Archive for August 2009

Only You

August 31, 2009

        I’m sure y’all remember the old Platters number, ‘Only You.’  I study mandolin under Wayne Benson.  Our current lesson involves improvisation over the harmonized scales.  It is a powerful tool.  When a man can show you how to improv ‘Only You’ in the key of Eb, he is deep into the mando gig.

       One time I took a friend to a III Tyme Out concert.  He had protested for a while.  “Doc,” he said. “I just don’t care for bluegrass.”  He heard me play a few times, then changed his mind and agreed to go.

      For a while he watched in fascinated silence.  “Hey, they’re good,” he said.  When they did their acapella version of ‘Only You’ he broke into a smile and began to sing along.  He had a pretty fair voice, too.  When the band finished he stood up and clapped loudly, then sat back down, leaned over and said, “Doc, I used to sing that one to my wife when we were dating.  I thought you said they were bluegrass.”

       “They are, Jim, but really they are music.”

      “I believe you now.” 

        Like my agent says, it is always better to show than tell.

        I’m gonna send this post out to the only two women in my life, my wife and daughter.  Come to think of it I guess I should send it out to Mom too.  I wouldn’t be here without her, and she’s also beyond important to me.  My boy is special too, but I’ll have to write him a different version.  Maybe, “Only you …….. out-drive me forty yards ……only you ….can hit a ball that far…

        Talk to y’all again soon.  I hope you have a good week.

Dr. B

Mark Twain

August 29, 2009

        Now here’s a writer I can identify with.  Mark Twain always felt he was a bit odd and different from other folks.  He was so intuitive about himself that he predicted he’d ride out of here with Haley’s Comet, and then proceeded to do just that.

        I loved Twain back to late grade school.  At first glance, his writing seemed simple.  He wrote in a way that a kid could read it and dream of a Mississippi raft ride or of being Tom Sawyer on a date with Becky when he grew up, but an adult could read it on another level.  Twain painted word pictures.  When I read Twain I could visualize the river or the cave or the whitewashed fences just as sure as if I was there myself.

        I grew up in a very segregated society.  Twain showed me a lot about race.  You remember the scene when Huck Finn was riding down the river with Jim?  Huck was conflicted wasn’t he?  Society said it was wrong to help a black man escape to freedom, and yet Jim was a good man and a genuine friend.  Finally Huck comes to grips with the dilemma and says, (paraphrased) “Well, if helping Jim is wrong then I guess I’ll just have to go to hell.”  I thought that was pretty brave for a fellow no older than me. 

        If a black child ever played Little League with us I don’t recall it.  We played a lot of sandlot ball in a vacant field near the house.  We’d take a break and go to the store to get a pop.  All you has to do was go down the street, cut in behind my piano teacher’s house, and then go through the woods by an old pond and you’d come to a clearing.  We weren’t supposed to go there ’cause it was the black section of town.  There was an old general store there, the kind of place with wide wood plank dusty floors and raw peanuts in big washtubs.  Old men in overalls would sit and play checkers or cards.  I recall they had the best baseball cards in town.  It was my first memory of any human being of color.

        Some of the kids played ball, and I thought we should invite them to our game.  A couple of our older guys nixed that.  ‘Them is ‘N’….(The ‘N’ word) you can’t do that.’  Even as a boy it seemed wrong to me.  Now that I am older I realize I should have stood up to them.  I hope the Lord has forgiven me for not doing so. 

       Later we’d skip Sunday School and hang out at the  Gulf station where we’d drink Co-Colas and eat nabs.  Some of the guys would smoke cigarettes.  My Dad was a doc and said that’d kill you and I believed what he told me so I didn’t get started on that.  The subject of race came up every so often.  By then I was reading Twain, so I’d quote the river scene.  Some of them made fun of me, and said I was  a ‘N’ lover.  By this age I’d learned better how to stick to my guns.  I told them if they didn’t hush I was gonna tell their moms they were skipping Sunday School to smoke cigarettes.  I guess I figured they’d be just as scared of going to hell as Huck, but not as brave.  They backed away.  I learned the concept of leverage at an early age.

        Twain also taught me it was okay to hang out with questionable characters if their heart was right, which is how I fell in love with Dr. Indie Jenkins as a father like figure.  Twain also taught me to love words.  I got along okay with Thoureau but wasn’t a ‘Wuthering Heights’ kinda guy.  When we read it in English class I tended to play hooky and go to Popeye’s store to pick the blues.  I read the Cliff’s notes and got an A- for that one.  But Twain I loved, and read every word whether it was assigned or not.

        So, tell me what you guys like about Twain.  He is my all time favorite.

Dr. B

Nice Guy Syndrome

August 27, 2009

        Just to let y’all know I’m a nice guy if I want to go to the bathroom I have to plan for it.  The journey is a minimum investment of a gauntlet of a dozen questions.  I counted today.  It was one from a patient in the hall who didn’t want to have their blood drawn, one from a rep who brought samples for an indigent patient of mine I was trying to help, two very legitimate questions from nursing about prescription refills (one was a patient who wanted to leave for the beach right now) one from Julius (it was a good one though) one from the front office about a policy concern, one from the appointment secretary about an MRI the insurance company didn’t want to do (it was needed and we won) a call from a friend whose mother was in trouble, another question from a patient in the hall I had already answered twice, and a hug from my mentally handicapped diabetic buddy.  In addition, there two signatures and only one patient stepped on my toe.

        I’m not complaining though.  There is no heavy lifting involved and I am too old for that if there was.  Being a Doc isn’t hard, but it does require some personal patience.  Good bladder control doesn’t hurt either.

Dr. B

Writers I Identify With- Clyde Edgerton

August 26, 2009

        Today I want to start a new category on my blog; writers I identify with.   My long time lit hero is Mark Twain, but he was not available for an interview, so I decided to start with a hero I could talk to; Clyde Edgerton.  Over the next few months I plan to cover several writers, and also get back to my book tour plans.  I put those posts on hold while Julius was here on his med student rotation.  He still has two weeks left, but he has also become more interested the Lit and bluegrass world while he is here.  I like my personal mix to be 80% doc and 20% artist, and Julius is headed in the same direction.

        In this series I am interested in how and why folks became writers.  What is it that compels a human beings to write?  For the most part writers struggle over manuscripts for years at lonely odd hours.  They have no guarantee of any award other than the satisfaction they have created a story, but that thrill is more than adequate reward.  For me writing offers a sliver of hope for a bit of earthy immortality.  The thought my great-grandchildren might read my story someday drives me more far more than any hope of Earthly reward.   

       In many ways, Clyde Edgerton’s background is similar to mine.  He grew up in a rural North Carolina, and loved to fish and play baseball.  I once read many creative folks come from rural areas.  I have often wondered if it was the freedom to run and play in the woods and a childhood of innocence and lack of fear that frees one up to be creative.

        His childhood is described as idyllic.  He was close to his mother, and also spent a lot of time outdoors with his Dad.  On his web site he says as a youngster he hoped he might grow up to be pro baseball player or play in a rock n roll band.  I can identify with that.  I often tell my young patients who are not sure what they what to be when they grow up that I wanted to be a rock star but it didn’t work out.  They always laugh.  The image of old Doc as a rock star is so wildly improbable they never fail to get the idea; is is okay to dream of anything.

        Some of my early memories of music are from when my mom played the piano.  Mostly it was hymns.  Whenever we had a birthday party she’d play ‘Happy Birthday,’ and I thought it was the coolest thing.  Clyde Edgerton’s mom put him in piano just like my mom did.  I wonder if Clyde was like me. I often skipped out on practice to play ball, a fact I regret now.

        We both like to read as kids, but I don’t think either of us could be characterized as book worms.   After that our paths begin to diverge.  He became an English major at Carolina and began to write an an early age.  He now has a number of book under his belt and a long list of awards old Doc couldn’t to live long enough to see.  I wrote stories in grade school, but then put it aside and spent most of my life as a Doc.  Still though, I always kept notes and scribbled down ideas.  I knew I would come back to it someday, and after I turned fifty, the compulsion became stronger every year.  I didn’t want to leave this Earth without compiling some sort of written record.

         But in spite of his wild success as a writer, and my obscurity, I still feel a kinship.  He is compelled to tell his mostly Southern story, and so am I.  I am certain he writes because it is in his blood, and not for financial gain. 

        Perhaps an even more certain sign is his music.  He plays with a bluegrass band, ‘The Rank Strangers.’  I have seen him play both both banjo and mandolin and my guess is he can play some guitar too.  Most bluegrassers are that way.  I saw him do ‘Columbus Stockade Blues’ when I was at the Southern Writers Conference in Chattanooga.  Afterwards, I took my mandolin down front and we traded a few licks.  In spite of magnificent sucess in the literary world, he remains a polite Southern gentleman who is respectful of his elders.  As Lester would say, he ‘didn’t get above his raising,’ a high compliment in the bluegrass world.

        Clyde Edgerton will be in Charlotte, N.C. on Saturday Oct 24 for a book reading and to play with his band.  I have a late afternoon gig that day, but I hope with some luck I might get to the end of the session.  If I don’t, I will be there in spirit.  Any baseball playing, mandolin picking writer is good by me.

        Visit his website at www.clydeedgerton.com and pick up one of his books.  He wrote ‘Raney,’ ‘Walking Across Egypt’ and many others.  His new release, ‘The Bible Salesman,’ is one I plan to get to soon.  Go to one of his book store gigs, and tell him Dr. B said to come by and sing one with him.

         If you guys are familiar with his work I hope you will comment as to what you like about it.  I am still learning as a writer. (I’m certain that will never end) As I go through my last edit on ‘The Mandolin Case,’ I enjoy thinking of your ideas as I work. 

        It is much like my mandolin lessons.  When I play if someone says they believe Doc has been working with Darin Aldridge or Wayne Benson that tickles me because I know my playing has evolved.  I am 100 % against plagiarism, but if someone were to read my writing and say, ‘I think Doc has been reading Clyde Edgerton,’ nothing would thrill me more.  It’s like we say in bluegrass- ‘Only steal from the best.”

        What makes a guy like Clyde Edgerton an author?  How can I be one?  What can I learn?  As my agent says, you always learn from your readers.  When I get there a large measure of credit goes to you, and I forever appreciate your comments.

Dr. B

Doc Rule Number Seven- Speak the Language

August 24, 2009

        Even before I finished med school, folks began to tell me I was a good diagnostician.  It would be wrong for me to take too much credit.  I learned the secret early on, and it was easy- listen to the patient.

        I was a good student but I realized when I got to medical school we had a couple who were brilliant, and I was not that gifted.  When we started to take care of patients I found my gift, though.  That gift was I liked the patients.  It was the secret to life as a Doc for me and I am forever grateful for it.

        I recall one fellow with malignant hypertension. (High blood pressure to a dangerous level)  I remember sitting by his bedside and saying, “Well we only have one more medicine to try, but it has a side effect you might not like.”

        “What’s that, Doc?”

         “It can make you hairy.”

        “Well, I hope it grows in the right places.”  (This was a burly man who had hair everywhere except on his head)  He got a big laugh.  I always had a way with people.  By the way, the medicine was Minoxidil, which later was reformulated as a lotion and marketed as Rogaine.

        In med school, we used to make rounds with an entourage; attendings, residents, students, etc.  Some of the students tried to make every diagnosis from a text book.  I read the books too, but I’d often make my diagnosis after the entourage left.  Sometimes the attending would talk ‘at’ the patient.  You could see the patient all but beg to get in a word.  After the team left, I’d go back in the room and sit down with the patient and the family.  If it was a slow night sometimes I’d watch part of a movie and eat some popcorn with them.  There they’d tell me everything that was on their mind.  I never had any trouble figuring out what was wrong.

        It bothered one fellow student.  “How’d you get so smart all of a sudden?” they asked.

        “I dunno.”  I tried to explain  a couple times.  I never could understand how such a smart person couldn’t get such a simple concept.

         By the end of med school I was pleased about my progress.  They had an award for most promising Family Doctor.  As has often happened to me in life I was the runner-up.  The kid who won stayed with it a year and then changed to Radiology.  Oh well.  I’ve been happy enough with my lot in life even if I didn’t win the award or get rich and famous either.  My patients tell me I am a good Doc for them, and that is the only award that matters to me.

        This is an old med school story.  Like many it might be only a legend, but it is still a good one.

       Seems there was an old preacher who had prostate cancer.

      The attending made rounds and said, “Reverend,  tomorrow we will proceed with an orchiectomy.”

        “Whatever you say, sir.  You Doctors at Sandhills are the best in the country.  I trust whatever you say.”

        The resident was skeptical.  After the attending left he said, “Pastor, we have you on the OR schedule tomorrow to have your testicles removed.”

        “Whatever you say, sir.  You Doctors at Sandhills are the best in the country.  I trust whatever you say.”

        The med student watched all that and was not at all certain the man got it.  He decided he’d better explain one more time.  The boy was from the country, and he wasn’t all that sophisticated, but he thought he knew how to communicate with this man.

      “Preacher, I just want you to be sure you understand, but in the morning they’re gonna cut your balls off.”

        The hell they are!!

       The point of the story:  It is imperative to speak the patient’s language.

        And by the way, that is as close to off color as you’re gonna get from Doc, but I thought it made the point.

Dr. B

Never Laugh….Dreams Come True

August 22, 2009

        I cleaned up my office study the other day.  I do this every few years whether it needs it or not.  I ran across a small slip of paper that looked like a fortune cookie.  Someone gave it to me me years ago as a  note of encouragement.  It was from back when I first started on my book.

        The message read, “Never laugh at anyone’s dreams.”

        I smiled and recalled that day.  It was from a pal of mine who has a saying I love.  “A true friend is never jealous or envious.”  This buddy of mine is a very successful man.  All through all the ups and downs of life he has always encouraged me, and hoped I’d see the best life has to offer.  I’ve done the same with him.  If my book is well received he’ll be just as happy as it it’d been him, and if his business were to grow in this tough economy nothing would thrill me more.

        My wife and children have always supported my every dream and I have theirs too.  Over the years when I straighten up my study, I’ll find messages from my wife cheering me on, or scribbled notes from my children from the hard days when I started my medical practice.  “You can do it, Dad,’  from my boy.  Or “I love you, Daddy”  from my daughter, complete with a stick drawing of a little girl with glitter sparkles in her hair.  My dream was to live a life of grace and dignity and they made it possible.  They never laughed at my dreams, but did their best to help make them come true.  I hope I did as well by them.

        As I close in on publication of my book, I want to thank all you guys.  You never laughed at my dreams, and I love my readers for it.  I hope someday my wife and I will meet you at one of my book store gigs, and play you a song and share some stories.  You listened to my dreams, and as a writer it kept me going.  

        I want to hear your dreams too, and I hope you will share them with me.  After all, as my buddy says, “true friends are never jealous or envious,” and I pray you’ll see all your dreams come true too.  

Dr. B

Rule Number Six- The Patient is the Center of the Universe (Not the Opposite)

August 21, 2009

        This post was inspired by a blog pal of mine, Ms. Cindy, who works at a Vet office.  She is new to the Vet business, but already understands it in a way some veterans never do.  She wrote “I want to help make things better.”  That’s it.  I am certain she is the kind of human being who be an employee of the month at our place, ’cause she gets it without being told.

        In the Doc world, this rule is so simple that I can not understand why anyone would have difficulty with it.  Yet, there are some that do.  Some folks are in it for money or power or prestige or I don’t know why, but they are the ones I never get along with.  I have two trusted nurses who have been with me for decades, and they are there because they want to help make things better.  They never base their decisions on anything other than what is best for the patient.

        Many years ago I had an employee who wanted us to get a ‘Corporate’ Country Club membership.  She felt we needed a marketing type person, and that her face at the club would ‘upgrade’ our public image.  As you can imagine, she didn’t last long.  I have nothing against anyone at the club, but I don’t want an image.  I want to be a Doctor, and hope folks will trust me enough to give me the honor to serve.  She was in the gig to look important, not to help make things better. 

        She sells lingerie now, and there’s nothing worn with that either, but her concept of the Doc gig just didn’t jive with mine.  As Larry Cordle would say, “I’m a little rough around the edges,” and the young lady just didn’t get what I wanted our little Doc office to be about.

        So, sorry to preach but what it is about is the patient.  One time we had an open house.  The band was scheduled to play and we were gonna have some chickens on the grill.  One of my patients asked, “Doc, is it O.K if I come?”

        “O.K.?  Lordy, George it’s your party, not mine.  If we have an open house and it ain’t for the patients we might as well all go home,  ’cause we’ve forgotten what we’re here for.”

          The image of George munching on a chicken leg and tapping his toes to bluegrass is a permanent one on my brain.  We can’t forget what we came to the party for, and must forever remember to dance with who brung us.

Dr. B

My Editor is a Genius

August 19, 2009

        Jenny Lynn has now outlined the first major edit of  ‘The Mandolin Case.’  I like this lady.  She took her time and asked a lot of questions.  We began to work on a few minor things while she got her thoughts together.  Now we are ready to dig in.  I have much work to do but she is convinced my draft will be ready for consideration in the meetings we have scheduled this fall.  After that, she plans one more start to finish tune-up, then it should be ready for 2010.

       Jenny is a genius.  She has been in and out of Harvey Country several times, and has been able to get some things done even Dr. Bibey could not do.

        What I’m getting ready to tell you is what we call ‘graveyard talk’ around here.  You will know things few outside of Harvey County know.  It is only fitting.  If you have read this far you deserve a leg up on the general public.  When you read ‘The Mandolin Case’ you will understand some things the naive reader will have to guess about.

        Somehow Jenny Lynn figured out how to get people to talk.  Maybe it was that fiddle.  I sent her some old tapes of Indie’s and she did some serious woodshedding.  Anything that reminds people of Indie tends to open them up a bit.  She negotiated at length with a major player in ‘The Mandolin Case,’ and has now secured his permission.  His name is Bones.

        Bones no longer lives in Harvey County but his heart is still here.  I knew him as kid.  He will not allow me to disclose his current location.  I was aware of his role in the case, but he would never agree to let me discuss it until Jenny talked him into it.  In a way I was willing to take the hit for him;  I thought his part of the story needed to be told.   After Jenny talked it over with him he decided that wouldn’t be fair and gave in.

       You may wonder about all this secrecy.  There are many reasons.  The most important is patient privacy.  It is imperative,  but there are are other reasons too.  With ‘The Mandolin Case’ I’m gonna take you deep into a world of money and power, a world few folks know about, and one the players would rather I not discuss.  I can promise you the money crowd would prefer I not talk.  Therefore the story either has to be encrypted or it can’t be told.

          As I have said before, there is a Lit Professor quote I love.  “For it to be good fiction, it need not necessarily have happened but it must be true.”  To that end, I have been careful not tell tell any facts, but still show the truth.

        After Jenny Lynn discussed it with Bones he was O.K. with it, but he still won’t let me give him up.   And I always keep my promises.    His whereabouts, his career plans, and his deepest secrets are safe with me.

Dr. B

The Church of the Exceptional

August 16, 2009

        I awoke at dawn.  After a couple cups of coffee I was with the living.  The morning doves cooed. I checked the morning paper.  Sure is a lot of trouble in the world.  I tossed it aside and checked in with my FaceBook Book friends.  They are all about music, and grace and dignity.  Ah yes, a much better way to start the day.  After a couple of calls to friends about some gigs I hoped they’d land, the light was creeping in.

         Marfar came to get a cup.  “Now hon, I want you to wear the black and white checked shirt today.  It’ll go nice with my periwinkle and Betty Jo’s fuchsia.”

       “Yes ma’am.”  I choose my own clothes without fail, but but when I play with ‘Guitared and Feathered’ I try to comply with the color scheme.  Just one of the girls I guess.  “Where is it we’re playing?”

        “The Church of the Exceptional.  We must be our best.”

        We loaded up all the sound and took off.  When we got there, several church members helped us lug in the gear.  I took a look around.  The pews were battered, and the old hardwood floors were worn and stained, but the place was neat as a pin.  A hand drawn picture of Jesus graced the wall behind the alter.  It was child-like rendering, but had a simple elegance.   

        Someone started the service with ‘Jesus Loves Me’ on the piano.  The piano player played…well as we say, from the heart, and the congregation was spirited if a bit off key.  We sweltered.  The only air conditioning was those little hand held fans with Jesus on one side and an advertisement for the Funeral Home on the back.  They said they were gonna get some new ones come fall that’ll have the high school football schedule.  A wooden bulletin board posted notice of how many members were present.  It was 60.

        They had two offerings.  The first was the ‘penny offering’ where everyone had to get all the pennies out of their pocket and place them in the plate.  The fellow beside me didn’t have one, but I found one in my pocket and gave it to him.  He smiled and handed me a peppermint.  I tried to decline but he insisted.  One by one they all came down front and gave what they had.  It reminded me of the little lady in the Bible.  Then they had a regular offering. We had a feeling this crowd didn’t have much so we tossed in some for good measure.

        The  minister gave a brief sermon and then said, “Folks, today we are blessed to have ‘Guitared and Feathered’ in all the way from Harvey County.  Y’all give em a big welcome.  They all clapped.

       We got up and after a quick introduction broke into ‘When the Saints Go Marching In.”  At first the congregation sat silent; almost stunned, but then took to clapping and hollering.  We’d heard them do “This Little Light of Mine’ in Sunday School as we drove in so we decided to improvise it.  They all began to sing along.  Several danced in the aisles.  Thank goodness no one objected; they are having too much fun.

       The sang louder.  “Leaning, leaning, leaning on the Everlasting Arms.”  They clapped out of time but Marfar held the line like a pro on the bass.  I kept the mandolin simple; just a straight chop, and we all hung together.

        Soon they were on their feet.  I could see why they call it the Church of the Exceptional.  This crowd was one of the most enthusiastic I have ever played for.  They were diverse in age, but all had the hearts of children.  I had a mental image of someone outside the church who watched the walls pulsate and the windows fly open to let out the steam.

       We closed with ‘I’ll Fly Away’ and everyone got up and gathered around the stage.  It was the ultimate in audience participation.

         When we finished the minister had us line up for the recessional.  Every single soul in the Congregation came by and shook the hand of each player.

        ‘Yous uns is real good.’

        ‘I ain’t never heard no banjer good as that.”

        ‘Where’s y’all from?”

        “Thanks you.”

        The Church of the Exceptional was that indeed.  You see, except for the minister, some volunteers who drive the church buses, and a few family members and case workers, all the church members are either physically or mentally handicapped, and some severely so.

        It didn’t stop them from digging the music; not one bit.  If any human being could go and not to be humbled by that congregation, I sure do feel sorry for them.  They were beyond gracious.  As someone wrote in the bulletin, “You will never leave the Church of the Exceptional the way you arrived.”

        I agree.

Dr. B

The Origin of Three Finger Style Banjo

August 15, 2009

        Here’s the way I heard the story.

        Years ago two boys were cooped up in their Cleveland County farmhouse homeplace.  It was a rainy day and they had a reprieve from their chores.  One was named Horace.  He played a guitar.  His brother was Earl, and he picked a banjo.

        As boys can do, they got in an argument over some long forgotten point of contention, and Earl went back to the bedroom. 

        He had been messing with a song called ‘Ruben.’  He began to play.

        Suddenly he called out to Horace.  “I got it, I got it.”

        Horace forgot why he was mad.  It sounded important.  “Whatcha got, whatcha got?”

       “Listen.”  Earl proceeeded with a cascade of notes.  They lit up the room on a dark day in a way the boys had never heard.  “I figured out how to use three fingers.”

       “Let me get my guitar.”  Horace took off on a run.  He came back and laid down that metronome rhythm.  “You got it, You got it.” 

        Many years later Horace still recalled the day in great detail.  Looking back, even though the boys could not have any way to know how significant the event was, I believe deep in their hearts they knew that was the day ‘Scruggs Style’ banjo was born.

Dr. B


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