When doctors still made house calls.
|Daddy’s blue truck smells like wood. The garage smells like that too. So do Daddy’s clothes. But inside the truck today it’s strong. Maybe that’s because it’s cold. The heater’s WAAAH-ing hot air, but the seat is freezing. I should have put on my leggings, but I hate them. They itch so much. Usually Mommy makes me wear them with dresses in the wintertime, but she didn’t today. Tony’s sick. Maybe that’s why she forgot to tell me.
We’re going to pick up Dr. Bowman. Dr. Bowman has an office across the street from a really nice park with a really nice playground. Sometimes Mommy takes us there after a doctor visit. Mostly she doesn’t, and even when she does, we never stay long enough. Today I know we won’t stop because we need to bring Dr. Bowman to the house to see Tony because Tony’s sick. He has the measles really bad. I like that word, measles. If I had a pet mouse, I would call him Measles. It sounds like what Jinxie the Cat calls Pixie and Dixie.
Tony has the measles so bad he won’t watch TV and he doesn’t know who Mommy is. He’s really sick. He has red spots too. Not like chicken pox. Just spots. And a fever.
Usually Dr. Bowman comes to the house in his car, a Beetle. It snowed though, and Daddy’s truck has chains on the tires -- I like they way they jingle on the wet street – so we’re going to pick him up instead.
But we’re not going to his office. We’re going a different way. His office is in Wissinoming – I like that word too, it sounds Indian and it’s fun to say – but we’re at the Boulevard at Pennypack Circle. I ask Daddy where we’re going. I don’t know what he’ll say, because sometimes Daddy acts mad or like I’m a pest or else dumb. Not all the time. Just some time. But I can’t tell when he will and when he won’t. So sometimes I just don’t say anything to him.
He says we’re going to pick up Dr. Bowman. He doesn’t say anything else, so I guess he’s going a different way than Mommy, or maybe he doesn’t know where it is, but I don’t say anything else because I don’t want to make him mad.
Daddy turns on a street Mommy goes on when she’s going to Lit Brothers, then he turns again, and soon we’re at a red brick house that stands all by itself, not like ours that’s lots of houses stuck together. It’s not a big house, but it has grass on every side, and the driveway is a hill that would be good for sledding except it goes right into the street. Daddy stops the truck but does not turn off the engine. I like the sound the truck makes. It sounds big and safe. Like it could go anywhere and never get stuck. Wait here, Daddy says. He gets out and closes the door with a clunk. I watch him go up the walk, which is shoveled. I breathe the burned gasoline. It smells good. Mommy’s car doesn’t smell like this.
Out of the house comes Dr. Bowman. He is taller than Daddy, but not bigger. He has on a long coat, gloves, and a funny cap he always wears, and I can see his bowtie. He’s carrying his black bag. Daddy walks him right up to my side of the truck. He opens the door and tells me to move over. I do. Dr. Bowman folds up like Tony’s accordion and gets inside, setting his black bag on his lap.
Hello, Carole, he says, in his voice that sounds like the instrument in Peter and The Wolf that talks for the duck. Hello, Dr. Bowman, I answer carefully, making sure I pronounce every letter. Dr. Bowman is very strict about saying every letter in words, and about saying Yes instead of Yeah. Being with him is like always being in a test, and I want to try really hard to pass. But he is nice, and me and Tony like him. Tony and I, I mean. He likes us too. Especially Tony, because Tony is like an encyclopedia.
How is your mother? He asks as Daddy gets in his side of the truck. Fine, thank you, I say, because that’s what you say when somebody asks how you are, or how is so-and-so. I guess I don’t really know how Mommy is. She’s worried about Tony, but she isn’t sick. So she must be fine, thank you.
Our Tony is sick, he says then, only when he says it, I feel like he will make Tony better, one-two-three, when we get home. Maybe he’ll give Tony a needle. But he doesn’t give needles when he comes to the house, only in his office in Wissinoming, that smells like antiseptic and has Mrs. Miller in her white uniform, stockings and shoes and hair, standing under the little cuckoo clock high on the wall with the girl in the blue dress swinging underneath.
I sit with Daddy on one side and Dr. Bowman on the other side. Wood smell and some kind of piney smell, clean and light. I think about what Daddy does, and why he wears different clothes than Dr. Bowman. I wonder if Dr. Bowman wears his bowtie and his starchy white shirt even in his house when he and Mrs. Bowman eat their supper. Daddy changes his work clothes in the basement when he comes home, but just puts on clean work clothes. Blue jeans and a soft, light colored blue jean shirt. Combed and clean, he sits down to supper with all of us. I never saw Daddy in a bowtie. I saw a funny one in one of his dresser drawers one time – it looked like holly, I guess it was for Christmas – but I never saw him wear it.
Daddy and Dr. Bowman talk. Not much, but Daddy is nice to Dr. Bowman, even though I know he doesn’t like doctors very much. I think some more. I wonder if all doctors wear funny caps and bowties and drive Beetles and then we are home, coming in the driveway. Daddy always parks the truck in the back driveway.
My legs are cold again when we get out of the truck, but soon we are in the house, in the basement. It is so hot inside, and the heater’s running, making its roaring noise. Clean clothes are drying on the lines Daddy strung for Mommy all around the basement because it’s too cold in winter to dry them outside. Dr. Bowman and Daddy just brush them to one side, and we make our way to the steps that will take us up into the kitchen. The kitchen is even hotter than the basement, but it smells good.
I stay out of the way as Dr. Bowman looks at Tony, who is laying on the sofa, but I stay nearby so I can listen. I like the way Dr. Bowman talks to Mommy. He is very nice. I wonder if he ever hollers like Daddy.
Dr. Bowman is all done with Tony then, and the lines in Mommy’s face go away, so I know Tony will be OK. Mommy says Come into the kitchen, Carole. Daddy is sitting at his desk in the dining room. I guess he’s going to take Dr. Bowman home again now. But he doesn’t get up.
Mommy sits down on a kitchen chair she turned away from the table. Lay on Mother’s lap, Carole, says Dr. Bowman, taking a long, thin black case out of his big black bag. My stomach starts to feel funny. Doctor’s going to give you something so you don’t get the measles as bad as Tony has them, Mommy says.
The needle hurts more than any other needle I ever had. My backside stings and burns. I yell Ow! Ow! But it doesn’t stop hurting. I am crying afterward and feeling mad, but Daddy looks over from his desk and says Stop crying, it doesn’t hurt anymore, so I try to stop crying but it does hurt and I am mad and I will never believe them again when they tell me it won’t hurt, or it’ll only hurt for a minute. That was the biggest needle I ever saw in my life, and Dr. Bowman said it was called a gammaglobulin and even though I like the word I hate the needle and I always will. I wish I would get the measles bad like Tony then I could lay on the sofa and drink ginger ale through a straw with a tray in front of me, and I could watch I Love Lucy and George Burns and Gracie and Jack Benny all morning and not do anything. Then they would feel bad because they gave me that gammaglobulin.