Rumpled of shirt, thin of hair, stethoscope around his neck, funky tie. More likely, since it was the sixties and he practiced in a little north Georgia mill village, the shirt was white and there was a pocket protector involved. No matter. The feeling that I get when I think about my old family doctor is positive, full of gratitude and brimming with good will.
Dr. Dawson was around as long as I can remember. His office was just across the wide expanse of green grass and magnolia trees that stretched from my little brick house on First Street to the facade of the big textile mill where my father was a superintendent. Around the common, turn right, park in front, walk back a little ways towards some low buildings, and you’d find the doc.
Time has erased most of the details, but once again the overwhelming memory is of my doctor’s always being there. Being available to me and my family. Knowing us as people. Caring about us as part of the little microcosm that was a mill village in the 1960s in the southern United States.
Dr. Dawson gave me injections. He wrote out prescriptions for antibiotics when I was sick. He was even there for the times that my brother and my best friend and I would climb the mimosa trees in my backyard and experience the simple joys and heart-stopping accidents that made up an almost idyllic southern childhood. One of those times, if memory serves, involved dropping a hammer from my perch in the fern-leafed tree, straight down, only to be stopped by my brother’s forehead before it got to the ground. I thought I had killed him.
I have long since moved on from that little village of my childhood. Santa Claus no longer bobs up and down out of his chimney in front of my bedroom window at Christmastime. I no longer chase my friends around the common space, lobbing magnolia seed pod grenades at them in mock war. I no longer swim in the pool down the hill during the summer. As a matter of fact, the pool is gone, long since filled in with dirt, not even leaving a faint marker for itself except somewhere deep in the gyri of my brain.
My old family doctor is gone, too. Gone from the village office he occupied for many years. Gone from this earth.
Not gone, never gone, from my memory though. I still see him, I still feel him, as one of the people who shaped my childhood, subtly, quietly, purposefully, making sure I was healthy and happy and shepherding me through illnesses mild and worse. He left a legacy of good health. He did much good while he was on this earth.
I often wonder what my own legacy will be to my patients, my children, my grandchildren, my friends.
I hope I will have done some good.
I hope I will have made a difference.