I had a great conversation with Mum yesterday. We were talking about politics and ethics and social justice. We talked about those that reach out to everybody and those that for what ever reason, push those that are different away.
And that lead to a bunch of family stories most I knew and this new one I had never heard. Grandaddy was a surgeon here in Boston and was one of the first in the world to successfully open the chest cavity to do either lung or heart surgery. His main thing was lungs and he was one of the first to connect the effects of smoking to lung disease. Mum said that when President Eisenhower had his heart attack, Grandaddy was flown out to Denver as part of the medical team. That story did not surprise me, I grew up hearing stories about some of his patients that were heads of state, famous actors and the like. These were pre-Hippa days, and often the family would receive gifts from “grateful patients”.
That was a category.
Pointing to a crate of oranges, “Hey Mamie, where did this come from? ” Or looking at the delivery of giant flower arrangements, “who sent these?” “A grateful patient Dearie, a grateful patient.”
The story I didn’t know was about that time when he operated on big time Crime Boss Raymond Patriarca and there were detailed cars parked outside of the house for a week or so. Mum said the cars were FBI or CIA. I am not so sure about that. “We had to lock the doors, and we never locked the doors” said Mum. “We couldn’t go anywhere until it was over”.
What was the issue? “Well I guess there would have been an issue if Patriarca didn’t make it off the table. It was life and death you know.” Mum quipped.
I guess he didn’t discriminate. He treated everyone about he same. Gave me lecture upon lecture about smoking and I am sure he gave that same lecture to the Mob Boss.
This is what I know about Grandaddy. He was a diehard Republican who I argued with during the Ronny Ray-gun years. At family dinners, we would get going about it until Mamie felt it was going nowhere and would say, “My, the battleships are a lovely shade of gray this year”. He taught me to fish, to gut that fish on the spot, to chop wood and to how to stack it. He told me that I could do anything if I put my mind to it. He once sent me a letter at camp impressing upon me how important communication was. He had his secretary type it for him. I wish I had kept that letter. He was human like the rest of us.
What I did see was that he pumped his own gas, but he drove a Saab. He talked to the guy behind the Dunkin Donuts counter with the same intent as international guests at his table. He impressed upon me to never think less of someone doing manual labor, for we all should do what we can with the gifts we are given. If he had to go out at night, he often wore his PJs under his suit because he liked to get his sleep.
He was a product of his generation, born in 1901 and in Peru Nebraska. He was motivated to do something after watching the fall out from the 1918 flu. and the Great White Plague. He didn’t get everything right, but he did instill the notion that one should find their purpose and do it. His was fighting Lung disease. He literally saved lives, and from what I remember and what I have learned, he never checked to see what the patient’s background was; religious, economic, political or otherwise before he operated. We all bleed red.
I would have liked to have been a fly on the wall then he lectured the Boss about quitting smoking. He could not help to give that lecture to anyone at anytime. He was asked to speak at my 6th grade graduation and I was mortified when he gave the no smoking lecture to the whole school. I picked up smoking because it was so rebelous. He once hauled me into his clinic and took a chest r-ray just to scare me. I didn’t work, I was hooked anyhow. I smoked ciggs off and on for years and still dream of them. But I smile now when I see how his efforts in the early days paid off and for the most part, people understand the risk of smoking.
I guess he knew that the addiciton of smoking does not discriminate, neither does lung disease. It does not care if you are rich or poor, black or while, Christian or Mulim, gay or straight. He did the work he was wall called to do Mob Boss or not.