A memory that just popped into my head – July 26, 1968.
I’d seen Dr. Wark before and he’d been to our flat in San Francisco even – he came into our bright lime green bedroom in the middle of the night once when I had a bad case of red measles – everything was blurry because my eyes were all messed up and I only could see out of one eye anyway. I never forgot how I had to sit in a dark bedroom and not do anything that involved using my eyes, no reading, no watching TV. Dr. Wark was our family doctor and he remained my Dad’s doctor until he retired.
It was a foggy, cool summer afternoon when I saw him pull up in his fancy, shiny car – one you’d never normally see in the neighborhood I lived in. I was careening down the hill of Second Avenue on my skateboard, feeling the cool salty air rush against my face – and trying not to think about whether Dr. Wark would tell my mom who hated it when I rode the skateboard down the hill like that.
I remember how he looked, tall and skinny with gray hair and round wire-framed glasses. He looked just like the doctors I’d see on TV on those shows such as Dennis the Menace or Leave It to Beaver.
He walked briskly as if he was on a mission, looking a little mysterious in the fog as I expertly swerved around him and jumped off the skateboard just barely missing him as he headed up the wide porch of our flat on Second Avenue.
“Woooo, look out! You know, I just treated a young girl with a broken arm – she was riding one of those skateboards!”
“Ohhh, I won’t get hurt!” I laughed. “I know what I’m doing.”
Dr. Wark nodded, smiled and waved and continued up the stairs. I’d seen him before a few times, but then I wondered – what was he doing here today? Something was weird.
I sat outside on the stoop holding on to my skateboard, not wanting to go in and hear my mom yell at me about riding my brother’s skateboard that I’d taken over after he got it for Christmas. She was afraid to buy me a skateboard or a bike or anything because I was blind in one eye, but my 11th birthday was coming up in a couple of days, maybe, just maybe I’d finally get a bike!
I should go inside and see why the doctor’s in there, I thought. Oh yeah, my little sister Jennifer was sick – Mom was worried, had said something about a high temperature. Jenny was fragile and small and got sick a lot. In fact, she was the reason my Dad transferred to San Francisco from Chicago – she was sick all the time and the doctors said she was better off in milder climates. But here I was sitting in the fog in the middle of summer. It seemed perfectly normal to me.
I’ll go in there in a few moments to see what’s up, I thought. Meanwhile, I could take this hill one more time. I ran to the top of the hill with the skateboard and put it down on to the pavement, one foot and then the other, okay, here goes – as I whizzed down the hill, it felt wonderful exhilarating – but then I swerved to slow the skateboard down and expertly jump off.
My mouth dropped open as I watched Dr. Wark slowly walk down the steps of my flat holding on to – no way. That was my little sister totally wrapped in a blanket. He didn’t even look at me, but headed straight for the car with my sister. All I could see was a little bit of her dark hair sticking out of the end of the blanket as Dr. Wark opened the car door with one hand and ever so slowly and carefully placed Jennifer whom everyone in the neighborhood called Jenny Pooh, into his shiny silver car.
Suddenly my mother burst out of the flat as if out of nowhere and dashed down the steps. She looked up the street at me for only a moment.
“Mary, I have to go to the hospital now. Someone will be over to look after you in a little bit. I’ll be back.”
She got into Dr. Wark’s car and they drove off.
I stood there for a long time holding on to my skateboard.