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  • An Amateur’s Story
  • Carol Bly (bio)

People said they loved and respected the family doctor, but in fact they had reservations. Anyone you asked would say, "he's just terrific and we are so lucky to have him way up here in the middle of the woods – but he does go off on a tangent."

They didn't carp at him about it in the weeks before Easter because the town of St. Fursey had an ecumenical choir and generally people were drawn together. The weekly rehearsals, singing together, lightened the late Sunday afternoons of late winter. Big shots faithfully rehearsed right alongside ordinary people. Not bottom-level people like the town crud, Brad Stropp, for instance, but people who knew enough to pretend they made sense of the five mysterious black lines of the staves on their sheets. People secretly simply imitated whoever sang beside them, but they pretended to read the music and obey the director.

The sopranos dragged along the melody line, the altos, tenors, and basses struggled side by side. People sat right in the same section with other people like the town money-bags, Peter Tenebray, who could buy out their entire families and send all the kids to Harvard. Except during Lent he was Mr. Tenebray to most of them. For now, during the weeks of these rehearsals, everybody was on a first-name basis that would last right through Easter and even for a few days later. When they met one another at Hanks's Super Valu they fearlessly grinned over the grocery-cart cages, even at the richest people, even at the doctor, though they never went to first names with him. Their grins said, At bottom we are really all alike! We are all just people, struggling along, if you ask me. Even Natalie Tenebray, the ecumenical choir director, the big man's wife, who everyone knew was juiced up whenever and wherever you saw her. Well, look, she had a drinking problem, she was doing the best she could, wasn't she – like the rest of us? That was [End Page 54] what their looks said. There was more to it than that. She handled them all, they felt it clearly enough, with authority. She was a professional. You don't handle people with all that authority, alcoholic or not, unless you are a professional.

The general pre-Easter tolerance did not apply to their doctor, though. That is, they supposed Dr. Anderson was excellent in his profession, family medicine, but not everybody warmed up to him. Something held them off. It might have been only that you knew Dr. Anderson would be one of the last people to touch your body.

On a Monday in March, the St. Fursey Clinic hallway was full of ordinary people plus even the chief of police during the lunch hour. People even peered in from along the registration counter in the waiting room. Dr. Anderson was prancing like a teenager up and down the hallway, hugging his fifteen-year-old son, kissing him, never minding the boy's red face. Simon could have been killed a half-hour earlier, but he had used his head and had a lot of luck, so his father was laughing and crying in the hallway of the St. Fursey clinic. The med techs, especially the bitchy one whom no one particularly liked, carefully backed away with their paper cups of urine, and the two office nurses held their index boards close so that their nutty boss and his son wouldn't barge into them as they zig-zagged past.

Of course it was wonderful that Simon Anderson had survived crashing a pickup with no brakes right through the huge north window of Hanks's Super Valu. People knew all the details within a half hour. Of course everyone smiled. Of course people said that it was a near thing. But in some less voluble neighborhood of their upper cortices, what people in their right minds call their heart of hearts, they did not all admire their doctor cavorting like that down the clinic hall. OK so Simon Anderson had not been killed. OK so Simon Anderson...


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pp. 54-65
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