The Doctor sends his good wishes to you and to Mrs Deadbeat, and also to Junior and the twins and little Knothead.
(On behalf of Ira Johnson, MD)
I showed Father sample letters ranging from gentle to firm to tough; the sample above shows what we used on most of them. With some he said, ‘Don't dun them. They would if they could, but they can't. ' Nevertheless I sent out more than a hundred letters.
For each letter postage was two cents, stationery about three. Can we reckon my time as worth five cents per letter? If so, each letter comes to a dime, and the whole mailing cost slightly over ten dollars.
Those hundred letters did not bring in as much as ten dollars in cash.
About thirty patients came in to talk to us about it. Perhaps half of those fetched some payment in kind - fresh eggs, a ham, side meat, garden truck, fresh bread, and so forth. Six or seven arranged schedules of payment; some of those actually met their promises.
But over seventy totally ignored the letters.
I was upset and disappointed. These were not shiftless peckerwoods like Jackson Igo; these were respectable farmers and townspeople. These were people for whom my father had got up in the middle of the night, dressed, then driven or ridden horseback through snow or rain, dust or mud or frozen ruts, to attend them or their children. And when he asks to be paid, they ignore it.
I couldn't believe it.
I asked, ‘Father, what do I do now? ' I expected him to tell me to forget it, as he had been dubious as to the usefulness of these letters. I awaited his response with anticipated relief.
‘Send each of them the tough one and mark it "Second Notice":
‘You think that will do it, sir? '
‘No. But it will do some good. You'll see. '
Father was right. That second mailing brought in no money. It fetched a number of highly indignant replies; some of them scurrilous. Father had me file each with its appropriate case record, but make no reply.
Most of those seventy patients never showed up again. This was the good result Father expected. He was cheerful about it.
‘Maureen, it's a standoff; they don't pay me and I don't do them much good. Iodine, calomel, and Aspirin - that's about all we have today that isn't a sugar pill. The only times I'm certain of results are when I deliver a baby or set a bone or cut off a leg.
‘But, damn it all, I'm doing the best I know how. I do try. If a man gets angry at me simply because I ask him to pay for my services. .. well, I see no reason why I should get out of a warm bed to physic him. '
1897 was the year that the Katy ran a line not a mile from our town square, so the council extended the city limits and that put Thebes on the railroad. That brought the telegraph to Thebes, too, which enabled the Lyte County Leader to bring the news to us direct from Chicago. But still only once a week; the Kansas City Star by mail was usually quicker. The Bell telephone reached us, too, although at first only from nine to nine and never on Sunday mornings, because the switchboard was in the Widow Loomis's parlour and service stopped when she was not there.
The Leader published a glowing editorial: ‘Modern Times. '
Father frowned. ‘They point out that it will soon be possible, as more people subscribe, to call for a doctor in the middle of the night. Yes, yes, surely. Today I make night calls because somebody is in such trouble that some member of the patient's family has hitched up in the middle of the night and driven here to ask me to come.
‘But what happens when he can rout me out of bed just by cranking a little crank? Will it be for a dying child? No, Maureen, it will be for a hangnail. Mark my words; the telephone signals the end of the house call. Not today, not
tomorrow, but soon. They will ride a willing horse to death. .. and you will see the day when medical doctors will refuse to make house calls. '
At New Year, I told Father that I had made up my mind: put my name in to the Howard Foundation.
Before the end of January I received the first of the young men on my list.
By the end of March I had received all seven of them. In three cases I did go so far as to avail myself of the privilege of the sofa. .. although I used the couch in Father's office, and locked the door.
Decent enough young male, those three, but. .. to marry? No.
Maureen felt glum about the whole matter.
But on Saturday the second of April Father received a letter from Rolla, Missouri:
My dear Doctor,
Permit me to introduce myself. I am a son of Mr and Mrs John Adams Smith of Cincinnati, Ohio, where my father is a tool and die maker. I am a senior at the School of Mines of the University of Missouri at Rolla, Missouri. I was given your name and address by judge Orville Sperling, of Toledo, Ohio, Executive Secretary of the Howard Foundation. Judge Sperling tells me that he has written to you about me.
If I may do so, I will call on you and Mrs Johnson on Sunday afternoon the seventeenth of April. Then, if you permit, I ask to be presented to your daughter Miss Maureen Johnson for the purpose of offering myself as a possible suitor for her hand in marriage.
I welcome any investigation you tare to make of me and I will answer fully and frankly any questions you put to me.
I look forward to your reply. I remain, sir,
Faithfully your servant,
Father said, ‘See, my dear daughter? Your knight comes riding. '
‘Probably has two heads. Father, it's no good. I shall die an old maid, at the age of ninety-seven. '
‘Not a fussy old maid, I trust. What shall I tell Mr Smith? '
‘Oh, tell him Yes. Tell him I'm drooling with eagerness. '
‘Yes, Father. I'm too young to be cynical, I know. Quel dommage. I will straighten up and give Mr Brian Smith my best smile and approach the meeting with cheerful optimism. But I have grown a bit jaundiced. That last orang-utang -‘
(That ape had tried to rape me, right on Mother's sofa, just as soon as Mother and Father went upstairs. He then left abruptly, clutching bis crotch. My study of anatomy had paid off. )
‘I'll tell him that we will welcome him. Sunday the seventeenth. That's two weeks from tomorrow. '
I greeted Sunday the seventeenth with little enthusiasm. But I did stay home from church and prepared a picnic lunch, and grabbed the chance for an extra bath. Mr Smith turned out to be presentable and well spoken, if not especially inspiring. Father grilled him a bit and Mother offered him coffee; about two we got away - Daisy and a family buggy, with his livery stable nag left in our barn.
Three hours later I was certain that I was in love.
Brian made a date to come back on the first of May. He had final examinations to get out of the way in the meantime.
One week later, Sunday 24 April 1898, Spain declared war on the United States.
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