“Sister Albertine, Can You Bring Me a Coke?”

 

Sisters of Mercy 1950

Sisters of Mercy 1950

The only hospital in El Dorado, Arkansas from 1921 until 1965 was Warner Brown Hospital. From my earliest remembrance Warner Brown Hospital played a large part in my life because of my family’s investment in it from its’ beginning. My granddad, Dr. J.A. Moore was one of the founding physicians; Pop, Bubba and I were members of the medical staff and each of us served at some point as Chief of the Medical Staff. In 1965 a second hospital, Union Memorial Hospital was opened and both served the community of South Arkansas as full service hospitals.

Warner Brown was operated by the Sisters of Mercy from 1927 until the mid-1970’s when they returned the management of the hospital back to the community. I have nothing but fond memories of all the Sisters of Mercy. As a child I would frequently accompany Pop to the hospital when he would go there to make evening rounds or to see a patient in the emergency room. One of the prime reasons I enjoyed going with Pop was I would get to visit with one or two of the Sisters on duty that evening. I think the Sisters had a special place in their hearts for me, not only because of their love for Granddad and Pop, but because my mother had died of breast cancer when I was an infant and for several years before Pop remarried, I was under the watchcare of various maids and care-givers.

There were several Sisters who were special favorites. I remember with fondness Mother Ursula, the hospital Director. She was an elderly but robust woman and was the first one that I remember wearing that strange-looking dress (Nun’s habit). When she would see me, she would say, “There’s my favorite little doctor,” and always give me a big hug and squeeze. It seemed that I was being buried into that fresh smelling and always starched black dress, that would crackle as I was being engulfed into it. In those days no one hugged me quite as well and as lovingly as Mother Ursula. Seven or eight years later, Pop told me that Mother Ursula was very sick as a patient in the hospital and was not expected to live much longer. He said she would love to have me visit her, so I was excited to go. I was greatly shocked to see her in bed, and although she was well covered with the bed covers, I had never seen her without her habit and had never seen her hair which was closely cropped. Despite her weakened state, she was still able to lean over and give me another big hug.

My favorite Sister by far was Sister Albertine who was the supervisor of the operating room and recovery room. Whenever she heard that I was in the hospital with Pop, she would make a special effort to find us and visit with me for a few minutes. She would say things like, “Be sure and call me if I can do anything for you.” I was certain she meant what she said because even at age 3 or 4, I was able to call the hospital. This was a few years before El Dorado had dial telephone service and when one picked up a receiver, a telephone operator would say, “Number please!” I would just say Warner Brown and the operator would connect me by plugging into the 3 digit switchboard number. The hospital operator was Mrs. May Wall, and I would tell her that I wanted to talk with Sister Albertine. She easily recognized my voice and would always connect me. Sister Albertine later told me that I would usually say, “Sister Albertine, I’m out here all by myself. Would you send me a Coke?” She knew I was not alone but was always eager to have a Coke. Most of the time, she would get the hospital orderly, Richard Holt to drive to our home with an ice-cold Coke. I don’t think I abused the privilege and probably only made that request a couple of times. More often when I called Sister Albertine, she would just ask me what I was doing and when was I coming to the hospital to see her. I loved hearing her voice, and she always made me feel important that I was able to call the hospital and speak with her. She never made me feel I was imposing on her time. Sister Albertine served at Warner Brown Hospital until the 1960’s; was transferred to St. Edwards Hospital in Fort Smith, and I lost contact with her for many years.

In the latter part of 1989, our daughter Mary Kay, who  was a freshman at the University of Arkansas, was horseback riding with a friend in a mountainous area south of Fayetteville. She was an excellent rider but had an uncooperative horse that she was unable to control. She was thrown from the horse and sustained serious pelvic injuries that required emergency hospitalization. Because of her proximity to Fort Smith, she was admitted to St. Edwards Hospital in the middle of the night, and Cathy and I were called. We immediately dressed and began the 6 hour drive from El Dorado to Fort Smith, arriving there about 8 AM.  Thankfully we found Mary Kay well care-for and stabilized, but requiring significant amounts of pain medication for the serious and painful injuries.

When we were certain that Mary Kay was out of immediate danger, I asked the nursing supervisor if Sister Albertine was still working, to which she responded, “Yes, and she is on duty today.” I had her paged and when she answered I said, “Sister Albertine, this is John Henry and I am in St. Edwards in Room 410 all by myself. Can you bring me a Coke?” She said, “I’ll be right there.” When she arrived, she had an icy Coke in her hand, and we embraced and praised the Lord that we could meet again. Sister Albertine was 79 years old but still was energetic and with that same sweet personality that had made me feel important and special years before. We got caught up on the years that had separated us, while Cathy and Mary Kay also got to know that special Sister they had heard me talk about so often.

Sister Albertine lived to be 90 years old and was buried near her birth place in central Arkansas. I’m certain that God gave her long life in order to minister to the needs of others, and especially to the least of these, like little 3-year-old boys who are lonely and could use a kind word as well as an ice-cold Coke.

Dr. John

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The Good Samaritan Mission

Good Samaritan Mission 2

Uncle Paul West seemed to know everyone in El Dorado, and many of his special acquaintances he introduced to me. He and Uncle Ed were brothers of my Mom, and both were special favorite uncles. When Pop and Mom married in 1944, her brothers were serving on active duty in the US Army, and when they returned home in their uniforms as Private First Class with the ending of World War II, they were heroes to me. As an impressionable 6-year-old, anyone in uniform automatically became a revered hero. Just to have the chance to talk with them would have been enough, but they loved telling about their experiences while serving overseas and fighting the Germans. Uncle Ed fought in the Battle of the Bulge and when he would tell stories of bullets flying everywhere, grenades exploding and mortar shells coming in, I would sit with rapt attention.

As they returned home, both men had families to support and there was not an abundance of job opportunities in El Dorado. Mom and her wealthy sister from St. Louis, Aunt Tooky (Thelma), purchased a small grocery store on Jackson Street in order for the two brothers to have steady jobs. Uncles Paul and Ed were personable and able salesmen, and the Quality Grocery was moderately successful with their work in the meat and produce sections. Aunt Tooky moved to El Dorado for several months to help Mom operate the business portion of the store, and because it was during the winter months that she was there, it was quite a sight to see Aunt Tooky wearing one of her fur coats to the store. It was a neighborhood store and not at all fancy, but Aunt Tooky added her own style and class to the ambience!

Uncle Paul was by far the best in the family at sales, and the other jobs and positions he held in later years were enhanced by his abilities to meet people and establish close relationships because of those skills. He seemed to know people from all walks of life, and could usually tell a funny story or tale about everyone that he knew. It always fascinated me to hear him tell his stories, but I was never quite sure they were all true. After I entered my surgical practice in El Dorado, Uncle Paul was a very good referral source for me. I have been present when he would tell someone with whom he was having a conversation, “When you get ready to have surgery, you need to let John Henry operate on you. I taught him how to cut meat down at the Quality Grocery!” Depending on who heard the story, I would usually smile and say something like, “Uncle Paul is a great surgical teacher and he has never had a patient complaint.”

One evening as I arrived home for supper after a particularly hard day, the phone rang and it was Uncle Paul. I was pretty sure he had another referral when he said, “I have this good friend named Brother W.O. Miller who is a retired Baptist minister, and he needs some help. He is bleeding and had to go to the emergency room. Can you go out there and take care of him?” My initial impression was to let the ER doctor take care of him, but then I would have disappointed Uncle Paul and made him look bad when he told Brother Miller he would call me to help him. I’m very glad I did without supper that night and went to the ER to offer my services. Brother Miller subsequently needed an operation which I was able to do for him, and he recovered from a serious malignant condition. Brother Miller and I became good friends and spent lots of time talking about the Lord Jesus, and how He had changed both of our lives. He had such a passion for serving people and he demonstrated that daily through his 50+ years in the ministry. His pastorates had been mostly small congregations that struggled financially. Consequently, Brother Miller and his wife had lived on a meager income and had no significant retirement funds apart from Social Security.

About a year following his recovery from the operation, Brother Miller called and said he had a group of like-minded men that were meeting to discuss the formation and opening of a mission church in a very economically depressed area of El Dorado. He wanted me to meet with them. That meeting culminated in the establishment of The Good Samaritan Mission which opened its’ doors within 3 months of that meeting. Brother Miller was the Pastor, and Uncle Paul was the Administrator. My brother Berry Lee (Bubba) was involved with the Mission and was on the original administrative board along with 3 other committed Christian men and me. Brother Miller had our motto printed on one of the signs for the Mission; “Wanted, the Unwanted.” The photograph above was taken on the official  opening Sunday. Brother Miller is seated on the front row and to his right is his wife with a small child between them. On the end of the front row to Brother Miller’s left is our son John Aaron and to his right is Mom in her elegant fur coat which seemed a little out-of-place at the Mission. To her right is Aunt Helen, Uncle Paul’s wife. I am on the back row directly behind Brother Miller. Bubba is to my right and he was one of the speakers that morning. Uncle Paul is to Bubba’s right. Bubba’s wife, LaNell is seated in front of Uncle Paul.

The Mission served God’s purposes in that area of town for a number of years. Most of the people in the photograph apart from Bubba, Mom, John Aaron and me were regular attenders of services at the Mission. We were active in our church and couldn’t attend most Sundays. On that particular Sunday, Cathy, Mark Kay and Ginny were not present because of prior commitments at our church. Brother Miller invited Bubba and me to preach there as often as we were available, and those were some of my earliest experiences at preaching. In looking at my preaching notes from those days, my attempts at preaching were pretty pitiful, but never lacked in personal enthusiasm. I would study for hours and based on my notes, the messages were deep on historical information and very shallow on practical information that would have been pertinent to the listeners at the Mission. Everyone present patiently endured my messages and most even complimented me on a “fine job.” I now know the effectiveness of sound Biblical preaching is not related to how well the preacher did, but how effective the Word of God penetrated the hearts of the preacher and the hearers.

Brother W.O. Miller completed his earthly service for the Lord at The Good Samaritan Mission, and that work might have been his greatest. I do know he was faithful to the finish, and I am so very thankful for my Uncle Paul, that he knew such a spiritual giant who served as an ordinary preacher. I’m equally glad that Uncle Paul  introduced me to him because I am a much better man for knowing both of them.

Dr. John

“George, You Don’t Talk Much, Do You?”

I have already written about the wonderful legacy that Cathy’s dad, George Young left for his family and friends and some of the wonderful character traits that marked his personal life. He was a master builder who owned the oldest contracting business in Fort Lauderdale. He purposefully kept the business small so that he could assure every customer that the work done on their particular project would have his personal attention and would be of the highest quality. His reputation as a quality builder was widely known in Broward County and south Florida.

Dad Young was a quiet and thoughtful man who did not easily share his personal thoughts with any but his closest family members, and not all of them. According to his son, Dr. George W. Young, Dad had a stuttering problem as a child and was able to overcome that problem with time and personal discipline. I don’t believe his parents retained any professional help for Dad, and I’m confident that this struggle affected him greatly. Cathy has related on many occasions the empathy her dad had for anyone with a speech impediment and in particular any young person.

Another characteristic of Dad Young was he didn’t like to travel outside of Broward County. On one occasion when Cathy and I were visiting, her brother George obtained tickets to a Miami Dolphins football game, and Dad agreed to go with us. I was very excited not only to see a Dolphins game, but a chance to spend time with both men whom I admired greatly. Early in my marriage into the Young family, I bonded with Cathy’s brother, and he helped me understand many of the family dynamics as he took me all around Fort Lauderdale, pointing out landmarks and especially homes and businesses that Young Construction Company had built. The football game in Miami was exciting, although I don’t remember the opposing team nor the outcome. As we were driving  home following the game, I asked Dad how long it had been since he had made the 40 mile trip to Miami. He responded, “About 40 years.” I said, “I know the roads are much better now and it is easier to get there. When do you think you’ll go back?” In his usual quiet manner and with a little chuckle he said, “In another 40 years.”

He related to me the following story concerning his travels (or lack thereof), and this is one my favorites. It probably occurred 15 to 20 years prior to my entry into the family which was in 1965. He had a trip scheduled to go to Atlanta for either business purposes or for a training seminar. Early in his life Dad was not one to make leisure trips, and I don’t recall him ever travelling with anyone except Mom. The interstate system in Florida in those days was not as well-developed, and an automobile trip to Atlanta might take as long as 12 hours depending on the numbers of stops one made. According to Dad when they were about 50 miles outside Atlanta, the driver looked over at Dad and said, “You don’t talk much, do you George?”  They realized at the same time, that not one word had been exchanged between them since they left Fort Lauderdale. They each had a good laugh knowing they had not spoken for 8 or 9 hours!  Dad was very content within himself to be quiet, since most of his life he was with people who had a need to talk. It was such an obvious quality known by everyone who knew him, that when Dad did speak, everyone got quiet to hear what he was saying because it would always be relevant.

He never raised his voice toward me in correction or rebuke, but if that had occurred, it would have terrified me. The only time he verbally showed some displeasure toward me was in his misunderstanding of something I had said. Cathy and I had just arrived on a visit from Valdosta, Georgia where I was stationed in the Air Force. Mom had just been elected Mayor of Fort Lauderdale, and we were very excited to hear all about the election and her new role. As Dad was helping me unpack our car and we were alone in the garage, I looked at him and asked, “How does it feel to be married to the Mayor of Fort Lauderdale?” He stopped what he was doing, looked me in the eye and said, “What do you mean by that?” He must have thought in some way I was demeaning him and he felt judged. I quickly said, “Oh, I didn’t mean anything except a compliment to her and to you. Cathy and I are very proud of her accomplishments!” He picked the bag back up and made no other remark. I assumed my explanation cleared the air and nothing else needed to be said. Thank goodness it didn’t take 8 or 9 hours for us to re-engage in conversation.

Dr. John

Bon Appetit

 

beautiful-meal

A well-known citizen in El Dorado for the decades of the 40’s through the 70’s was Irving Leon Pesses. He was better known by his nickname, Izzy Pesses and was a prominent businessman that owned and operated Pesses and Marks Pipes and Supply Company. Originally Izzy was from New Orleans and had graduated from Tulane University as a civil engineer. He and his family were members of the small Jewish community in El Dorado and worshipped at the Temple Beth Israel there.

Izzy was a tireless businessman and civic leader, and I was told he seldom travelled outside of Union County for either business or pleasure. He served the town as Mayor from 1967 through 1976, working very hard to improve the streets and infrastructure of a town that had declined in wealth and population since the oil boom days of the 1920’s. One of his famous campaign slogans was “Izzy’s Been Busy,” and he truly lived out that slogan.

I was told that he had made a promise to his wife that upon his retirement, he would take her on a long vacation to Europe. As he neared the time he had decided to retire, she reminded him of his promise made years before. He told her to schedule the trip, but reminded her that he was not flying because of his distrust of airplanes. She scheduled an ocean voyage to Europe, which left out of New York City. They travelled to New York by rail and boarded the giant ocean liner for the 5 day trip across the Atlantic.

They obviously had no experience with ocean travel, but quickly discovered they were assigned regular seating for every meal in the dining room with the same travelers. They did not meet their table companions until the first meal of that first day which was in the evening. One of the four other guests at their table was a gentleman from France who was returning home after visiting relatives in the USA. He could not speak English and neither Izzy nor his wife could speak French. As they were seated that evening, there was some initial discomfort and uneasiness with the strangers at their table. The gentleman from France seated directly across from Izzy spoke first and said, “Bon Appetit,” to which Izzy held out his hand to shake and said, “Pleased to meet you. I’m Izzy Pesses.” Izzy’s conversation for the remainder of the meal was with his wife and the others at the table since he couldn’t understand a word the Frenchman said.

The following morning after an evening at sea, they gathered at the table for breakfast and immediately after sitting, the Frenchman said, “Bon Appetit.” Izzy was a bit taken back, but held out his hand again to shake and said, ” I’m Izzy Pesses.” No other words or gestures were made between the two. The lunch meal seemed to come too quickly following breakfast, but again shortly after sitting, the Frenchman said, “Bon Appetit.” Izzy responded again with a handshake and his name, Izzy Pesses but summoned the table steward and whispered, “Is that man sitting across from me crazy? He has introduced himself to me 3 times and each time I told him my name. This could go on for the whole trip.” The steward asked,” What was it he said?”  “He said his name was Bone Appetit.” The steward said, “That’s not his name. He was just saying, have a good meal in French.” Izzy said, ” Well, that makes a lot more sense. Thanks.”

That evening as the guests were again being seated, it was Izzy that looked across the table, and he politely said to the Frenchman, “Bon Appetit,” to which the Frenchman reached across the table to shake hands and proudly said, ” Izzy Pesses!” They both laughed without either one knowing what the other had said. The correct meanings of the spoken words escaped both men, but the cordial spirit of each one bridged all the language and cultural barriers. They had a pleasant crossing, enjoyed the trip, and probably continued greeting and introducing themselves at each meal!

Dr. John