Mein Lieber Freund Alfred

Alfred and Me in Austria  2002

Alfred and Me in Austria 2002


For those who don’t read German, the title says, “My dear friend Alfred.” I met Alfred Fischer in 1958 while in my second year of college at the University of Arkansas. I was a member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity, and one of the better traditions of our fraternity involved an annual ongoing relationship with an international student. Each year a selected international student would have lunch each day at our fraternity at no cost to the student. The purpose was to expose us to different cultures and broaden our world view. That year a student from Austria was selected to dine with us daily, and it was Alfred Fischer, who was a Fulbright Scholar and a pre-law student from Linz, Austria.

The first day I met Alfred, I quickly noticed that he was quiet and reserved but had an open and receptive attitude toward new friendships. Since I was taking German as my pre-med language requirement, I was certain that a close friendship with him would greatly benefit me. His English was excellent, so I couldn’t teach him very many language skills, but I knew I could tell him lots of good Southern stories and teach him some South Arkansas dialect to which he had never been exposed. As I recall, before the year was over he was using the phrase, “y’all.”

Alfred did spend a lot of time tutoring me in German, and I did very well in the course. I know for certain that I could communicate in German better than my classmates, because Alfred and I frequently spoke to each other in German. I was not able to carry on a prolonged dialogue, but it was fun for me since the only other language course I had taken was Latin as a sophomore in high school. I was hoping that one day I might be able to travel to Austria and Germany and use my newly learned skills.

Several times during the year I invited Alfred to come to El Dorado to experience life in an American home, and he gladly consented. Mom and Pops thoroughly enjoyed having Alfred visit, and on one occasion we even took him to a hunting camp for an overnight stay. Pops also took Mose Graham to the camp to help with the cooking and the clean-up, and Alfred was intrigued with Moses’ ability to tell stories of life in the South from a black man’s perspective.

At the end of that school year Alfred had to return to Austria to complete his legal training, but we promised to stay in touch. As a result of Pops generosity, he promised if I could get accepted to medical school after 3 years of college, he would finance a 3 month trip to Europe for me in the summer between college and med. school. Needless to say, I studied much harder during that 3rd year and was accepted to enter medical school in the fall of 1960. Alfred and I made plans to meet during that summer trip and  spent 2 weeks together travelling in Austria and Italy together.

I had gone overseas with a friend from El Dorado who was several years older and our interests in travelling and the sites to visit were different. We had each bought a Eurail Pass which allowed us to travel on any train in Europe for any distance for a period of 2 months. We decided to split up, and he went to Rome to see the Summer Olympics of 1960. I didn’t want to go there because it was extremely expensive despite the fact that I love track and field events. It was about this time that Alfred and I connected and spent about 2 weeks travelling and camping in Austria and Italy. We did spend 4 days with his Mom and Dad in Linz and that experience will be for another post. When we parted and I was returning to the states to begin my medical training, I wasn’t sure we would ever be able to meet again.

Alfred completed his legal training with a doctorate degree to begin his practice of law and subsequently became a lower court judge. It always pleased me to address my letters to him as “Herr Doktor Alfred Fischer.”  When I completed my surgical training in New Orleans, Cathy and I were in the process of moving to Valdosta, Georgia for our active duty service in the Air Force. I had to take a 3 week training course in Wichita Falls, Texas and because Cathy was pregnant with our daughter Mary Kay, she went to Fort Lauderdale to spend that time with her parents. While in Wichita Falls, I got a phone call from Alfred, and he said he was coming to the states for an international Rotary meeting and would be in Dallas for a few days. That worked out perfectly because I only had a 2 hour drive to meet him and we drove him back to Wichita Falls for a 2 day visit. It had been nearly 10 years since we had seen each other.

Cathy and I were able to visit with Alfred and his wife Carmen and their 2 children on 2 separate occasions when we were in Austria on mission trips. Alfred has been to the states on 3 other occasions with his work with the Rotary Club of Linz, and on 2 of those trips, we were able to meet again. He happened to be in El Dorado in 1999 and attended the retirement  party given me by my office staff of the Surgical Clinic of South Arkansas. That happened to be 40 years almost to the day when we first met at the fraternity house in Fayetteville.

God has been so gracious to give me a life-long friend like Alfred. We have had many and varied great conversations through the years. I  had the privilege of telling him how God changed both Cathy and me when we were saved in 1977, and just how that happened and what it meant. He remarked on several of our visits, how much I had changed, and it opened the door to tell him just how much God loves him and wants to have a personal relationship with him. I trust that when we leave this earth after our labor is completed, that “mein lieber freund” Alfred and I will have another reunion that will be far much greater than any one before.

Dr. John

Letters From Bubba

Bubba, Marilyn and Me              1945

Bubba, Marilyn and Me

I have written in previous posts that my hero from earliest remembrance is my brother Berry Lee whom I always called Bubba. Because he was 11 years older, he seemed grown to me and certainly acted that way toward our sister Marilyn and me. He never told me this, but when our mother died at age 37 years from far advanced breast cancer and Marilyn and I were very young, I believe he felt a very real and urgent sense of responsibility in caring for us. I suspect that in her last days, our mother Mimi told Bubba that she was leaving us in his care, and he was to be more than just an older brother. Through the years I learned more about Mimi from Bubba than from anyone else. He would tell Marilyn and me how beautiful she was and what a quiet and gentle spirit she had. He told us things that she said and how she supported and encouraged Pop in the difficult days of her illness. He also told us about her faith and how certain he was that she had been born again with a new life in Christ. One of the sweetest things Bubba said to me concerning Mimi was very near the end of his life. About a month before Bubba departed this life, he had been getting progressively weaker, and I believe he knew the end was near. Cathy and I were visiting LaNell and him in their home and as we were leaving, he had been talking about Mimi. He said he knew he would be seeing her again very soon. And then he said this; “John, when you leave this life and come into the presence of our Lord Jesus, you will bow down and worship him as your Savior and your Lord. I believe that the very next person you see will be your Mimi who will tell you how much she loves you and how proud she is of the man you became. And the next one you see will be me!”

As a young boy I tried to emulate some of the things I saw in him or saw him do. I tried to walk like him with a slight pigeon-toed gait; I practiced my cursive writing to look like his, and at times even tried to dress the way he did. As he grew older his children told him he looked and dressed like Mr. Rogers of television fame. I was glad I hadn’t gone that far to look like him, despite my having a personal admiration for the character of Mr. Rogers.

When Bubba left home for college, I remember the sadness I felt watching him drive away. He owned a red Model A Ford that he kept in perfect condition, and I stood at the end of our long driveway waving to him until he turned left onto North Madison and disappeared from sight. I wondered if he would ever return because I didn’t understand what it meant to go to college. I did know that he was going to the University of Arkansas, and he was going to play football for the Razorbacks, but had absolutely no idea where that was or what that meant. I was told I wouldn’t see him again for a long time, but that he was coming back.

When he did come home for semester breaks and for Christmas, it was a very big deal for me. We played catch with the football, shot baskets on the basketball goal and played pitch and catch with the baseball. He taught me the basics of all those sports, and I thought he knew everything about every sport and just about everything else.

There were so many intangible things he taught me but the tangible things he gave me are real treasures now. When I was a struggling teen with all the insecurities that accompany that age, I received several hand written letters which were 6 pages or more in length. He was in medical school and then later an intern at Parkland Hospital in Dallas and had precious little time to spend writing letters, yet made the time for my sake. Those letters were written before his life was filled with Christ, but he wrote words of encouragement that I should strive to be the “best man and most loving man that I could be.” He added that if I did my best to live up to Christian ideals, I would have a greater influence in the lives of others than I would ever imagine. I have 6 letters from that period of time and the theme is much the same in each one. He was obviously thinking a lot about me and the heritage given me that I should pass on to others. Bubba was the only man who ever sent me letters like that, and I not only read them multiple times, but have saved them now for these 60 + years. Marilyn told me that she also received long letters from Bubba during that period and how much they meant to her also.

Several years following Bubba’s spiritual transformation in 1967, Cathy and I moved to El Dorado to begin our life there. In 1977 Cathy and I were born again and everything changed for us. Bubba no longer wrote letters to me but for every birthday he would send a card on which he wrote some special message to encourage me. Some of the words were  humorous but most were intended to strengthen my faith. On the card he sent on my 50th birthday he wrote: “John, you are so special! I thank the Lord for giving me a brother like you. When Mimi was pregnant I’m almost sure I prayed for a lil’ brother- and He answered that prayer in a special way- not just a brother to have fun with- (Marilyn was sweet and a wonderful sister, but she wasn’t interested in boy’s things)– but the Lord gave me a brother who shares the same hopes and desires in Christ- and whom I love- as my best friend. From your Bub  Berry Lee.”

If there is someone in your life who has been special to you, I would encourage you to take the time to write them a letter (or even an email) to tell them what they mean to you and how they have blessed your life. Who knows- they might still be reading those words 60 years from now!

Dr. John

The Day We Set The Woods on Fire


The first 4 years of my life I was raised by baby sitters, maids and house keepers because my birth mother died of advanced breast cancer when I was 18 months old. My brother Berry Lee (Bubba) was 13 years old and my sister Marilyn was almost 5 years old. Our Dad (Pop) was emotionally devastated, but had to continue his very busy medical practice to support us and to provide as much parental support as he was able. Our maternal grandmother lived with us for several years, but her home was in Little Rock, and it just didn’t work out for her to stay with us on a permanent basis. I believe there was some significant tension between Pop and her regarding our ongoing care. By the time I was 4, Pop had met, courted and married Athie West who became our step mother. Since I was too young to remember my birth mother, Athie (Mom) filled that void in my life, and it was not until a few years later that I understood the significance of the sacrifices she made for us.

Mom had no prior experience at parenting, and she wanted only the best for us because of our great loss at such young ages. She knew about dresses and frilly things for girls and seemed to have no problems with Marilyn, but for me as a 4-year-old; it was different. I am told that as a child, Mom kept me spotless in appearance and usually wearing the latest in children’s clothing. Whenever I would get dirty playing outside, I was quickly cleaned and dressed in another outfit. I must have assumed that was the way it was supposed to be with all little boys. I don’t remember complaining about it or thinking that I was different in any way. All of that changed when I was 7 years old and the Anthony boys moved into the neighborhood.

Beryl Franklin (Berlie) and John Lee were the only sons of Beryl and Oma Lee Anthony, who also had 2 daughters, Patsy Sue and Carolyn. The Anthony’s were part of a family owned timber business in South Arkansas and North Louisiana, and they moved to El Dorado from Calion in the mid-1940’s. In addition to other holdings, they had a large sawmill in Calion with an adjoining community of sawmill employees. There was even a company store that sold all necessary household supplies and groceries. That store later became a source for John Lee and me to obtain cigarettes for our smoking pleasure at the ages of 9 and 7 respectively. Needless to say, our parents did not suspect nor know about this for a long time.

Berlie and John Lee played a great part in my growing and maturing experience as a young boy. We rode bikes together, played baseball, football and basketball depending on the mood and the season. We wrestled in the grass, mud or whatever happened to be on the ground at the time, and there was never any thought of either of our parents  trying to clean us up. We would hunt and fish together at Calion near the sawmill, and were probably under the watchful eye of some adult without our knowing it. Berlie was a year older than I, and I looked up to him for his great wisdom and worldly experience. John Lee was 2 years younger and occasionally, because of his inexperience and immaturity, Berlie and I would exclude him from our deliberations. If Berlie wasn’t available, then John Lee became my best friend!

I’m not certain of our exact ages, but somewhere around age 7 or 8, I was introduced to cigarettes by the Anthony boys, primarily John Lee. I don’t remember ever getting sick, but do remember feeling that I was a big man when I would light up, and I am pretty sure that I could look and talk tougher whenever I did light up a Lucky Strike. Even though this was an era when smoking was common-place and Pop smoked cigarettes, I did not dare let him know that I was smoking. Bubba was in college at the time and he was an excellent athlete, and I knew that he had never smoked cigarettes. I asked him once if he had ever smoked, and he said he tried it and it made him sick. Since it didn’t make me sick, I was certain that was my indication I was supposed to smoke in order to reach manhood!

One morning near lunch-time, John Lee and I were in the wooded area adjacent to their home, and decided to make a small campfire in order to make our smoking more enjoyable. Perhaps we also had in mind making some coffee which is what we had seen John Wayne and some of his side-kicks doing in the movies. As I recall, there was a slight breeze which made the lighting of the fire a little more difficult at first, but when it was well-lit, seemed to make it burn better and faster. By the time we had added a number of tree limbs and pine straw, we had a roaring fire and were thinking perhaps we needed to reduce it a bit. The more we tried, the larger the flames became; and as I was trying to stamp out the fire, I saw John Lee start crying and running towards home. He decided to leave the fire control to someone older and wiser. Not believing I was up to the task, I gave up and started running home which was only 2 blocks away. Before I reached the front porch, I heard the sirens of a fire engine and assumed it was headed our way. I don’t know why I did this, but I ran to my bedroom, pulled off my britches and climbed into bed. Mom saw me and said, “What are you doing and what is that siren I hear?” My response was, “I don’t feel very good, and I don’t know about that siren.”

The wooded area was not completely burned, but several large beautiful pines were destroyed. I wasn’t punished for my misdeeds, but John Lee’s parents were not as forgiving. He got a significant spanking over the incident. His Mom and Dad always thought I was so sweet that I couldn’t have possibly thought about starting a fire like that, so it must have been John Lee’s idea. I never let them think otherwise and still have some guilt concerning my silence.

I have wonderful memories of those days with the Anthony’s, and am grateful that they were a big part of my early maturing process. By God’s grace we did learn that cigarettes and smoking were dangerous to wooded areas and to health, and we quit smoking within a few years. The Anthony boys turned out well; Beryl Franklin became a U.S. Congressman from the 4th District and served us well; John Lee became President and CEO of Anthony Forest Products and made a significant contribution to the growth of the timber industry in South Arkansas. In that role, part of his responsibilities involved the planting, growth management and harvest of pine trees on tens of thousands of acres. He more than made up for the few trees we destroyed. I just wish I had confessed my guilt concerning the fire to Mr. and Mrs. Anthony.

Dr. John

Pinned to His Work

Tractor for blogA large and significant portion of the practice life of a general surgeon involves taking emergency room calls and treating patients involved in trauma such as automobile accidents, gunshot and stabbing wounds, industrial accidents, domestic and workplace violence and injuries sustained at home such as lacerations and puncture wounds. Over the years in a busy surgical practice, I began to believe that I had seen and treated patients with every type of injury. That might have been true until I received a call from the ER one Saturday in mid-afternoon. The ER nurse said there was a 45-year-old man who had sustained a large puncture wound to his left thigh while working on a tractor earlier in the day. “How large is the puncture wound?” I asked. She responded, “It is really big!”

Not knowing what I might find, I didn’t waste any time getting to the ER because of the nurse’s answer of “really big.” I had gotten other vital information from her such as his vital signs and whether he was actively bleeding; whether he was conscious and alert and how much pain he was enduring. When I entered the ER, the excellent staff at the South Arkansas Medical Center had an intravenous line well placed and Robert was receiving fluids, pain medicines and his lab work was already being processed. He was conscious, but groggy from the sedation when I told him I wanted to inspect the wound. As I lifted the sheet to inspect his left groin area, I saw an 8 inch limb from an oak tree protruding from a puncture wound to his upper, inner left thigh. The limb was  approximately 2 inches in diameter and I could tell by slightly moving the limb that it was deeply imbedded. The wound was very close to the femoral artery and vein which are the main blood supply to the leg, and because there was no active bleeding, I was fairly certain those essential vessels were not injured. “How in the world did this happen? I asked him. Here’s what he told me:

“I was driving a big tractor this morning clearing land and uprooting very large trees and stumps. There was another man about a quarter of a mile away on a similar tractor clearing this land along with me, but we were not in contact with each other. I saw an oak sapling ahead that I thought I could run over and it would break to the ground. What I didn’t know was the sapling bent over, and when it did snap, the lower end sprang back into the cab of my tractor, passed into my leg, lifted me off the seat and pinned me to the top of the cab. For some reason when I was lifted off the seat, the tractor stopped running or the tree in my leg would have torn me in two. Normally a D2 tractor will keep running until it runs out of gas. I was pinned so high in the cab that I couldn’t reach anything to help me free myself. I reached in my pocket and got my pocket knife and began cutting the limb. Because of the intense pain I kept passing out but was able to hold onto the knife. I was screaming for my friend to come help me, but he was too far away to hear me. After at least 15 minutes I was able to cut through the limb and I dropped to the seat of the cab. At about the same time help arrived because my friend could see the tractor was not moving and he came to check on me. I’m sure glad he did.”

Following the necessary tests and x-rays to determine the extent of internal injury, Robert was taken to the OR and anesthetized for the exploratory operation. Before we prepped the operative site. I firmly grasped the protruding tree and pulled it out. The internal portion was another 10 ” so the total length was about 1.5 feet. The internal injuries were repaired and with the extent of the injuries, it was miraculous that there were no major blood vessel penetrations, which would have surely meant death from bleeding while pinned to that tractor.

During his prolonged recovery, I discovered that Robert was a bi-vocational pastor, and we both agreed that he would now have many sermon illustrations as a result of his experiences that day while clearing land. We also agreed that in God’s plan for each of us, we are indestructible until God’s purposes are completed. From a surgical perspective, it is amazing the extent of injuries the body can sustain and continue to function properly. It is also a wonder to me that some physicians, despite their experience of observing numerous healing miracles, still do not acknowledge and worship the sovereign God who fearfully and wonderfully made us in His image.

Dr. John