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Saturday, April 2, 2011

No. 20 "Miss Ollie & Dr. Moore"

You didn't take kids to the doctor just because they weren't feeling well. Everyone, young and old, had days when they didn't feel well and it was just considered a normal part of life. Every mother had her own repertoire of home remedies that applied to almost any malady and these were the first line of defense against any illness or injury. If a condition persisted or worsened dramatically, the next option was to call on the neighborhood "specialist" whom everyone recognized as the best thing short of a real doctor for diagnosing and treating common ailments. At "Red Hill" that somebody was Marianne Willis, while at the "Eastard" it was Annie Rose. But in our neighborhood that was most certainly "Miss Ollie." Ollie Willis, sometimes called "Big Ollie" to distinguish her from her daughter of the same name, had predetermined remedies for anything that could be imagined. More importantly, most of them seemed to work.

Miss Ollie used to be especially gifted at dealing with skin problems such as "ground itch," hornet stings, and the ever present boils that were associated with spending at least half of your life in and around salt water. She even concocted her own "black salve" that was known all over the Island as the most potent balm anywhere to be found for dealing with such problems. In the normal hyperbole of Island talk, I have heard my parents claim that Ollie's salve could "draw an iron nail out of a piece of heart pine."

Walking barefoot on the Island's shore caused lots of cuts and scrapes. The bottom of my brother Telford's feet sometimes looked like the plat for a city map, and one that was laid out with no concern for straight lines and easy access. The most painful "foot ailments" most assuredly were those associated with stepping on the exposed nails, usually rusty ones, that were the excruciating by-product of discarded boat timbers and planking. Almost always the wound would swell and harden and cause almost unbearable discomfort. Finally, someone would send for Ollie, or at least for a spoonful of her salve, and within hours, or so it seemed, the infection would ease. Her magic potion would cause the offending particles and fragments to rise to the surface of the wound so that loving hands could wash it clean and allow the healing process to be completed.

Yet there were times when even Miss Ollie's salve couldn't help and a real doctor was needed. But because any expense was often "too much," my parents made sure that all other avenues had been explored before taking us children to Beaufort to see Dr. Moore, Dr. Fulcher, or Dr. Salter. One way to avoid official visits was to wait until word came that Dr. Moore was spending the weekend at his camp on Shackleford Banks. For some reason it was assumed that going to see him there was a "personal" call and hence there was no obligation to offer any payment. As I grew older and came to know him better I realized that Dr. Moore probably would not have accepted any money even if offered on those such occasions.

Dr. Laurie Moore lived in Beaufort but had grown up in Marshallberg. His family, the "Tyre Moore crowd," named after his father, had earlier lived at Shackleford Banks before the exodus that followed the great hurricane of 1899. Most of the family settled at Harkers Island but Tyre and his sons took up residence at Marshallberg. Dr. Moore's camp on the Banks, near the mouth of Whale Creek Bay, was situated very near where the old family home place had been generations earlier. His Harkers Island cousins would attend to his needs while there, running back and forth across the Sound several times each day as he might need them. It generally was from them that everyone knew when he was at the Banks and open for "company."

Dr. Moore was considered a bona fide hero among most of the people of the Island. There were many reasons for that respect and affection but two special ones come to mind most frequently. First, he was the very first of the Banks crowd to go off to college and come back a doctor. I was always told that it was while pulling in a net on a cold fall morning that he made up his mind that fishing was not for him. Within weeks he had moved to Winston Salem where he eventually earned his medical degree. So to downeasters he was one of their own who had made it in the world doing something other than living out of the water.

Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, he never "forgot where he came from" and was always willing to care for the poor people of Down East with no consideration for their ability to pay him. Dr. Moore always seemed to be just another one of the ordinary folks, but one with extraordinary compassion and an ability to help.

So it was that I can well remember those times when my father would take me in his boat, across Back Sound, to Dr. Moore's camp. His attention was needed most frequently to deal with the ear aches that were so frequently a part of my youthful experience. Mama would wrap my head with warm towels and blankets and Daddy would secure me in the front of his open boat, just under the forward deck to shield me from the wind and the spray as the boat broke through the "seas" (people on the Island refer to cresting waves as "seas.") He would head due southwest across back sound into the mouth of "Bottarum Bay." He would then weave through the marshes to the shore where Dr. Moore's camp sat some one hundred yards or so up on the land.

Daddy would carry me to the shore in his arms and together we would walk up to where Dr. Moore was usually resting out on his porch. "Hey, Charlie Bill, which one of your youngerns is that," he would ask, referring to the fact that Daddy had ten. Daddy would tell him my name but I don't think Dr. Moore really listened. He had no hopes of ever knowing all of us by our first names, the mere fact that we were Charlie and Margarette's children was all that mattered to him. He would ask about Mama and the rest of the kids and then about Louie, Daddy's brother, and several other of the old people in the neighborhood. But as he was talking to Daddy he would be pulling me towards him and beginning to diagnose the problem that must have caused Daddy to bring me with him.

Should I live to be a hundred, I will never forget the gentleness in his soft hands as he explored around my sore ear. Because of the swelling that usually accompanied such infections, my ear and neck would be so tender that I could scarcely allow even my mother to touch it. But Dr. Moore's hands seemed to be endowed with some special soothing aura that allowed him to explore and examine without causing even the slightest of pain.

After just a few moments, he would assure my father that there was no need for undue concern, and tell him what medicine and treatments he wanted to have started. Sometimes he would write out a prescription to be purchased from the drug store, but more often he pulled something out of his little black bag and gave it to us with only his oral instructions.

"Now, go ahead and get him home and out of this wind," he would say, signaling to my father that the checkup was over and allowing us to leave gracefully with no mention of any payment or obligations. Then we would make our way in reverse order of how we had come, but with daddy, and later mama, now relieved that they had done their part to make sure nothing more than an "ear ache" had been the culprit.

Many others of my generation, and the ones before me, have similar memories and stories of Dr. Moore. In the days before "Social Services" and the County Health Department, he and others like him cared for the families of eastern Carteret County with a depth of feeling that made him more than just a doctor, he was a part of the family.

1 comment:

  1. Truly, one of the most beautifully written and touching stories I've ever heard. Thanks for sharing that, Pa.