My dad was a doctor, the old-style family physician. His patients loved him. Each Christmas he’d get so many presents—homemade fruit cakes, pipes with hundred dollar bills stuffed in them, baskets with 48 different-colored pairs of socks—that he’d still be opening them that night. We kids, all done discovering our own gifts, had to watch.
A s a child, I knew his patients loved him. But I didn’t really know why. I figured part of it was his dedication: from 6:00 a.m. hospital rounds to 9:00 p.m. phone calls, he was there when they needed him. Part of it was probably his southern storytellers charm—he could tell lies with the best of them (a trait I, of course, did not inherit).
But I never realized what most of his appeal was until the evening I just happened to be playing behind the honeysuckle vines when he came down to visit his vegetable garden.
Dad, of course, didn’t know I was around. Even so, he sure didn’t act like he was alone. Instead, he knelt down at the edge of his garden and started talking:
“Good evening, Mizz Lettuce. You’re looking mighty pretty tonight, young lady. What’s that? Wilted? No, you don’t look a day over 30. In fact, I was hoping you might drop by for supper tonight.”
He pulled a few leaves and set them in a peck basket, then moved over to a different section of the garden and started straightening up some fallen vines:
“Hey there, old bean, old rascal! Been chasing after the marigolds again, I see. You’re going to have to start staying where you belong—you’re all the flowers talk about anymore, you know. Sit up straight and let me check you over. Hmmm, leaves normal. Flowers, uh-hmmm. Pods, look good. You’re the picture of health, Chief. We just need to fix A few weeds around your roots, and I know just the thing for that.”
After a couple of minutes of quiet weeding, he got up and checked some plants on thin, green stakes.
“Now, don’t worry, Mizz tomato, I wouldn’t ignore you. After all, you know you’re one of the gals on my short list. Yes, Ma’am, you bet—right there at the top.”
The corn plants were next on his rounds. He stopped at one, pulled out his small pocketknife—Dad always carried a pocketknife—and picked away at something.
“Calm down Corn, old pal, you Gotta expect a few ear problems now and then as you grow up. This’ll be over in a jiffy. There now, let me give you a good long drink; it’ll give you a sense of well-being.”
Whistling—Dad was a great whistler—he went off to get the hose. I tiptoed out of my hiding place and headed up to the house, having learned a completely unexpected lesson.
What made my father such a great doctor? Well, heck, old friend, you know the answer as well as I.
It was his bedside manner.
–Pat Stone, Editor