“Will the young man be okay?” Mrs. Stenger asks as she wraps up a collection of medical supplies—a compression gauze, cotton balls, and Merthiolate. She’s a pretty lady, with her dark wavy hair tied back, and she wears her husband’s long white lab coat that droops almost to the floor.
Mrs. Stenger, I remember from my previous years in Liberty, is an inquisitive, college-educated woman of about fifty, with five children whom she raises like wildflowers.
“I’m sorry we don’t have a physician in town anymore,” she goes on in her low voice. “Are you sure you don’t want to buy a sling or some plaster? What if you need to make a cast?”
“No, this should be fine. The boy’s arm doesn’t seem to be broken, just scraped and bruised. He was clowning around and fell off the truck. Fifth District is sending Dr. Crane from Camp Laurel tomorrow.” The CCC man strokes the head of the purring orange cat on the counter.
I’m feeling shy, but have to speak up. “I’m a registered nurse. Is there anything I can do to help?”
“Oh, Nurse Becky. I didn’t recognize you.” That’s Mrs. Stenger. “My husband told me that you and Dr. Blum were back in town.”
“We’ve just returned from Virginia, Dr. Blum and I, but Dr. Blum is not well.”
As I move toward the counter, I can see the man is nice looking with a straight jaw and small, flat ears, but a scar down his cheek mars his handsomeness. A military injury from the Great War, I imagine. Most of the CCC officers, Patience told me, are from the army reserves, and General Douglas MacArthur is in charge of the program.
“I know first aid and can even set a broken arm.”
“Thank you. I appreciate the offer, but we’ll be okay.” The gentleman salutes and limps toward the door. From the looks of him, his face was not the only part of him wounded. Still, he carries himself well and doesn’t seem outwardly disabled. He turns at the door. “Miss? Miss . . .”
“Rebecca Myers,” Mrs. Stenger offers.
“Miss Myers, if you’re ever interested in helping out at the camp, we accept volunteers. . . . It’s Camp White Rock. Do you know where it is?”
“I’ve heard of it. I can get directions.”
“Then I hope you’ll come by.” He gives me a smile and I see that his teeth are strong and white.
“I’ll think about it. I’m caring for Dr Blum in his convalescence, so that makes it complicated, but I’ll think about it.”
“Just ask for Captain Wolfe.” He salutes us both again and then turns with a snap and marches down Main.
“Becky, Becky. Becky,” Mrs. Stenger gushes coming around the counter as if we were once best friends. “It’s so good to see you and oh, my holiness . . . the captain . . . what a man. He was nearly killed in the Invasion of Lorraine. . . . So how is the doctor? How is he? Terrible! Terrible! What’s his condition, anyway?” The woman floats around the counter flapping the long white medical coat and looking like the older sister of the actress, Joan Hopkins, same dark hair and big eyes.
I take a deep breath. “He’s stable, but he’s suffered some kind of brain damage.” I keep the story short, wanting to stay on task.
“Such a tragedy. And you, dear, you must come to dinner.” I ignore the invitation and get on with my mission.
“Well, Mrs. Stenger . . .”
“Lucille,” she commands. “Call me Lucille.”
“Lucille, I know many people are worse off than the doctor and me. I’ve seen the soup lines, but I have to find work. Do you know of anything? Any work at all? It doesn’t have to be nursing. Housework or cleaning, or clerking in a store? Anything?”
Mrs. Stenger doesn’t answer at first. She walks back behind the counter and starts putting a new shipment of Lydia Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound on the mostly bare shelves.
“I’m sorry, dear. I’ll keep a lookout, but times are tough and men must have work first . . . for their families. I’m not sure this was the best place to come back to. Surely, it would have been better to stay in Virginia. Doesn’t the doctor or you have family?”
I don’t know how to answer this, so I just say, “No.”
It’s too shameful to admit here in West Virginia, where kin always takes care of kin, that Blum’s own brother kicked him out. And it’s too sad to admit that I too am alone.
Rich Girl, Poor Girl
For the next hour, with Blum in the car, I swallow my pride and walk up and down Main, visiting every establishment.
How did this come to be? Rebecca Myers, a college graduate, wandering the streets of a small mountain town, unemployed, almost destitute. I quickly review my downward spiral. State funding for my Women and Infants’ Clinic cut . . . Moved to Charlottesville when offered a job as Dr. Blum’s office nurse . . . Priscilla Blum’s life cut short by her tragic crash into the James River . . . Dr. Blum withdraws into silence and neither of us works for over a year . . . All savings gone . . . Eviction imminent . . . Escape in the night . . . Return to Liberty. Now here I am . . . impoverished, alone, walking the streets, looking for work, any work at all.
Not quite any work! Get a grip, Becky.
Pulling myself together, I continue my search and poke my head in Sheriff Hardman’s office at the courthouse. He comes around from behind his desk and shakes his head.
Since I last saw him, his hair has thinned and the scar on his chin, from a knife fight long ago, is more prominent, but he’s still a big man, someone you wouldn’t want to mess with.
“I don’t need cash money. I’d work for food.” God, this is hard! I feel like I’m begging.
“I’m sorry, Miss Myers. I’ll let you know if I hear of anything. Can I walk you out to your car?” At the side of the Pontiac, he looks in at the doctor and taps on the window. Isaac doesn’t blink, doesn’t even turn his head. The sheriff taps harder and studies the side of Blum’s stony face. “Damn shame,” he comments, then tips his hat and turns away.
Only two last places to go and my fruitless day will be over. I need to get gas and some kerosene, then a few supplies at the grocery, where I’ll check on Lilly Bittman, the young pregnant woman whom Patience is worried about.
I stop first at the Texaco station where Loonie Tinkshell, the owner, comes out wearing khaki coveralls and a cap like a military man. He salutes like one too and wipes a long strand of his hair off his forehead leaving a line of grease. “Hi, Miss Becky. Dr. Blum.” Loonie is not really loony; people just call him that. His Christian name is Louis.
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