Teaching With Tears

Tearful manI first developed the dread of public speaking during my last year at El Dorado Junior High School (now renamed Barton Junior High). I was elected president of the ninth grade, and one of my responsibilities included addressing the entire student body on occasion. I can remember an instance in which I got so nervous the evening before a scheduled address, I developed stomach cramps, and Mom had to call the next morning to report I was unable to be present. I would never have accepted the presidential position in the first place had I known I would be speaking in front of several hundred students and fifteen to twenty faculty members. What was I thinking?

Over the next twenty-five years I occasionally spoke to an audience usually in teaching a Sunday school class, but I was not a regular teacher until 1975 at First Baptist Church, El Dorado. Over the next ten years I gained more experience in teaching and following a spiritual conversion in 1977 was invited to preach in a number of local area churches.

By the mid-1980’s Cathy and I were very active in the teaching and encouragement ministry of our church. I was one of four teachers of the Men’s Bible Class, a unique class of senior men which was broadcast live over a local radio station from 10 to 11 A.M. every Sunday morning. The other teachers who shared the teaching duties were Judge Oren Harris, a Federal Judge, Bob Watson, the school superintendent and Bob Merkle, a retired business executive.

I was not aware of a Sunday school class anywhere which was broadcast on radio each week. The challenges for a teacher in such a format included among other things the inability to ask questions of the listeners and have any vocal interactions with class members. The speaker was required to continue speaking with no interruptions, otherwise listeners at home would think the program was over and turn off their radios. We had no way to judge how many people tuned in to the Men’s Bible Class, but all week-long I would hear people in the community say, “I listen to your Sunday school class each week.”

During this time I began wearing contact lenses for the only time in my life. I had worn glasses since I was ten years old and had never considered contact lenses in the intervening years. I was playing tennis one day with my friend Dr. Myron Shofner, an excellent optometrist and outstanding tennis player. He was causing me to sweat profusely with his aggressive play, and while wiping my glasses between sets, I told him the only times glasses bothered me were while playing tennis and jogging. He said, “Why don’t you come to the office tomorrow; I’ll fit you with contacts and solve your glasses-fogging problem?” The lenses he used were gas permeable lenses (hard lenses) because of my astigmatism. I was able to immediately wear them and really enjoyed the freedom they offered. The only problem was occasionally a speck of sand or an irritant would get behind a lens causing tearing and great discomfort until I removed the lens, cleansed it and replaced it. That particular problem never occurred while teaching or publicly speaking until one particular Sunday morning while teaching on radio. 

I don’t remember the subject of the lesson but right in the middle of the thirty minute teaching time I developed considerable irritation in my right eye. I assumed it was nothing more serious than an irritant speck, but it was causing excessive tearing down my right cheek. I refrained from rubbing my right eyelid lid too vigorously, because when I had done that in the past, the contact lens popped out and I was temporarily blind in one eye. I decided the best course of action was to continue teaching and tolerate the irritation. My eye, however continued to water profusely. That’s when I looked into the audience and noticed two of the men who were regular attenders shedding real tears. They perceived I was being moved to tears by the things in my heart I was trying to say to the class, and they were empathizing with me. I recall those same men who were so moved had trouble in previous weeks remaining awake and alert during my teaching time.

I learned some important teaching principles this tearful Sunday morning. There are certain stresses of teaching which are unavoidable, but if one can prevent continuing eye irritation while teaching, it is much less stressful. Second, teaching the Word with tears from a real broken heart is very impactful to a sensitive audience, just don’t try to manufacture tears which are not real. If nervousness produced tears I would have shed a bunch. Either way, God’s Word will not return void. It will accomplish that which He pleases and will prosper in the thing to which He sent it. (Isa. 55:11)

Dr. John


One Night at the Rackensack

Flatt and Scruggs

Flatt and Scruggs

The Rackensack Society is a folklore society which began in Stone County, Arkansas (Mountain View) in the early 1960’s. One of the founders who lived there and was a driving force in the organization was Jimmy Driftwood. He was a popular folk musician and song writer who wrote and sang several nationally recognized songs such as “The Battle of New Orleans” and “Tennessee Stud.” The purpose of The Rackensack was to preserve the folk music of the people of Arkansas, particularly people of the mountainous north central area. A year or so after the founding of the chapter in Mountain View, a second Rackensack chapter was started in Little Rock under the leadership of George Fischer, a well-known political cartoonist.

When I entered medical school in 1960 I was very proud of the Gibson J-45 guitar Pop had recently purchased for me. He was not a musician and definitely not interested in the folk music I loved to play and sing. I enjoyed bluegrass music and also the genre of folk music characterized by the Kingston Trio who had just become nationally popular. I learned to play the guitar in high school and by 1960 had at least four years of experience in playing and singing. Pop told me when he paid the exorbitant price of one hundred and twenty-five dollars for the Gibson, “I’m getting you this fancy guitar for use in a backup career in case you don’t make it as a doctor.”

It wasn’t long after school began when on a Saturday evening sitting and jamming with a few students in the  lounge of the Jeff Banks Dormitory, I met a classmate from West Memphis named Burt Renager. Burt was a pretty good ukulele player, and we knew the lyrics of many of the same songs. He could sing melody, and I thought I could sing pretty good bluegrass tenor so we quickly became a duo. Our dorm rooms were so small they were not suitable for jamming, so when we decided to play we would go to the large lounge which had a piano and lots of comfortable chairs and couches. After one or two songs we could draw a crowd rather quickly. Neither Burt nor I were as good as we thought we were, but we had lots of fun, and our friends seemed to enjoy it. Burt loved bluegrass music as much as I, and we learned a bunch of Flatt and Scruggs’ songs from albums we owned. The following performance I’ll describe occurred in the fall of 1963 during my senior year.

Burt and I had heard about the folk music society Rackensack which met in the evening once a week at the Arkansas Art Center in MacArthur Park. We were told the program was open to anyone who loved to play and listen to folk music, and everyone was encouraged to bring their instruments and participate. That sounded like a venue in which we could showcase our much-heralded talents. Our greatest critics up to this point were mostly tone-deaf medical students.

The evening of the meeting we were greeted by several officials of the Rackensack, and when they saw we were carrying instruments told us we could be first on the program since none of the other participants had arrived. We took our place on stage and tuned our instruments awaiting the official opening. Burt announced our first number would be “Heaven”, and that was his only introductory remark. It was a song we had heard on the Flatt and Scruggs album pictured above and well suited for our playing and singing style. As I recall Burt did not play an instrument that night but we sang only to the accompaniment of my guitar. We did a good job remembering all the lyrics and the blending of our voices that evening was better than usual. I was pleased when we finished the song, and we received a hearty applause. I stepped back from the microphone to give Burt room to announce the next number when the program director made the following statement; “Since this is your first appearance, we ask the performers to give some background of their songs, such as the writer of the song and what inspired them to compose the number.” I was stunned thinking we would have to tell them we simply learned the song from a record album and had no idea about the origin. Burt was not the least bit phased and immediately launched into the following explanation:

“This song is almost a hundred years old having been written right after the Civil War—.” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing and thought at any moment Burt would say he was just kidding, but he continued his account. “The author is unknown but he was imprisoned in a Tennessee prison awaiting to be hanged for an unknown crime which could have been desertion from the army or horse theft. As he was thinking about his life and remembering what his dear old mother had taught him what heaven was like and how he would one day go there, he took a piece of coal off the floor of the prison and scribbled the words of this song. At some later time an unknown individual added the words on the prison wall to a melody, and thus was born the song we just performed” The members of the audience seemed to be nodding their heads in approval of Burt’s explanation, and I nodded right along with them.

That night I learned several things. Burt is never caught off-guard with the lack of a story and is certainly not intimidated by a crowd of strangers in his story-telling. I also learned to never perform in a venue until I have checked out what they are expecting. From this point forward Burt always introduced any songs we performed together, just in case an explanation of the song was required. We never performed again at the Rackensack and don’t think we were greatly missed.

Dr. John

PS: I think we had other songs prepared for that evening, but I can’t remember how Burt introduced them. I’m sure they were just as colorful and believable! We never returned to the Rackensack for a repeat performance.

Spaying Greta

John Aaron and Greta-1970

John Aaron and Greta-1970

Cathy and I moved to Valdosta, Georgia in 1969 when I completed my surgical training at Charity Hospital in New Orleans. I had been commissioned as a Major in the US Air Force Medical Corps for a 2 year stint of active duty at Moody Air Force Base. We were very familiar with Valdosta, because her brother George (Dr. George Young), and his wife Dawn lived there while he served as Dean of Students at Valdosta State College (now Valdosta State University). The summer we received orders to report to Moody were so excited to live in the same town as George and Dawn. When Cathy called him to excitedly tell our good news he reported the bad news (for us) he had just accepted the position of Dean of Students at Broward Community College in Fort Lauderdale, Florida where Cathy and George were raised.

Our son John Aaron was 2 years old and Cathy was pregnant with Mary Kay when we moved to Valdosta in September, 1969. Mary Kay arrived on the scene the following February. We rented a small but lovely 3 bedroom home on Azalea Drive in Valdosta, which George helped us find before they left for Fort Lauderdale. The home had a fenced back yard which was ideal, because John Aaron was extremely adventuresome and prone to wander while exploring the neighborhood.

The base veterinarian was Dr. (Captain) Pete McKoy whose wife Flonnie was also pregnant with their 2nd child, and like Cathy was scheduled to deliver in February, 1970. We became friends very quickly. In conversation one day with Pete I happened to mention we were looking for a suitable pet for John, and one that might serve as a watchdog for our travelling young son. He said he had access to a German shepherd puppy which might be a good fit if we were looking for a larger dog. Our previous dog was named Schnicklefritz, a dachshund we owned while living in New Orleans. We had to part company with Fritz when John was born, because he was jealous of all the attention John received and snapped at him several times when John happened to grab some part of his fur.

The day our new puppy arrived we instantly bonded and were  happy with the name Greta her original owner had given her. Greta was a loving, friendly dog, and most importantly loved John and was fiercely loyal to him. Whenever John was outside playing Greta was at his side. If John happened to get a little too rough or grab too much hair Greta would simply put a little space between the two of them. John could expend his energy wrestling with one of his two buddies who were usually around. Cathy learned when she couldn’t immediately spot John in the neighborhood she could call Greta’s name, and she would go to a position in the yard where Cathy could see her and immediately know John’s location. The photo above shows John in one of his more benevolent moods sharing some of his snack with Greta. On the back of the photo I had written, “Now get this straight – it’s one for you and two for me!.”

As Greta got older we definitely did not want her to have puppies, especially in light of the fact our family had already enlarged with the arrival of Mary Kay. I asked Pete if he would consent to spaying Greta to which he responded, “Sure. Bring her to the clinic tomorrow afternoon after duty hours, and I’ll get that done for you.” When my clinic finished the next day I drove home, picked up Greta and drove back to the base. Pete was finished seeing customers for the day, and the clinic was empty except for Pete, Greta and me. I told him I would stay to keep him company and watch the procedure if he didn’t mind. I helped him give Greta the intravenous medication and insert the endotracheal tube which would stay in place while she was anesthetized. He then shaved her abdomen and went over to the sink to scrub his hands in preparation for the procedure.

While he was scrubbing I asked, ” Pete, does the Air Force provide you with malpractice insurance while you are working here?” He turned around and said, “No they don’t, Why do you ask?” I said, “You know Cathy, John, Mary Kay and I have grown to really love Greta, and if anything happened to go wrong with this operation, I think I would have to sue you.” Pete had not known me long enough to know I was joking, and a malpractice law suit is something I would never do. Pete quickly said, “Have you ever spayed a dog?” “No, I said, but I’d like to.” Pete responded with, “Come on over here and scrub your hands!”

I  had done a few hysterectomies in my training at Charity Hospital and assisted the base obstetrician with the procedure. Spaying an animal is the mini-version of a hysterectomy. Pete showed me several veterinarian techniques, and I was able to show him a few surgical techniques and surgical knots which would be useful for his practice. He and I had a grand time during that 45 minute procedure, as we talked and laughed together the whole time. Fortunately Greta not only survived but did very well, and I was able to take her home later that evening.

Early in my surgical experience I learned and applied the following lesson; a wise and skilled surgeon should never operate on a member of his immediate family. Even though Greta was our family pet I believed she fell outside this surgical maxim. I never told her I was the one who held the knife but even if I had, I think she would have been alright with it. Within a day or two she began playing with John again and life was back to normal. I never had the opportunity to spay another dog, but had the occasion arisen I was fully prepared.

Dr. John

An Elvis Sighting in El Dorado

Elvis in 1956

Elvis in 1956

I was never a fan of Elvis Presley nor of the style of music he and so many others like him made popular in the fifty’s and sixty’s. He was at the forefront of a music revolution which swept the nation and the world, and his music is still being listened to and enjoyed sixty plus years later. Living in Branson, Missouri we are annually treated to shows featuring Elvis tribute artists and even Elvis look-alike contests none of which Cathy nor I have seen.

Elvis died tragically on August 16, 1977 of a reported pain medication overdose, but there are still some who believe his death report was a hoax. There have been reported “Elvis sightings” every year since his death, but these sightings are considered on the same order as UFO sightings and reports of appearances of Big Foot. I am able to report an actual Elvis sighting in El Dorado, Arkansas in 1955.

I was a sophomore in high school and was at the school early one spring evening practicing for a Latin play. I was such a nerd then I took Latin as an elective subject taught by Mrs. W.E. Durrett. The play practice ended at approximately 8:30 PM and several of us were leaving the campus and walking together to our vehicles. Our path took us past the auditorium, and as we neared we noticed the presence of a large number of parked cars and heard music coming from the stage. I asked one of my fellow Latin nerds what was happening, and he said it must be the concert scheduled for that night. I couldn’t imagine what kind of concert this might be in our auditorium, because the music I was hearing was what we used to call honky-tonk. If one drove past The Howdy Club on East Hillsboro in the late hours on a Saturday night the type of music one would hear would be the same we were hearing from the Wildcat auditorium stage .

With our curiosity piqued several of us peered through a window at the stage and saw a most unusual sight. There was a band consisting of several guitar players, a bass player, a drummer and the main attraction at center stage. The performer was of medium height, with long black hair combed into a duck-tail and was wearing a green shirt and purple pants. His appearance was certainly unusual, but his music style and bodily gyrations were something I had never before seen on stage. We listened for a few minutes, and my only comment to my friends when we left was, “I don’t think he’ll get very far with that kind of performance. Does anyone know his name?” Someone responded with, “I think it’s Elvis something or other.” I had never known anyone with the name Elvis.

Later the same evening about 11 PM while driving north on North West Avenue we spotted an individual standing on the street corner holding a guitar case. As we got closer I noted the green shirt and purple pants and recognized the performer we had seen just an hour or so before. His location on North West Avenue was near 5th Street where the Canary Court used to be. It appeared he was waiting for his ride or hitch hiking, but we didn’t have any reason to pick him up since we were not going his way.

About one year later that purple-pants performer recorded “Blue Suede Shoes” and the career of Elvis Presley began to sky-rocket to unprecedented heights. No other performer in the history of popular music has ever come close to his world-wide popularity. Instead of calling his musical style honky-tonk, it became known as rock and roll, and his gyrations on stage were widely mimicked.

Elvis performed on one other occasion in El Dorado before he became so popular. There was a performance at Memorial Stadium as part of a larger performing group, and I have no knowledge of this one. I do regret I didn’t at least pull over that night at the Canary Court to introduce myself and inquire if he needed a place to stay for the night. I can’t even imagine what my parents would have said had he accepted. Who knows- he might have offered me a spot in his band since I was a fledgling guitar player. But then in those days when I had hair, I never could get it to combed into a duck-tail!

Elvis Concert Ticket

Elvis Concert Ticket

Dr. John

PS 1: So much for my prediction concerning the future of the purple-pants performer I saw on stage that spring evening!

PS 2: That course in Latin helped me more in my subsequent medical training than any other subject I took in high school.

A 1950’s Culinary Tour of El Dorado

The Dairyette

The Dairyette – El Dorado, Arkansas

Life in middle America in the 1950’s was care-free and casual. It was a wonderful time to be a teen because people were positive, our nation had survived and won the greatest war we had ever fought against Germany and Japan (World War II), the economy was rebuilding and the future looked bright. During those years I don’t remember feeling all that positive about my future since I was an ordinary teenager with what I considered major concerns for the present.

My anxieties centered on my hair (did I have the right amount of Butch Wax applied to keep my flat-top hair upright?), my skin (did I have any new and undetected pimples which would permanently scar my face?), and my size (was there anything I could do to add pounds to my skinny frame?). Like many of my teen friends I also wasn’t very happy about my home town El Dorado, Arkansas because the town seemed so boring with “nothing to do.” I dreamed of living in a big city like Little Rock or Dallas where life would be full of excitement and adventure on a daily basis. Despite these huge potentials for life failure there were some very positive elements to life in El Dorado, and I was aware of them and grateful. One positive was the seemingly large number of great places to eat.

North West Avenue (known then as “the Strip”) was the address of many of the finest dining choices El Dorado offered in the 50’s. The favorite hangout for teens and young adults was the Dairyette located on a large lot on the east side of North West Avenue where Mellor Park Mall now sits. The aging drive-in was owned by Jack Smith to whom I was never introduced, but am certain I recognized him then. There was a pinball machine inside and a jukebox connected to outside speakers which were constantly blaring. The burgers and fries were outstanding, but the attraction was the crowds and not the food. Seemingly the coolest teens and young adults stopped by each day if just for a short visit. Someone told me the Dairyette was the one place in town to get “dope.” I believed they were talking about marijuana, but I never saw nor smelled anyone smoking it. This was at least ten years prior to marijuana use becoming widespread. The two biggest vices for teens in the 50’s were cigarettes and beer, and one couldn’t buy beer at the Dairyette.

Further out North West Ave. toward Smackover was my favorite restaurant, The Old Hickory. It was located on the land where Oriental Gardens now sits. The restaurant was owned by the Parker family, and their daughter Patty was in my high school class of 1957. I don’t remember ever seeing her there, because I was looking for those delicious barbecue beef sandwiches with their famous baked beans in their signature brown bowls. The Old Hickory was one of the few restaurants in town with curb service, so my family seldom dined inside. One could buy bottles of their barbecue sauce and replicate the Old Hickory taste at home. However, no matter how well Mom prepared barbecue sandwiches, they just never tasted as good as the Parker’s. (I never said those words to Mom).

Driving south from there on North West Avenue was the best place for ice cream, the Dairy Queen. It was located on the property where Andy’s Restaurant now sits. The Frazier family owned the restaurant, and their only daughter Dixie was also a member of my graduating high school class. Mr. and Mrs. Frazier were always friendly to me, and when I happened to be alone in the restaurant for a burger or a milk shake, the conversation usually centered on what Dixie was thinking and how well (or even how poorly) she was doing in school. This is the first restaurant in which I experienced soft serve ice cream, and to this day I’m convinced it was the best. One of their chocolate milk shakes was a supreme treat, and as many of them as I drank I’m surprised I was so skinny then.

When our family was hungry for a steak or a hamburger steak our number one choice was Lloyd’s Stadium Drive Inn. Located on North West Avenue (where else?) directly across the street from the Boy’s Club baseball field the restaurant was owned by Lloyd McCarty who was a long time pal of Pop. Lloyd had learned to cook steaks and burgers on the locally famous “Hamburger Row” during the El Dorado oil boom days of the 1920’s. He was relatively short in height, (shorter than the Moore men who were all over 6 feet) and had a particularly characteristic shuffle to his gait. I never saw him without his signature white butcher’s apron with the large greasy spot in front. Pop said the shuffle was characteristic of all the cooks on Hamburger Row, but I never understood the reason for it.

Lloyd’s steaks were absolutely the best tasting steaks in town. The hamburger steak was also a favorite. Lloyd’s featured a steak sandwich which he called the “Jack Perry Special,” and one of those three items were my only choices. Obviously the sandwich was the only item which Mr. Perry ordered, and he was a frequent enough customer to have his name attached to it. Pop always said the key to the special taste of the meats at Lloyd’s was the seasoning of the grill which never looked clean to me.

Pop knew what he was talking about because he had once cooked and even owned a “joint” on Hamburger Row when he was a young adult in his 20’s. One other thing I remember about Lloyd’s Drive Inn is he had a “room in the back” for only a few of his adult men friends. The doors to the room were always shut, so I never entered. Pop said the room was where a select few men could eat and drink liquor. It was against the law to serve liquor in a restaurant, but apparently Lloyd bent the rules for some of his buddies, who reportedly were some of the elected high officials of Union County.

When our family dined out on Sunday our usual choice was the Garrett Hotel dining room. Located on the block now occupied by The First National Bank the hotel had served the town as one of only two downtown hotels. They both opened in the 1920’s during the days of the oil boom. One thing I remember about the hotel besides the dining room food is the lobby which had a large screen television (14 inch), which could pick up channel KNOE from Monroe, Louisiana and occasionally on a clear day, the Little Rock channel KATV. There was a gigantic antenna on the roof of the hotel which allowed for such good reception. The dining room featured a number of delicious entrees but our favorite selection was their chicken and dressing. The giblet gravy had a certain flavor which was unique. Their yeast rolls were outstanding, and no other restaurant in which I dined could come close to their taste. I could easily eat four of them, and if my sister Marilyn wasn’t too hungry I could get one or two of hers. Even though Mom wanted me to gain weight, she said too many yeast rolls were “not good for my stomach.” I never questioned her wisdom on this, but would try to eat a couple of extra ones while she was not watching.

I don’t recall eating out as a primary source of delight as a teen, but in thinking and writing about some of my culinary experiences, I realize I gained early expertise in the art of “fine dining” on North West Avenue. Neither Cathy nor I enjoy fancy restaurants now and are always looking for ordinary cafes or delis with extraordinary dishes. I’m still looking for another joint like Lloyd’s. I would recognize any cook with a shuffle like his.

Dr. John