“Dr. Ames has a very good idea of what he knows and what he doesn’t know. There may be better veterinarians in the United States, but there are none better in this region, and I know that when, if ever, he finds himself out of his depth in some case on this place, he will say so, candidly.
“And I think that will be years, if ever, before that happens.
“I don’t know exactly why I find this man so interesting, so moving, even. It may be because in everything he does he is intensely alive, yet very intimate and casual with death.”
from RFD by Charles Allen Smart
Over the course of my growing up years, we had many barns filled with a wonderful variety of growing animals. As kids, we looked upon this as a sort of extended part of our family, a challenge and a chore.
I had never really thought about how my dad saw all of these animals, until one day, late in his life, he said, “Have you ever thought about how lucky we have always been to have Doc Smith right around the corner?”
Healthy, growing. Dad saw those animals as a large part of his financial balance sheet, and keeping them healthy and growing was almost always on his mind. Having our veterinarian and friend right around the corner was more of a blessing than I’d ever given credence to.
I just knew what a thrill it was to put my Pekingese dog, Chippi Chan, in my bike basket and ride to Doc’s veterinary clinic to pick up something for my dad. It was just a little ways, but I felt I had traveled the world in search of a cure whenever I was the lucky one chosen to run this errand.
“Does Chip need a treat?” Doc would sometimes ask before sending me on my way. He knew a dog lover when he saw one, and realized that rewarding my sidekick for riding along was just as good as giving me a treat of my own.
Fortunate. While I simply thought of Doc as the nicest guy in the entire universe, my Dad realized how fortunate he was to be starting out as a young farmer with such an intelligent, caring veterinarian for a neighbor. They counted on each other.
Doc realized the importance of pulling just one heifer through a milk fever episode. Each success was a success for both men, and they were loyal friends in the building of a business.
And no matter how busy he was, Doc always had time for a cup of coffee and a story or two at our kitchen table.
Helping through. Doc saw my sidekick dog through a life-threatening accident when I was still a child, then helped me through many other important issues with other dogs as I grew older and started raising dogs as a business and hobby. He jokingly warned me to give serious thought to just which breed I wanted to raise, knowing I had a childhood fondness for Pekingese.
“You know it’s true a person starts looking like the dogs they love!” he said with that always-present sparkle in his eyes.
Cherished memories. Enough time has passed now for me to look back on my last visit with Doc with more clarity, less hurt. I will always cherish this memory, sitting with Doc on his newly-finished, enclosed back porch with his pretty wife, Shirley. It was a quiet summer day in 1999, and we looked through a few pictures and had a warm conversation about how things used to be.
My dad was gone, and Doc’s time on this earth was growing short, both men leaving us far too young. And yet, there was nothing sad about that visit. Doc, who had learned so much about life and death in the animals that he had cared for, seemed vibrant and hopeful, forward-thinking, even.
A journey. Always a man who thrived on adventure, who deeply enjoyed travel, it seemed to me that Doc was looking forward to yet another journey.
I still feel like one of the lucky ones, to have walked at least part of this man’s journey with him way back when, if only for a footstep or two.
It is wise and wonderful to remember the good people we have been blessed with in this life, every day along the way.
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