The migrant life of miner’s children. Multiculturalism
Wanderlust has directed my life these 77 years. Perhaps I was imprinted as a boy in Noranda, and Sudbury, Canada; Balatoc, Baguio, Manila, and Tayabas Filipinas; Manhattan, Eureka, and Tonopah, Nevada, Santo Domingo ( now Aquiles Cerdan,) Mexico, and Holden, Washington ( twice). My father was a miner with xenophilia; my mother a school teacher who longed for adventure and romance, but missed her farm roots. They were of that intense, focused American generation that could raise four children, through depression and war, and be parted only by death in their seventh decade together. They were always poor by today’s standards but wealthy in spirit, purpose, adventure, and personal accomplishment.
In these circumstances, parents can be so occupied and preoccupied that children are allowed great freedom; we were , perforce, self actuated and self responsible; we all went to college on our own. Yet an itinerant childhood has its problems. If everywhere is home, nowhere is Home. During childhood there were occasional circumstances that made it necessary for me or my sisters to spend weeks or months with our Northern California grandparents in Durham. I cherish those times of almond orchards, barley, alfalfa, and sheep herding, as recurring homecomings As an adolescent I always returned, one way or another, to that remembered Sacramento valley every summer to work, and to be home again.
In adolescence our formal home was Minneapolis, Minnesota, where our parents settled down for a time, hoping to provide a broader cultural and educational experience for their children in high school. And did they hit the mark! My years in high school, college, and medical school were set within those glorious contrasting seasons, the woods, and lakes; we were schooled in a solid rich Nordic inward directed culture during long home-centered northern winters among family and friends. As the eldest child, having never lived anywhere long, abandoning hard won new friends over and again, I met my first lifelong friends in Minnesota. How I cherish them; though we get together rarely, it is only then that Time stops to hear our remembering and watch our renewals.
My sister and I rode the back of a caribou to an elevated jungle house with see through bamboo ( no cleaning!) floors; geckos watched over mosqito netted cots through the tropical night. There, as in Mexico, vegetables were soaked in dilute Clorox, we were ‘wormed’ periodically, and precautions were always taken with water. Even so my mother had dengue in Tayabas, Filipinas, and I recall my father treating tropical ulcers in Igorot miners with hot soap and water. That may have led me to an interest in tropical disease, and after medical school to an internship at Gorgas Hospital in what was then the Panama Canal Zone.
It was 36 hour on 12 hour off, tremendously demanding; an intense, and varied tropical medicine experience available no where else in the US matching system. For TB, leprosy, parasitology, and malaria, this was the place to be. In addition the OB and Pediatrics services were superb. Many of my colleagues would be missionary physicians. Nancy and I had been married during the last year of medical school, and our first child, Jenni, was born in Panama, delivered by a resident in OB, Ricky Arias; that surname was as significant in the founding of Panama as it is today. Despite the demanding program, 1954 -55 was a very good year for us both; we were able to get a way periodically into Panama City, and to the countryside where heaven can be found in tropical nights near the seashore and at about 2500 feet elevation in the rain forest.
One very early morning a surgery resident watched with unaccountable patience while I struggled alone through a nasty appendectomy from beginning to end. It changed my course in medicine. After internship I began a General Surgery Residency in St Paul Minnesota. Like Gorgas Hospital, it functioned in the old way: meager pay, and 36 hours on and 12 off. The attraction was a tremendously active surgical service where residents did all surgical procedures referred from a free clinic with 50,000 visits yearly; in addition we assisted the full range of private practice surgeons, mostly U Minnesota clinical faculty, who like to some aggressive procedures. Like Gorgas, it was ‘hair shirt’ training . I recall not liking the petechiae (tiny hemorrhages ) on my legs after a busy 36 hour shift. Yet for Nancy it was another year with the same absent husband, this time with a baby to care for. After only one year she was probably relieved that I was drafted by the U S Navy, and assigned to a Pacific Fleet Seaplane Tender, the USS Orca, AVP-49. It was based in San Diego, where Amy and Abby, two more daughters, were born, while I was shuttled back and forth across the Pacific.
The seaplane tender, now obsolete, was an anti support vessel, which set up sea lanes, ( sea ports) , provided minor repairs and fuel for submarine hunting seaplanes. It was a floating bomb, top heavy with communications gear, and slow; but since there was no ‘enemy’, carelessness was our biggest danger. It functioned as a training ship for future Captains of carriers . (At the time, carriers were commanded by pilots rather than naval Line Officers). Each 6 months we took on another inexperienced captain, a seasoned pilot, destined to command a carrier, who knew little about ships. Our job was to introduce him to the Pacific, and its ports of call, including a month in Hong Kong, where I served as liaison to the Royal Naval Hospital.
Though I resented the Navy’s intrusion into my family and professional plans, it would be the only time in my life I would be treated as an officer, and a priveleged physician, while doing little except read, play the guitar, treat hangovers VD and minor injuries, and stand by as each new captain learned about ship handling in the ports of Hawaii, Guam, and Filipinas, or Fifth Fleet Headquarters at White Beach, Okinawa. In Hong Kong I was Station Ship medical officer, assigning duty to visiting US naval ships, maintaining liaison with the Royal Naval Hospital, and keeping an eye on the public health ashore, including fights and bars. Still an idealistic child, having blindly graduated from med school at 21, I was so myopic and ignorant as to be unaware it would be the only truly plush ‘work’ of my life. Even so, the Lust for Wandering thrived, swelled, and thrashed within me.