THE LIFE WE NEVER LED

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Mom was on her 4th solitaire game at the dining room table. Not looking up from the game, she said calmly:

“We almost lived in New York City. We just missed out on havin’ an entirely other life – if your dad hadn’t been drafted or the medical foundation’s offer had come 6 months earlier.”

WHAT???

Back in those days, the early ‘50s, we were four: Annette and Ted both on their second marriages, me from Mom’s previous marital attempt, and bro Bill a recent result of a Mom-and-Dad effort. There were 3 more kids from Dad’s original marriage, but they lived out of town and we hadn’t met them yet. Home was Montgomery, Ala., at that time “The Cradle of the Confederacy”.

Annette had been a teenage beauty queen; started college but came down with severe anemia and never finished; a temporary secretary and bookkeeper. Ted was pediatrician to half the city, a partner in Jackson Hospital, co-owner of Pineview Manor, the Home for Handicapped Children. He was super smart; going to college just when 16 yr.s old; a brilliant diagnostian.

We were living in a “just darlin’” converted barn down the hill from Pineview Manor on the edge of the forest. The little house had 2 bedrooms, flagstone floors, authentic barn doors, varnished pine walls and a huge fireplace. No central heating.

The wind literally whistled through the walls.

These were the early days of their marriage. Ted was responsible for us 4 plus his first wife and those 3 kids plus his mother. But money had no significance to Ted. He didn’t attend to bills. On his housecalls, patients paid him in cash – stuffed into his pocket or in produce – stuffed into his car trunk. There was no real accounting at all. As a trained bookkeeper, Annette was shocked: 8 dependents and no accounting? Mah gawd.

So, she had taken over the family finances entirely. She began going through Ted’s pockets at night and quizzing him about what amounts came from where. He thought this was darlin’. At first.

A recent surprise had revealed that Ted not only didn’t keep track of his money at all, but he didn’t pay any attention to his piled-up mail from the office. His secretary began to stuff it into a paper bag and he would bring it home saying “I’ll get to it later.” Finally going through three months of mail, Annette discovered a $1200 check for Diagnostic Consulting from an Atlanta hospital! The sacks then came home every two weeks.

Eventually she uncovered a letter to Ted from a medical foundation in New York, N.Y. They were a group devoted to pediatric needs, creating a new position of Medical Director and wanted Ted to contact them. New York City!! The foundation had run across his articles about warm water treatment in rehabilitating paralyzed children, early detection of spina bifida, etc. in medical journals. “Investigating him” had revealed his extensive diagnostic experience throughout the country and his speaking engagements promoting his and his partners’ innovative techniques in child health. Once Annette ran across the letter, furious correspondence and many long distance phone calls ensued.

Ted and Annette were terribly excited. Ted had a dozen ideas he wanted to pursue from a larger stage than Montgomery. Annette wanted out of the barn. Annette shared with me grandiose vistas of the art world, the museums, the fashions. New York City!! Ted took the train to N.Y. (there was little plane travel in the early 1950s) for a Meeting. He heard their plans, pitched some of his ideas and came back on Cloud Nine.

Annette’s great uncle, Robert Lester, had an apartment in N.Y.C. on Fifth Avenue with five bedrooms. We were welcome to stay as long as we liked, until we could get settled. But Annette was concerned. A.) What was the salary they were offering? B.) What conditions did their contract contain? Ted (of course) pooh-poohed her concerns.

MEANWHILE the father of one of Ted’s patients was on Montgomery’s draft board. The Korean War was full on, and the draft had been reinstated. This second draft law created the system for the “Doctor Draft” aimed at inducting health professionals into military service. Against regulations, the father had let Ted know that he was on The List coming out in a few months.

Ted had been in the Army during WWII, he had said. Now, Ted was a Tall Tale Teller of the first rank, silver leaf cluster rampant par excellence. Specifically what/how/ when are actually unknown. He told at least five versions of his adventures in WWII, ending with his being given an honorable discharge due to severe pneumonia. Comments from his mentor and best friend, Dr. James Shelburne, indicate that Ted WAS in the military and somehow connected with the O.S.S.

At any rate, the Army had now lost his records. (?) And Ted never having paid any attention to anything written (see above re letters, salary etc.), he had no record of his honorable discharge himself.

Annette felt Ted should pay attention to this draft thing. He could go in and persuade the board to give him a deferral or something. The minute The List was out, he should just go in… Wait. Did the foundation know that Ted was on the draft list? Uh, noooo.

The foundation had already sent him train tickets for five (Grandmother Marrs also included) and the contract was in the mail when Annette put her foot down. She wasn’t going ANYWHERE with Ted until he notified the foundation and talked to the draft board. Period. In the calm, mature manner that Ted and Annette conducted their disagreements, Annette decamped to her mother’s with Bill and me. For Ted to have a chance to “cool off”.

Ted talked to the foundation. They were royally pissed, felt that they had been purposefully deceived. Hmmn… well, yes. Annette returned the tickets and the contract.

Having already experienced the efficiency of the Army, Ted choose to volunteer for the Air Force before the draft got him. Based on Annette’s artistic taste (more on that another time) they listed “Japan” in all the blanks under “Preferred Posting”. We were sent 137 miles away to Eglin AFB, Fla. for 2 years. Ted’s Air Force choice eventually led them to the Pentagon and the White House.

So we lived in a lot of places: Destin, Fla.; Biloxi, Miss.; Schertz-Cibolo, Tex.; Dreux, France; Arlington, Va.; Falls Church, Va. and the parents ended up Albuquerque, N.M. But we never did live in New York City.