10. Stranger in the Mind: Chapter 10

Chapter 10.  June.

June 2.

“One more call tomorrow night, then I’m on vacation for two weeks, Sal.” I say while I’m riding the tram home.  This adds a good thirty minutes to the trip.  Tomorrow I get the car back since today is Karen’s last day of school. 

“It’s been a long year,” says Sal.  “You must be looking forward to it, and to taking that trip.”

“We’re just going to take it real easy and not set travel goals.  What we do will pretty much depend on how Karen feels each morning.  Anyway, we can’t afford more than a week of motels, hotels, and eating out.”

“Is your patient, Portia Jones, still going to be on the ward when you get back?”

“Definitely.  With her rheumatic carditis, she’ll be in for at least six to eight weeks on bed rest.  Although Dr. Foreman did say today that there’s a suggestion in the recent literature they can ambulate earlier if their sed rate falls.  I’ll sign her over to Lou to follow, tomorrow.”

We say goodbye as I walk along Beacon from the tram stop, before crossing the street to the apartment building.

“Welcome home,” says Karen happily.  “I am now on vacation for the next three whole months.”

“Don’t rub it in.  I’m glad that I’m getting my two weeks off at last.  But I still have one more call to take first.”

“It was a good idea to not immediately dash off on Sunday.  I’ll have a chance to clean the apartment some and to get the laundry done.  And both of us can unwind a little, after this busy year.”

June 7.

The bags are down and locked in the trunk of our car.  We have the lunch, snacks, and canned drinks in a small cooler packed with ice cubes on the back seat.  It’s nearly 11:30 on a warm, bright morning. 

“Thank you for not insisting that we set off early,” says Karen.  “I feel much better now than I did earlier this morning.”

“Let me know if you think that I’m getting too obsessive about mileage or time,” I say.  “We want to have a relaxed trip.”  She checks the kitchen, and I check the toilet, before locking our apartment door. 

“Another nice thing about starting in mid-week is that we won’t run into such large crowds,” Karen says.  “At least till the weekend and, by then, we may be in rural New Hampshire.”  As we pull out from the curb, Karen gives a little cheer and kisses me on the cheek. 

“It shouldn’t be that crowded.  Not till the Fourth of July weekend.  Many of the hotels really don’t set up till then,” I say.  “So we may run into spotty service.”

“Well, if we were Lodges or Cabots we might find that a problem, but we’re not.”

“Just tell me when you need a break.  As it is, let’s plan on picnicking in Salem or Beverly.  Dinner will be wherever we get to, in Maine.”

“We picked a beautiful day to drive,” says Karen contentedly, settling back in her seat and adjusting her sunglasses.

I should contact Sal before moving out of range, just as a reminder that I’ll be out of touch for a week.  * * * *  “Come in, Sal.”

“Hello Robert.  You’re leaving on vacation now?  Well, I hope that you and Karen have a really relaxing time.”

“Yeah.  I’ll talk with you in a week, okay?  Too bad we can’t talk beyond thirty miles.  Of course we do have room in the back seat if you want to come along.”

“No thanks,” says Sal.  “You and Karen enjoy yourselves.  I’ll talk with you when you get back.  Just give me a call when you’re settled.”

“We’ll certainly try to have a good time.  And I’ll call you for sure.”

“Why don’t I drive for a while after lunch,” says Karen.  “It’ll be fun to drive in the country.”

June 12.

Karen has traveled quite well since we’ve taken it easy and haven’t pushed for early morning starts.  We’ve almost had our fill of lobster along the rocky Maine coast, stopping at harbor-side shacks, diners, and restaurants, for lunch and dinner.  If lobster omelets were on the menu, Karen would probably have ordered them for breakfast despite her nausea.  As it is, she has tea and dry toast in the morning and makes up for her asceticism at lunch.

Our spirits are filled by the sights, smells, and sounds of the sea: red and white lobster pot floats bobbing on dark blue water with the sun’s reflection shimmering, the wind-borne cries of gulls wheeling in the sky, the smell of exposed sea weed at low tide.  We photograph each other with backgrounds of Atlantic rollers dashing themselves against the immovable, granite of Mount Desert Island, white spray flung upwards hissing and caught by the wind.  And by sturdy lighthouses, outlined against the blue sky, standing guardian above rugged, ship-shearing cliffs.  Bar Harbor is not yet in summer visitor mode–some inns and hotels are just reopening–but we have no problem finding a room to suit our budget.

Then we turn inland, toward the quiet mountains and forests of New Hampshire.  There are rock-rich, topsoil poor fields, outlined by unmortared rock walls snaking across undulating fields alternating with forest.  The curving roads are not the best for Karen’s state of stomach, and we take frequent rest breaks.

The tree-lined shores of Lake Winnipesauke are a quiet contrast to the powerful waves pounding Maine’s sea-cliffs.  We will stay here tonight, and stroll in our sweaters after dinner, breathing in the cold mountain air, scented by evergreens; immersing ourselves in the tranquility so lacking in the city; storing it within ourselves to remember later amidst the bustle and bus fumes of Boston.  Tomorrow we will drive to the Franconia Notch, visit the Flume, water conditions permitting, and walk among the trees and boulders, before turning back towards our apartment in the city.

June 14.

“That was a wonderful trip,” says Karen as we unload the car.  “I’m so glad we didn’t rush around.  Thank you for putting up with my morning sickness.”

“You must be feeling better.  You aren’t vomiting much now.  But you’re a very strong and determined person to not take medicine for it.” 

“It didn’t keep me from having my share of lobster in Maine,” Karen says. 

I carry the bags, she carries the cooler and coats, and we cross Beacon St.  A puff of hot, stale air hits us when we open our apartment door.  “Let’s get all the windows open,” Karen says.

“Where do you want to go for dinner?”

“Maybe just to HoJo’s,” she replies.  “Or do you feel like something more?”

“No, HoJo’s is fine.  Let’s wash up, rest a while, then go out in about an hour.”

Karen showers first, and comes back to the bedroom looking tanned, fresh-scrubbed, and incredibly appealing in a light blue robe, her hair wrapped in a towel.  I cross the room, bring her close to me and give her a long, hungry kiss.

“Not now, greedy boy,” she murmurs, “Go take a cold shower, and cool off.”  She pushes me away.  “We were going to rest, remember?”

As I shower, I think * * * * “Hello Sal, long time no talk.”

“It’s good to hear from you, Robert.  Welcome back.  I’ve been waiting for your call.  Did you and Karen have a good trip?”

“Yes, just wonderful.  Very relaxing, and refreshing.  Anything been happening with you?”

“No, nothing new,” says Sal.  “It’s been kind of boring.  But tell me about the trip.”

Boring?  What’s he do?  What social contacts?  How come he’s always free to talk to me?

“Well, probably the most important thing was that Karen was a pretty good traveler.  We just had a wonderful time in Maine and New Hampshire.  Have a look at some of the scenery.”

“Thanks, Bob.  Of course I’ll stay away from your more personal thoughts that you might inadvertently include.”

“Yeah, I would appreciate some privacy.  You must have traveled up that way in the past yourself, Sal.”

“Yes, I’ve experienced the Maine coast and the mountains of New Hampshire before.  But every time is different.  You were lucky to have such good weather.  It looks like the sea and the cliffs were as beautiful as ever..”

Experienced?  Funny expression.  Not seen or visited?

“You’re sure taking a long shower,” says Karen through the door.

“I’ll be right out,” I answer, turning off the water. 

“I’ll talk with you tomorrow, says Sal.”

Later, Karen and I linger over our coffee and dessert at the Howard Johnson’s on Commonwealth, reliving our trip. 

“I’ve got to go back to work in just four days,” I sigh.  “The time has gone by so quickly.  I haven’t thought once about medicine the whole time.”

“Don’t we have the department picnic this Saturday?” asks Karen.

“Yeah.  That’s right.  Seeing the guys and hearing about what’s been going on will help me get back into a ‘County’ frame of mind.”

“Do we need to do anything for it?”

“No.  Just show up.”

“I’ve been thinking about work too,” says Karen.  “Now that I’m beginning to feel better, and if all goes well and I don’t feel tired, I could teach until Christmas vacation.  What do you think?”

“That would be less than a month before your due date.  Don’t you think you’ll need some time off to rest?”

“That way, if I feel well, it’ll be better for the children and the school,” Karen continues. “They’ll start with a new teacher after they come back from break, and Miss Bartlett won’t need to find a substitute for me during the last few weeks of the fall semester.  Besides, what would I do with myself if I took off too early?”

“Let’s wait and see how you feel at the end of the summer,” I reply.  Maybe after your mother’s visit, you won’t feel like going back to work at all.”

“Did you think about what you’re going to call Mom?”

“Yeah.  How about Mrs. Litton or Emma?”

“Bob, you’re not serious?”

“Just kidding.  If you don’t mind, I’d like to save ‘mom’ for my mother.  How about if I use ‘mother’?”

“That’s a little formal, but I think she’ll understand.”

“Or I could call her Mother Litton or Mother Emma.”

“Let’s leave it at ‘mother’.”

June 17.

Why is the picnic so far out of the city?” asks Karen.  “I was starting to feel just a little bit queasy from the ride.”   She adjusts her wide-brimmed straw hat, as we walk over from where we’ve parked on the gravel to where the others are starting to set up on picnic tables in the shade of old apple trees.

“I’m sorry that you don’t have your usual sturdy stomach back.  The planning committee thought that after working all year in the inner city, it would be nice to get out to a park in the country.”

It’s comfortably warm, with soft clouds drifting slowly across the sun.  The grassy area extends away from the apple trees, remnants of a former orchard, down towards tall, dark evergreens lining the shore of a small lake.

“Well, they did pick a beautiful spot,” says Karen. 

“Hi Karen,” says Wil, as we walk up, “you still don’t look like you’re putting on any weight.  How’d the vacation go?”

“Thank you,” says Karen, with a little curtsey.  “The vacation was great.  I feel like I’m heavier, though.  Maybe it was the lobster.  Well, in just three short weeks, and you’ll be going off in uniform to protect us, Wilson.”

“Yeah, first to Gunter Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama, for orientation.  I’m not looking forward to that.  I have no idea whether I’ll be considered ‘Colored’ or ‘White’ down there.”

“Allie would probably know.  I don’t think she’d get upset if we asked her,” I say.  “Hey Allie, could we ask you a question?”

“Sure,” says Allie, joining us.  “Hi Karen, you feeling okay?  Not showing yet.  What’s on your mind, Bob?  Have a good vacation?”

“I hope you don’t mind my asking, but Wil’s supposed to go to Montgomery, Alabama for his Air Force orientation in three weeks, and he’s wondering, as a Chinese, how he’ll be treated down there.”

“Well, the military’s been desegregated ever since Truman ordered it.  So you won’t have any problems on base.  But even in the Deep South, you’re not a Black man; your skin is yellow, so while, maybe, they won’t think of you as being lily-white, you’re probably not going to run into stark prejudice either.  Even with what’s happened recently with the Freedom Riders.  In fact, you’d probably have more trouble trying to use the ‘Colored’ bathrooms than if you use the ‘White’ ones.”

“Thanks, Allie, that’s reassuring,” says Wil.  “With the violence in Alabama against the Freedom Riders, I guess I’ll pretty much stay close to base.  They are braver than I ever could be.”

“Yeah, I agree,” says Allie.  “See, I grew up in a border state where there’s segregation, but not as much of a tradition of violence as in the Deep South.  But I’m worried.  Paul’s thinking of taking a leave from grad school to join the movement.”

“Has he talked to you about joining him if he does?” I ask.

“He says everyone has to make up their own mind.  I just don’t know.” 

The silence that follows is broken by Vinny’s loud announcement from across the lot, “We’re going to have the softball game before we barbecue.  Beer and soft drinks are in the coolers.  If you get hungry beforehand, chips and pretzels are on the tables.  Also, let’s have a hand for Wayne and Dan, who represent the sponsors of our year-end picnic, Mead-Johnson and Ross.”  The two rival infant formula company reps raise their arms and wave.    

“You mean the formula companies paid for all of this?” asks Karen as we clap politely.  “Doesn’t that make for a conflict of interest when you talk to mothers about breast feeding?”

“You’re beginning–well, I suppose it could, but it really doesn’t, since we advise breast feeding and don’t say anything unless the mother wants to talk about switching to formula,” I reply.  Be careful.  Almost said ‘you’re beginning to sound like Sal.’  “Besides, most of the mothers we see can’t afford prepared formulas, so most of the time we talk to them about how to mix up formula using evaporated milk, even though it’s nowhere as well balanced as Similac or Enfamil.”

“Anyway, if you think we’re making out,” I continue, “you should see what the surgical supply companies do for the surgical residents at year’s end.  We get a picnic; they get dinner at Jimmy’s or Locke-Ober’s.”

“It all somehow seems a bit unethical to me.  Just different degrees of bribery.  But you will talk with them about getting some powdered formula as a supplement for our baby just in case I need it?”

“Of course.  They’re always more than willing to give residents a supply,” I say.  “It doesn’t seem so unethical when you and I need something, does it now?” 

Karen ignores my jibe.  “What’s Vincent going to do next year?”

“Didn’t I mention that to you?  He’s going to work a year in the premie unit at the Lying-in, then come back to County to supervise the nursery.”

“His hands are so large to be working with such little babies.”

“Well, that’s what he’s interested in.”

“Is that Mark over there?” whispers Karen.  “And is that Juliet with him?  She’s quite pretty.”

“Yes, and yes.”

“Okay,” says Vinny, “let’s count off.  Odds on one team, evens on the other.  The losers get to do the cooking.”

“Sounds like he’d rather manage a baseball team than run a nursery,” says Karen.

“Don’t worry about the cooking,” says Wayne, “Dan and I will handle the grills.  Just tell us how you like your formula, rare or well-done.”

“Then the losers will serve dinner to the winners,” says Vinny.  “And for the base runners, remember, no running into pregnant gals like Bob’s wife.  It’s okay to run into the pregnant guys.”

“Thank you Vincent,” says Karen.

June 30.

Today is for saying goodbye and offering best wishes to those leaving the County.  Some of the new house staff are already here and they’ve been stopping by the Chief’s office throughout the day.  The official starting date is tomorrow. 

I go to see Joan McKay, who’s moving to San Francisco to continue her training, since Ulrich has secured a junior faculty position in pathology at San Francisco General Hospital.  “Maybe our paths will cross again,” I say.  “Home for me is south of San Francisco.  If you’re still around the Bay area, if and when I get back, I hope that we’ll reconnect.  Otherwise maybe we’ll run into each other at a meeting.”

“Ulrich and I will see if all that stuff that you’ve been telling us about the Golden West is true.”

“You’ll see.  After the pinched view of the sky you get here in New England, you’ll have a chance to see how expansive it really is and what a real sunsets looks like.  Good luck and take care.  Tell Ulrich that I hope his research goes well.”   

At lunch, I see Wilson.  “You all packed?”

“I don’t have a lot.  Mostly clothes and books.  The Air Force is handling the move, and the movers came by yesterday.  Guess it’ll all be waiting for me in Germany.”

“Well, it’s been great being friends.  Take care of yourself and watch out for those frauleins.  Write if you get a chance.  Let me know how you like Europe.  Next year I’ll have to decide where to put in for, with the Army.”

After rounds, I shake hands with Mark.  “Good luck in Arizona.  That’ll be some new experience.”

“Yeah.  I’m looking forward to it.  Never been west of Niagara Falls.  So I’m anxious to see what the Wild West is like.”

“Okay, cowboy, and be sure to get some spurs that jingle, jangle, jingle.  But what about you and Juliet?” 

“We’re going to play it by ear.  She’s got to finish her last year, and I’ll be back home on leave, sometime during the year.  We’ll write to each other, and whatever happens, happens.”

As I drive home later, I say to Sal, “This is it.  We’re the SR’s.  Now we’re the ones with the responsibility.  I hope I’m ready for it.”

“What?  Oh right, you’re now an SR.  Well, you should do okay.” Says Sal.  “You’ve had some good role models.  Just take the best features of the SR’s that you’ve worked with, and use that as your starting point.  You’ll quickly develop your own style.”

“In retrospect, the year went by so quickly.  Suddenly I’m half-way through my training.  And then I’ve got my Army obligation ahead of me.”

“Better take it one day at a time.  First get through tomorrow, and the official switchover.  Do you know who your JR’s are going to be?”

“Yeah, I went by the boss’s office yesterday and checked with Carol.  Someone from Tufts named Katherine Neal, and Marcello Pasco from the Philippines.  We shall see how they are.