Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Zayda's Will

written by Dan Jackson
September 2013

When Dad and Uncle Morris shook hands agreeing to be partners in the shoe business in March 1927, Dad had already been an admirer of Uncle Morris for several years. He knew he was a good business man and a hard worker. He was married to Mollie who was Mother’s sister so there was a strong family connection that came along with business. That family connection had played a strong part in the matter of Zayda’s will when Zayda, father to Mother and Mollie, had died the year before.

In Dad's oral history written many years after Zayda’s death, I found his recollection of the contents of the will and the family turmoil it produced. It was Zayda's wishes that the money in his estate be divided equally among the children from his first marriage, the children from his second marriage, and his then wife, Bobie (Mother and Mollie’s mother). At the end of six months any children who wished to give their money to Bobie were free to do so. The amount of money given to each child was $300, not a great sum. Mother and Mollie had put their money in a bank account intending to give it to Bobie at the end of six months. Zayda's other children held a meeting without Mother and Mollie and decided to give their money to Bobie immediately instead of waiting six months. When Dad and Mother next visited Bobie, they were informed about the meeting, and told to sign a paper which had been drawn up agreeing that all the children give Bobie their money at once. Dad was angry for two reasons: First, the family had held a meeting without notifying him or Mother and second, giving the money to Bobie before the six months waiting period was, in a way, breaking the will, going against Zayda's wishes. As a matter of principle Dad could not condone that; Mollie and Morris agreed with him They, too, refused to sign the paper.

The deeply-felt disagreement among the Egers embittered many members and led to long-standing acrimonious feelings that, to my knowledge, were never resolved. I remember there was an attempt to bring peace to the family by organizing a club, the Eger Tree. The effort was unsuccessful; too many bad feelings remained. Wisely, the next generation ignored the matter of the will and peace prevailed once more.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Riding with Uncle Morris

written by Dan Jackson January 2007 

At Kroger Food Stores, the Roma tomatoes are piled high in a large bin: there must be about a thousand of them. There are different sizes--from golf ball to large lemon--and their shape is never round. They started out spherical when finally ripe on the vine and then were packed for shipment, one right up against the other, so that the roundness was replaced by flat sides with soft corners, and the color, the wonderful red, became orange and shiny.

I could be led blindfolded to the display of Romas and without touching or handling or squeezing one, just stand there and inhale and, without fail, I would be transported back to about age 12 years and my time with Uncle Morris. Every time I smell tomatoes, especially the Romas where the pressure of so many piled high on each other squeezes a tiny amount of juice, I’m transported from Kroger’s to another time and place.

Each summer when I was on vacation from school, Uncle Morris would take me with him when he went on the road for that day’s business as a peddler. Before he moved to Aliquippa, he and his family lived in Carnegie. Weather permitting, he struck out each day to small towns in nearby coal mining and farming areas where he delivered previously ordered goods and took new orders. He prospered but must have felt the need for a change. That was emphasized when two of Carnegie's banks went under because of embezzlement by the banks' president. The depositors' money was returned to them, but Uncle Morris was uneasy about Carnegie's future. So in March 1927, on Mother and Dad’s 10th wedding anniversary, he visited Dad in the shoe store at 310 Franklin Avenue in Aliquippa and offered Dad a proposition: he would give Dad $5,000 cash to become a partner in the shoe business. Dad and Mother loved Uncle Morris and Aunt Mollie (Mother’s sister), and so it took only a handshake to seal the partnership.

It was easy for Dad and Mother to accept Uncle Morris's offer. For one thing, years before, Dad and Uncle Morris comsidered opening a furniture store in Aliquippa. That came about when Uncle Morris, who had done well in his business, had fears for Carnegie's future and wanted more security for his family that he believed Aliquippa, the furniture business, and a partnership with Dad would provide. Also, Uncle Morris and Aunt Mollie, of all the large Eger family, had found kindred spirits in Mother and Dad. When our family lived in Ford City and then Rosston, the Chamovitzes visited us and in turn, we visited Carnegie to share food, talk, and comfort. For me, it was a chance for me to play with the five Chamovitz boys. The warm relationship drew the families together; the consideration of a business deal followed.

High on the list of Uncle Morris's qualities, besides his business ability, his family connection, and his personal warmth that attracted Dad was his having been a yeshiva bocher (student at a school for Talmudic study) when growing up in Romania. Education ranked high in Dad's estimation: education in the Torah, the Talmud, and Jewish law had irresistable appeal. Also, in a family squabble over the will that Zayda (Mother’s father) left upon his death in October 1926, Dad and Mother were joined by Uncle Morris and Aunt Mollie in opposing the attempt by some members of the family to break the stated wishes of the will. As a matter of principle Dad could not condone that. The deeply-felt disagreement among the Egers embittered many members and led to long-standing acrimonious feelings that, to my knowledge, were never resolved.

After the partnership in the shoe business was agreed upon, Uncle Morris continued to pursue his peddling. He needed money for his family to live on and he needed money to build a home in Aliquippa. His customers owed him money so when he visited them to deliver past orders and take new ones, he would collect money owed him.

On days that I would accompany Uncle Morris, we left after lunch and got home before supper. That way Uncle Morris could be certain that he would not have to eat any meals in a restaurant that would conflict with his Orthodox beliefs. He picked me up in his big, black four-door touring sedan. It was roomy, of necessity, because of his large family (five sons), but also because it had to hold all the items he was going to pick up in Pittsburgh and deliver to his customers. I remember the seats were leather, black, of course. There were no glass windows as in modern cars. The space between doors and roof on the sides were completely open; if the weather turned bad, isinglass curtains could be fastened into place. On the trips that I made, we never had to use them.

We took the two-lane road along the Ohio River then passed through McKees Rocks, with its cobbled streets and railroad underpasses, to the Fort Pitt Bridge. We crossed the Ohio River and headed through Pittsburgh to Fifth Avenue. Most of the streets were paved with dark-gray, rounded bricks making traveling over them a rough experience, but we soon reached the smooth, paved streets of the commercial district. Now the streets were narrow and, when business was brisk and traffic heavy, cars were parked on both sides of the street. Result? A single lane thoroughfare with much blowing of horns, shouting, and slamming of car doors in disgust.

The business fronts seemed to be of a piece: The windows were dirty, and although the name of the business was usually done in gold leaf, the years of Pittsburgh’s polluted atmosphere darkened the glass and made it impossible to see what was inside. The display windows had a few items, hard to make out as if to emphasize that curious buyers would do well to come inside. The entryway was always small and paved with the ubiquitous, tiny, hexagonal-shaped, white tiles so characteristic of floors in vestibules, bathrooms, and barbershops of the time. The interiors of the stores varied only in size. The ceilings were high, about 25 feet, covered with decorative tin, every establishment the same. Lighting was poor. Shelves on both sides, sometimes to the ceiling, were filled with boxes. Few actual items were displayed. But Uncle Morris knew what he wanted and called each owner by his first name, often in Yiddish; after all, he was a landsman (a fellow-Jew from the same part of Europe). It was this encounter that brought out his warmth and gregariousness. Time spent with the businessmen was important. They supplied the goods and, when necessary, could give Uncle Morris time to pay, often 30 to 60 days. Friendship was vital for business as well as its social reasons and Uncle Morris could schmooz and deal with the best. He liked both social and business sides in places where he bought goods, and I would later see the same behavior when he delivered the orders to his customers.

Sometimes Uncle Morris left me in the car to watch over his purchases. I had not yet learned to take along something to read but was able to amuse myself by playing a form of baseball using the last number on the license plates of cars driving away from me. I chose two imaginary teams, usually the Pirates and the Giants. The Pirates were assigned even numbers: a zero was a strike; a two was a single, a four a double, a six a triple and an eight a home run. When the Pirates were at bat, an odd number meant the batter was out, three outs to a side. When the Giants were at bat, an even number meant the batter was out, but odd numbers were favorable: a one was a strike, a three a single, a five a double, a seven a triple and a nine a home run. I could put my favorite players at bat , pretend there were foul balls, stolen bases or broken bats, anything my imagination wished.

We visited a number of stores, and since Uncle Morris knew what his customers wanted, he made selections without hesitation. Employees took his purchases to the car. Soon the back of the car was filled with an assortment of items: shoes, dresses, shirts, pots, skillets, men’s suits, mops, lamps, pillows, linens, chairs and once, a roll of linoleum for a kitchen floor. It was too big to fit inside the car, so one end was lodged in the corner of the back seat, and the other end stuck rested on the back door, securely fastened by rope to prevent its rolling back and forth. If the roll was too long to safely stick out into traffic, then the front end would be tied on the front seat where it rested next to my head. It was mildly uncomfortable, and I was glad when the roll was untied and delivered and out of my way.

When Uncle Morris was sure that the items in the back of the car were anchored tightly, we started off, leaving Pittsburgh, heading for mining and farming country. I just sat back and watched the scenery change from buildings, mills, bridges, and stores to trees, hills, and open country. The roads were narrow and paved; when we turned on to a dirt road, I knew we were about to stop.

Our arrival at a house was announced by the car’s engine and by the slamming of the car’s doors. At that point the housewife, who was probably expecting “Mr. Morris,” would appear at the door of the house. The houses were always frame in construction, two-story. Most were painted a neutral gray or green. The front doors were always open; screen doors were in place in a vain attempt to keep out flying insects. Inside, the kitchen was large--the place for meals, family gatherings, and washing and ironing; also, a place to hang washed clothes in inclement weather. There were small windows on three walls with the usual white, pull-back curtains and pull-down cloth shades. In each house, the kitchen appeared the same: gas stove and oven, cabinets, a large table, and plenty of chairs. Sinks were large and cast-iron, used for washing dishes and clothes. The floors were usually covered with a flowery, patterned linoleum. And the walls reflected efforts by the housewives to decorate the room where the family spent most of its time: pictures of flowers, family, calendars with themes of animals and children. All the women we visited were busy at chores and were dressed in print cotton dresses and an apron. There were always children around, infants and toddlers; older ones were off fishing, swimming, and whatever kids in the country do when not in school.

After giving me instructions about going to the back for fruit and tomatoes, Uncle Morris headed to the house. He was a handsome guy: tall with wavy, dark hair, a straight back, and a way of walking, digging his heels into the soft dirt, that made him appear to know exactly where he was going. “Mr. Morris” was here. He was wonderfully gregarious, and by the time I was going along to keep him company, he knew everybody and everybody’s family. Not only did he deliver and take orders for furniture, clothing, and small household appliances, but he also offered advice for family and medical problems: his favorite prescription for pink eye was drops of fresh urine (from the victim) into the infected eye.

So, where does the aroma of tomatoes come in? Well, when he pulled up to the house he was visiting, he instructed me, “Go around the back, there are fruit trees. Get whatever you want; if there are tomato plants, eat the ripe ones, all you want." So, I’m transported 1500 miles and 75 years back to rides with my Uncle, back to warm, summer rides on narrow macadam roads, in an open car, and then being told, “Go to the back.” There were freshly ripened, juicy tomatoes, which I twisted off the vines and sank my teeth into. They might have been a bit dusty or, frankly, even dirty, but I’m not sure I even bothered to give them more of a swipe in deference to Mother’s concern that I might get sick if they were not washed. No matter, I ate them as I found them. Too, I helped myself to the fruit trees, mostly peaches, some apples of the crab variety, and occasionally pears. But it’s the tomatoes that hang in my memory.

Only one time do I remember a passenger, a lady from Aliquippa who needed a ride home from Pittsburgh. I did not know her, though her nephew was my age and a friend at public school and Sunday school. She sat in the front seat with me between her and Uncle Morris. She was dressed in a white, thin, cotton dress and chattered endlessly to which I paid no attention. Then she began to complain about the heat, meanwhile wiping her face with her hanky which soon became a soaking rag. She insisted we feel how wet her clothes were. She went on and on until Uncle Morris, obviously exasperated, reached across me to put his hand on her waist where it was "soaking." She asked me to do the same; I did. Soon we were back in Aliquippa and dropped off our passenger. Uncle Morris pulled us away in a rush and exploded, “She's a hoor (whore)!”

The ride home was without stops, maybe for gas, but I had the sensation of flying. The day’s work was done: now to get home as soon as possible. Uncle Morris sang melodious prayers of Shabbas and High Holidays. I now recognize he was using his wonderful, clear, sweet voice to say, “My work day is done, it’s been successful, invigorating, I’m ready to get back to my family.” In the car, his voice reverberated. Even though the car was “open,” no sound escaped: perhaps the space between the dashboard and the floorboard acted as an echo chamber; the songs stayed inside, ringing in our ears. In the car, it must have been like singing in the shower for Uncle Morris: his beautiful melodies rang over and over to his enjoyment. Time sped by. Uncle Morris was happy, bursting with the day’s success.

I made a lot of trips with Uncle Morris. Singing was his outlet. Not so with Dad: he liked to tell stories about life in Russia; I heard about his dogs, the family mill that ground grain for the peasants in the nearby villages. I heard about his breaking a prized chandelier, about his skinny-dipping in the Brushato. Just as I heard Uncle Morris’s songs over and over, so I heard Dad’s stories of his early life again and again. Now I realize both men were remembering happy times. Come to think of it, when I have breakfast with grandson Bryan, I tell him happy stories of my early years as I was growing up, about my life long ago.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

On Being a Patient

written June 2008

Bridge players say, “It’s better to be lucky than smart.” That means that in an impossible situation, where you can’t possibly make your contract, for a variety reasons everything works out. In medicine that can often be true. The diagnosis may be puzzling to you and all the consultants but in some mysterious way you stumble on the answer and you become a genius. Or the illness has a dire prognosis and then, for some unknown reason, the treatment works and the patient once again enjoys good health.

Look at me. Four years after a partial pancreatectomy for adenocarcinoma of the body of the pancreas I’m overweight, glowing with health and with no evidence of recurrence of a uniformly fatal cancer. OK so there is a less than 5% survival rate of patients with the disease, but that number is pretty close to rare. And how did the fact of my still being alive come about? That is the lucky part: it was because of an operation for another serious condition that gives me bragging rights about still being alive.

On a morning in mid-January 1996 I suddenly developed intermittent claudication. I had no other symptoms than severe cramps in both calves when I walked less than 10 feet. Inasmuch as nothing else bothered me, I did not visit a physician till the following day when I kept a previously made appointment with my orthopedist. I mentioned my new symptom to him and he examined me, finding that I had no pulses in my femoral arteries or below. He offered a Doppler study but I knew that palpation had given me enough information and told him that I planned to see my vascular surgeon the next day.

That visit confirmed that I probably had a blocked aorta and I would need an aortogram followed by laparotomy and vascular repair. I was agreeable and asked if the plan could be put off for 10 days until my sons returned from their skiing vacation. 48 hours had passed after what was obviously a serious vascular event but my surgeon calmly assured me that further delay was acceptable. I had enormous confidence in him, he probably had seen and operated on a couple of thousand patients with what I had and if he said I could wait, then it was OK to wait.

Ten days later I had an aortogram and repair of the distal aorta for obstruction by a large cholesterol plaque which had been dissected off and formed a flap over the bifurcation and obstructed blood flow. My postoperative course was marred by the nasogastric tube which eroded the edge of my left nostril. That healed promptly when the tube was removed.

I returned to practice. Four years later I had the first in the series of obstructions of the small bowel due to adhesions formed by the surgery for my dissected, obstructed aorta. At each event I was hospitalized for two to four days. Diagnostic studies always included blood count, urinalysis, and blood chemistries; also chest and abdominal X-rays and MRI of the abdomen. I always had to endure the torturing nasogastric tube.

It was during the episode of obstruction in January 2004 that the MRI of the abdomen showed a suspicious mass in the body of the pancreas; comparison with the MRI made in December 2003 confirmed that the mass was indeed new. Partial pancreatectomy was done February 2004. My oncologist recommended six months of chemotherapy. He admitted it was probably unnecessary, just one of those elements of “doing something.”

In October 2006 I had another and my last episode of small bowel obstruction. My surgeon lost no time in deciding that enough was enough; he lysed a number of adhesions and repaired a ventral hernia (a result of the surgery for the cancer).

It was one of my sons who pointed out that if I hadn’t had the dissecting aortic aneurysm, I wouldn’t have had abdominal surgery which may have saved my life at the time. If I had not had the abdominal surgery, I would not have had peritoneal adhesions. If I had not developed peritoneal adhesions, I would not had had several episodes of small bowel obstruction. If I had not had small bowel obstructions, I would not have had serial MRIs for comparison and the serial MRIs provided information to a sharp-eyed radiologist to detect an early, operable, curable cancer.

Yes, it’s better to be lucky.

My Friend Abe

written December 2006
When Abe died, I lost a good friend. Actually I lost more: a lunch companion, a patient, a consultant in my pulmonary function laboratory at The Methodist Hospital, and a voracious reader who fed me titles of novels and non-fiction that he knew would interest me. And when I visited him at his house a week before he died, I told him how much our friendship had meant to me; “Abe, I love you, and I’m so sorry about what has happened." He said nothing. I asked for a hug, held him tightly, then left.

On my way home, I thought about the disease that was taking his life, how I had studied it, had written medical articles about it, and considered myself an expert about it. Without a sound it had crept into his busy, productive life at the University of Houston and into his blissful marriage. It had given him not a sliver of a chance of successful treatment. Just death.

We had met Abe and Fran at the social gatherings of the “49-niners” - families that had moved to Houston in the late 1940’s. He was an engineer, a chemical engineer. I should have known his interests when he described how he and Fran would visit the concrete slab of the house they were building and water it thoroughly every evening to slow its hardening process and thus, give it maximum strength. He described how he intended to put a panel of signals at his bedside, connected to the security system and the lights throughout the house so that, at a glance, he could see if doors were open or lights were on.

At our initial get together we learned that Abe and Fran played lots of tennis, both together and with friends. Though they were short in stature, they did not lack for enthusiasm and agility; they were known for scurrying around the courts and being tough competitors. Fran took to the usual division of the family agenda with determination. I learned from Abe that their son and two daughters behaved well, got good grades, gave them no trouble. So Fran, who chattered endlessly, and whose face was always shiny and flushed as evidence of her chronic anxiety, accomplished her part of family chores with success. I never heard Abe complain about the children, nor did he find fault with Fran.

Abe had come to Houston to teach at the University in its chemical engineering division. His salary was not enough for his family’s needs, so he took a part-time job at Shell Oil Company. They put him to work applying his expertise dealing with the action of fluids and gases as they flowed through pipelines.

At the University, he was busy and happy. He taught undergrads, he did research, he monitored grad students, and he took his turn as chairman of the department, a task no one wanted. Rotation of the job eased the pain of an onerous function. Actually, as Abe told me of the workings of his department, I could tell he loved being in charge and did it well. As we talked at lunch dates, I learned more about him: he was a consultant to the French government about their nuclear power plants and to the state of Israel for its problems with the desalinization of sea water.

After a year, he gave up his part-time job with Shell and formed an outside consulting firm with two of his teaching associates. His success with his department was marked by the outstanding caliber of his professors, with noteworthy research, and with the numerous scientific papers that were published. Recognition came nationally when his department was given a $10 million grant over a ten-year period to add equipment, take more students, increase faculty– anything Abe and his coworkers needed and wanted. The grant was a recognition of what Abe was trying to accomplish; it boosted Abe’s pride in what he had done. It encouraged him and provided him with the funds to plan for the future of his department.

At one point, Abe took a year’s sabbatical at Oxford University. Fran and the children went with him. It was a time for Abe to relax and explore his thoughts for the future. The University was never very far from his mind. He wanted ideas to better his department for years to come. When Yvette and I were in London, we made a side-trip to spend the day with Abe and his family. We toured the campus with its ancient buildings, classrooms, and libraries, and then made a visit to Blackwell's bookstore to stare in awe at what seemed like acres of books and periodicals. Much intellectual stimulation for one day. And Abe and Fran were such warm hosts.

Soon after Abe and his family returned to Houston, a dark cloud moved in. We heard that Fran had announced that she wanted out of the marriage. She had met a publisher from Washington, D.C. and was leaving to marry him. There was shock throughout the community. What had happened? Did Abe suspect anything? Had anybody suspected anything? When Abe came to see me, he explained his reaction, “Dan, when something like this happens, you check to see if your balls are still there.”

Abe’s next move was inexplicable. In a few short months, he married Nancy, who came under our critical gaze at a social gathering at our home. We listened to her and were dismayed to see that in his haste, or out of desperation to recover his faith in himself, Abe had made a profound error. Nancy whined and complained about Abe. She did not seem to realize that the brief courtship that lead to their marriage was much too short for them to get to know each other: she gave no hint that she bore any responsibility in the miserable state they were in. We squirmed to hear her complain how she was being put upon.

A divorce ended Abe’s misery with Nancy. But Abe had not quit looking for companionship. At lunch at the River CafĂ© he confided in me about Loring: a young, bright, vivacious woman who worked in public relations at the University’s front office. Did I say “Young?” Probably about 20 years younger than Abe. She was so good for Abe. When we met her, it was clear she doted on him, could not do enough for him. They laughed a lot, held hands. He told us that when they planned a trip to France, she plastered Post-its all over their house, giving the French for door, sink, shower, hello, goodbye. Abe loved her attention, her youth, her enthusiasm. As I later told Loring, she was more than a “Ten” for Abe; she was about a thousand. Loring became active in Abe’s home to suit their needs: she fenced in the yard to hold her Doberman, planted flowers, rearranged the furniture in the sitting room, painted the pantry, hung more pictures. She was a lively, busy spirit in Abe’s life.

Then Abe came to see me about pains in his stomach. I could find nothing, gave him some medicine, and suggested a return visit. At his return he brought Loring who asked me if stress could be causing his symptoms. I told her that it was high on my list of possibilities. She then explained: The University was looking for a new president. Abe wanted the job. Maybe the tension of hoping to be chosen was getting to him. A wise lady.

The final chapter of Abe’s life came without warning and with a stamp of doom. He became short of breath; a large tumor in his chest, a mesothelioma, was the cause. Mesotheliomas are rare, very rare, and with little exception they are the result of breathing fibers of asbestos. If Abe had been an insulator or a welder or a worker in construction, we could understand his exposure to asbestos. And, besides, it takes 30-40- years after exposure before the mesothelioma appears. So where had Abe been 30-40 years ago, long ago, where he might have been exposed to particles of asbestos insulation? We poked around in Abe’s memory and so, it came out. The small room where he sat in his work for Shell had had insulated pipes overhead. The covering of the insulation was torn, and flakes of asbestos floated down continously. Thus, the small room, the air filled with visible and invisible particles for Abe to breathe.

The irony of it: I, with my interest in lung disease and knowledge of the dangers of asbestos, was watching my best friend die of the mineral which could not let me change his outcome, no matter what was tried or wished for. There was nothing for me to do. Nothing but tell Abe what was in my heart, embrace him, and say goodbye.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Connections between American and Russian Cousins

I recently recorded a video about the links between the Russian and American branches of my family. 

It's really a lead-in to the absolutely wonderful video I received on my 90th birthday from my cousin Rakhil.

More details about both videos can be seen in the comments on YouTube.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Harry Walsh

Dan Jackson
December 2007

About twenty years ago, out of the blue, I received a letter from Russia. I recognized the Cyrillic alphabet but that didn’t tell me who the sender was nor where in Russia it had been posted. After some thought I called a patient who was a professor of French at Rice University and she suggested I call Dr. Harry Walsh at the University of Houston. I did and he graciously consented to translate the letter for me. I told him there might be more letters to translate and offered to pay him for his efforts. He insisted that he would be happy to translate all letters and refused to accept compensation.

That first letter which started our relationship was from my cousin Rakhil in Penza. Soon there were letters from cousin David in Simferapol and later from Israel, from cousin Dora in Evpatoria,and from Rakhil’s son Mikhail in Riga, Latvia. Some letters were long and complaining, some were grateful for contact with family in far off America; no matter, Harry carried on.

When necessary, Harry went to extraordinary lengths to clarify a point, such as the exact location of the village, Karenets, in Russia, where the saga of the Jackson family began. Undaunted, Harry went to a remarkable source, a set of the 60 volume Russian Encyclopedia Dictionary dating from 1896 in which he found maps to help him in his search.

When I told him how impressed I was with the literary quality of some of the letters, he assured me he had not made any changes and that our family wrote in unusually good style.

A bit of lagniappe to our connection to Harry has been his lovely wife Sandra whom he affectionally calls “The Red Head.”

Then about 4 years ago a young man from Dallas applied to Harry’s department at the University to be tutored in basic Russian. He explained that his church group had adopted an orphanage in Penza, Russia, and that he needed some accelerated tutoring so that he could converse with the Russian personnel at the orphanage during visits at the Russian New Year and at summer camp. Harry gave me his name, Michael Miller, and we have become friends with him and his wife Amy. He and his church group carry money, letters, and family pictures to cousin Rakhil in Penza twice a year. He and members of his group spend time with Rakhil (and her husband Isaac before his death 2 years ago), a contact that brightened their lives. It was also a way to send money to Rakhil in Penza dirrectly to avoid fees by banks in Houston, New York, and Penza.

It’s wonderful what the letter from Penza has done. Harry and Sandra have become our friends; We value their warmth and good company.

Harry and Sandra, you have our most profound thanks. Harry, you are a mensch.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

My Cancer of the Larynx

In the fall of 1981 I was diagnosed with cancer of the larynx.  The surgery wouldn't follow until July 13th, 1983. 

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Letter from Josh on my 95th Birthday

On my 95th birthday last December I received a wonderful package (prepared by Emily) of more than 95 cards, pictures, notes, and memorabilia.  On of many treasures was this letter from my grandson Josh.

As some may know, I (Joshua Daniel Jackson) was adopted into this family; rather than being brought into a family through more ... traditional means.  And when I was younger, I spent a good deal of time trying to understand what that really meant. I realize now that much of what I was trying to understand during that time in my life was: What does it mean to be a part of a family? What does it mean to be a part of this family?
This question stayed with me, in ways that not even I understood, for years. And the more time I spent in Houston. The more time I spent as a child and as a teen with my grandparents especially. The more the answers came. Not all at once by any means; but instead, they came in bits and pieces. I remember hearing stories of an Internist who pushed for changes within the institutions he worked for; because he could no longer stand by and watch his hospital sell cigarettes in the lobby to patients, who would then come upstairs to him with emphysema and lung cancer. A man who would make house calls when it was no longer in fashion.
I slowly began to comprehend what it meant for an Intellectual to leave his home, travel to a new country, and start a life over from scratch. Selling shoes in a company town. I learned why it was important to give back to your community and to those less fortunate within it; no matter how much wealth you had, no matter how much of it you had built on your own. I learned the value of listening instead of talking, of preparing instead of reacting, and of making sure that I do things correctly the first time. No matter how trivial the task was. I learned from my grandfather the importance of treating relationships, not like the means to an end. But like the end itself.
As I grew older, I began to notice that some of the values that I had grown into over the years were not quite as common as I would wish them to be. But in my travels to Le Madeline, for coffee, croissants and quiet conversation I found that even if my grandfather and I took differing routes to come to a conclusion. We often came to one that I found more agreeable than any I could find with (more than) most of my peers. Even with a multigenerational gap between us. I found that my grandfather was more progressive in his thinking than those who had inherited the world from his generation; In fact, even more than their children.
Grandpa, you have been called a renaissance-man while being celebrated on occasions such as this one. But you aren't a renaissance-man. You're not just a renaissance-man anyway. You're more than that. You, Dan Jackson, are timeless. At times, you make the most liberal teens I've met look like anachronistic relics. At others, you make the most conservative traditionalists I've met look like children, ignorant to the values of their families and of their people. You've shown me why it is good to be a quiet thoughtful man. And why it is better to love a strong outspoken woman. The courage, strength and compassion that you and grandma have displayed, -even in the small portion of your lives that I have had the pleasure of taking part in- continues to astound and inspire those around you. And I feel as though that may never change. The imprint that you have left on the world, and on your children, grandchildren, even greatgrandchildren is strong and it will likely outlast all of us. I hope the same of you. I love you Grandpa. And I hope you have a Happy Birthday. I am trying to find my way to Houston. I don't expect to make it before the New Year. But I hope to see you shortly thereafter.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

If I Had Been a Man of Violence

I shared this video with Lucy who jogged my memory about the pursuit by Naomi. Sometime in the 60s when I was in practice in Medical Towers, I was called to the phone for a long distance call. It was Naomi. I don't remember anything about the conversation except that I cut it short. At dinner that night I told Gma and the boys about the call. She was amused and curious. "Why didn't you invite her for dinner?" The boys chimed in, especially when they found out I had described her to Gma as very pretty. It seems I missed a great opportunity for an unforgettable meal by not inviting her.

Steve, my son, emailed me this later: "I've been thinking about your v-log entry as requested. Your anger at Naomi is still palpable after all these years. There's no question that it would have been a difficult, if not impossible marriage. She was flighty and rebellious (against her family and, eventually, against you) and this would have made your life miserable. You would have to do all the work to keep things together and, in the end, it would have been for nought (she would have left you). Mom was difficult but steadfast and you needed that. Thus, your attraction to "persevering and persistence." I think, in spite of your anger, you did the right thing. Although I probably would have had sex with her before I said "adios"."

Friday, January 11, 2013

A Visit to a Medical Giant

Bob Chamovitz is my cousin: his mother and mine were sisters. We lived as block away from each other in Aliquippa and grew up together. He is now a retired gastroenterologist. The visit he describes took place around 1978.

Dear Dan,
I went to New York to see Burill Crohn. I called Mt Sinai Hospital and asked for him. "Which Doctor Cohen, the operator asked...never heard of Dr Crohn."

Finally I got a phone number and spoke to his wife who invited me to their apartment near the Museum of Modern Art. I walked in to see a grand piano and there he was, all 94 years of him
seated in a big chair, his edematous legs on a hassock.

He asked about me, why was I there, etc. (His wife said to be brief but he was enjoying himself).  I asked if he was still practicing medicine.

"No," he said. "In NY you can't get a licence after age 93!!", so he gave up consulting a year earlier. He volunteered that no one knows who he is anymore.  He tried to get his grandson into med school but the "bastards" paid him no mind. He told me the story of how IBD (inflammatory bowel disease)became Crohn's Disease. It was at a conference in Australia (?); discussion was on IBD and all its variants and the question was, what to call this bizarre illness and someone shouted, let's call it Crohn's disease. The moderator said, "Let's take a vote All in favor say aye," and it carried by unanimous vote. That was it.

He told me what he wanted on his tombstone:  the prescription that he prescribed, an elixir of codeine 1/4 gr plus small amount of barbital. "So what if they got addicted!"

Was a thrill for me to have been in his presence on a one-to-one setting.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Indian Pueblo Dancing video

Check out the 1958 video we just put up on YouTube:


Elmer Eger and the Floating Garage

Dan Jackson says, “After Hurricane Katrina in 2005 I spoke to Elmer about the 1936 flood that his family experienced. This piece is his response.”

The Floating Garage – a 2005 letter from Elmer Eger to Dan Jackson

St. Patrick's day was yesterday and it reminded me of the great 1936 St. Patrick's Day flood. We were living in a new home during the middle of the great depression. (Everything in my generation seems to have been great: the great war, the great depression, etc.). Our home was located on Neville Island, a strip of land about 10 miles southwest of Pittsburgh. The "Island" seven miles long and one half mile wide at its widest point and was a mixture of farming and industry. At one time it was and was purported to be richest township in the USA because of the taxes paid by more than 50 major industries, including Gulf Oil, Dravo Corporation, Pittsburgh Des Moines Steel, and on and on.

We were living in a new home only because it was practically given to my father ($25.00 per month with every payment going toward purchase) by his good friend and business neighbor Ernest Harper, who had built the house for speculation before the depression took hold. The house did have a deficit. There were not enough electric receptacles in the living room and in order to enjoy the radio and enough lamps, my father ingeniously drilled through the floor and plugged the radio into a receptacle in the basement. As you will see that was a fateful act that later was almost disasterous.

Dad passed away suddenly in July of 1935 and my Uncle Sam and Aunt Sarah Sharp came to live with us. One reason was to share the expenses and the other was for Aunt Sarah to keep house while my Mother went to business. Mother and Dad had just started a jewelry shop a year earlier and my mom to her everlasting credit was determined to keep it going. She struggled mightily, educated two children and lived to see her efforts blossom into a thriving business many years later.

The winter of 35-36 was severe, with snow and ice piled everywhere especially in the upland watershed of north western Pennsylvania. In March a sudden thaw released untold amounts of water and ice floes into the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers which joined to form the Ohio River at the famous Golden Triangle of the city of Pittsburgh. It was the first year in many years that the three rivers has frozen solid and if it were not for the heavy paddlewheel and barge traffic which forged a channel in the ice one could have easily walked from shore to shore.

With the spring thaw the river flowed with huge chunks of ice. As the river rose our cellar began to flood. We carefully unplugged all of the electrical appliances in the basement including dad's radio connection. So having no communication with the outside world and trusting that a flooded basement would be the only eventuality, we all went to bed.

At three AM that morning my Aunt roused us and told us to dress quickly because the water was up to top step on the front porch and would soon be in seeping into the first floor of the house. My uncle's 1931 model A ford was in the garage and by now the water was over the running board and possibly into the motor. Anyway there was no way to drive it out in over 2 feet of water. Somehow my mother, sister, aunt and uncle and I waded through small ice flows about 500 yards to the main road which was fortunately built on a hog back and was several feet higher than Yale Avenue the little street where our house stood surrounded by icy water. There on the main spine of Neville Island, we were met by a taxi which had come across the bridge and braved the road which was threatened from both sides by the rising rivers. Thanks to that brave cabby we crossed safely to the mainland of Coraopolis and were deposited at the Jewelry shop which was dry and warm and a safe haven at least for the time being. At dawn we learned that the water was still rising and several homes in the lower end town were already flooded. It was an awesome sight to a young teen because there were boats on some of the streets. As people gathered on the Main street the wisdom was that the water would never reach 4th Avenue one of the two main arteries through the town and the water reaching 5th Ave a block up the hill was not even a possibility. But it did. It reached fifth Avenue, which meant that it put 4 feet of into the the Jewelry store which had becoume our temporary haven. Miraculusly the water stopped short of the shelves on which we had piled the store merchandise. Fortunately at nine that morning I had taken a couple of cartons of rings and watches and valuable jewelry to the Bank Vault of the National Bank which was spared from by the rising waters.

After a short period of bemoaning our fate and being taken in by kind neighbors and wonderful relatives in Aliquippa, everyone waited for the flood to recede, which it did much more quickly than it came.

As can be expected the flood reeked havoc doing millions of dollars worth of damage and leaving in its wake mud and oil and every mess that one can imagine to be cleaned. But cleaned it was and there were and are a million stories in its wake. One family would have been content to clean out the mud and debris but an oil drum had cracked open on a telephone pole spilling the oil and when the water went down their walls and floors were coated with oil. How that house was restored I will never know. I myself, started the coal furnace with our dining room table--that same table that I had been scolded for using as a ping-pong table not too many months earlier.

Remember Uncle Sam's Ford? It was housed in a wooden garage which had a wooden floor. The floodwaters picked up the garage with the Ford still in it and floated it for ½ mile where it miraculously came to rest against an oil derrick, the last obstacle on the island's tip. There it was lowered gently to the ground right side up as the water receded. Eventually the car was towed to a garage where Uncle Sam expected to junk it. And what was he to do? No one carried flood insurance and he certainly couldn't afford a new car. A mechanic suggested that they blowout the gas lines and refill the tank. Nothing to lose. Lo an behold the car after a couple of coughs started right up and ran nicely for a couple years to come. Try that with one of our computerized engines in today's automobiles.

As I edit this we are six weeks past Hurricane Katrina which wiped out New Orleans and much of the Gulf Coast. As I watch the tragedies of hurricanes, floods, fires and sunamis, and as I watch families being wiped out I know from personal experience that the chances are good that the victims will remake a good life for themselves. I think the human spirit is as resilient as Uncle Sam's Ford. Blowout the gas lines and give it another whirl.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Letter to Arlen Specter

In 1992 I got a flyer from Arlen Specter, aimed at Jews, describing what a wonderful Jew he was and why I should support him. Sandy saved the flyer and my heated response that he was a bastard.

The flyer he sent out was his plea for his reelection. Why did he send one to me in Texas? Beats me.

Here's the letter he sent me:
Spector letter 1992

And here's my response:
Spector letter response

Dear Sen Specter -
There is something terribly wrong when the "son of Jewish Russian immigrants" forgets that his background demands that he act like a "mensh", that he not forget what it's like to be in the minority, that he defend and search for the truth.
Your performance in the hearings of Hill-Thomas was disgraceful. You were persecutory, unkind, biased, hostile, unfair, and strident. You were a black mark for men, senators, the legal profession and other "defenders of minorities" (read "son of Jewish Russian immigrants").
And you want to be re-elected?

Daniel Jackson MD

Sunday, January 15, 2012

It’s the Culture, Grampa

Bryan and I were at our weekly breakfast at La Madelaine in the Galleria. As usual, he had quiche and coffee and I had toast and coffee. When we finished our second cups, I asked if there was anything he wanted to buy. He said there was a card shop on the second floor of Galleria 2 where he wanted to look for something; just the place for a sixteen year-old.

While he shopped, I watched the cashier. She was a teen-ager, thin, dressed in a dark blouse and pants. She was not attractive, a state made worse by uncombed hair and her failure to smile. And her tattoos, around her neck and her wrists, shocked me. They were green and irregular, looking like colored barbed wire. What in the world had she done to herself?

As we walked out the door, I asked Bryan if he had noticed the tattoos. He said he had. I asked how he felt about them. He shrugged his shoulders. I told him I thought they were ugly and predicted that when she grew up to be a young lady, she would be sorry that she had disfigured her body and would not be able to reverse the damage except at great cost and pain.

Demonstrating wisdom beyond his years, he set me straight, “It’s the culture, Grampa.” He was telling me that my view of tattooing lagged far behind the changes that were going on around me. This had nothing to do with Maori natives and the natives of Papua New Guinea and professional wrestlers and basketball and football players with colorful decorations on their bodies. This was a teenager who looked upon tattooing as part of her makeup like lipstick or a piece of jewelry or hairdo except that it was permanent.

I began to be more aware of body art---a leaf on the ankle, a butterfly on the shoulder, an arrow on the small of the back, a heart on the side of the neck. I viewed them as cute, still limited to the young and daring. But would members of the upper crust, the wealthy, the powerful do this to their bodies? The answer came in a profile in the October 21, 2011 issue of The New Yorker of Jill Abramson, the newly appointed editor of The New York Times. She confessed that at one time when she had been transferred from her beloved New York to California to a new position, she had a tattoo of a subway token, “good for one trip” inked on her body. She won’t tell where it is; no matter, tattooing has arrived and is definitely part of our culture.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Coming to America

Peepa (Harry Jackson)

Dad was an incurable romantic. He loved to tell Evy and me stories of his childhood in Kurenetz, Russia, of his attempts to leave home to come to America, and of his early experiences in his adopted land. Those stories are part of our childhood as well as part of Dad’s being a father and a historian and a story teller. Some of his tales differed between what he told us and what he said later in his oral history. Both version are delightful and worth recounting.

Listen to what he told us about the Gypsy with whom he became friendly on the Prince Oskar, the ship that brought Dad to America. The Gypsy’s family was unaccustomed to sailing and much of the time was plagued with sea-sickness. Their worst trauma was the lingering illness and death of their youngest child. Dad was pained by their loss and did his best to comfort them especially because none of the other passengers in steerage gave any attention to them in their grief.

When the Prince Oskar docked at Philadelphia, Dad was told he could not land unless he had $25 in his possession. It was presumably to prevent his becoming dependent on the social services of his new country. It was actually a ploy of the anti-immigrant feeling brought on by the influx of immigrants from Eastern Europe. Dad told the authorities he was penniless; where could he get $25? The immigration officer warned him that if he didn’t have the money, he would be put on the next ship returning to Hamburg, the port that he had come from. Dad was frantic; how could he, a poor man in a new country, get $25? It was his good friend, the Gypsy, who stepped in and gave him the $25. Dad was overjoyed; he assured his savior he would get the money back to him somehow.

The story did not end there. One morning many years later, when Dad was sweeping the sidewalk in front of the shoe store, he looked up and there, on Franklin Avenue, was the Gypsy and his family traveling along by horse and wagon. Dad hailed them and they talked for a while. I can’t remember for certain, but my guess is that Dad paid him back the $25. It would certainly round out a remarkable tale.

But there is a different version of the $25 in Dad’s oral history. Yes, the authorities did demand that he have $25 on his person before they would allow him to land, but there the story takes a different turn. When he did not have the money, he and several others in similar straits were taken by a small boat to an island in Philadelphia harbor, there to wait until they could produce the money. If not, they would be returned across the Atlantic. As Dad glumly pondered his ill-fate, “a man with a jacket with brass buttons” spoke to him in Yiddish! “Why are you so unhappy,” he asked. Dad explained the money problem. The man gave him the money and told him not to worry. He explained that he was from HIAS—Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society—and he was there to help. Dad had heard about HIAS back in Russia and now knew that his arrival in America was secure.

It wasn’t the Gypsy who had come to his rescue. He was real and kind and friendly but did he rescue Dad in his moment of financial need? Or was it HIAS which was part of the welcoming agencies to help and protect immigrants.

There is another story that we heard Dad tell over and over. When I say that I remember hearing his stories, I am also aware that I could tell when he was about to tell one I had heard before but I never wanted him to stop. I remembered the stories, having heard them so many times but I wanted to hear them again.

The story of the change of Dad’s name from the Russian to the American form was one we heard so often that it seemed like a fairy tale with a highly pleasing ending. When the immigration officer asked Dad his name, he told him “Hillel Yachnovich”. According to Dad, the officer said it wasn’t American enough. Dad then said, “My brother’s name is Louis Jackson.” That caught the officer’s fancy who announced that Dad’s new name was now Harry Jackson.

I have been told, on good authority, that at one time it was legal (and common) for immigration officers to change an immigrant’s name if the officer thought it too hard to understand or pronounce or if it was not “American” enough. It could even be changed if the immigrant so requested. Dad told Evy and me that story so many times; we were fascinated that Dad’s quick thinking had given him his new name and paved his way past the port’s authorities.

Dad’s oral history has a different version which certainly makes more sense. Dad retained his name through the immigration process. When he was permitted to, he went to Munhall, a steel mill town near Pittsburgh to find his brother Louis who was the first Jackson brother to come to America. There, Dad joined other immigrants, men and women who were determined to become American as soon as possible. They formed social groups to learn to speak better English by reading poetry and prose, by putting on plays, by debating, and singing, solo or in groups. On attending his social group one evening, Dad learned that without consulting him the group had decided that he should change his name from Hillel Yachnovich to Harry Jackson. He was crushed that he had lost “Hillel” the name of a famous rabbi and scholar, and “Yachnovich”, the name of his father, whom he venerated and respected. He was heartsick but kept his feelings to himself and gradually accepted the change to his American name. So, if it is true that his social group changed his name for him, then the story about it being changed by an immigration officer, as he told us over and over, was just more evidence of his love of spinning a lively tale with a happy ending.

In his reflections about the new name that had unceremoniously been attached to him by his fellow-immigrants, he confessed that he had submitted to their action without open objection because long since arriving in America, he had been thinking that “Yachnovich” sounded too Russian for someone who wanted to be Americanized as quickly as possible. He knew he needed to make a change. As he turned the matter over and over in his mind, he could not find a sound in English to match the sound of the Russian “ch”; he had thought of “Yachnin” which his friends had trouble pronouncing. He discarded “Yanin” as sounding weak. He scolded himself for being unable to make a choice in the matter, finally gave in to his social group’s summary decision, and adjusted to being “Harry Jackson” for the rest of his life.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Mother and the Glass Ceiling


Dad always wanted to be in business for himself. In May 1925 he took the plunge and bought a bankrupt shoe store in Woodlawn, Pennsylvania and changed its name from Economy Shoe Store to Jackson’s Shoe Store. Uncle Morris became his partner and soon hard work and good business sense turned Jackson’s Shoe Store into the busiest shoe store in town. Dad needed help; he asked Mother to come work at the store. She didn’t have to go with him when he opened the store at 6 a.m. but after she had tended to the maid and Evy and me, she could go down late morning. Mother enjoyed the work, liked waiting on women customers, found the work preferable to being a stay-at-home mom whose other times out of the apartment were for bridge parties, visiting her sister, Mollie, or going to Kaufmann’s in Pittsburgh to shop.

At the end of her first week at work when Uncle Morris handed out pay checks, Mother asked for hers. He snapped, “Family doesn’t get paid.”

Mother let him know how she felt about that; “I work here, you pay me.” She had been so valuable as a saleslady, they knew they couldn’t afford to lose her. They paid her.

That was not the first time Mother had asserted herself. When she and Dad were courting, she decided she wanted to marry him. As she tells it, when the family was together, she gave them the news. They refused to hear of it: no, he was not the one for her. He was a greenhorn—a derogatory term for immigrants who had not become “Americans”—he couldn’t speak good English. He was not good enough for her.

As she tells it, she rose to her feet and made it clear, “I am going to marry him and you are going to give me a wedding!” And she married him and they gave her the wedding.

In the shoe store Mother’s skills blossomed. She connected well with her women customers. They wanted shoes to make their feet look small but that made their feet hurt. She persuaded them to buy stylish shoes in sizes a little longer but a little narrower that would be comfortable and still not look too long. She took correspondence courses from Dr. Scholl to learn how to fit arch supports, the precursor of today’s orthotics. She convinced the store to offer dyeing fabric shoes so young women could have shoes that matched their gowns without the expense of buying new shoes. She contacted dance teachers in town to announce that Jackson’s would order Capezio ballet slippers for their students. And she went with Dad to shoe shows to help him select shoe styles for each coming season’s inventory.

 Mother, the first and maybe the only feminist in the family, knew her worth long before the cry, “Equal pay for equal work.” I don’t think Mother wanted to start a campaign to push for women’s rights; she was just claiming rights for herself. She showed she had skills beyond being a wife and mother and baleboste (an excellent homemaker) and could enter a man’s world and do as well as any of them. She wanted to be recognized for her ability and wanted to be paid as well. True, Aunt Jennie, her sister, worked with Uncle Lou in their variety store, and if the jewelry store Aunt Sarah and Uncle Herman owned was open, Aunt Sarah could always be seen there. I don’t think either wife was on the payroll.

I asked Bea Miler if her mother, Aunt Sarah, was a paid employee. She answered, “Good question. I don't think so, but couldn't swear to it. I never got paid for cleaning the silver, stamping wallets, putting stock away, taking payments at the window (credit jewelers), or taking repairs into Pittsburgh twice a week in the summer, Saturdays in school months. It's one of those questions you don't think of until there's no one left to answer it.”

Mother made her way in a family controlled by men by meeting the challenge head on. She demanded her place in the family and business world and proved she could compete with the best of them. I admire her.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

From Zuckerman to Yachnovich to Jackson

Or "How did you get the name Jackson?"

Esther and Hillel Zuckerman were the grandparents of my father, Harry Jackson. In fact, my father was named Hillel Tzvee after his grandfather. They lived in Berezino, a shtetl in Minsk Province (Minska gubernia) in Belarus or “White Russia”. When Hillel died, Esther moved on, fearful that her two children might be snatched up, drafted, for twenty five years by the Russian army. She ended up in Kurenets where she changed her name to Yachnovich, a name that sounded less Jewish and more Russian, a ploy she thought would put the army off the track. Yachna, her mother’s name, was the inspiration for the change.

According to the family tree, Esther’s son, Moishe Zuckerman Yachnovich married Doba and they raised eleven children which included five sons, four of whom will immigrate to America to avoid the Russian draft and to search for a better life. Those four Yachnovich sons, Louis, Joseph, Harry, and Sam will become Jacksons. So, how did that come about?

That’s easy to explain about Joseph and Sam---they simply took the name Jackson that Louis and Harry who preceded them had already changed to. But the changes by Louis and Harry become the stuff of romance and family myths.

Let’s start with Louis. Dad says Louis’s name was changed to Jackson by an immigration officer at Ellis Island who told Louis that Yachnovich was too hard to pronounce or didn’t sound American. That action was legal at that time and there are enough stories by immigrants to believe that that actually happened. However, another family member checked the immigration records and found 1) no evidence of a name change at Ellis Island and 2) after Louis had been in America for a short time, he applied for a name change at an immigration office somewhere in the Pittsburgh area. So much for Dad’s version.

Now Dad explains his name change. He told me and Evy that at the Philadelphia port, the immigration officer told him that Hillel Yachnovich was not American enough. Dad explained that his brother was Louis Jackson. “Well” the officer said, “then your name is Harry Jackson.” But in his oral history Dad says that the social group he joined to help him with becoming an American decided they didn’t like his name and changed it for him. They didn’t consult him, and at first, he resented it. With time he got over the loss of Hillel Tzvee Yachvovich with its connections to his grandfather and the great sage and scholar and became Harry Jackson.

Thus, by the way of history, romance, and family myths the changes from Zuckerman to Jackson entered the family tree.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Medicine and Compassion

I first met Nate in 1944 in Papua New Guinea where I was a GMO(general medical officer with the 102nd Station Hospital. I was never very busy, so, when Nate, the flight surgeon from the nearby air base, invited me to go with him to check for medical problems at the native village, I was ready to go. Nate (Capt. Nathan Shlimovitz, later shortened to Shlim) took penicillin from the base dispensary to give to native children infected with yaws and to men with venereal disease. He had been there before; the natives were glad to see him and readily lined up for their penicillin. He was patient and never displayed any anger; he was always in a good humor. I enjoyed being with him.

Dan Jackson in the Pacific

When the war moved north, the 102nd closed down and we were absorbed into the 35th General Hospital at Lae. There I became a dermatologist; there was no challenge, so I volunteered for the Alamo Scouts. Now I found myself at the southern tip of Leyte in the Philippines as the medical officer for a unit devoted to gathering intelligence for the 6th Army. There was little to do; the officers and support personnel were in exceptionally good mental and physical shape.

After three months with the Scouts, I was transferred to the 58th Evac Hospital on another Philippine island, Cebu. The commanding officer sent me to the operating area to put the injured to sleep for surgeons to work on. It was all new to me and I enjoyed it immensely. I was never bored.

The next stop was Luzon where I ate, slept, read, and played volleyball; ten days after the armistice we landed by navy cruiser at Yokohama to set up our hospital. Now it was boring again; it helped that I explored bombed out, burned out Tokyo and went part way up Mt. Fuji. The truly exciting event was getting orders to go home. Yvette and 18 month old Fuzz met me at the railroad station in New Orleans on the morning of November 25th, 1945.

 Gma and Fuzz

Back in the States, I began my postgraduate training with a residency in tuberculosis at Cleveland City Hospital in April 1946. I hoped that if my performance were good I would get a recommendation from the chief of the service that would improve my chances of getting a residency in internal medicine at the same hospital. I kept up my interest in internal medicine by attending rounds and lectures on internal medicine. One evening I went to a lecture at the Lakeside Hospital by Harry Goldblatt, a world-famous researcher on hypertension. I was a bit late and had to stand at the top row of the amphitheatre.

When the lecture was over and the crowd began to clear, I was surprised to see Nate across the hall. I went over to greet him and find what he was doing at the lecture. He was glad to see me, but all was not well. He was a resident in surgery and he and his wife, Sylvia, and infant, Harriet, had been renting a house near the hospital. Without warning, the owners had returned and demanded they leave. Nate had been struggling to find another place to live. If he failed, Sylvia and the baby would have to return to Chicago; he would be alone in Cleveland. I told him I would see what I could do. I was not optimistic because Yvette and I had experienced the same scenario—we had rented a home in the middle class section of Cleveland, and when the owners decided to cut their vacation short and wanted the house back, we had had to scramble to find a another place to live; luckily a slum apartment near the hospital opened up—we were glad to get it.

When I returned home after the lecture, I told Yvette of meeting Nate and hearing his awful story. Yvette’s solution was simple: they should move into our apartment with us. They stayed with us for six weeks until they found a place for themselves. Our apartment was small, two bedrooms, a kitchen, part of which was the bathroom, no appliances except an old range with a useless oven. They moved in. When Nate and I went to our work in the morning, Yvette and Sylvia cleaned up, tended to Richard and Harriet, all the while chatting like old friends. During the six weeks that we lived together we got along famously, nary an unkind word or disagreement. It helped that Sylvia was a gourmet cook.

We kept in touch. After the Shlims settled in Portland, Oregon, and we in Houston, we traveled with them to San Francisco and northern California. We visited them when we joined a group that left from Portland to go to China in 1977. And they surprised Yvette by showing up at her 70th birthday party in 1987. Being with them was fun though it was marred by Sylvia’s endless complaining that Nate insisted on buying apartment buildings and turned them over to her to manage. Nate pooh-poohed her complaints and continued to invest in apartment buildings.

At Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco

Naturally, we asked about their children: Harriet was the infant who had lived with us for six weeks in Cleveland. They never talked about her. The second child was David, a physician. When we asked about him, both Nate and Sylvia mumbled something about a clinic in Katmandu, Nepal. That happened several times; the message was clear that they were not interested in talking about him. It was hard for Yvette and me to believe that the parents of a doctor would not want to talk about him, to boast about him.The youngest child was Larry who had hopes of breaking into the world of professional photography.

In 2009 Rob saw a note in the Smithsonian magazine announcing that David Shlim, M.D. had published a book. That night I phoned David, “David, this is Dr. Dan Jackson.”

There was a pause; then David began to chatter at a great rate. He remembered who I was. He had heard his parents talk about their experience in Cleveland in our apartment. He had given up the clinic at Katmandu and a job as an emergency room physician and had opened a solo practice near Jackson Hole, Wyoming. When I asked about his book, he explained: on one of his trips to Katmandu, a Buddhist priest had approached him and commented on the stress he saw in his face. He convinced David that he could help him. They began a series of conversations that lasted three years during which David learned about the need for compassion in his life. Over time he changed and was now much happier.

He had written a book about his experience, Medicine and Compassion: it was for doctors and their patients. He sent me a copy and a snapshot of the priest who had changed his life. He had inscribed on the title page: “To Dr. Jackson, who showed compassion to my parents in their time of great need.” That was a lovely gesture by David to me and, of course, to Yvette. I was pleased that he had done so much for himself, had turned his life around. My curiosity was tweaked: what had happened to David that had created so much stress in his life? I had the feeling that his stress was a reflection of his anger, anger that he carried within himself and chose to ignore rather than face. There were hints of that in his book but until he had met the Buddhist priest, he had avoided facing the truth.

If I had been able to talk with his siblings, Harriet and Larry, I might have been able to learn something about David as he was growing up. I remembered that Harriet, the infant who had stayed with us in Cleveland, had appeared in Houston out of the blue to visit us. She was having trouble in her marriage. Oddly, Harriet gave no explanation why she had not talked with Sylvia or Nate about her troubles. The youngest of the three children, Larry, had been with us on the trip to China. He kept to himself and as far as we could see, he made no friends; he stuck to taking pictures. When we visited the Shlims in their home, Larry appeared only at meals. Was this the picture of a dysfunctional family?

It would have helped if I had sat Nate and Sylvia down, figuratively shaken them, and demanded, “I want to know about David, tell me about him.” Out of those conversations I might have gleaned enough information to make an informed guess why David had become so angry, so alienated from his parents. Of course, none of that was available to me.

My pop psychology led me to believe that the relationship of David to his parents held the answer to my question about his stress. Of the two I would choose Nate as the one to focus on—he was the more forceful, the more demanding of the two. Sylvia had already told us how he ignored her when she grumbled about his buying the apartment buildings and Nate, a surgeon, was a member of a culture that marked him as one to be obeyed and not questioned.

How did Nate impact David’s life? Did Nate make it known, openly or subtly, that he expected David to be a doctor? Was he disappointed and angry that David refused to go into further training to become a surgeon like himself? Did David feel Nate’s anger and leave home to escape the conflict over his training? We know he had little contact with his parents: he spent six months out of the year on the other side of the world to work pro bono in the clinic in Katmandu, Nepal; when he ran out of money, he came home to Portland to work as an emergency room doctor to replenish his funds to be able to return to Nepal and again work in the clinic. Being at odds with his father and in too much inner turmoil to settle into a stable medical practice, he could see that his life was going nowhere. How could he get out of this pit of despair, not necessarily to please his father, but even please himself? He hated himself; he had disappointed everybody, especially himself.

We cannot be certain that we know why David had became so angry and stressed, but we do know that anger that is not dealt with leads to stress. It was fortunate that the Buddhist priest took it upon himself to point out that he could see on David’s face the reflection of the stress. David then embarked on conversations with him over the period of three years to learn about himself. He now feels better, is happy, likes himself, has learned that if he understands his anger, then he can understand others and be compassionate toward people around him. As a result of what he learned about himself, he spends only a small amount of his time as a physician. He travels, lectures, and talks to doctors and their families about what he has learned about being compassionate, about what it has done for him, and what it can do for them.

David’s learning to be compassionate struck a familiar note with me. When I was in training I began to form an image of how I would conduct myself in the presence of patients. My first contact with a patient would be in my consultation room; there would be a desk between us. I would address patients as Mister and Misses. I probably wouldn’t smile much; it might not be too wise to be too friendly. I would hide my emotions. I wouldn’t let anything upset me; at least I wouldn’t let on if I were upset. It would be important not to let the patient get too close to me: I would not be the patient’s friend, I would be his doctor; I must avoid being both. If a patient invited me to lunch, I’d find an excuse not to accept; that might put him too close with me which would influence my feelings about him.

If a patient were angry, I wouldn’t question his behavior, if he wanted to tell me what was upsetting him, I would wait for him to explain. I wouldn’t try to get any information from him; he’d have to speak without any direction from me. If a patient were to cry, I would provide a tissue; it never occurred to me to say I was sorry that he or she was so unhappy. I would avoid smiling. I would stick to the matter at hand, no small talk. I wanted to be a good, competent physician but not be friends with my patients. I had no idea that patients needed my humanity more than my examination and a prescription.

As time passed I sensed I needed to change. With help I learned that my patients wanted to talk and if I were quiet and were willing to let them talk, that would get me a lot of information. It would let patients know that I would listen to them and not ignore their feelings. I learned how it made a difference for me to see new patients in my examining room instead of my office. There would be no desk between us; they would sit on the examining table and I would sit on a stool and listen. I wanted to listen, to hear, to be a friendly ear as well as a professional one. I learned to care for my patients, I could call them by their first names, it would not hurt me to be close, and that really caring, being compassionate, would be good for both of us.

I don’t think I would be a happy physician in today’s practice; the patient is not allotted much time and my style of sitting and listening takes up a lot of time. If he takes up too much time, other patients will suffer or if they demand more time, I would have to extend my hours long after the usual 5:00 pm deadline. Most of all I would feel uncomfortable, knowing that I was shortchanging the patient, that I wasn’t giving him the time he needed to tell me all that was on his mind. I probably would retire completely from practice or find a desk job which I would hate. I’m lucky I retired before the changes in medical care occurred that would have forced me to make that decision. Now, instead of fighting a system of medical care that emphasizes speed and money, I read, I write, and I watch the squirrels and birds outside my study window. My medical life and my personal life have turned out well; I’m tickled pink.

 Gpa and Emily

Friday, April 1, 2011

Event on Madison Avenue

Living Room Wall

We have lithographs by Toulouse-Lautrec, Ronald Searle, and Auguste Renoir. There is a story about how we acquired them.

In November 1968 we returned from a trip to Europe and still had unused traveler's checks, a situation requiring immediate action. We decided on a stroll down Madison Avenue to find art work that might not exceed the value of the checks. (Hah!) We hadn't gone very far when I saw a drawing of a little girl in a shop window; it was love at first sight; I just had to have her. Mom agreed.

Then we noticed the name of the shop: Far Gallery. It was owned by Murray Roth and Herman Wechsler, friends of Paul Levenson, (married to Mom’s sister Anne) when he worked at Macy’s in New York, who had told us to look them up. We introduced ourselves, and the fun began: 1. The little “girl” was Claude Renoir, grandson of the famous artist; 2. The “drawing” was a lithograph by Claude's grandpa; 3. Our new friends brought out the Toulouse-Lautrecs; I almost exploded with excitement, travelers checks out of mind; 4. Mom saw the Searle lithograph (it is in her bedroom) and giggled with joy; 5. One of the owners then gave us a book, a veritable encyclopedia explaining the various ways in which prints are made. He autographed it; 6. We bought the Searle, the Renoir and two Toulouse-Lautrecs, arranged to have them framed and shipped with the book.

In the spring of 1969 the gallery tempted us with several lithographs; we opted for two more Toulouse-Lautrecs.

We have never tired of our selections; we think the frames and artwork are exquisite. They are a great joy; when Mom was more mobile, she would go through the living room during the day just to enjoy our gifts to ourselves. With a photographer’s eye, I marvel at the simplicity of lines and the unusual use of light by the artistes. The lithographs have not increased one whit in value since we bought them; no matter, we love them more and more as time passes.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Wedding of Amelia and Gabe

I read this story at the wedding reception of Amelia Kahaney and Gabriel Sanders, Dec 27, 2005.

Amelia and Gabe's Nuptials

Dramatis personae
  • Moishe and Doba—great-great-grandparents of Amelia Moishe and Doba—great-great-grandparents of Amelia
  • Hillel Zuckerman/Yachnovich, Harry Jackson/Peepa—great-grandfather of Amelia
  • Evelyn—grandmother of Amelia
  • Phyllis—mother of Amelia

And it came to pass, Moishe came to the River Berezina. It was quiet and wide. And the birch trees fluttered and it was good. And Moishe said, “Here I shall build a mill and find a mate and we shall raise our family and it will be good.” And Moishe saw Doba and she was comely and Moishe took her as his wife. And they were fruitful. And they begat a bunch of kids from Fruma to Mashka. And they grew and they prospered. And it was good.

And it came to pass that the third son Hillel was alone one evening and a Cossack appeared. And they wrestled and Hillel was strong and defeated him. And the Cossack said, “What is your name?” and Hillel responded, “Hillel Zuckerman.” And the Cossack said, “From henceforth you will be known as Hillel Yachnovich.” And it was good.

And the Yachnovich sons left their home in Karanetz and went to America except Israel who stayed with Moishe and Doba. And the immigration officer said to the third son, “What is your name?” And he replied, “Hillel Yachnovich.” And the officer said, “That is not American enough. Henceforth, your name will be Harry Jackson.” And Hillel, named Harry, later called Peepa, did not like his new name but he bore his pain with dignity.

And every day of his life Harry, called Peepa, read the Forward or the Forvetz, a Yiddish newspaper published in the big city. And Harry, called Peepa, met Rose and she was comely and they wed. And it was good, and they begat Daniel and it was good. And they begat Evelyn, a lovely, sweet child and Harry, called Peepa, was happy. And every day Harry, called Peepa read the Forward or the Forvetz.

And Evelyn grew and she was comely and she met Moss and they wed, and they begat Phyllis and Debra and Mark and David. And they prospered. And Phyllis met Alan, and he was smitten by her beauty. And they wed and begat Amelia Batsheva. And Amelia was a comely child. And she looked at the world. And she wanted to try it all. And she tried tap dance and ballet and Israeli dance and modern dance. But it was not enough. And she tried the violin and the saxophone. But it was not right. And she was a Brownie and a camper and a skier but it was not good. And she tried acting and basketball and biking and teaching and writing but it meant nothing. And Amelia Batsheva said onto Phyllis, “Mother, I am growing and learning but it is empty. What am I missing?” And Phyllis said onto Amelia, “Hush, you must be patient.” And the time passed.

And Amelia became restless. And she said to Alan, “Father, is it time?” And Alan just smiled. And more time passed and Phyllis said onto Amelia, “Now is the time. You must go toward the rising sun to the metropolis called the Large Banana. There is your destiny.” And Amelia Batsheva said to Evy, “Grandma, I am going to the big city called the Large Banana to find happiness. Tell me, Grandma, how will I know how to find it?” And Evy whispered in her ear, “Ask thyself, W.W.P.D. What would Peepa do? Remember - he read the Forward or the Forvetz every day and there is your answer.”

And Phyllis prepared 37 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. And she packed them for Amelia Batsheva and blessed her for her trip to the metropolis called the Large Banana. And Amelia Batsheva searched the city called the Large Banana for true happiness. She followed a large cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. And she studied her books and searched. And she did her work and kept her eyes opened. And she played and she kept watch. And she was vigilant.

And she became discouraged. And she called Evy. “Grandma, what can I do? I have looked everywhere in the Large Banana. I cannot find my future.” And Evy said, “W.W.P.D. What Would Peepa DO: every day he read the Forward or the Forvetz published in the Large Banana.”

And Amelia took heart. And she looked in her backpack. And all the peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches were gone. And she looked up and a comely young man was before her. And he said, “I am Gabriel, your angel” and he gave her a newspaper. And it was the Forward, which was once called the Forvetz, which Peepa read every day. And Amelia smiled. “My Grandma said that Peepa knew that you will be my destiny.” And it was good.


I read the above at the wedding reception of Amelia Kahaney and Gabriel Sanders. Gabe was on the staff of the Forward (also known as the Forvetz). Following is a note I received from them upon their return from their honeymoon:

Dear Aunt Yvette and Uncle Dan—many, many thanks for your generous wedding gift. It is safely deposited in our “house fund” and as soon as soon as the housing bubble bursts we’ll be on the road to becoming house owners.

Dan, thanks to you especially for your generosity of spirit and the incredible speech you delivered for us on our wedding day. We have listened to it many times since and look forward to playing it for our children and our children’s children, It meant so much to have you at our wedding and we feel so lucky to have such an incredible family not just for big events like that but all the time. We’ll try to make a trip down to Houston soon so we can express our thanks in person. For now we hope you enjoy the photos of the big day! Yvette, we were so sorry you were not able to join us at the wedding but perhaps soon we can come with the video and it will be like doing it all over again. Thank you both for everything, always.

Much love, Amelia and Gabe