I tried to visit the wholesome hipster dive in Evanston this evening to get my daily requirement of ebbing and flowing data. I was encouraged when I walked up to the front door, because it didn’t look like the front of the place was crowded. As I opened up the outside door, though, I realized that some guy was doing a standup routine — a monologue or poetry or something. It looked like most of the seats in the place were taken, though it did not appear the clientele was taken with or particularly attentive to the narrative issuing from the stage. I didn’t go in. Instead, I went back to the car and turned on the computer to see whether I could get curbside WiFi. Yes: the wholesome upscale grocery store at this corner has free wireless, and lots of it.
Instead of launching into subjects that sorely need launching into, such as our continuing inability as a nation of drivers and pedestrians and such like to all just get along, let me instead offer a front-seat observation relevant to this very block.
I discovered the hipster WiFi place I mentioned is right across from the Evanston Peet’s coffee shop. I found this Peet’s soon after it opened; a junky just knows where to find a fix. Sometimes I bring my laptop to Peet’s, which has no wireless network; several networks are active in the neighborhood, though, and the one I usually get on is from the hipster place. Eventually I went into the hipster place to sit and drink coffee as a way of paying for the free ride.
I’ve brought Dad up here three or four times, too. We’d buy coffee and pastries and sit on the bar stools at the high granite-topped counter that runs along the picture window facing out onto the street. Across the way, and just to the right, or to the south if you’re using a compass, there’s a nice-looking retirement residence.
On one Peet’s visit, Dad looked across at the place and said, “The doctor who set my broken arm used to live over there.” The broken arm happened in the early ’30s, but Dad still recalls how, after he had jumped off an ice wagon and fallen one Saturday, Dr. Nels Melling was summoned to the Brekke home out on Nashville Avenue. I take it that he assessed my dad’s arm without benefit of X-rays and set it right on the spot. On the kitchen table, in fact (he directed my grandmother to take “the boy” to the hospital for an X-ray on the following Monday; the arm didn’t need any further intervention).
But that wasn’t Dr. Melling’s only service to the clan. He was the regular family doctor, a major point in his favor being that he was, like the Brekkes and Sieversons (my grandmother’s family), Norwegian. So he treated my dad’s dad for the effects of Parkinson’s — the disease that killed him in 1932 at age 55. And he treated my dad’s aunt, Esther Sieverson, when she was stricken by breast cancer (I gather that back then, the only treatment was radical mastectomy and hope for the best); she died in 1938, just 48 years old. Before he treated any of these, he had been the doctor for the previous generation of Sieversons. (My dad says that the story the family told about Melling is that he become quite wealthy by the late 1920s; he even had a driver and car to take him to house calls. But he lost most of his money in the 1929 stock market crash and took to driving himself to see his patients).
I’m sure Dr. Melling saw the family for all sorts of large and small maladies — the Sieversons, in particular, were not a robust bunch; I think only one of my grandmother’s 10 siblings made it out of her 50s. But think about those three cases, and think about medicine today. For a broken arm, a Parkinson’s case, and breast cancer, you’d have an army of people involved, and it’s really inconceivable that an internist, no matter how skillful, would have an intimate involvement in treating all three (let’s not even mention the notion of weekend house calls). Which isn’t to say anything about quality of care; the odds of survival for the diseases that took so many in my dad’s family so young are miraculously improved over what they were in the 1930s. It’s just that this change from one medical world to another — at least in this very wealthy place — has taken place in the span of one lifetime.
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