Nina hesitated. The resentment of these mountain people against any trespassing by strangers near their cabins was legendary. In times past, dead bodies had been brought into town a luckless truant officer, a revenuer, a city hunter who had wandered too close to those who shot at strangers. But she hesitated only for a moment.
"Yes. Ill come. What seems to be the matter with Tommy, and how old is he?" she asked.
"Hes six, or thereabouts," the man answered. "I dont rightly know what hes ailin with. He smothers and chokes and has screamin pains in his belly."
Dr. Ninas little mare was happy to trot out of town and down the country roads. As they penetrated deeper into the hills, the woods made the horse uneasy, but, soothed by the doctors voice, she trotted briskly. By the time evening was drawing in, they were at Wildcat Hollow. There the mountaineer, who had not spoken a word the whole long way, tied the little mare to a tree. Dr. Nina lifted the front latch and went into the one-room cabin. She need not have been fearful of her reception. They were glad to see her the mother, the father, and the two half-grown sons. The mountaineer who had fetched the doctor came in and latched the door behind him.
"Its good a you to come, Doc." The mother said. "Tommys awful bad. Kin you help him?"
Tommy was on a pallet on the floor. Dr. Nina had the two men and the two boys, one at each corner of the blanket on which he lay, gently lift the child to a table where she could examine him. Tommy was very sick indeed. His skin, hot with fever, was drawn over his cheeks and forehead until it shone white with suffering. His eyes were too bright, and his black hair was matted with the sweat of pain. His breath smelled of infection. The shadow of death was on him. Dr. Ninas heart almost stood still as she examined his distended abdomen. There was no doubt a ruptured appendix. What should I do? she thought to herself. Hes too near death, its too late to take him twenty miles to the hospital. There isnt time to send for help. What can be done? There might be a chance, she thought, if I dared to open up his abdomen. How can I persuade his folks, these strange, dark, hairy creatures, to let me try? She searched her mind for a way to explain to them what the problem was, and what she proposed to do. She motioned them to gather around and she drew on the back of a prescription blank a picture of Tommys insides, demonstrating by pointing to his swollen stomach. She showed them her surgery kit and the knife she proposed to use. She showed them where she would make the incision and told them what they could expect to happen. She was surprised that they understood both the need for the immediate operation and its risk.
"Go on, Doc," said the mother.
"Cut," said the father. "Do what ye kin."
Then she really was frightened. All the surgery she had done since she left Melrose, Massachusetts, was obstetrical surgery. What if she couldnt find the right place? What should she do about anesthetics? If she gave none, the physical shock might kill the child. If she gave ether, which was all she had with her, he might drift all the way into death with its fumes. She had time to be thoroughly frightened while her instruments were boiling.
If he dies, she thought, they will never let me out of here alive. Suddenly she was ashamed. Why was she thinking of herself when it was for such a moment as this that she had become a doctor? She was ashamed, and the shame banished panic. As she waited for the handle of the surgical knife to cool, she leaned over the suffering child.
"Tommy," she said, "Im going to help you feel better, but you must do what I tell you. Put this wad of gauze between your front teeth. Im going to put more gauze over your nose and mouth and drip some cold, smelly stuff on it. You must breathe deeply, and some of the pain will go away. You must look straight into my eyes. When I tell you to, bite hard on the gauze in your mouth and close your eyes. Then dont move, no matter what. Are you ready?"
The child nodded, his eyes wild with sickness and fright. Dr. Nina dripped ether slowly on the gauze, just enough until the brightness in his eyes began to dim and the wildness to fade. She removed the ether gauze, signaled to the father and the neighbor to hold the child still, said "Tommy! Close your eyes and bite hard!" and, to herself, God help me, and cut into his body. Tommy gave one scream and fainted. Pus poured out. Dr. Nina worked fast. She didnt try to remove the appendix. She put in a large gauze drain and strapped a light dressing firmly over the incision. They lowered Tommy back on his pallet. Dr. Nina sat on a chair and watched him by lantern light throughout the night, changing the dressing often. She was encouraged when three oclock came and went, and four, and five, those hours in which the grievously afflicted are most apt to stop fighting death. By sunup, her trained eyes detected a faint improvement. His forehead and cheekbones were less glisteningly white, his moans were softer and less fitful, his pulse was stronger. She packed her doctors bag, left instructions to be followed until she returned later in the day, untied her little mare, and, as soon as they were out of the deep woods, tied the reins to the buckboard, stretched out on the buggy seat, and slept, while the little brown mare delicately and soberly chose all the right roads home.
Wherever Dr. Nina went that morning for house calls, she asked for help for Tommy. By midafternoon the buggy was loaded with eggs, meat for broth, canned milk, preserves; and on the seat beside the doctor was Daisy, a nanny goat, her long legs folded up neatly under her as she gazed at the countryside, enjoying her outing.
Daisy was a pet goat that had been given to Dr. Nina by a farm family in payment for the delivery of twins. She furnished milk for the doctors children, and endless amusement. Her favorite pastime was to fold herself neatly on one seat of the lawn swing and, by moving her head back and forth, set herself swinging slowly while she chewed her cud. She followed everyone going up and down the road until one day, when a family had gone to the station to watch the daily train puff and billow into the station and blow and wheeze its way out, Daisy had eaten all the labels off the trunks unloaded from the train. Since then, she had been enclosed.
Tommy was noticeably better. His incision still was draining, but now it was light, odorless fluid that had a healthy look. His temperature was down. It was obvious that death had been put to flight. He fell in love with Daisy on sight, and Daisy with Tommy. She folded herself neatly on a bench against the wall near Tommys pallet and there she stayed, smiling her foolish goat grin, except when she went outside to eat the tender ferns or to be milked. Dr. Nina took Daisy home after Tommy was well, but Daisy had been spoiled for outdoor life. All night long she pounded with her hoofs on the door to be allowed to come in. With the doctors next trip into the mountains, Daisy went back to where, neatly folded, she could share the lives of five people who lived and bickered, bore and forbore, and cared for each other and for her, all in a one-room shack deep in the woods where strangers were not allowed.
This was in 1917, before Dr. Nina bought her first Ford car. In 1964, this little story had a sequel in which I was involved. When Mother closed her office to devote her time to her ailing ninety-two-year-old second husband, those of us who could came to take turns staying in the office to tell unnotified or unnoticing patients that Dr. Nina was no longer in practice.
One morning when I was on duty, I heard the waiting-room door open and close. I found a man sitting on the couch. He was dressed in a truckers uniform with the name of a moving and hauling firm on his cap. He was a big man, burly, a little overweight, but strong-looking and healthy. He appeared to be somewhere in his fifties.
"I come for some pills for the missus," he said. "The doc give her some five years ago that done fine. Now shes got the same complaint and wants some more pills. Just tell the doc its for Mrs. Transit. Doc Nina will know what pills."
When I told him the doctor wasnt doctoring any more, he jumped to his feet, his face red and his big hands curled into fists.
"She cant do this to us!" he shouted. "She saved my life when I was a boy. She cut me open on a table and saved my life. Shes taken care of us all my missus, the kids. She cant do this to us!"
I said I was sorry. He stood for a moment, the red fading from his face. Then he spread out his big hands, palms up, in a most appealing and pathetic gesture, and, looking straight into my face, asked softly, "What will become of us now?"
At dinner that night I told the story of Mr. Transit in the office. Mother told me about Tommy, and what made Tommy Transit so important. He was her first case back in the woods with the mountaineers. After Tommys operation, word spread like a grass fire through the hills. "That woman docs all right. Shell come if ye need er. She kin help ye. Shell take what ye have to give er fur pay, and if ye dont got nothin to give, shell come anyway." More and more calls came from telephones in lonely general stores, notes were brought and put in her mailbox by shy, wild creatures who slipped into town and slipped quickly out. Wherever and whenever she was needed, she went. And they trusted her.
One time, when she was washing and dressing a newborn baby in clothes she had brought with her, she heard a neighbor, passing by the Brushy Mountain cabin, say to the babys father, "Doc Ninas all right! There aint nary a one of us in the hills wouldnt wipe her ass for her if she needed it."
After Tommys operation Dr. Ninas medical care of the mountaineers brought a bright new dimension into the lives of them all.
. . . 6
And then came the winter of despair, the dreadful winter, the winter of 1918. Dr. Nina had had a rewarding summer. Some of the men doctors had gone to war, although most were over draft age. Her income had grown modestly because, in order to survive at all as a doctor, she had to set her fees pitifully low in comparison to those charged by men. One dollar for an office visit, two for a home visit, medicine always included, and $25 for delivering a baby. Charles had come to visit in the spring and Dr. Nina was again pregnant. By Armistice time, in November, she had stocked the pantry full of food for the winter, had had a modest supply of wood stacked near the house, had arranged for Bobby and Carol to stay with Mrs. Kotz, and in due time had gone to Philadelphia to birth her baby, who was me. Having a baby, by then, was no big deal for Dr. Nina. She was back in ten days, picked up her other two girls, and moved into the house on the hill. Then came the snow.
Snow came upon snow, with the only pauses days of slashing wind and sleet and ice storms. No days of thaw, only snow piling on snow and ice. The temperature reached and held at an astonishing low for that section of the country. The world of the Poconos was immobilized by snow.
The house that Charles designed was odd. It was square and low to the ground. It was made of cobblestones that jutted out from the cement that held them together. The front porch, cement, was wide, with a brown wood-shingled roof with eaves that came deep in front toward the ground, a cool, shaded porch looking out over the valley below. The front door opened directly into the living room, a large square windowless room with seven doors opening from it, and a huge, walk-in fireplace made of cobblestones at the far end. There were two doors on either side of the fireplace, one to the kitchen with a big iron stove, a sink with a hand pump, and an icebox, the other to a storage and laundry room with two big galvanized iron tubs and a narrow door into the kitchen so that hot water could be carried from the wood-burning stove. The other four doors, two on either side of the big square living room, opened into four small bedrooms. There were windows in the bedrooms, but the eaves of the low-pitched, raftered roof came close to the ground and the light from the windows was pale, watery, diffuse. Even in summer with all the doors open, the living room was dark; in winter it was perpetual night, the light from the fireplace and kerosene lamps lost in the dark shadows. I don' know what this house tells us about the man who designed it. Surely it must make a statement about Charles. That his imprecise mind was relaxed and comfortable only away from the light of facts? That he was so self-centered that only a cave could reflect his own nature? Surely a house one creates for oneself tells something important about the designer. The house had no central heating. I suspect that Charles did not intend to live there in the winters himself.
But Dr. Nina and the children were there when the snow and biting cold descended upon them. She hadnt worried about wood for the fireplace or the stove. The year before, a small lumber company had set up a camp beyond the house and above Cherry Valley on the other side of the mountain. The crew was small and worked the year round. They carried their second-growth logs down to the railroad in Delaware Water Gap every two weeks, in summer in drays and in winter in sledges. The men were willing to saw, split, and drop off firewood for the houses along the way. Dr. Nina had counted on the lumberman. None of them had counted on being immobilized for more than a month over Christmas and the New Year of 1919, and the lumber camp burned its own wood and went on half rations and swore roundly at the snow that kept the men away over the holidays from those they loved and were working for.
The cold was so intense that most of Dr. Ninas wood was burned by Christmas. She was not in good health. I know this because four years later, at the divorce hearing, Mame McNeal testified that when Nina fled to her in mid-January at the nadir of her life and the debacle of her marriage, she was "in miserable health." I know this because another wonderful woman, Emma Fargo, a neighbor more than a mile down the hill toward Delaware Water Gap, testified in the same legal proceeding that she and her husband, worried about little Dr. Nina, forced their way up on foot just after the New Year, to make sure Nina was all right, alone as she was with three little children in the worst of a bad winter. Halfway up the hill, Mr. Fargo had to turn back; he had had a mild heart attack a year before and couldnt exert himself physically any further. Mrs. Fargo was struggling through the deep snow wrapped in a long raccoon coat. She gave her coat to Mr. Fargo to take back home; she could not maneuver the bottom of the coat through the drifts. She still had on several layers of warm wool sweaters. Two hours later, a veritable snow woman, she reached her goal.
At the house she found the childrens beds pulled out into the living room and set up near the fireplace. A small fitful fire burned in the giant fireplace. The room was barely above freezing. The children were kept in bed to keep them warm. Dr. Nina had chopped down the trees near the house that were small enough for her to handle, but they had burned too quickly to give much heat. In desperation she had forced her way through the drifts to the boundary of a neighbors property and dragged back his fence rails. Emma Fargo stated in court: "Little Dr. Nina, the best wife and mother in the whole world, was white as paper and thin as air."
The doctor must have been frightened each time she pushed her way out over the drifted porch and plunged into the deep, ever falling snow, struggling to keep her footing on the ice beneath. If something happened to her, if she couldnt get back, the children would surely freeze to death. How thankful she must have been each time she reached the safety of the porch again, dragging behind her as many stolen fence rails as she could pull! She sawed them up on the porch, her hands numb with cold. No wonder she was white as paper and thin as air.
On the tenth of January the snow stopped falling. The skies cleared. The temperature, in the strange way it often does on the eastern seaboard in January, rose and rose and rose. The snow and ice melted in cascades down the mountain slopes, the Delaware Rive rose beyond flood stage, and the forsythia, that zany spring-flowering shrub that can be fooled any time by any deception of nature, pushed out fat yellow buds.
Mr. Bartron, the neighboring farmer, took a tour around his barns and fields to assess the bad-weather damage to his place. He found a large section of his rail fence missing from the field closest to "that preachers" house. He had chopped down the trees and split the rails himself in his youth to build a fence that was to last longer than his own life. He was struck with fury to find them gone. Rage boiling within carried him heavily but swiftly to the neighbors house. He shouted at the front door, open to let in sun and warmth, and he met Dr. Nina in the middle of the dim living room as she hurried out of the kitchen, startled by the noise. He told her at length what he thought of pretend-Christians who would steal from others.
Nina sat down on a chair and listened until he had said everything he could think of to say. Then she said, "Im sorry I was alone. The lumberman didnt come and there was no place else to get wood. Ill have them replaced when I can work again to pay for them. I couldnt let my children freeze. I was sick at heart to take them, but there was nothing else to do." She tried to say more, but her voice quavered. She bowed her head. Fat tears splashed down on her hands folded in her lap.
Mr. Bartron was silent. All his rage drained away. The tiny fence-rail fire in the big fireplace hissed quietly; the faint voices of the children outside in the sun carried through the open door.
"Im the one thats sorry," he said. "We didnt know you was all alone here, but we should have knowed. We should have come to see. We thought we was good neighbors, but weve been bad neighbors to you. Come, lass, dont cry. I thought on the way here," he added wonderingly, "that Id sue you for taking my fence. Now Id be glad if youd sue me. It would make me feel better. If youll forgive me for not helping, well never talk of this again." He patted her awkwardly on the shoulder and left. Before nightfall he and two of his sons were back with a wagonload of fireplace wood and stovewood from the lumber camp.
On the fifteenth of January, winter came back. The forsythia froze, but inside the cavelike house fire roared in the fireplace and the big iron range in the kitchen glowed iron-red under the cook pots. On that day Charles arrived in time for supper. He had come for a purpose, but for the wrong purpose at the wrong time. He had, he said, decided to build a new sanitarium, and hed come to find out how much money Nina had saved from her summers work.
"You surely must have some money saved up. I have a chance to buy some electrical equipment secondhand but in wonderful condition, as good as new, for about one-fourth its original cost. With what money you have, and what we can get for selling your office equipment, we can buy it."
Perhaps the snow and ice of the month-long blizzard had been left, unthawed, in Ninas heart.
"I have nothing saved that you can have."
"What! Nothing saved? I dont believe you! Youre lying. What have you done with all the money youve made?" Charles was shouting now.
"Ive paid the hospital bills and the doctor for my confinement. Ive paid back the loan at the bank and a loan from friends. Ive bought food for the winter. Ive bought furniture for this house. I have no money for you. What little I have left is for the children."
Charles was beside himself with anger. "I married you because Id heard how smart you were! I thought youd be a great success as a doctor. But youve disappointed me in every way. Youve disgraced yourself and lost your influence with the church. Youve persisted in the crazy idea of having children. You take care of disgusting mountain sinners without pay. Youre a wicked woman! You dont know your place!"
The phone rang.
The Reverend Crown, the Methodist minister in the town of Portland, Pennsylvania, at the other end of the trolley line from Stroudsburg, was calling to see if Dr. Nina could come. His mother-in-law was feeling poorly. I now quote from the divorce proceedings later:
Answer [Dr. Nina]: The telephone rang and Reverend Crown wanted me to come to see his wifes mother. I told him I could not come, I was not able to go out. I told him if they could not get another doctor, I would come in the morning. I had supper to get for my children; I had been doing a big wash all day and was physically unable to come. The weather was nasty and I would have had to walk down to the Gap to get the trolley and then walk back from the trolley home in the dark. Thats how the fuss started.
"Fuss" is a mild word for what happened next. Charles lost all control. "You dont want to help!" he shouted, and physically attacked Nina.
How could this be? Such a thing doesnt happen to people we know. Or does it? And is a physical attack worse or better than a verbal attack that demolishes every hope and every dream? If neither proves to be fatal, if either ends a losing game, I suppose its a toss-up between them as to which form of retaliation brings to a close a part of ones life that began in error and must end, as all important errors do, in direct or subtle violence.
Surely an act of violence by a minister whose gospel was peace and love was not brought on by any real concern for electrical equipment, even though electricity then had a glamour and excitement we would scarcely believe today, or by the loss of a two-dollar house-call fee. Whatever caused Charles to explode is forever hidden in his frustrations, thwarted ambitions, and secret fears.
But that this should happen to Dr. Nina, after all her valiant efforts to create out of nothing a life worth living, angers me all these years later. I lose my detachment, I become involved, raised as I was, as we all were, on the great Cinderella myth, which promises that if we are good and hard-working and patient and uncomplaining, and are also very, very pretty, then a prince will come, dressed all in pale-blue satin, and he will ask, "Will you marry me?" and we will all live happily ever after.
Thin-as-air Dr. Nina was good, hard-working, patient, and uncomplaining. She was also stalwart, capable to stand, braver than the panthers that lurked along her way. She was very pretty. And her clerical-collared prince knocked her down, flung himself upon her under the eyes of their children, and tried to squeeze her life out of her slender throat. She was saved by little Bobby, who grabbed her fathers hair and shrieked into his ear until he regained emotional control before Dr. Nina was totally dead. Pale and shaken himself, he took his unopened valise and left.
How could it come to this, the courage, the fortitude, the merry heart? Was God distracted, watching some sparrow fall in a faraway place? Is this the fulfillment of the promise that all will be well with the righteous, this slight, this-as-air form unconscious on the floor of a cavelike room? Wept over only by a desolate child? "These tears are shaken from the wrath-bearing tree."
. . . 7
Dr. Ninas injuries were temporary; one small bone broken in her throat and her vocal cords temporarily paralyzed. She was able to reassure Bobby, give the children their supper and their baths, and put them to bed that night without fear of further misfortune. They imitated mother in whispering, which was all the noise Nina would be able to make for the next three weeks. She packed all their clothes and, in the morning, after putting the suitcases on the front porch, carried two children, with Bobby trailing along, into Delaware Water Gap. She arranged for someone to pick up the suitcases later in the day and to put them on the last trolley run in the evening. She and the children boarded the trolley and went to Stroudsburg, to Mame McNeal. The following day she went to a throat specialist in Philadelphia. The day after that, back in Stroudsburg, she rented an apartment on Main Street, on the second floor above a mens and boys clothing store. The steep, narrow staircase up to the apartment was between the clothing store and a drugstore that is still in the same location. She hired men to bring the furniture from the Delaware Water Gap house and the office equipment from her office around the corner on Seventh Street into the new apartment. When everything was in place, she and her children moved in. And so, all in whispers, she was ready to begin a new era.
As often happens when one takes decisive action to end past mistakes and begin again, new doors to the future opened of themselves. Two unexpected events were to make Dr. Ninas immediate future less uncertain: Anne Barr arrived out of a cold, dark night, and a virulent epidemic of influenza broke out in the area as part of the Great Flu Epidemic of 1918-19.
The apartment was a "flat" in the British sense of the word. At the top of the long, steep stairway from Main Street there was a landing with two doors, one to the right, which entered into the front room, and one straight ahead, which led into a long, narrow, windowless hallway that ran the length of the flat and ended at a landing for the steep back stairs and the kitchen. The hallway was designed to furnish privacy for the three bedrooms that opened from it, but the little family needed reassurance and togetherness more than privacy, so the hallway was used for storage and the door kept locked. The front room had a bay window overlooking Main Street, and a cunning coal-burning fire-place; this was to be the waiting room for Dr. Ninas patients. The next room back was to be her office. The office and the three bedrooms behind it were windowless, but each had a skylight in the ceiling. Skylights are wonderful. One can lie in bed and watch the moon racing through the clouds, or the brilliant winter stars still and cold in the endless velvety universe, or, at early morning, a heedless bird who had plunged into solid glass and shakes his witless head to wonder, no doubt, whose hand has struck him down. To reach the kitchen form the front room, one walked through all the succeeding rooms. The rent, the first two months, was $18 a month, but the shocking inflation that followed the end of the First World War soon boosted it to $28 a month. The rent included heat from a coal furnace in the basement. The handy man from the clothing store tended the furnace during the day, and after five oclock banked the furnace for the night. By the time the flat became chilled, the children were in bed, office hours were over, and Dr. Nina could sit by a cozy coal fire in the front room. Nina and the baby shared the first bedroom, Bobby and Carol the second, and the bedroom next to the big, bright kitchen was reserved, unknown to everyone until the second evening of their residence, for Anne Barr.
Anne Barr was seventeen, pregnant, and desolate when she came to the waiting-room that night. Her mother was dead, her father decamped for parts unknown, the father of her baby had been killed in the war the day before the Armistice. Hungry and alone, she could think of nothing else to do to save herself but to walk almost twenty miles to ask help from the "woman doctor." She was to live with Dr. Nina for three years. She was to flourish. She did lessons at night with Bobby, who was already in the fourth grade; she learned to cook; she became an expert seamstress and made clothes for all the children, including her own fat, rosy baby girl. She was as happy as a domestic kitten and as friendly and winning. After three years she left the household to marry a young printer who worked at a local printing plant. They lived happily ever after, as far as I know. For Dr. Nina she was a godsend. Now Nina could take on any case, any time, day or night, because there would always be someone there to watch the children. Anne truly liked children; we were her best friends and we were very happy together.
The second event, the flu epidemic, hit all at once all over town. The armed services held the younger doctors long after the war was finished. The older doctors took turns catching the virus. All who could stand on their feet worked day and night. The hospitals overflowed into hotels; volunteer workers helped tend the sick and bury the dead. Soup wagons went from door to door. Dr. Nina caught nothing and was the busiest doctor of all.
As the epidemic slowed in the town, calls began to pour in from the farms and the mountains. Few of the men doctors would go on these calls. Two of them owned Ford cars, but even in good weather they refused to risk their new toys on the wretched back roads. That year the roads were blocked with snow and ice. Anyway, the fees charged by the men doctors were too high for this new group of stricken citizenry. Dr. Nina finally had to ask the county medical officer for help. He found a sleigh for her, manned by volunteer drivers, with two teams of horses, two horses for day and two for night. Her volunteer drivers changed every twelve hours with the fresh horses. Nina slept in the slight between houses. The ladies aid societies and the missionary societies of various churches took turns making large vats of soup from meat donated by the butchers of the town. The soup, and oranges and eggs wrapped to keep them from freezing, filled the sleigh on every trip.
When the drivers came to a road that branched off from the main road toward a house, they drove in to ask if anyone were sick. Often the entire family was afflicted, with no one to cook. While the drivers brought in wood and built up fires, Dr. Nina fixed medicine and food. Then on they went to the next place. They soon learned to recognize that where no path had been broken up the lane to a house or cabin, conditions inside were apt to be dreadful. One night, near morning, in a shack in the hills, they found a mother and daughter dead, a man having a hemorrhage, two older girls too sick to get up, and two small, wet, nearly frozen children huddled in a crib. It took some time to get that place in shape to leave, even temporarily.
When she was back in town to change horses and drivers, Dr. Nina persuaded the medical officer to wire Harrisburg to send a state nurse to help. One was sent immediately. At midnight the following night she was in the sleigh, looking with fear into the dark woods as they forced their way through new-fallen snow back to the shack. Nina tried to encourage her when she left her in charge.
"Just do the best you can. Feed the two little ones. Keep the fire going. Force liquids soup or fruit juice, it doesnt matter into the sick. Well be back around this time tomorrow night. Theres enough medicine til then."
When Dr. Nina came back the next night, Miss Milnor, the nurse, could hardly talk for tears.
"Whats the matter? Are you ill? Your patients are all much better and the place looks wonderful. Why are you crying?"
"Im not ill. Im hungry and I havent had anything to drink since you left."
"Why didnt you eat? Theres plenty of food in the house."
"I couldnt eat. They keep the food under the bed. And the dishes and pans theyre awful!"
"Well, theres plenty of water to drink."
"Yes, but I saw a horse drinking out of the spring!"
Nina had to suppress a laugh. "Dont worry about the horses. Theyre the cleanest things here. Besides, the spring cleans itself almost by the time an animal stops drinking. And Ill show you how to have a good meal, even here."
While a pail of water was heating, Nina scoured the pans and the coffeepot and pine-board table with ashes from the front of the stove and rinsed them all with boiling water. She sliced off venison from under the bed, fried potatoes, and made coffee. They had a fine midnight meal.
Years later the nurse, on her way through Stroudsburg, stopped to reminisce with Dr. Nina.
"Doctor," she said, "I learned the greatest lesson of my life in the woods with you. Do you remember the men by the roadside who had come to shovel out drifts so we could get through that first night?"
"You mean the ones who had the bonfire and a pot of coffee waiting for us?"
"Yes. I was horrified when I saw you drink coffee from that tin can. And you thanked them for it! One of the men said, We thought youd be cold and tired, and coffee kinda springs you up, dont it You said, It sure does, Joe. I thought, the doctor says that exactly as though she means it, and then I found out you really did mean it! I was disgusted. What kind of a doctor is this? I asked you how you could drink out of a dirty can that maybe the man had been drinking out of and you laughed and said, You know, nurse, one of my patients told me that everyone eats a peck of dirt before he dies. I think this was the time for me to eat a little of mine. These men walked miles and worked hours to open the road for us. I wouldnt have refused to drink their coffee if it had been twice as black and dirty! Then you shut your eyes and went to sleep.
"All these years since, when something hard or disagreeable comes up, I think of you and wonder what you would do, and Ive always found a way out."
. . . 8
Dr. Nina earned more money in her twenty-four-hours-a-day service during the flu epidemic than shed ever earned before, and it was all hers. She also acquired many new patients who would depend upon her and whose children and grandchildren would depend upon her until she closed her practice at the age of eighty-two.
She took $475 of her nest egg and bought a Model T Ford. A fellow townsman had purchased the car in Philadelphia, had driven it to Stroudsburg on what was, for him, a terrifying journey, vowed never to touch a horseless carriage again, and unloaded it on "that woman doctor." And so began a most perfect union, the union between Dr. Nina and a series of machines that were to liberate her from the tyranny of large animals and that were to enable her to practice her profession in exactly the way she dreamed it could be done. She could go wherever she was needed by making outrageous demands on metal that she would not have dared to make on any living thing.
She was respectful of the motor of each of her automobiles, her "pleasure cars," as all motor vehicles that were not trucks were called in the early days. Engines were semihuman. They needed food and water and understanding. In those days, car-engine mechanisms were almost as easy for an ordinary owner to comprehend as a sewing machine motor. But she made the assumption that the metal bodies could take their own chances in a hard world; wherever tender flesh and brittle bone wished to go, surely tough metal would manage to come along. So she mercilessly drove her cars over farm fields, through brush, brambles, and mountain berry bushes, over goat tracks and wagon trails, leaving a canvas top hanging from a low branch here and a piece of running board in a deep rut there, and a fender on a rock in a creek bed, until she was driving a stripped-down machine that any of the hot-rodders of the 1950s would have given their souls to own. At that point she would buy a new car.
She named her first car Donkey. The man she bought it from gave her driving instructions. He showed her where to place the spark handle and the manual accelerator handle before she started to crank at the front of the car; he showed her how to leap like a gazelle back to the gadgets to adjust them to keep the once-caught motor going, how to release the hand brake, which kept the transmission in neutral, how to depress the clutch to shift into low, and how to shift into high and sail away down the road. He forgot to tell her the car could back up. She found that out three weeks later from the husband of one of her patients who had watched with bewilderment as she sailed around his house, scattering chickens and geese and causing minor damage to his woodpile on one side and his corncrib on the other as she drove out forward from an impasse she had driven herself into forward. He flagged her down and explained that the middle foot pedal, when pushed in, would put the car into reverse. From then on, Donkey took her anywhere she intended to reach. When she cranked up her Ford in the middle of the night to go to deliver a baby, the neighbors who briefly woke as she went rattlety-bang down Main Street must have thought there goes the woman doctor! before they snuggled back into oblivion.
One evening she was on her way home down Brushy Mountain. It was cold and a misty drizzle had silently turned the deeply rutted, stony road into thick mud. Her Model T reared up on one side, came down with splashes and rattles, reared up over a stone on the other side, and stalled. She cranked and cranked; the car refused to start. Her patience was worn thin and her arms began to weaken when Donkey caught with a roar and bucked toward her in a vehement leap. Dr. Nina was the more practiced leaper, however, and her foot found the running board and her hand the steering wheel as Donkey bucked on by. Halfway down the mountain, the flaring headlights revealed a man slogging through the mud. Dr. Nina pulled up beside him.
"Going toward town?" she asked cheerfully. "Want a ride?"
"Be ye that woman doctor?" he asked.
"Yes, I am."
He shook his head. "Thank ye kindly jist the same, but I guess Ill walk."
Nina was astonished. "I wont hurt you," she said.
"I know. I haint afeared of you, Im afeared of your drivin. They do tell that youd drive through hell or the pearly gates to git whar youre going."
One February evening in 1920, during a winter thaw, Dr. Nina was driving as fast as she could go to Browns Run, twenty-five miles from town. It was eleven oclock at night. She was rushing to a child who was reported to be choking to death on something lodged in her throat. The childs father had walked five miles to the nearest phone. She worried as she drove along because, to reach the shack, she would have to cross Bear Swamp. The road across the swamp was laid on logs and it was reasonably easy to follow in daylight, but at night, with the bog liquefied by the thaw, she worried that she might slide off into the deep holes on either side and be hopelessly stuck. The problem was complicated by the fact that the lights of the Model T shone brightly at full speed, glowed dimly at a slow crawl over difficult terrain, and went off altogether when the motor stalled, as it often did after a good, solid jounce.
As she neared the swamp, she saw a lantern bobbing off in the woods, higher up than the road. She stopped the car and blew the horn. The light stood still. She blew again and then again, and the light began to bob down toward her. When the man who carried the lantern reached her car, he raised it up even with his face and peered into the car. Dr. Nina shrank back with fear. He looked like a gorilla. A bushy beard covered his entire face and his hair hung down on his shoulders. He grinned a big, wide grin and all the teeth he had were two tusks on either side of his mouth.
"Be ye that woman doctor?" he asked.
Thank God, thought Dr. Nina. At least it talks. She realized that he must be Old Featherhead, a hermit about whom there were many strange tales. One tale was told of a hunter who disappeared near Bear Swamp and had never been found. But Old Featherhead was glimpsed later wearing new hunting boots.
The doctor said, "Yes, I am. I blew the horn to ask you to go with me across the swamp, so that if I should get stuck, you could help me out."
"Well," the old man rolled a big cud of tobacco over into his other cheek and spat a brown stream of juice over his shoulder, "I haint never rid in one of these dang things, but I guess I kin, if you kin."
"Set your lantern in the back on the floor and get in the front with me."
Featherhead climbed in. He took a firm grip on the back of the seat with one hand and on the car door with the other, chewing fast on his quid. Why, thought the doctor, this poor man is more frightened of the car than I am of him! To ease his tension, she told him about the child.
"That must be Jim Walkers kid," he said.
Driving as fast as she could, she crossed the swamp and pulled into a clearing. Old Featherhead started to climb out with his lantern.
"Oh, please dont leave me!" exclaimed the doctor. "Maybe you can help. And Ill need you to get back out of here."
The old man stopped chewing his tobacco and looked at her strangely.
"You really want Old Featherhead to stay and help you?"
"Yes. Please do."
Just then the cabin door opened, and they went in together. The Walker cabin was larger than most. It had two rooms, both of good size. The front door opened into the kitchen-living room. Next to this room was a small bedroom, where the parents and two younger children slept. The three older children slept on cots close to the kitchen stove. None of the children were in bed; they waited forlornly for the doctor, anxiously watching their mother and the choking baby on her lap. The three-year-olds lips were blue, she was barely breathing in hoarse, rasping gasps. Her eyes were rolled back in her head.
Dr. Nina turned the child over on its stomach. While the mother held the babys feet up so that the head was down, the doctor reached down the childs throat and her finger found a piece of raw potato so firmly lodged that it had shut off most of the air. Fortunately, the irregular shape of the obstruction had allowed enough air to be drawn in by the oxygen-famished lungs to keep the child alive, although she was cyanosed and unconscious.
After the obstruction was removed, the child turned from blue to white and, after a few moments of artificial respiration, pink, and began to howl. The mother cried with relief. The children vied with each other to play, all at the same time, the babys favorite games to welcome her back to life. Into the scene of bedlam came the father after his ten-mile walk. He was as excited and relieved as everyone else.
"I didnt think youd come yet, Doc," he said. "I didnt see no car tracks over the bridge in the swamp."
"We never came over no bridge!" announced Old Featherhead. All the noise stopped in surprise.
"Howd you git here, then?" Jim asked.
"Wal," and Old Featherhead paused to squirt an accurate brown stream of tobacco juice into the open draft door of the stove, sizzling the ashes, "we just jumped the clean hell over!"
Bedlam resumed, but now it was Dr. Nina who laughed the most. Old Featherhead couldnt have been more pleased with himself and with his joke. He glowed like an ember.
As Dr. Nina was packing her doctors bag to leave, Jim spoke quietly.
"I cant pay you nothin now, Doc, cause I aint got nothin. When they pay me for my work in the woods Ill bring somethin in. O.K.?"
"Thats all right. Pay me when you can," and she thought to herself, Promises, promises! They go on like the dead stumps in the swamp.
A few weeks later, as Dr, Nina came out of the hospital on the edge of town, she saw Old Featherhead leaving her car. He spied her and came back.
"Doc," he whispered. "I put somethin in the back of your car for you. Eat it and keep your mouth shut."
In the car was a quarter of young, tender, out-of-season venison. From then on, she often found a pheasant or a box of trout packed in wet fern and moss or a rabbit on the floor in the rear of the car.
One day one of her mountaineer patients said, "Doc, what you done to Old Featherhead to make him like he be now?"
"Like he be now? Well, how is he?"
"Why, if your name come up in the talk, he says you is one of Gods angels. He visits around, and lends a hand, and acts like a regular neighbor. He aint never been like this since we can remember."
This pays my bill for the trip! the doctor thought.
. . . 9
The intelligence apparatus among the mountaineers was amazing. Although miles separated them from each other, there was a grapevine network that moved as fast as ground fire to keep everyone informed of what was happening in their forest. Whenever a stranger set foot in their territory, everyone knew it. They resented outsiders not because they hated strange and different people but because the outsiders who came were sneering, critical, cold-eyed, and bossy. Except for their Dr. Nina, who was unfailingly courteous and respectful of their common humanity. Among themselves there was loyalty and trust; and the good things of their lives the meat, the celebrations, the sorrows of honorable death were shared among them all.
Old Lindy, a matriarch of a particularly isolated family, was preparing to die. At the most conservative estimate she was 105 years old. Her vital organs were worn out and faltering. Dr. Nina had urged her to stop drinking mountain dew, the home-distilled corn whiskey that was the only cash crop of the area.
"Your liver has all it can do without having to handle mountain dew," the doctor had told her.
"Jesus, Doc! Had I of knowed Id live so long, Id took better care of my liver." Smiling a wide, toothless grin, her eyes snapping in glee, she poured a half cup from the jug by her bed and drank it down. Dr. Nina patted her shoulder. Old Lindy was right it was too late for her to start a new life. The day Old Lindy died, Dr. Nina was called. Dozens of the forest people were there. The carcass of a young buck deer was roasting over a fire in the clearing in front of the two-room shack. Inside, the shack was full to bursting with neighbors. Dr. Nina confirmed that death had indeed taken Old Lindy. She sat down by the bed to fill out the death certificate. The man who had brought the funeral meat started to recount how he had shot the buck. Dr. Nina saw another man, a stranger to her, frantically motioning him to be quiet about out-of-season hunting.
"Aw, whats eatin ye?" the first man asked. "Hell, Docs one of us."
Dr. Nina pretended not to hear, but her heart rejoiced that there was no fear and distrust among them.
One night while she was driving along a mountain road five miles back of Henryville. As she approached a narrow bridge across Bushkill Creek, she saw a light tiny as a firefly waving at the near end of the bridge. She pulled over to the side of the road as a man stepped out of the darkness, lighting another match and holding it high.
"Hello, Doc. I heared tell ye was comin back to Hunters Range. My woman, up the creek is bornin our first youngun and shes powerful bad. It aint fur from here. Will ye come?"
"How do I get there?" Dr. Nina asked.
"We gotta walk. Leave the car here."
Dr. Nina got out with her bag and followed the hairy, ragged man up a path almost closed by brush and briars. The man was a darker blotch ahead in the darkness of the night. A little fear came into her mind. She wondered if there was really a house up such an unused path. They came to the bank of Bushkill Creek and climbed up some rocky steps to the beginning of a bridge. It was a hanging footbridge made by stringing two telephone wires across the noisy waters of the gorge, with boards laid across the wires and a thin wire on the side for a handrail.
"Hold on to me," the man said. "Walk slow so it dont swing too much and well git over all right."
She could hear water rushing far below. Trembling a little and clutching her medicine bag, she put her hand in his and walked across the bridge in the dark, doing exactly as he said. "Step wide here a boards out. Stand still and wait fer the bridge to stop swinging. Heres the end step down deep."
The shack had one room and was dirty, bare, and cold. She didnt know it then, but twenty years later, when the baby she delivered that night was fighting in the Pacific in the Second World War, Dr. Nina was to deliver his baby to a pretty little wife in a neat little bungalow in Stroudsburg, a bungalow with running water, clean linen, and hand-made baby clothes lovingly laid out on a brand-new bathinette. There was also a money order sent from Okinawa for $100, and a note:
Dear Dr. Nina,
I know you dont charge this much for delivering a baby, but whenever I remember that youre there, I dont worry that Nora and our baby will be all right. Besides, nobody ever paid you for bringing me into the world, so this hundred dollars is on account. Keep Nora cheerful until I get back.
Jimmy came back. He and Nora had two other children later, neither of them "on account."
. . . 10
There were many retarded children among these people. This was inevitable, given the intermarriage, the incest, the casual matings throughout the generations. Almost every family had at least one "simple" member. There were also children with physical deformities. One of them, Hester, I sometimes still see in dreams at night. She was the product of her mother and an older brother. She was, by luck, mentally normal, but she was born without legs. I saw her first when, as a child, I went with my mother on one of her calls. We left the car (I think it was Mothers third, a Ford touring car) and started walking up a steep path to the cabin. Hester appeared over the top of the rise, swinging herself down the primitive path with incredible speed on her buttocks with her arms. She was a human pendulum swinging cheerfully toward us, calling greetings. The visits of the woman doctor were precious to her. She had dark curly hair and huge, blazing violet eyes the color of deep amethyst. Hester had fashioned thick deerskin pads for her knuckles and had developed a skill for putting her bottom, without noticeable pause, on spaces in the path without harmful protuberances. When I dream of Hester, even today, I smell violets and acid sour grass, and the thin, sharp scent of young rhododendron leaves motionless in a June sun.
Dr. Nina tried not to interfere with her mountain patients. This must have been hard for her; she was, by temperament, an activist. Whatever happened, her first thought was: What can be done about what has happened? With her special clientele, if she had "done" anything, they would have shut her out and died of the ailments she possibly could alleviate. So she learned to deny herself, to develop enough character to "leave it be," and to have enough faith and trust that in the future, perhaps, she could act to good purpose. But while "Leaving it be" with the older persons, she was able to do wonderful things, then and later, for the children.
Dr. Nina always carried with her in her car a bundle of old newspapers. When she entered a shack to deliver a baby she carried her medical bag with one hand and a stack of newspapers with the other. Newsprint is one of the most sanitary materials known to man. Bacteria cannot live on newspaper ink. I suppose new methods of offset printing have destroyed this wonderful property of sterility, but in those days, newsprint was Mothers most dependable ally. She would strip a horrendous bed down to the horrendous mattress, put a thick covering of newspapers under the expectant mother, and deliver a fine, sanitary baby. One time, after the baby had been born and washed and dressed in clothes Dr. Nina had brought with her, the doctor rolled the soiled newspaper and, making a fresh mattress cover of new papers, took the rolled bundle outside to burn it. When she came back into the one-room shack, the new mother furtively thrust something under the covers. Before Dr. Nina had finished making out the birth certificate, smoke began to swirl out of the bed. The woman had taken advantage of a moment of privacy to light up her pipe and then, fearing the doc might disapprove of pipe smoking, had managed to set her bed on fire. So the doc turned fireman and smothered the fire; she couldnt use water lest she soak the only mattress on the only bed in the cabin. She suggested, mildly, that her patient wait to smoke until the next day, when she could do so out of bed. Another time, she stopped at a cabin on her way back from sewing up a mans leg cut by a glancing blow of an axe. She was checking on a new mother who baby had been born three days before. She knocked on the door, lifted the latch, and walked in to find the mother nursing a baby skunk. This time Dr. Nina was less mild and very firm.
"But hes an orphan and hes hongry," the woman wailed.
"Thats too bad." Dr. Nina was unsentimental. "Your baby needs all the milk you have. You are not ever again to nurse this skunk or anyone else but your baby. Do you understand?"
The woman understood.
One spring day in 1921, Dr. Nina found a note in her mailbox.
Deer Dock. I heered you was a good docter. I aint been good since the flew and now Im terrible sick. I got 3 dollars saved up. Will you come. Grace Asher
Dr. Nina asked around and got directions to the Asher cabin, far back in the hills. The wagon road, almost obscured by new-growth brush, wound up a hill around a stone wall and disappeared. Nina parked the car, took her bag, and walked up a path around a bend, and there, perched on a cliff, was the Asher cabin. Dogs barked and came running down to meet her. Several children swarmed out of the door and ran back in. A lame man limped around the house and out of sight. A woman came to the door and quickly disappeared back inside. Dr. Nine wondered what all the excitement was about. She stopped by the door and looked around. A freshly killed deer lay by the woodpile. No wonder, she thought, theyre frightened out of season and out of reason. She laughed at her own pun as she knocked at the now closed door.
Grace Asher, fifteen years old, was very sick indeed. The left side if her chest was thick and swollen; all the breathing she could manage was being done by the right lobes of her lungs.
"Better call your husband," Dr. Nina said to Mrs. Asher. "Grace must go into the hospital immediately. I will need help getting her to the car."
The Monroe County Hospital had been opened on a shoestring in what had been a large private house in East Stroudsburg. Small and inadequately equipped as it was in the early years, it was much better than many of the places Dr. Nina had to work. Mr. Asher and a neighbor carried Grace to the car on a stretcher Dr. Nina had fashioned out of two poles and an old overcoat. Mrs. Asher followed the doctor to the door as she was leaving.
"We wus scairt when ye come cause Dave found a dead deer. We wus goin to git word to the game warden."
"I wouldnt do that if I were you. Finish skinning it out. Cook it. Eat it. You all need it. Dont worry about me I didnt see any deer." The two women nodded to each other in perfect understanding.
When Grace came back from the hospital wearing a new dress Dr. Nina had bought for her, the younger children gathered around and looked at their sister with great admiration. Little Harry, five years old, his thin body clad in a cast-off girls dress, leaned against Dr. Ninas knee.
"Do ye like pheasant?" he asked.
"Why, yes, I do."
"When I git me a gun, Ill shoot one for ye." Harrys face dimpled all over with the idea of such a wondrous gift.
"Bless your heart, Harry! Someday you may just do that."
These two became lifelong friends despite the difference in their ages. Both of them cared about food, both of them all their lives fed the hungry. Harry came to live with us in the fall to go to school. We always had waifs and strays living with us. Mother always found other homes for them as quickly as possible so as to leave room with us for emergency waifs and strays. Harry did well in school. After graduation from high school he won a scholarship to Dartmouth College. He became a world-recognized authority on nutrition, and when Dr. Nina died, many years later, he flew from Italy, where he was a consultant in Rome for the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, to attend her funeral.
. . . 11
In September 1921, when a low-hanging branch ripped loose one of the supports of the Model Ts canvas roof and a sharp gust of wind swept the whole top off into the forest, Dr. Nina decided to buy a new automobile. The Dodge agency, the only authorized agency in town at the time, was owned by Arthur M. Price, a handsome, shrewd Welshman, as brave as he was canny. He had given up an important and lucrative position with Armour & Company to risk his future on the future of the horseless carriage. He started with Dodge but later was to become the agent for the Ford Motor Company as soon as Ford was ready to open agencies in the smaller towns.
From the very beginning of our national history, a great many Americans have been nomads. The mass-produced automobile was called into being, evoked, charmed into reality by the wanderlust that is central to the American character. But it took a brave and adventurous mind to believe, the first day the first pleasure car rolled off the assembly line, that this new product would revolutionize the lives of us all. Mr. Price knew from the first that in his lifetime everybody would need to buy a car, and everybody did. He saw in his minds eye a vast network of fine roads before many roads were even paved. He didnt foresee (and he died before it happened) that our obsession with oil-consuming machines would threaten us all with a nightmare Frankenstein menace of total immobility. Were he here today, he would foresee the future of trains. He was a brave, stalwart, practical, unreconstructed dreamer of the American Dream. He was already what a small town calls "well to do" when Dr. Nina drove in her stripped-down Ford to the A.M. Price garage to buy a new car. She bought a touring car, which is to say an open, canvas-topped sedan with isinglass panels that snapped into place along the sides to keep out the worst of the weather. It was not until her fourth car that the price of closed cars would come within the reach of ordinary people.
A.M. Price allowed Dr. Nina $300 for her old car. She had $200 in cash and arranged to pay off the balance at $40 a month. Mr. Price had never sold a car on credit before; he believed in cash transactions, in closing a deal so that each person could be his own man entirely. The new world of credit buying that was to come and to which he would have to adapt himself never earned his respect. He thought buying on credit was wasteful of money, was sure to undermine self-reliance and independence, and was bad for the country. He never bought anything on credit in his entire life. But for little Dr. Nina he offered credit, not because she had an honest face but because he and Dr. Nina looked at each other and were stricken with everlasting love. Both of them.
I know its unfashionable these days to talk about falling in love suddenly and totally and forever, but it has happened and probably will happen again in spite of sociological and psychiatric theory. "Now when I passed by thee and looked upon thee, behold, thy time was the time of love." So it was for them. There would be efforts by each one separately to deny the reality of love, but the end was encompassed in the beginning. They were to marry, and their marriage was to last until death parted them more than forty years later.
A.M. took Dr. Nina out for a demonstration spin, and he mentioned, as she drove him back to his office, that hed heard she often went into the mountains on calls in the evening. He was, he said, always free in the evenings, and would enjoy being her chauffeur. Nina thanked him, but as she drove away she vowed never to see him again. He was a married man, which ruled him out of her future. He refused to stay ruled out. His marriage had been an unhappy one from the start and had been devoid of all sexual encounter for several years. A.M., as everyone called him, was forty-nine years old. His oldest daughter was twenty-three, the next daughter a teenager, and the third a ten-year-old child. From the day he met Dr. Nina, he didnt look back. It was the day his new life began.
Dr. Nina, thirty-six years old, had been separated from her husband for two years. She decided, finally, to end even the legal remnants of her marriage. She consulted a lawyer about the unknown world of divorce proceedings. It was to be a year later, in the summer of 1922, that she authorized him to prepare for action in the February 1923 term of court. There are no secrets in small towns. Everyone knew Dr. Nina was being driven on out-of-town calls by A.M. Price, that "the woman doctor" was preparing to divorce a minister of the gospel, and that, mark my words, no good would come to her when the excitement of legal proceedings were over. No one could do much to A.M. Price he had too much money, with the power and respect that money brings in a small town. But Dr. Nina lost most of her paying patients. What the town didnt know then was that A.M. was arranging for an uncontested divorce to be obtained by Nellie, his wife, in return for a very substantial financial settlement.
If Ive given the impression that Dr. Ninas medical practice consisted only of mountain patients, I must say now that it is not so. The bulk of her practice was in town and in the outlying farming territory with solid, substantial middle-class people. She had never attracted the elite upper group, for two good reasons. A small-town elite is always conservative-minded and slow to accept social change. A woman doctor was too big a switch from the accepted pattern for the elite to countenance by its patronage. And her fees were modest; elite woman have always seen and illogical and snobbish corollary between high fees and good medical treatment. The more a doctor charges, the better doctor he must be. This has not changed, even now. But the attitude of the elite toward Dr. Ninas private life affected the would-be elite, and many of her solid middle-class patients changed to other doctors. The town biddies snubbed her on the street and former patients turned red and stared into shop windows in order not to meet her eye. It was a hard time for Dr. Nina.
But not nearly so hard as the self-righteous had intended. Happiness was no longer a firefly. It was a warm glow in the hearts core, a certainty of mind as complete and as strengthening as the closing of a circle. The beginning if any new thing is always hard, but the beginning of what is believed in inside ones secret demands only calm fortitude, demands only what the poet Keats once called "negative capability," which is the ability to lean on time, to wait out difficulties, to have, in the words of a popular song of the 1940s, "a little faith and trust in what tomorrow brings." Dr. Nina, who had already practiced negative capability with her mountaineers, was not a slow learner.
. . . 12
Christmas of 1922 was meager in gifts but rich indeed in festivity. Mother had made new doll clothes for each childs favorite doll, and there was one other inexpensive present for each one. The tiny colored lights glowed from inside the rich green of the Christmas tree as softly as stars on a summer night. By ten oclock in the morning, when Dory Welter, the towns only policeman, rang the bell, the flat was redolent with the aroma of turkey roasting in the oven. Dory was apologetic, but he had been presented with a problem he couldnt solve. A man had come to the police station at the courthouse early Christmas morning. He spoke in an unknown tongue but his desperation was evident. Dory had called Tony, the fruit-store man, but the stranger was not speaking Italian; Gus, the shoe repairman, came to help but the man was not speaking German. No one understood anything. Dory had gone with the stranger to the mans home and had found unpacked suitcases, a small wood fire in the stove, no fire in the coal furnace, no coal, little food, and two beds. In one of them three little girls huddled and in the other the mother shivered with chills and burned with fever. Would Dr. Nina come? She would. Before she left, she telephoned Mr. LHommedieu, one of the partners of Zabriskie and LHommedieu, Coal and Wood, and persuaded Mr. Man-of-God, a splendid French Catholic, to send a ton of coal and a cord of wood immediately to the strangers as a Christmas present.
At the house of the strangers she found no furniture at all except the two beds. As soon as the coal and wood arrived, and the deliverymen had started a good furnace fire and Dr. Nina had built up the fire in the stove, not only in the top of the wood range but also underneath the oven, she walked to the nearest neighbor with a telephone and called Nathan Abeloff, Used Furniture. One might expect that Mr. Abeloff could not easily be persuaded to make a Christmas gift of chairs and a table, but Mr. Abeloffs Jewish heart was as kind as was Mr. LHommedieus and by noon he and his son delivered twelve assorted straight chairs, a table, a rug, and, of all things, two Victorian lamps that a decorator today would pay a fortune to find.
Dr. Nina, with Patrolman Welter in tow, went back to her flat. The policeman carried our Christmas tree, fully trimmed, down the long steep stairway and all the way over to the strangers house. Mother and Anne Barr packed our Christmas dinner into the touring car along with the three of us, little Harry Asher, and Annes baby girl. They finished cooking the Christmas dinner at the strangers house. The tree glowed softly in the warmth. Each of us gave our one meager present to the strangers little girls, and in spite of the problem of their unknown language we played together all afternoon. Their mother, relieved of the burden of worry and guilt about being unable to cope, which always makes a sick mother sicker, felt better as the hours went by, and that Christmas was as beautiful as any Christmas could ever be. We learned later that the family had come from Czechoslovakia. Why they had arrived in Stroudsburg on Christmas Eve in such a deplorable state of disarray is still unknown to me.
. . . 13
Nellie Price sued for divorce from A.M. Price in the February term of the Monroe County Court. The suit was uncontested. Hints of another woman were given, but no name was mentioned. In a small town, no name needed to be revealed; everybody knew everything or thought he did. Everybody knew that A.M. Price, properly punished by his wife, would regret his infatuation for the woman doctor and would lead a justly deprived life forevermore. Dr. Ninas suit for divorce was delayed until late in the court term in order that the respondent, Charles Baierle, could attend the hearing, as he wrote that he wished to do. In late April he appeared, listened to Dr. Ninas witnesses, and made the grave error of cross-examining them. Dr. Dorothy Blechschmidt, a throat specialist from Philadelphia, Mame McNeal, Emma Fargo, and others had already given their testimony, all of which the Reverend Charles denied. In his cross-examination of them he only succeeded in eliciting a great deal of new information much more damaging to him than anything they previously had said. It is not wide to bait honest women their anger is as much to be feared as the anger of the proverbial honest man. Perhaps more to be feared. While being questioned by Dr. Ninas tiny, peppery, brilliant, and partisan lawyer, Ira LeBar, Charles made a pathetic statement. One of the grounds for divorce was nonsupport. Charles had admitted that in their entire marriage he had bought no clothes at all for his wife except for one winter coat years before. Attorney LeBar asked him if he was aware that women cared as much as men for suitable, fashionable clothing. Charles replied, "I dont know much about women." He was boasting, no doubt, of his preoccupation with spiritual matters, but for a married man, the father of three girls, the religious leader of a congregation largely composed of women, such a boast in the dusty, printed record comes across the years as dreary and sad.
On July 2, 1923, Nellie Price was granted a divorce from A.M. Price. On October 6, 1923, Nina Mae Baierle was granted a divorce from Charles Baierle. On October 25, 1923, A.M. Price and Dr. Nina were married.
The town biddies were furious. They had misjudged. That A.M. would marry the "other woman" came as a stunning surprise. That Dr. Nina, who was so unwomanly as to compete with men and was so advanced as to drive a car when everyone knew that only men drove, while ladies sat in the back seat in appropriate apprehension that such a person should divorce a minister of the gospel and then, instead of suffering, marry the richest man in town caused the ladies to go about grim-faced and tight-lipped. They were to be quite horrid to us all for a few years. Grim respectability is formidable.
But when Mother and Mr. Price arrived back at the flat after their marriage, nothing from outside the family circle intruded on the homecoming. We had planned a gala celebration, but one look at Dr. Nina changed our noisy plans. She was so radiant, so changed in a way we could sense without understanding, so suddenly removed from her previous preoccupation with her children, that we were sobered and confused and immediately respectful of the new day that had dawned for her and thankful that we could go with her into the mysterious world that had made our mother tender and gentle with no fear any more of hidden danger along the way.
Continue to Part 6: "Rock of Ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in thee."