When Cathy and I lived in New Orleans during my surgery residency days at Charity Hospital we were doing surprisingly well on poverty level income. For my first year of residency and our first year of marriage the hospital paid me the paltry sum of $125 per month, which based on a one hundred and twenty hour work week amounts to approximately twenty-six cents per hour. Not bad for a hospital to hire a surgeon at that wage even though I was in training. Cathy’s salary as an elementary school teacher, although small by today’s standard, kept a roof over our head and food on our table. At one point that first year we asked an official of the state of Louisiana if we qualified for food stamps and were told from a financial standpoint we did qualify, but the state would not issue food stamps to a medical doctor. Go figure! Because we had no indebtedness and were frugal in our spending neither Cathy nor I considered ourselves poor.
During my second year of residency a representative group of interns and residents at Charity Hospital appealed to the hospital board and the state of Louisiana for a significant raise in salary, and it was granted. I was then paid the unheard of sum of $500 per month, and Cathy and I thought we suddenly had struck it rich! We had learned to live on so little we were able to put money into a savings account for the following year. In July, 1967 we were blessed with the birth of our son John Aaron, and our new expenses caused us to begin using our savings. We had two automobiles which we each owned before marriage and had no indebtedness on either.
In the fall of 1968, we decided we could get along well with only one car so we sold my Corvair Monza and traded Cathy’s Cutlass for a Dodge Station Wagon. I was able to ride to and from Charity Hospital with my surgical colleague, Jack Welch who lived nearby. That arrangement worked very well for us during my last year of residency, because I seldom had to go back to the hospital at night even when on-call. I simply allowed the third year resident to resolve problem consultations, because they were required to stay in the hospital on their call nights.
Upon completion of my training, I had a two year commitment for active duty in the US Air Force. I was certain I would be sent to Viet Nam, because the war there was near its’ peak, and I was a fully trained surgeon from the “battlefields” of New Orleans. In the wisdom of the military, however I was assigned to the Air Training Command Base at Valdosta, Georgia which was Moody Air Force Base. Several months before I was to report for duty Cathy and I realized we again needed a second vehicle, since we would be living in town and the base was a ten mile drive. Our problem was our ability to pay for an automobile even an inexpensive one.
While visiting Cathy’s parents in Fort Lauderdale we discussed our situation with them, and her mother (Gram Young) offered to loan us enough money for the car stating “we could pay her back when we could afford to.” That sounded like a great plan to us, but we set a two year limit on the payoff, and we agreed to send her a check each month.
We shopped for a suitable car in Fort Lauderdale, and I found the perfect one for me a 1969 Fiat Spider (pictured above). The car was purchased in my name with a check given us by Gram Young. We used the bank interest rate at the time to calculate the two year payout, and Cathy and I signed a hand-written promissory note to Gram. She said we didn’t have to do that, but we insisted not wanting to take advantage of her generosity.
For the next two years we faithfully sent her a check each month, and I included a hand- written note telling her how we were doing and what our plans were for the following month. Every time we saw her and many of the times when we talked with her by phone, she would tell us how she enjoyed our notes.
Finally near the end of our two years in Valdosta I mailed her the last payment on the Fiat, and Cathy and I breathed a sigh of relief to again be debt-free. For years afterwards whenever she thought about it Gram would say, “Can’t I make you another loan? I loved getting those notes from you each month!” I now regret having stopped writing her, but we did talk with her often by phone and made frequent family visits to Fort Lauderdale. She and Granddaddy Young came to El Dorado at least twice each year and would stay with us for five to seven days. I have to admit Gram Young was the most generous and wonderful creditor we ever had!
PS: We sold our 1964 Corvair Monza convertible to Cathy’s Uncle Bobby Shuman for $500. He got a great bargain. Today the same vehicle would sell for ten times that amount! 😦