Monday, March 1, 2010

Idora Tucker: Mrs. Gifford Makes a House Call



My parents moved into 36 Highland Avenue in November 1945, and my mother has lived here ever since. When I was growing up, the household included five children, one great-aunt, and at various times dogs, cats, turtles, rabbits, gerbils, parakeets, snakes, and a crow. In the beginning, however, it was just the two of them: a young married couple eager to experience normal life after four long years of war. The downstairs floor of the house was divided in two: One half was my father's office. (The picture above was taken some years later, after my father had moved his office to the new White River Valley Clinic.) My mother's memoir begins:

My guest and I are sitting in what will become our dining room. The room is very sparsely furnished, and we are seated on two Montgomery Ward chairs brought in from the kitchen. The reason that I am entertaining in this room is that our living room is on the second floor. Most of the first floor is taken up by the doctor's office. My guest has declined my invitation to go upstairs to the living room, as that would take us through the front hall, temporarily the doctor's waiting room. For that reason she has entered through the back door, the kitchen door, where our new puppy is at present protesting loudly at being shut in the kitchen. This is making me very nervous. Furthermore, the legs of the chair on which my guest is seated have come unglued, and under Mrs. Gifford's considerable bulk are gradually spreading further and further apart. I am afraid they will let her down on the bare floor.
 Mrs. Gifford is the widow of a well-known local physician, doctor to my family when I was growing up. In fact, he saved my life when I had a ruptured appendix, long before the days of antiobiotics. However, this is my very first contact with Eliza, as she is known locally, and she has come to offer me advice on how to be a good wife and helpmate to my doctor husband. Because of my considerable anxiety about her chair, and because of the circumstances of her departure, I have retained only one piece of advice from that visit, advice which I never followed. She advised me to go each morning to the bank and get change for the office. In those days an office call cost the patient two dollars. Eliza explained to me that we needed to have on hand a good supply of one-dollar bills because if a patient offered to pay and we could not make change, we might never get paid. She must have been thinking that no patient would offer anything larger than a five-dollar bill, and she was probably right. Any further advice which she offered is long gone, because, although the chair didn't break down, her exit through the kitchen was very periolous. The puppy, in her misery, had left many puddles of urine and vomit on the linoleum floor. I tried my best to steer Mrs. Gifford around the slippery spots, and we avoided a catastrophe, but this visit was not the start of a friendship. Even though we lived on the same street I never returned her call, and she never contacted me again. (To be continued.)

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