by Jon Austin Hill
On one fine summer day in 1954 I was sitting bareback astride a horse in Harry Buckley’s pasture. Mr. Buckley had invited Lucky Davidson and me to his Sunflower county farm in the Mississippi Delta for a couple of days of country life.
These rare trips were much anticipated adventures. We had enjoyed sandwiches for lunch and had taken our mandatory nap required of all of us in those times to "keep us from getting polio.” Then it was playtime.
Harry had a horse and a mule he said we could ride. He had a farm hand put the bridles on for us, and from then on we were free to ride and enjoy ourselves.
I'd clambered over on my horse and sat there waiting for Lucky to climb the fence post in order to jump to the back of his unsteady mount. He was struggling and hesitant to get on the mule’s back--but I shouted: "Jump!" and Lucky leapt. He missed. In the following commotion, the mule headed for the other end of the pasture. My mount looked around, realized his mule buddy was off to the races, and promptly took off in pursuit like greased lightning.
"Whoa!" Nothing doing. I was hanging on for dear life, bouncing from side to side, clutching mane and rein in a death grip. "Whoa! Whoa! Whoa, horse!"
Nothing was stopping this horse, and panic was definitely seizing my every bone. A tree limb loomed into view--coming up pretty fast. I tried to turn my steed, but he charged ahead. He ducked. I didn’t.
When I opened my eyes I was confused and unsure. I knew the room was dark and there was a figure bending over me, poking around on my chest. It took a few moments to realize I was home in my own bed back in nearby Cleveland. The man who was consoling me while continuing to press and listen was our family doctor and family friend, Doctor O. E. Ringold. Also in the room were my mom, dad, Mr. Butler, and peering through the door were my sisters and Essie, the maid. Boy was I hurting, and boy was I glad Doc Ringold was there. Mr. Butler told me I had hit the limb and had fallen, striking my head on a culvert. I’d been unconscious a very long time. An hour? Two hours? Doc’s presence meant it would be all right, though. It always did.
That Doc Ringold would be in my bedroom at a time of crisis was not at all unusual. His relaxed way of listening with his stethoscope and pressing here and there, stopping only to fumble around in his big medical bag, was a way of life in the 50’s. Doc was a family friend. He was as much like an uncle as any of my real uncles were, and I always was somewhat in awe of him because of his extraordinary ability to heal people. All of my Sunday school learning and all of the Sunday sermons had taught me that healers were to be treated with reverence. This is how I regarded Doc. At age twelve he had already rescued me from the hurt of broken bones, uncooperative tonsils, rusty nails and tetanus shots, and goodness knows how many aches, pains and fevers. He healed my sisters too, although I don’t remember their getting as banged up and broken up as did I on that journey toward the teens.
The Ringold and Hill families were great friends. They had one daughter, Sadie Mae, who was my age. She was my best girl friend growing up. Our families vacationed together in Panama City or Daytona Beach. We played with each other constantly and were both as comfortable at the other’s home as we were at our own.
Doc Ringold and my daddy shared a love of hunting, fishing, and Early Times bourbon. They treated themselves to each in abundance. As a youngster I accompanied them to the hunting camp on Ozark Island or to the riverboat fishing club on Benoit lake. They drank and they hunted or fished. Then they’d cook and drink some more. Doc rarely stayed long on these sporting trips. He usually had to get back to deliver a baby or look in on someone at the hospital. I realize now he had to squeeze his pleasures into limited time niches because he always had to get back to the healing business.
For minor bumps and bruises we’d go to Doc Ringold’s office. His office was on North Street just a few steps off Sharpe. It was located just behind Owens Drug Store on the Northeast corner. The alley ran right behind his office and there was a back door from the alleyway. On occasion I’d be told to go through that door so I didn’t have to wait in the anteroom out front. His anteroom was always filled with people. It was there I would sit quietly, wide-eyed, as I flipped through the pages of Life and Look magazines. The photographers of those magazines did as much as anything to stoke the furnace of my imagination with embers that burn to this very day. These magazines were our windows onto the world. Those magazines and the Movietone news clips at the Ellis or "Bayou" theatres.
Once inside Doc’s office we were swept up in the images of a sacred healing room. I can still see the cluttered desk with pictures of Sadie Mae all around. (I remember one picture of her wearing a dance recital tutu from Mrs. Keywood’s dance recital. It might have been Sister Cockersole’s class. We both played starring roles in that one!)
In the office was a dark wood-spindled divider with fabric inserts. Ladies stepped behind the divider to remove this item or that before an examination. Imagine that. There was a cabinet with glass doors containing what looked like operating room instruments plus a porcelain pan containing several more instruments in alcohol.
And there was not a nook or cranny that didn’t have a pipe or two. He must have owned hundreds of pipes. There were pipes in his office, pipes all over his house, pipes in his car and, no doubt, there were a couple tucked away in that big, black medical bag sitting at the foot of his wooden chair. His office and den at home exuded the trademark smell of his favorite tobacco. It was a signature aroma that followed him--no, preceded him--when he’d visit our home. For the longest time I associated that smell with the office of a doctor. Figured it had to do with penicillin and rubbing alcohol, the staples of a doctor’s office as far as I knew.
Doc would call me over to him as he sat at his desk. He’d rare back in that chair, pick up a pipe and strike a match to it, then puff and puff until the blue gray smoke curled upwards and wafted across the room to refresh the signature smell of his workplace abode. All the while he was striking that match and moving it over the bowl of tobacco clinched firmly in his teeth and lips he never took his eyes off me. Puff. Puff. Puff.
I was certain that during that brief ceremony Doc had figured out just what was ailing me. That he might then lean forward and poke here and there and ask a few questions was for show only. He already knew. I just know he did. In those magical moments it was one on one. Just me and Doc. These were rare moments in adult/child relationships. And, as such, Doc was a special hero in my little world.
I knew from those "family" moments with Doc, Myrtle (his wife), and Sadie Mae that he held no bad feelings about anyone. Oh, he and Myrtle would fuss once in a while. (Didn’t everyone’s parents?) But Doc was always generous with his time, his knowledge and even his possessions. I remember he let me use his Plymouth Fury in later dating years to take Sadie Mae to a dance.
I remember many funny stories and incidents surrounding his occasional self-administered, (medicinal, I’m sure) doses of Early Times. Even then, he was a boisterous, happy man known for his generosity and love for everyone. Doc loved us all and he made us well.
It always was that way.
Jon, talk about house calls, I can beat you on that one. I lived at Route one, Box 196-A, Boyle, Mississippi. I was just over the line in Sunflower county, off what was then called the Pea Vine road in Bolivar county--what it was in Sunflower, haven't a clue. It is now indentified on Hiway 61 as Linn road.
Anyway, after you cross the county line, traveling generally east on Linn road, you come to a road now known as Givens road. You turn left; this will carry you over Jones bayou. Go about a quarter mile, you come to another bayou we called the Leed. You didn't cross the Leed to get to the house I was born in and lived in all my "growing-up" life. You turned right on a dirt road, and my home was about 200 yards from what was then just a gravel road and is now Givens road. My home faced the lovely Leed, of the shimmering scum.
Anyway, to make a short story long, I was born in that house in August, 1937, and Doctor Ringold came out from Cleveland to that humble abode (to say the least) and delivered yours truly. We had no running water, and if Doc needed sterile water I suppose they had to boil it on the coal stove, one step up from the wood-burning kind.
Doc was one of the last Country Doctors . . . [Tom Givens]
Back to USADEEPSOUTH homepage