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Rick Kamen, writes Heirloom Stories™ for elders and their descendants. He may be reached at (858) 273-1111 or accessed via the Web site http://HeirloomStories.com
The biggest party I ever attended was on August 15th, 1945. That was VJ Day.
The war was over. People were dancing in the streets. Young women were kissing strangers. When the sun went down, no one wanted to go home, so the party lasted until the next day.
Without a war, the factories would go back to making consumer goods – like cars. Lots of men my age looked forward to that because new cars had been unavailable for many years.
The car shortage didn’t change overnight, though. For years after the war ended, there weren’t enough new cars. In the beginning, you had to “tip” the salesman to sell a car to you. Some people paid more for the tip than the car.
This was still going on in 1948, when I was talking to a younger student from my college. He had been in the military, so the government was paying for his tuition. They also allowed him to put a down payment on a new Ford in Santa Monica, California, without having to tip a salesman.
My friend realized that he wouldn’t be able to afford the payments, so he offered the car to me if I reimbursed him for the down payment. That was a real bargain. He didn’t have to ask twice.
The roomy 4-door sedan was comfortable. The big V-8 engine ran great. At the end of the school year, I drove it to Winnipeg without a problem. Why Winnipeg? That’s where the wedding was.
Ruth and I were married on June 1st, 1948. I’m glad I had such a big car because we received lots of presents.
As we opened the wedding and shower gifts, Ruth exclaimed how wonderful they were. I silently groaned because I knew I’d have to fit them into the car somehow. It took a while, but I finally packed everything in.
A couple of days later, we crossed the border from Saskatchewan into North Dakota. We knew our visas were OK, but if we had to unpack and repack all those boxes, that would be a LOT of work. If the immigration officer was suspicious or grumpy, he could search every box. I planned on acting cheerful and friendly, and hoping the officer would act the same
As I entered the office, the officer got up from his chair, walked towards me, and extended his hand.
“This is odd,” I thought. Usually government officers don’t show people such respect. Maybe my friendly attitude was more powerful than I realized. I smiled wider and extended my hand towards his.
Then I realized the officer wasn’t reaching out to shake my hand; he was falling. I was able to steady him so he regained his balance. Without speaking to me, he left the room.
Almost as soon as he left, another officer entered. He must have been behind me as I entered. I looked at the clock, and saw it was 8 a.m. The first officer probably just finished the night shift and this new officer was starting the day shift.
The new officer and I had a friendly conversation about medical school and the wedding. Then we went out to the car. I was hoping his mood would remain pleasant.
He pointed to a box touching the roof behind the driver’s seat and asked me what was in it. I packed all the boxes, so I knew the answer. He asked Ruth to open it, and I was proved right. After a few more boxes he decided we were trustworthy. He filled out the forms and let us into the country.
I breathed a deep sigh of relief as we pulled away from the border. After driving about a half-mile, we saw a man in the road waving his hands for me to stop. I thought he was having car trouble because his car was at the side of the road. As I got closer, I saw it was the first immigration officer.
I stopped the car and rolled down the driver’s window.
“You were being smart with me back there, weren’t you?” he said.
“I was just being friendly and helpful,” I replied.
“You were not,” he yelled back. “You were being smart.”
Ruth’s eyes were as big as saucers. She didn’t know who this man was. I realized he was drunk and probably blamed me for making it obvious to the day-shift officer.
“I want you to get out of the car and I’m going to beat the tar out of you,” he bellowed.
He was bigger than me, but he was also older and drunk. I was pretty sure I could take him. But I was a guest in the United States.
When you’re a guest in someone’s house, it’s not polite to beat up the hired help. If you do something like that, you can be pretty sure you’ll be asked to leave. I only had one year left in medical school. I wanted to complete it.
Then I thought about his words, “…get out of the car and I’m going to beat the tar out of you.” That meant if I stayed in the car he wouldn’t hit me. That sounded like the best option.
I looked him square in the eyes as I put my hand on the gearshift and foot on the clutch. Then I dropped it into low gear and squealed out of there with as much power as that V-8 could pump into the wheels. I kept going as fast as I could until we crossed into Montana, two hours later. Ruth checked behind us the whole time, but never saw a trace of him.
Maybe we didn’t need a brand new V-8 Ford to outrun that lunatic, but I’m glad we had it.
When I was 17, I earned a great honor from the Saskatchewan Junior Farm Club. They chose me to represent our province.
The Junior Farm Club in Canada is like the 4-H Club in the United States. My project that year was beef cattle. I raised a steer and kept records to show that I made a profit.
That entitled me to attend the annual competition at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, with about 150 other boys. We were all tested on our abilities to judge cattle, horses, swine, and seed wheat. I scored the highest.
The top few boys were judged on public speaking. This isn’t something most Junior Farm Club boys would practice for, but I was pretty good at it because of my work in the Church.
I talked about hackney horses, something my father taught me a lot about. I guess I did a good job. The judges chose me to represent our province at the Royal York Fair in Toronto a few weeks later.
After I was chosen, a professor from the University introduced himself to me and said, “Bert, you’re going to get a lot of advice in your life. Take it, it’s free. But you have to decide which advice will be useful.” Then he gave me advice for the rest of the evening.
A lot of it was helpful, especially the first line.
My father told me to get off the train at Winnipeg on my way to Toronto. “Brother Eatough will be expecting you,” he said.
My father was a minister for the Church of Christ in our town. Brother Eatough was the minister in Winnipeg, Manitoba. The only thing I knew about Brother Eatough was from the Christmas cards he sent to my father every year. They always said, “I know you’re holding the fort in Saskatchewan.”
Brother Eatough was a minister of the Church of Christ in Blackburn, Lancashire, England. They sent him to Winnipeg as a missionary. Even though Winnipeg was a large city, he was used to larger ones. Our little town in Saskatchewan was so small, he liked to joke that we still needed forts for protection from Indians.
My train got into Winnipeg at eight in the morning and I walked three miles to Brother Eatough’s home.
“I’m so glad to meet you,” he said. “I just want to finish breakfast. Then I’ll show you Winnipeg.”
He drove me downtown in his 1929 Model A Ford.
He pointed to the parliament buildings and said, “That’s legislation.”
Then, he pointed to the University of Manitoba’s science building, across the street. This time he said, “That’s education.”
Then, he pointed to a church, on the corner, and said, “That’s salvation.”
On the other corner was a brewery. He pointed to it and said, “That’s damnation.”
That concluded our tour of Winnipeg. I guess it covered everything important.
Then, Brother Eatough brought me to his son Dick’s house. His son was at work, but his daughter-in-law Mary and six year-old granddaughter, Ruth, were there. Ruth was playing in the snow, but followed us up the three steps to the house. Her mother reminded her to change in the basement so she didn’t bring snow into the living room. Before she left, she smiled, not caring that she was missing her two front teeth.
Brother Eatough brought me to his home for an early evening meal and then drove me to the railroad station. There were several in the city, and it would have been easy for me to walk to the wrong one.
Winnipeg was the largest city I had ever been in – until the next day. Toronto was even larger. The hotel we stayed in was magnificent: The Royal York. Each of our rooms had two beds and a cot, so we only needed three rooms. There were nine boys, one from each province.
Our competition was another speech contest. The boy from Quebec won. I could tell he was an excellent speaker by his expressions and gestures. I didn’t understand the speech. It was in French.
Even though I didn’t win the competition, I was one of the four boys chosen to represent the Junior Farm Club to the country. Of course, the winner was one of the four. I represented Western Canada. Another boy represented the easternmost province. The boy from Ontario was chosen because we were in his province.
The next day, we were honored in a parade in a huge indoor auditorium. It was larger than Dodger Stadium. The orchestra played an upbeat march as the general and his swagger stick led the parade.
The announcer introduced us to the thousands of people in the stands. First the general, then the grand champion Holstein bull of Canada. We four boys followed behind and were introduced as the junior herd sires.
The whole audience doubled up with laughter. We were red with embarrassment. I think it’s funny now, but I didn’t like it then.
That evening, each of us addressed the entire country on the radio for three minutes. Radio was a big thing back then, and this was quite an honor. – A real one. No one called us herd sires.
During the 1944-45 school year, I took a premed classes at the University of Manitoba – one of the four buildings Brother Eatough pointed out to me on his tour. Brother Eatough’s church, the Church of Christ in Winnipeg, hired me to be their youth leader that year.
After Sunday services, Brother Eatough’s son and daughter-in-law usually invited me back to their home for lunch. The first time I joined them, I was surprised at how much Ruth had changed. She was now 15 yrs old, in high school and looking very grown up.
After lunch, Ruth’s mother asked her to play a few songs on the piano. She was wonderful. Then she went outside to ride her bicycle with friends. I stayed with her parents in the living room.
During the year I spent in Winnipeg I was active as leader of the youth group and Ruth was a very active member of the group and we had many activities.
I’m not sure when she started looking more like a girlfriend to me, but it must have been before our first, and only, formal date.
Her father told her I was working my way through medical school, so she shouldn’t expect me to buy dinner. We ate with her parents, and then took the bus to the University of Manitoba Auditorium to see Iolanthe, a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta. Her mother had a cake at home for us afterwards.
When I entered medical school in Los Angeles, I wrote to Ruth every week for 2 years. Eventually, I wrote her that I’d be flying up to visit. I told her father I planned to propose. I don’t know if he dropped any hints to her, but she accepted.
The next year, in June of 1948, I drove from Los Angeles to Winnipeg a bachelor and returned a married man.
Most newlyweds are on their honeymoon the day after the wedding – not us. Ruth and I spent that day at the American Consulate in Winnipeg. We needed physical exams before we could get visas.
Several people saw us waiting and chuckled. I guess it was funny.
When we finally saw the doctor, he just said, “You’re both alive and well.” Then he gave us the paperwork we needed.
At our wedding, several guests asked where we were going on our honeymoon. We said, “Yellowstone.” We didn’t tell them we were just driving through it because it was on the way to Los Angeles.
Reno was also on the way to Los Angeles. “Going to Reno” meant the same as “Getting a divorce” in those days. Ruth wouldn’t even let me drive through the town. We spent an extra half-day detouring around it.
We drove straight through to Los Angeles. Five days later, Ruth had a job at a bank. That allowed me to drop my night-shift work at the nursing agency.
I occasionally stopped by the bank at closing time to walk home with Ruth. Sometimes, the bank manager told me, “I have an ambulance at the back door with the motor running.” That’s because Ruth worked there until two weeks before giving birth to Paul in August 1950.
Actually, his name is Bertram Paul Husband, but we always called him Paul. We learned quickly that one Bertram in the house is enough.
On June 6, 1948, we were in a one-room apartment with a bath. In June 1949, we were in a one-bedroom apartment that didn’t allow children. The owner’s mother wouldn’t allow him to evict us, though. In December 1950, we had a two-bedroom house at 74th and Normandie in Los Angeles.
In June 1949, I started my internship. I was still a Canadian citizen, so I couldn’t intern at Los Angeles County Hospital, the largest hospital in the city. Instead, I found a position at a smaller local hospital owned by one of the surgeons.
One nice thing about the private hospital was the hours. We worked from 7 to 7; - just 12 hours in a shift, like I used to work for the nursing agency. The county hospital required their interns to work 36 hours before getting a 12-hour break.
After a year, I finished the internship. I worked there another three years as a resident to become a general surgeon. By December 1953, we had two children. I decided to open a family practice and make some money for the family.
I opened the practice in Whittier because Ruth and I thought it was a nice place to bring up a family. They didn’t allow public bars. Neither of us have ever had a drop of alcohol.
Guten Morgen,” the pathologist said to me as I entered the lab. Sometimes, he was so engrossed in his microscope, he forgot to speak English.
The pathologist may have sounded German, but he was all-American. He was on the Arizona in Pearl Harbor as it was going down. He only survived because someone in a rowboat dragged him aboard.
The pathologist worked at the hospital in Whittier, Murphy Memorial. I did surgery there when my patients needed it. Anything you remove from a patient has to go to the pathologist, so I saw him frequently.
One day, he told me he had never seen anyone build a practice as fast as I did. He thought it was because I communicated so well with my patients.
He heard a story about me giving a polio immunization to a five year-old boy. Most doctors would lie to the child, saying, “This isn’t going to hurt.” When the child discovers it hurts, he stops trusting doctors.
Instead, I said to the boy, “Your mother wants me to immunize you for polio. That means I have to give you a shot – and the shot will hurt. …Does your daddy cry?”
The boy said, “No.”
“Does your mother cry?” I asked.
I looked him in the eye and said, “You’re going to be like your daddy, aren’t you?”
As I gave the shot, he scrunched up his face. I saw tears welling in his eyes, but he didn’t cry.
I don’t know if the pathologist heard that story from the boy’s mother or someone she told, but it looks like she was doing more for my practice than any advertising could.
After a few years in practice, I got some more help – this time from my college. They allowed all alumni with Doctor of Osteopathy degrees to swap them for Doctor of Medicine degrees.
I was proud of my D.O. degree. I had taken extra courses to get it. The problem with it was that the public didn’t know what it meant – or worse. Some people thought I was an eye doctor. Once I became an M.D., I didn’t have to explain my degree to people as much.
I was very loyal to my patients and to the employees. I always paid the nurses a little more than they could make at the hospital. One reason is that the hospital has set shifts. In my office, we never knew when someone would come in with an emergency. If an emergency patient came in at 5, the nurse had to stay a little later.
One thing I wouldn’t tolerate is rudeness. If a patient was rude to an employee, I’d send the patient a carefully worded, registered, letter. It said something like, “In view of your dissatisfaction with our medical care, you’ll have to find another physician. I will stand by for another 72 hours at which time you must choose another physician. I will forward any records to that physician.”
My employees appreciated me standing up for them like that. Word got around to the patients so I didn’t have to do it very often.
Firemen and policemen lay their lives on the line for the community every day. I showed my appreciation by giving them 15% discounts. I did that for the 23 years I practiced solo. For the next 18 years, I was part of a group that didn’t do that.
The most important job of an office manager is saving me from spending time on the non-medical aspects of the practice. Sometimes, the social conflicts women have with each other can turn into big problems.
Our office employed four women: two nurses, a receptionist, an insurance secretary - and one man, my father-in-law Dick Eatough. Mr. “E” did lab work and took X-rays. I also made him the office manager. He was never part of the social problems, so he solved them easily – or I assume he did. I never heard about any.
They told us in medical school that you should never have your wife in the office. Ruth was never in the office during business hours, but she took care of all the accounting - at home. She reviewed invoices, wrote checks including payroll checks, Federal Deposits, and all the quarterly reports.
The receptionist collected all monies and Mr. “E” made bank deposits.
While Ruth was on the road with the horses and the children for weeks at a time, Mr. “E” mailed her all the invoices and she continued to write all the checks.
Ruth never missed a "Pay day" or a timely Federal Deposit.
If patients see the doctor’s wife in the office, they assume she reads their medical files. People trust their privacy to their doctors, but not their wives.
I felt honored whenever a member of our church came to me as a patient. That meant they trusted me not to discuss their problems with Ruth.
A charter member of our church came to me one day complaining of tiredness. Eventually, I discovered her stomach had slipped through her diaphragm and was located near her left shoulder. I had to open her chest and abdomen to put the stomach back. I fixed diaphragm at same time. She recovered completely.
A few years later, she complained of a lump in her breast. It turned out to be cancerous. I removed it with the nearby lymph nodes. She recovered completely.
Several years later, I found cancer in her colon. I removed it and she recovered completely.
Quite a few years later, I discovered she had uterine cancer. I removed it. She recovered completely.
Two years later, her daughter came by the office to invite me to her 95th birthday party. I attended and had a wonderful time. I felt like I helped her make it to that age.
Two years later she died. Before slipping away, she asked her daughter to have me say a few words at the funeral.
That felt a little strange. If I took the credit for her making it to 95, should I take the blame for her dying at 97?
I guess the answer is that I just did my job.
Someone else decided the outcome.
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