Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Dr Rudolph, Famous Wolf and Vampire

Every few weeks parents in Athens took turns chauffeuring three or four of us with British front teeth or Mortimer Sneard overbites to Parkersburg, West Virginia.  We all had appointments to suffer the frightful therapies of Dr. Rudolph, the only orthodontist within 40 miles of Athens.  There were two highlights during this otherwise foreboding trip that had nothing to do with teeth.  As we descended to the Ohio River and Parkersburg we had an excellent view downriver of Blennerhasset Island.  Aaron Burr, a former vice-president of the United States and slayer of Alexander Hamilton, had tried to organize an independent western American empire from that island with the assistance of the wealthy Blennerhasset family.  That was the first highlight.  The second was I had an even better view of Blennerhasset Island from the seat of a Piper Club during my first ever air plane ride.  I was flown to Parkersburg by a friend of Father’s, John Jaegers, the director of an Athens funeral home who had some business there.   
          Rudolph means “famous wolf” in German.  But our Dr. Rudolph was so schooled in the arts of torturing children I imagined he must surely be from Transylvania, the home land of Dracula, werewolves and blood-sucking vampires.  In the l940s the techniques used by orthodontists seemed an unpleasant hangover from medieval times, more like practices of torture than dental medicine. Yet it was necessary torture if our upper jaws were to be moved back and our smiles to reveal reasonably straight teeth. 
As I sank into his black leather dental chair my own version of Dr. Rudolph appeared in a black pointed hood peering out from behind a black face mask as he held a large silver instrument in his hand.  If you suffered the miseries provided by an orthodontist over half a century ago, you will remember that the process begins with platinum.  Round platinum bands of various sizes are pushed down around your crowded teeth and then shoved into your profusely bleeding gums.  During this first stage of installing braces one loses a lot of blood, especially when the teeth being fitted with the bands are molars in the back of your mouth.  If you are lucky these bands (a euphemism for tourniquets of platinum) will be required only on your upper or your lower teeth.  If lady luck has failed you, as she did in my case, you must have bands installed on both the upper and the lower teeth.  Once the bands are on your teeth they must be shaped to your teeth, a result achieved with a pair of pliers, tiny silver hammers, and other, smaller bright dental instruments I no longer wish to remember.   
This cannot all be done all at once, of course.  Three or four appointments are required before all the bands are set in place.  Then platinum wires are threaded through small brackets on the front of the bands and hooks attached to the rear teeth on which will be stretched tiny rubber bands.  Attaching the rubber bands is a skill the child must learn.  Once all this is in place, it is simply a matter of tightening the braces every few weeks and continuing to use the four tiny rubber bands that continuously pressure the teeth to move where they do not wish to go.  The pain the day after Dr. Rudolph tightened the wires kept me awake most of the first night.  We were instructed to keep the rubber bands on at all times, taking all of our medicine of pain at once.  I have not mentioned another source of pain in orthodonistry: the cost.  But that must be borne by the parents, not the child.    
          After two years or so comes the great liberation.  The braces, having done their job, are removed.  Then a retainer is fitted to the mouth.  A retainer is a pink piece of plastic molded to the roof of the individual mouth, something like a set of false teeth without the teeth but with short shiny stubs that fit between the teeth.  Once the teeth have been straightened, the retainer holds them in place so that the hard and expensive work of the orthodontist is not undone.  Retainers are an annoyance because they must be removed when the teeth are brushed or flossed or when one indulges a forbidden taste for taffy candy.  Since they are removable, they can be lost.  I lost mine after a few months use and the guilt I felt about losing my retainer is probably why I managed to wear the replacement retainer for almost two years without losing it. 
          But I lost a second retainer just as we were about to depart for our annual summer vacation in western Pennsylvania.  I had made a visit to Dr. Rudolph in June.   He told me that in three or four months, if I was careful to faithfully use the retainer, the long three years we had spent correcting my overbite and straightening my crowded teeth would be over.  If I was not faithful in using the retainer, he warned, the progress we had made would all be undone.  At age 14 I seemed to be growing an inch a month.  He said it was difficult to predict how such rapid growth would affect my teeth.  He made an appointment for me in September after we returned from our annual vacation in Knox.   
I hunted for the lost retainer everywhere in the days before we left for vacation.   Every 15 minutes or so I would suddenly think of another place the missing retainer might be. But it wasn’t to be found.  I said nothing to mom and dad about the lost retainer despite the risk that the past three years of expensive orthodonistry would be undone. 
All summer I feared the worst.  I was able to repress thinking about the retainer most of the time, but in the mornings when I awoke, and sometimes for no reason at all as I sat fishing along the banks of Beaver Creek, the awareness that I was not using the retainer arrived to disturb my peace.  As the summer developed I imagined my overbite was returning and my teeth were beginning to go crooked again.  The more I looked in a mirror, the worse my teeth looked.  It became more and more difficult to shove thoughts of the missing retainer out of my mind or to avoid the guilt I was feeling.  I began to worry about my September appointment with Dr. Rudolph. When the fateful day arrived I was silent, even morose, during the one hour drive to Parkersburg.  I imagined myself a condemned man waiting to be hanged as I sat in his waiting area for my turn.  I wanted to hide in the bathroom.  I considered running from the office and running across the bridge back to Ohio.   Too soon my time arrived.  I was in such a state that his nurse had to call me repeatedly. 

“Lewis, Lewis!  Dr. Rudolph is waiting.  Lewis!”

I walked in, eyes on the floor, and climbed up into his big black chair.

“Well, young man,” he said.  “You are certainly tanned!  You must have had a great summer.”

I was silent.

“Well,” he continued in an annoyingly cheery voice, “Let’s see what we’ve got.” 
I opened my mouth obediently and he began to poke and probe.  Silence settled on the room like fog.  I could hardly stand what I was certain he was going to say.  I had really screwed up!   During what seemed like the lifetime of Methuselah I waited. 
“Amazing!”  That was the first word out of his mouth.  “I can hardly believe this!  Your overbite is gone and your teeth are straighter than ever.  You’re done, young man.  You won’t have to see me anymore.”    

I nearly fainted with relief. Before closing this story I must confess that Dr. Rudolph, the vampire who delighted in the torture of children, existed only in my own mind.  In fact Dr Rudolph was a short but handsome man with a trim mustache in a white coat with a serious, business-like manner.  He was not trying to torture me.  He was simply trying to fix my overbite and provide some additional space for my emerging adult teeth.  I am willing to concede, over half a century later, that he did not enjoy routinely inflicting pain on children.  More than that, I am terribly grateful to him for giving me teeth that do not embarrass me when I smile.  My grandsons tell me that orthodonistry is nearly painless today. So much has changed in dentistry in the past half century.  

Athens Mental Hospital: A World of its Own

One of the chapters that did not make it into the first volume of Children of the Manse was a description of the state mental hospital grounds and buildings and the role they played in our lives during the eight years (1943-51) we lived in Athens.  Because the hospital was mostly hidden from public view on a hilltop full of giant trees, we easily forgot that it was a community larger than Ohio University and was the chief employer of the residents of Athens County.  Today the former mental hospital campus houses activities of a much larger university, including an art museum.   

          The Athens State Mental Hospital: A World of its Own
          We made our first visit to the state mental hospital grounds shortly after arriving at the manse.  The 1,000 park-like acres of what we called the asylum grounds were planted in the l860s when the mental hospital was built.   Frederick Law Omsted, designer of New York City's Central Park and the Hartford Retreat for the Insane, believed in the healing powers of nature.  "The enjoyment of scenery," he wrote," employs the mind without fatigue, exercises it, tranquilizes it and yet enlivens it; and thus gives the effect of refreshing rest and re-invigoration of the whole system."  An Olmstead student, Herman Haerlin, designed the landscaping for the Athens hospital grounds. Around the northern base of the hill on which the hospital buildings stood was dug a network of lovely small interlocking lakes, the earth from which was used to raise the level of the long, graceful red brick driveway up to the entrance of the hospital buildings.  Haerlin’s creation won international awards for landscaping.   
     There were about 2,500 patients in the Athens State Hospital for the Insane when we lived in Athens but the patients and the massive red brick Victorian and Second Empire brick buildings that housed them were hidden from public view by their placement at the top of a hill among groves of mature trees.  The buildings included dormitories, dining rooms, kitchens, barns and outbuildings, a chapel, and 146 bathrooms.  The main building of the complex was 834 feet long, one of the largest hospital buildings in the United States at that time.  We Athenians easily forgot there were more patients in the state hospital than students at the university and that more of us worked at the hospital than at the university.  The hospital was partly self-sustaining through the cultivation and management of large gardens, orchards, a poultry farm, a piggery and a prize-winning dairy herd.
     Mother noted in her journals from the summers of l924 and l925 how she and her girl friends would often walk through the asylum grounds.  She recorded how she had gone with a university class to tour the hospital at that time.   She found an “awful beauty in the wards” and a dining hall that was, “tragically neat.”  The tour had exhausted her emotionally, she wrote.  “How my heart aches for those inmates!  How terrible it must be never again to be free to do as one desires!”
     But a generation later our experience of the asylum grounds was quite different.  In summer we boys rode there on our bicycles to fish.  In winter, when the lakes froze, we joined other Athenians to pull sleds across the ice and to ice skate.  Most springs we walked to Memorial Bridge to watch an angry Hocking River flow across the lakes and grounds.  We never ventured up the red brick road to the hospital buildings because of the sense of dark mystery that surrounded the place.  
     The acres of tended grounds around the lakes were lushly green and shaded in summer by great elms and oaks.  Altogether, 72 different varieties of trees and shrubs grew on the property.  The lawns were intersected by brick pathways and arched stone masonry bridges were built over the water runs that connected the ponds.   In summer the lakes were choked with bright green lily pads beneath which large mouth black bass and enormous carp loomed in the translucently green depths.  Great shrubs, including magnificent old magnolias with deep green tropical-looking leaves, threw shadows on land and water, adding variety to a landscape that seemed at first frightening and then, over time, became merely mysterious.  Entering the grounds through the ornate wrought iron grill entrance was to leave the everyday world of Athens to be in a special place, as the university's campus was a special place, though in a different way.   Only in the carefully tended botanic gardens of ex-British colonies; Singapore, Malawi, and Australia and the Parc Bagatelle in Paris and the chateau gardens in France would I see grounds that equaled the beauty of the state hospital grounds in Athens, Ohio.  
     Rumors and stories told about the patients, usually referred to then as inmates, added to the sense of mystery of the place.  We drew in our breath anxiously when a patient walked down the hill from the main buildings toward us, especially if he was muttering to himself or walked oddly or displayed some other form of unusual behavior.  I can still remember a woman who sometimes approached us, her wrinkled face fixed in a vacant stare, mumbling to herself.  But we were never threatened or menaced in any way.  We worried that residents or staff personnel at the hospital might chase us off for fishing in the lakes but they never did.  Nor did our parents object to our going there. 
     The beauty of the well-tended university and mental hospital grounds and buildings provided us daily with some of the most attractive public spaces in America.  Living less than two blocks from the campus of Ohio University and not much more than two miles from the State Hospital raised my expectations of beauty in public buildings and spaces I would later find often in Europe but only sometimes in the United States. 
                                        Duck for Dinner

     The most elaborate table setting I remember as a child was in the apartment home of Dr. Creed, a psychiatrist and superintendent of the hospital.  In my future diplomatic life, especially in France, I sometimes thought of Dr. Creed as I gazed at the row of silver table ware on both sides of my plate. He and a handful of other Athenians introduced me to a formal style of dining unlike our daily practice in the manse. The plates and table service were large and there were abundant large platters and bowls in silver and in china.  There were finger bowls and half a dozen silver spoons and forks besides our plates and I learned what to do with each one. 
          Dr. Creed once invited us to dinner because, I suspect, Father conducted a monthly non-denominational service at the hospital, an activity he shared with other ministers in Athens who together provided religious services for the patients at the hospital.  I remember Dr. Creed as a trim, fine-featured and precise man with rimless glasses, who seemed to thoroughly enjoy being our host. He set us at ease at once with instructions for us children on the use of the next fork or spoon and the finger bowls.  As one course ended white-coated waiters, patients at the hospital, would whisk crumbs sitting on the table cloth with small brooms onto a silver tray. The main course of the meal turned out to be duck, surely from the abundant coveys that paddled across the surface of the lakes in which we fished.  Dr. Creed rose, knife and fork in his hands, to carve the first brown roasted duck as the server brought it in on a silver tray.  Our eyes grew large as a second brown duck arrived, which provided a serving each for the seven of us.  Then later Dr Creed, peering over his glasses, asked if we would like seconds, and we nodded yes.  Another brown roasted duck appeared on the table.  Dr. Creed rose to carve that.  Accustomed to a single chicken that had to be shared among the six of us, we were astonished to be served so much duck, my favorite table fowl forever after.     

Saturday, January 12, 2013


        As the surprising result of a back operation at the age of 50, road bicycling became the recreational passion of my later adult life.  For 30 years I ran for exercise.   For 45 minutes, three or four times a week, usually at dawn.  Running kept me in decent shape.  I ran frequently along the C and O Canal a block from my home near Wash D. C, and once ran past then vice president Bush on the canal, preceded and followed by secret service agents on mountain bikes.  I encountered the vice president again, this time at Ft. McNair in l983 as Bush ran around the campus with Alberto Salazar. I was then a student at the National Defense University.
          I could run anywhere, an important feature of my Foreign Service life. All I needed in my suitcase was a pair of shorts, a T-shirt, and good running shoes.  In the l960s I ran as I watched the sun rise in Madagascar and Mali. I ran in sun and rain in Paris and Strasbourg and Bordeaux in the l970s and in snow in Stuttgart, and more rain and sun in Munich, and Vienna in l983.  I could run anywhere.  I couldn’t cycle anywhere.  Certainly not in congested Singapore.  So I continued to run, usually at first light, on the asphalt lanes near the US Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia until a disc in my back ruptured and had to be removed.  Following the operation a State Department doctor told me my running days were over. I immediately thought about cycling.  I had lived on a bicycle as a boy in Athens, Ohio, so many years ago.   

“How about cycling?” I asked. 

“And no cycling.  You can swim.”

“But I don’t like to swim.”


I worked at swimming in the embassy pool in Malaysia but swimming did not seem to be helping and I was miserable without a physical activity I truly enjoyed.

                                        Down Under
          My next tour took me and my family from Malaysia to Canberra, Australia.  More than a year after the disc removal my back was not healing and continued to hurt.  I went to a primary care physician in Canberra.  I told him about the continuing pain in my back and he asked,

“Have you tried cycling?” 

“I was told I couldn’t cycle.”

“That’s odd,” he said. “You see,” and he cupped his hand, palm down, to simulate the rounded back of a rider on a road bike with dropped handlebars, “That opens up the discs and should be good for your back.” 
          The following morning I climbed on the green Gitane I had bought at La Samaritaine, the famous department store in Paris, but had not much used. I coasted from my house in Garran down the street to an entry to Canberra’s network of 450 miles of independent paved bike paths, rode 15 miles, and for the first time in ten months, my back felt good.  When I did not ride for two days, the pain returned.  So I set a goal of riding every other day and began to lengthen the distance from 15 to 20 to 25 miles.  For about two months.  Then came an extremely busy time at the embassy and I missed four days of riding and the pain did not return.  After two months of regular riding I had no more pain and have never looked back.  By then I so enjoyed the wonderful sense of health and well being that long rides produced in my body that I was addicted to riding my Green Gypsy (Gitane is French for gypsy), and did so two and three times each week.  Unlike running, which I made myself do because it was good for me, I enjoyed every minute on my bike.

                               A Cyclist’s Paradise

          Canberra, Australia,  is a capital created out of sleep pastures near the Brindabella Mountains in New South Wales, three hours from Sydney by car and not much further from the Snowy Mountains.  Neither Sydney nor Melbourne, Australia’s largest cities, was willing to cede the honor of being the national capital to the other.  The compromise worked out at the beginning of the 20th Century was to build an entirely new capital at a location between the two cities and, for reasons of national security, far enough inland to be beyond the range of the largest guns of the world’s most modern battleships at that time. 
          The award for the best design for the new city went to Burley Griffin, a landscape architect from Chicago, who was ably assisted by his talented wife.  The centerpiece of the Griffins’ plan was a large lake -- created by damming the Murrumbidgee River -- around which the city’s commercial and government centers were developed.  The Griffin plan left large tracts of pasture land and native eucalyptus groves to separate a network of satellite suburbs.  So extensive was the natural area left free of any development that it was often said that living in Canberra was like living in a national park.  There are abundant kangaroos near central Canberra to prove that.
          In time a 400 mile paved cycle network totally free of motor vehicles was built centered on the lake, now named for Burley Griffin.  The network passed through the city center, wove around the handsome new one billion dollar Parliament House and other government buildings and then spread out through pastures and woods to the edge of the city in all directions.  As the city grew, so did the bicycle network.  Imagine over 400 miles of independent pave cycle trail, often eight feet wide!  I know of no such bicyclist’s paradise anywhere else in the world.

                                        Physical Changes

          Beyond the healing of my back, I could see other changes in my body as I rode week by week in Canberra.  I had more energy.  I was more relaxed.  I found that cycling quickly dissipated the stresses accumulated at work.  My immune system was stronger.  I no longer succumbed to winter colds. The sustained effort at a moderate to high aerobic level gave me what felt like a total body tune-up.  I even found regular cycling a means of weight control.  Running didn’t do that for me.  In those days I was somewhat heavier than I wanted to be but I soon found that when I cycled 75-100 miles each week, I could eat as much of anything as I wanted and not gain an ounce.   

          Now in my late -70s, I continue to ride regularly, at least twice each week when the weather permits, and at least one 40 mile ride each week. I also do a three times each week senior’s fitness program at the Y that promises to exercise every muscle in my aging body.  It’s a great program  but only long cycle rides give my body what feels like a total tune-up and make me feel twenty years younger for two or three days.  I have just read in a health newsletter that regular vigorous physical exercise adds years to our lives. Healthy years.  That wasn’t an established fact when I began cycling but as I age, I will be glad to add it to all the other reasons I cycle.  

                              How to Solve Problems

          I found yet another benefit in cycling.  Problem solving.  I would often leave the office on Friday evenings with a problem I had wrestled with all week that seemed to have no solution.  Then, during long weekend rides, letting my mind wander to the sights and smells of the landscape (eucalyptus groves have a marvelous aroma), solutions that I immediately recognized as right popped into my mind. As if from nowhere.  As research uncovers more secrets of the brain we are learning that such insights come from intense attention to a problem or a creative work, and then parking the issue in the unconscious and letting the mind wander.  I suspect this is a process that creative artists have always understood intuitively.  Walking or simply sleeping on a problem may work for some, but for me, the rhythmic cadence of pedal strokes on a 40 mile bike ride is the best way to encourage new insights as well as relieve stress.   

                                        Other Joys in Cycling

          There’s yet another reason I ride.  I feel like a boy again when I’m on a bicycle.  Perhaps that’s because my brothers and I lived on our bikes in the small college town in which we were raised.  We could ride anywhere in daylight and for hours at a time and our parents need not worry.  Bikes were our means of freedom to temporarily escape adult supervision and go more or less as we wished. 
          When I began riding with groups in the Potomac Peddlers in Washington, D.C. (1992-95) I was amused to hear them brag that cyclists have the best sex.  Well, science is confirming that as well, but not just for cyclists.  “High levels of any sustained, vigorous nonsexual physical activity go hand-in-hand with sexual well-being, especially for men.”  (UC Berkley “Wellness Newsletter.”)
          I now live in Eugene, Oregon, near the center of the city because I want to be within walking distance of the University of Oregon and Eugene’s downtown.  But I love the country and cycling takes me out into the county where I can feel the wind on my body, breath pure air, smell the fields and woods, and enjoy the changing seasons.  The arrival of first swallows in late February, new born snow white lambs in the fields of March, horses frolicking on a warm spring day in April, freshly mowed hayfields in June, ripened grains in July, blackberries in August. There is something special about moving through rural scenery at 15 miles per hour that is very different from rushing through in an automobile.  I don’t have to own the farms and horse properties to enjoy them.  Someone else takes on that responsibility while I ride pleasant county roads along their borders.   

          Not all road riding is bucolically peaceful.  I remember well a near encounter with a black bear on an isolated road in Idaho and having to outrun a rogue boar in Southeastern Ohio.  Dogs are a menace in some states but loose dogs in Oregon are rare. Occasionally young men driving pickup trucks on lightly policed county roads or inexperienced RVers make cycling in Oregon more dangerous than it need be. And occasionally there is a sad sight, the road kill of our automobiles seen up close.  I have picked up a yellow warbler just struck by a car, its warm body in the palm of my hand and watched as its eyes close in death before I buried it.  Any road cyclist has seen countless birds, dead squirrels, raccoons, possum, and deer along the way.   

                              Meditation on a Bike

          I like the silence of country roads and solitude without the background noises of the city.   For me, cycling three or four hours in a prefect blend of human body and machine brings a depth of relaxation rarely experienced otherwise.  Cycling through natural beauty punctuated by the steady rhythm of pedal strokes (rather than counting breaths) can be a form of meditation that brings a deep sense of peace and joy.

          I don’t always ride alone.  I enjoy company and have ridden with half a dozen groups, large and small, since arriving in Eugene over 17 years ago.  There is a special camaraderie among cyclists, a sense of adventure shared and challenges (steep hills, strong headwinds, and blowing rains) successfully overcome. One group of three I rode with included a doctor in his mid 70s, born and raised in Eugene, and a road cyclist his entire adult life.  He added a special flavor to our touring by sharing his in-depth knowledge of the history and historic sites and geology of the south Willamette Valley.                        

                                        Still More Benefits

          I have not mentioned saving gasoline or kindness to mother earth as reasons to cycle because mostly I cycle because it’s fun.  My spirits rise after a long ride.  Cycling is a powerful mood lifter.  And cycle tours, whether a professionally organized like those of Cycle Oregon, or a low budget week of cycling and tenting with friends in the San Juan Islands make a wonderful, healthy, and relatively inexpensive vacation.     

          The sport is within the economic reach of all.  I figure my Green Gypsy and the  red Cannondale I bought to replace her when Gypsy’s down tube cracked have cost me about three cents per ride. I expect a similar return from the Specialized Roubaix carbon fiber bike I purchased five years ago, a sweet bike with frame geometry especially kind to aging bodies.  Is there a better bargain in sports equipment than a fine bicycle?  I don’t think so.