Saturday, February 19, 2011

Remembering my delightful dad.

And.....she's back!  Many months later...

I was reading my dear friend Sukie's blog Trusting Delight today and looked over to other blogs that she follows, and, hmmm, there was *mine* - Cosmicity! which had not been posted on since...hmmm, since September 2009.  Just a week before my dad died.  I had two reactions:  in some way this was fitting, that my life had been changed forever, but also I did not want to allow his passing to stop the cosmicity of life that he enjoyed every day.

He lived a good, long life, was 90 when he left and to honor him properly, I think I'll post the eulogy I read at his memorial service.  This was a conglomeration of memories from everyone in the family that I morphed into what you see below.  And here are two photographs of him at a family wedding in Bermuda.  Blowing bubbles in a sweet, childlike way!  No wonder he was so good at being a pediatrician.  In addition to listening to all those mothers so well, he never let go of his delight in being here and connecting with all those children.  So, how appropriate that Sukie's delightful blog would get me to finally return to my cosmicity blog in celebration of a most delightful and cosmic man.

What an amazing wedding that was, many delightful memories!!!  OK, before I distract myself too much, here is the text of what I read that day:

Greetings, everyone, thank you so much for coming today.  I’m Sarah Dorsey, daughter of Bill and Eleanor (fourth of their five children).  We’re here to celebrate the long and loving life of William R. Dorsey.  He lived two months past his 90th birthday. The day before he died he saw his last patient in Salem and had dinner that evening in Gloucester (where he was born in 1919).  He started his last day at one of his favorite places, on Grand rounds at Children’s Hospital in Boston (something he had done on his *day off* for over 50 years) and took his last breath that evening at his other favorite hospital - in the Pediatric ward of Beverly Hospital - where he had spent much of his life.  How cool is that?  I’d say a poetic ending.

You will be hearing from a colleague of dad’s and from a parent, and we thought you might like to hear from his family as well.  What was it like to live with Dr. Dorsey?    I’m speaking on behalf of my mother, my brothers Brad and Peter, my dear sister Ellie who died in 2000, my younger sister Becky and Brad’s wife, Carolyn (and her daughters Jessie and May), Ellie’s husband, Bruce, Peter’s wife, Susie, and the four grandchildren, Connor, Nora, George and Eliza.  I will share some stories from all of us about this caring, inquisitive and stubborn man. 

Bill Dorsey had an amazing memory and read voraciously, incessantly – each day the New York Times, the Boston Globe and the Salem News were delivered to the house - not to mention the various local weeklies, magazines and medical journals he subscribed to.  They flooded the house.  He would clip articles for people to read because he remembered what they were interested in.  It was one of his ways of communicating.  Depending on my current interests, there would be a pile of articles for me to read whenever I came to visit.  For instance the most recent ones he sent me were about John Updike and Yo Yo Ma.  But there was a challenge to all this paper.  Towering piles of magazines and newspapers grew (exponentially it seemed) on tables, chairs, mantles, kitchen counters and bathroom floors – any flat surface…and woe to anyone who might disturb his precious piles.  They drove my poor mother to tears!  Once in a great while, in response to her pleading (and feeling very put upon) he would put some papers into a box and put that box into the cellar… where it joined a teetering pile of other similar boxes full of papers. 

Due to his constant reading he was informed about politics and ready to discuss any current event including the present context and pertinent history.  When I was in high school he took me on a bus with the Cape Ann Concerned Citizens to an anti-war rally in 1970 in Washington, D.C.  I sat in the back with the youngsters and the ripple wine while he sat up front discussing politics – what a great adventure for us to share.  Ever since then, whenever I went to rallies or protests, I’d call home to report from the ground to mom and dad.  And he was so proud of his daughter Ellie when she was arrested in the late 60’s for throwing peace leaflets in the United States Senate.

One of the details we remember growing up in Dr. Dorsey’s house was kind of peculiar:  he brought home sterile culture dishes and put them into the refrigerator.  They were there at the ready for taking cultures on weekend and evening house calls so he wouldn’t have to go back into the office.  We just accepted these odd, red plastic dishes (which some called “blood pies”) as they sat next to the milk and juice in our refrigerator.

Peter recalls a taxi ride he took late one night from the Beverly Depot while at Emerson College in Boston.  He told the driver the address in Beverly when he got into the cab and the driver recognized it as Dr. Dorsey’s address and proceeded to tell Peter the dramatic story of how daddy saved his daughter’s life.  Apparently his pediatrician had told them to have the girl take two of something, and call him in the morning. Later that night, in the wee hours, the girl was in extreme pain, and the man didn't know what to do. He asked around for some one to call, and some one gave him Dad's phone number. He got thru to Dad, whom he had never met or spoken with, and Dad told him to meet at the Beverly Hospital in 20 minutes. They did, Dad examined the child, and she had an emergency appendectomy; which saved her life. She would not have made it to the morning without the surgery.

But how much did he talk to *us* about his work?  Very little. I have memories of accompanying him on house calls, waiting in the car, not understanding how unusual and cool it was, that he did this.  Phone calls would come at all hours and he’d quietly leave holiday gatherings, returning equally silently, with nary a word about who he’d treated, what interesting disease he’d diagnosed or what he’d pulled out of some child’s ear or nose. 

The soul of this humble man was fed by spending time in nature.  From moon and stargazing to hunting for worms to feed the frogs and turtles in his office, not a day went by when he was not outside.  He had three favorite outdoor activities – fishing, cross country skiing and swimming.  He did his fishing on the Blackwater River in New Hampshire.  He would get up before the sun and go out on the river in the red canoe.  He’d have at least 3 fishing rods with him and was bristling with all kinds of fishing gear.  He paddled miles up the river against the gentle current casting his lures into every likely spot – next to that rock, over by the pickerel weed.  Hour after hour …with the unflagging, happy expectation of getting the big one with the NEXT cast.  Frequently he would return with no fish at all.  But this didn’t bother him one bit.  He would be out there the next morning in the red canoe casting away – filled with the joy of being on the river he loved. 

In recent years I’ve enjoyed paddling with him up the river. I would click pictures while he would cast away – and sometimes catch something.  He taught us all to fish.  I remember as a child his infinite patience as he taught me to fish, carefully unwinding the mess I’d make of the fish line – stuck in a tree or snagged in the weeds – a lost cause, I was convinced, but he worked persistently and was able to untangle the line and remarkably was willing to continue teaching his clumsy, impatient student. His oldest grandchild, Connor Stedman, remembers vividly that when he was about 10 years old his grandfather decided that it was time for Connor to learn an important skill:  how to compassionately take the lives of the fish he caught.  This benevolent ability is one that Connor values and uses regularly in his outdoor survival skills.

Cross country skiing was another outdoor delight of his.  A few inches of snow and he would be out the kitchen door, down the driveway and across the neighboring fields, beaming from ear to ear, wearing his parka held together by duct tape.  One of the neighbors had the thrill of seeing him fall through the ice of a nearby pond – luckily it was shallow and he just got a little soggy.  He spent hours waxing his skis, never giving in to the modern luxury of those plastic fish scale bottoms.  Only his old, narrow, wooden Norwegian skis would do.  By the time he was finished waxing with the hot iron it would sometimes already be dark.  No problem!  Off he’d go into the night. If it happened to be snowing and blowing - so much the better!  And a little rain was always fun.  We remember skiing with him and on long trips he would always offer some kind of lint-covered hard candy treat at the halfway point for sustenance.  Who knows how long it had been in his pocket?  I never refused.

And then there was his swimming year-round in the ocean.  He was kind of famous for this – he had it written into the sales agreement for the house on Curtis Point that he was able to come back to swim and after that lapsed, the neighbors let him park in their driveway.  All seasons for about 25 years, he’d go into the ocean - which some even refuse to enter at the height of summer.  In a typical January, he would swim about 20 days and I’ll never forget one time he skied down to the water’s edge and then went right in. 

Becky remembers that sometime after we had moved from Beverly to Wenham, Daddy went for one of his regular lunchtime swims at the beach at Curtis Point.  He followed his usual routine in which he would walk in slowly, splashing the cold water over his arms and torso to get acclimated, and then he would dive in.  One time when he got out of the water he passed out and slept on a towel in the sun for a while.  When he woke up he felt dizzy and realized that something strange had happened, so he went to see his cardiologist. 

The doctor was horrified and told him that he had experienced a mild heart attack.  He told Daddy that swimming in the cold ocean was dangerous and could cause another heart attack that might kill him.  So what did my father do? (pause for dramatic effect)  He went and found another cardiologist!  He continued swimming in the ocean for many years. 

Yes, he was a stubborn man who spent his life cheerfully helping others.  At this open hearted time of grieving I am inspired to emulate him.  Let’s cherish each other in the model of his sweet spirit and celebrate this remarkable man.

 So please join us at the reception to share your stories with each other and with us.  Thank you.

Cut from the “approved text,” but kind of a cool story (from Brad – edited by me):
He wasn’t particularly handy around the house, but Brad remembers an example of his creative ingenuity.  In Beverly, on Curtis Point we had a flagpole that we erected, made out of a big wooden cable spool and a couple of long pieces of driftwood that we found on the beach.  One time we couldn't use the flag pole because one end of the halyard was up at the top of the pole, prevented from going through the pulley and falling to the ground only because there was a knot tied in it.  We had no way to get to the top of the pole, nothing long enough to reach up that high, and taking the pole down would have been a huge project because the spool base was filled with stones.   So our Dad came up with an idea that Brad thought was the most ridiculous thing he had ever heard of.  He taped two long bamboo poles together to reach to the top of the flag pole.   To snag the halyard, he taped a mouse trap to the end of the bamboo and set it.   Brad was utterly amazed when it worked on the first try.  Every now and again evidence that our father was the son of an inventor would emerge - I think this was one of those times.

 with love and delight to my sweet departed dad

1 comment:

  1. This is a lovely post Sarah. I can feel your emotions and wherever your dad might be now, for sure his happy.
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