Recently I re-read a funny story Eudora Welty, a woman of his generation, told about herself. As a young child, she loved to sit in the backseat of the family car, her mother and her mother's friend on each side, for drives around Jackson. "Now talk," she'd say, and of course, she'd listen.
That's the way I felt about Sunday dinners around our family table: "Now talk!"
All I wanted to do was listen.
My dad was a great storyteller, regaling the visiting preacher, my friends, a stray neighbor or two-- anyone who'd listen.
I still have people I don't even know tell me how much they loved Dr. Jack. Maybe he'd set a broken arm, perhaps he'd delivered them (for a while, he was the only doctor in our little town who delivered babies), stitched up a cut, charmed off a wart (yes, he did). His medical talent was legend. His training was as a chest physician; he considered himself a country doctor.
He married late by today's standards, and sadly, died young. Today would be his 99th birthday. In honor of this momentous occasion, I'll share some memories.
Once he brought a pet monkey into our family. Our mother refused to let it into the house. A patient of his took it and raised it, naming it "Jackie." In fact, he frequently claimed to find exotic pets on the side of the road. We had rabbits, parakeets, Dobermans, a chihuahua (supposedly good for my allergies, justification for owning this tiny canine even before they became celebrity pets), a very large long-haired Persian cat. He adored four-legged things so much that once he anesthetized an injured fawn and set her broken leg, in the same office where he treated his human patients.
Besides the colorful language, my dad had a few other questionable traits. He smoked White Owl cigars. This was before the Surgeon General's report came out and physicians collectively chose to oppose smoking. After that, Daddy stopped, and encouraged his patients to follow suit.
The only time I've ever really written about my father was a Christian Science Monitor essay a few years ago. It was mostly about Elvis, but I did write this about my dad:
Music was in my blood. My father had lived in New Orleans before settling into the life of a small town country doctor. With him, I sang along with Louis Armstrong’s “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?” on the radio. Before I could walk, I danced on the tops of my father’s polished shoes to the beat of Fats Waller’s band. I thought Blue-Room-of-the-Roosevelt-Hotel, where my dad had worked as a ticket taker to earn college spending money and free admission, was an elaborately exotic word for a place I longed to visit.
In the picture below, that's Dr. Jack, back row, middle, the handsome young man hanging with his college friends, all dressed up for dancing at the Blue Room.