Thursday, September 09, 2010

Life is Good

By Dan Beauchamp

Well, I've reached the great age of 73.  And I decided to take myself back to where my life  began in east Texas and southern Arkansas, sorting through an old baby book my mother kept of my first five years.

First, an interesting piece of paper, especially for someone who has worked in health care reform:  My mother saved the original receipt for the hospital bill for my birth at Kahn Memorial Hospital in Marshall, Texas: $17.00 for the room, $12.50 for the delivery room, and $1.50 for what I assume was the anesthesia, for the grand total of $31.  This was for a stay of three days!

The doctor's bill, a Dr. Littlejohn, was not included, but I think I recall Mom saying it was something like $15. 

I weighed 9.5 pounds. My mother noted that I had a noticeably ruddy face. I was probably already pissed off about politics.  Later in my first year she noted that I had an olive complexion; Mom had the same dark complexion. She was very beautiful, tall, five feet, seven inches. She cut quite a figure in tennis shorts.  Ten years later, rhuematoid arthritis began to destroy that, eveything except her beautiful face.  She lived to be 87, an invalid for almost 35 years.  My Dad died early, when he was 56.

Here is a picture of Kahn Memorial Hospital, where I was born; the building  no longer exists.
Among the gifts I received was one from a Mr. L.C.  Tittle, who lived across the street from us and who had a nearby grocery store.  Mom noted that Mr. Tittle took my picture on my second birthday. His nephew was one Yelbert Albertson Tittle, Y.A. Tittle, and if you know anything at all about football, he was a great one, playing most of his career with the San Francisco 49s and finally for the New York Giants. He's in the Football Hall of Fame, one of the great quarterbacks. David Halberstam was killed in a car crash in 2007 going to interview Tittle in California who was living in Mountain View, California.
We lived at Mrs. Rembert's house on 804 East Rusk Street.  We lived there for over two years. Here is a picture of East Rusk Street, which I remember only because we went back there several times when I was growing up, once on the way to Barksdale Field, in Shreveport, Louisiana, to see my cousin, Scud Redus, who was in flight training during WWII. They wouldn't let us on the base. He plane went missing over Okinawa and was never found.  Here is a picture I found on the Internet of Rusk Street about that time. These houses are much nicer than my memory of Mrs. Remberts. 
Dad was a traveling salesman for H.J. Heinz and later for Folgers. It was a time when the national brands all used salesmen with territories. I traveled all over east Texas with him, at least once a season, spending the nights in hotels.  All the men wore hats.
  Rusk homes
Marshall, and Harrison county, had the highest percentage of blacks to whites in the state. It was a railroad town, a plantation town, and very close to Louisiana.  Lady Bird Johnson went to high school there.  Marshall is the town where Wiley College is located, the "traditionally black" school that had the famous debating team.  Denzel Washington directed and starred in a movie about the school and the times, "The Great Debaters."
Bill Moyers was from Marshall, and a few years older than me, but he was born in Hugo, Oklahoma, near the Texas line, a part of Oklahoma known as "little Dixie," about 30 miles from Bokchito where my mother and her family had a farm, a rented farm. It is likely that Moyers's family, like my parents's family, left eastern Oklahoma and western Arkansas because of the devastation of the Dust Bowl. East Texas was kept afloat by the big oil fields, some of the biggest in the world and we lived in towns all around that island of prosperity.
If I hadn't let Willie Morris talk me out of going to journalism school in Austin at the University of Texas, in 1955, I would have gone to school there when Moyers was on the Daily Texan staff.  Bill Moyers is a Texan I would have loved to have known.
After Marshall, we moved to El Dorado, Arkansas, where there were also oil fields.  H.L.Hunt got into the oil business in El Dorado and then he moved to Texas, and the rest is history. Then we moved to Jacksonville, Texas, and then, for five years, to Tyler, where a lot of my relatives on my Mom's side lived; my Dad's parents lived nearby in Kilgore, right next to a grove of huge oil derricks. Kilgore smelled like oil waste; they used it on the roads and for sidewalks and paths.
Van Cliburn lived in Kilgore and it was Cliburn playing the piano for his high school English teacher, Flo Hood, that I heard as a boy on the other side of the thin walls of the the unpainted duplex where my grandparents lived.
We all lived in duplexes, or in small apartments in larger houses.  I loved those years. That's when moving on got into my blood.
Today, I am back in my favorite small town, and I was treated by Carole to breakfast at the Bisbee Breakfast Club, and was given a free piece of cheesecake for dessert, along with a hug, from Kim our favorite waitress.  The pie went well with the sausages and eggs. 
On the Saturday before, I was taken to our famous restaurant, Cafe Roka, and had a wonderful meal. Our waiter was the beautiful Gretchen Baer, one of Bisbee's best and boldest artists and a well-known Hillary supporter. She drove her art car all the way to the Pennsylvania primary. We have a wonderful painting by Gretchen in our living room.
I wish more of us had listened to Gretchen and Hillary. 
I got hugs and kisses from some very lovely women, inside Roka, and outside, where a street dance was going on. None compared to the hugs and kisses I get from Carole, now for 42 years.
Life is good.

Before his retirement, Dan Beauchamp was professor of health policy at the School of Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and also at the State University of New York at Albany. He served as deputy commissioner for policy and planning at the New York State Department of Health from 1988 to 1992. This piece is taken from his blog, Tales of Copper City. He lives in Bisbee, Arizona with his wife, Carole. Hey, Dan, HAPPY BIRTHDAY :) !!

No comments: