Four Score and One
Written October 3, 2013
Four Score and One years ago last night a young boy was sent by his father out into the night to go fetch a doctor. It was a cold October night, the clock was nearing midnight and the still sparsely settled countryside was terrifying for the boy. He was only twelve years old and in his imagination the fields, gullies and trees through which he had to pass were filled with all sorts of malevolent creatures waiting to do terrible things to his young body. He took two old horses that were on the place with him just to have some friendly company but he had to leave them behind when he came to a fence. Then he was all alone with no road or path to follow. There were other fences to climb over, gullies and creeks to negotiate, and always; the fear inside that whatever monster lurked in the dark shadows was about to pounce onto him.
He had only his sense of direction to guide him over the four or five miles that lay between him and “Old Doctor Phillips” house in Oilton, Oklahoma. His name was Robert Carriker. He was the oldest of the five kids who lived with their parents “Jack” and “Shug” Carriker in a ramshackle old house located in a place so isolated that it was known only as “Section 14.” The kids ranged in age from twelve to six and the family was now about to increase by one. That was why his dad had sent his oldest son out in the dim light of the waning crescent moon to face the horrors the young boy imagined lay in wait for him. His mother was laboring to bring forth that sixth child and had only her husband to help her.
While Robert, keeping as stiff an upper lip as possible walked on through his personal nightmare his three brothers, “Rudy,” “Willard” and “Gene,” and his “Frances” waited in their skimpily furnished kitchen. They were all old enough to understand what was happening and were excited. They were too young to realize what another child to care for would entail for their parents. “Jack” had been chronically unemployed since the Great Depression shut down the country in 1929 and there already had been many days when the only food in the pantry was oatmeal. As for clothing; all of them were well-acquainted with “hand-me-downs” and charity. It was a time before government stepped into the role of being everyone’s parents and the Jack Carriker family was absolutely impoverished.
Sometime before midnight on October 3rd, the kids’ excitement turned to delight when they heard new sounds coming from their parent’s bedroom. It was a sound that, even had they heard it before would have been forgotten. It had been six years since such sounds were heard in the Carriker house. Although they knew what was happening in the bedroom they had no way of knowing what that new sound was. There was some speculation among them that it was a flock of wild geese honking overhead as they passed on their southerly migration. They had to wait quite some time wondering before their dad came out to tell them they had a new brother whom he had named “Millard Don.” Millard, in honor of a boyhood friend who had been killed in World War I, and “Don” after a man he admired with whom he had worked. And this newborn’s other always testily insisted that it was “Don,” not “Donald” because she detested the longer name “Donald."
Meanwhile Robert had arrived at Doctor Phillip’s house sometime before night ended. When he awakened the doctor to tell him he was needed, the doctor invited him in and told him to rest on the sofa until daybreak. Robert, exhausted from the long hike and coming down from what must have been adrenalin “high” had no trouble following the doctor’s advice. When dawn broke Dr. Phillips took his medical bag and Robert and headed for “Section 14.” He arrived long after I had entered the world and there was little for him to do. According to the laws of the State of Oklahoma at that time he put drops of a chemical called “silver nitrate” into my eyes. Silvernitrate was routinely used to drop into the eyes of newborns to prevent blindness or infection from a mother's gonorrhea, whether she had that disease or not. (My mother certainly did not.) It worked and drastically lowered the incidence of blindness thanks to its antibacterial properties, although there were some complications with its use. An incorrect dosage sometimes led to infant blindness.
Old Doctor Phillips, having exhausted the medical duties required of him, filled out the necessary documents he had to file at the county courthouse and left, never to see me again. By that time it was early morning on October 4th. For whatever reason, he didn’t bother to inquire as to the hour at which I emerged into the world. It was October 4thwhen he first saw and treated me and that’s what he wrote on my Birth Certificate. My mother and dad, however, always insisted that I was born before midnight On October 3rd and they certainly should be the authority on the subject.
The contrast would have made no difference had it not been required that I provide the Social Security Administration with my Birth Certificate when I applied for my pension. With government-like rigidity they took what Doctor Phillips had written sixty-five years earlier as the last word and from that day forward I have had TWO birthdays. One, celebrated by family and friends on October 3rdand another mentioned only when I am involved in something that involves my medical insurance or pension, on October 4th.
At some point the Veteran’s Administration will want to know what dates they should inscribe on the plain white cross that will stand over a small plot of ground where my body awaits being brought forth from the rocky Missouri soil and glorified by God. Quite likely they will insist upon their version of my birth date thereby depriving me, officially at least, of one day of my earthly life and confounding any genealogical researchers who may pursue such facts. To me it will make absolutely no difference.
Oh Don I SO enjoy reading your great stories. This is another spectacular insight into a world few will know without someone like you taking the time to share with us.
You should be a memoir writer or maybe this is the first story in chapter one of your own. Excellent!!