Raquel Welch died yesterday, and with her goes another little piece of my childhood. Or perhaps, I should say, pre-adolescence. Whatever. I’m not really an expert on these distinctions, despite going through them again, as a parent, with my son, now closing in on 18.
Circa 1971, my parents—uncharacteristically—purchase a poster of Raquel Welch to display for a party. Maybe the goal is to entice guests downstairs and play a round of pool on the billiard table. I actually think the poster was my mother’s doing, and I would ask her now but I cannot imagine she would remember. The poster is taped to the wall directly opposite the foot of the staircase. So, when you walk down the stairs, the body of Ms. Welch comes gradually into vision, feet to head, long hair flowing strategically over the most famous breasts in America.
I recall walking up and down that staircase quite a lot.
The news reports invariably refer to Raquel Welch as a sex symbol, which I think is inaccurate. There was nothing symbolic about her. She was for real.
While the death of my father remains awfully sad, I have been enjoying reading the reminiscences of him from family and friends. They’re all wonderful and hopeful, and sometimes full of surprises.
My parents hosted and went to a lot of parties in those days, which explains all of the baby sitters they foisted on my brothers and me. One thing that a medical career gave you, at least back then, was a social life. All of my parents’ friends were doctors and their wives, and at least at the moment I can’t think of an exception to that rule. Eventually would come the women doctors—who presumably had husbands—but they arrived long after the party days.
I remember my father talking medicine with all of those men—not just in the doctor’s lounge at the hospital (where he often took me) but anywhere, including the parties in our living room. That rule also held for the family members who were doctors: my grandfather Reuben, and Teddy, and maybe Sam too. They would discuss cases as if presenting them at grand rounds. To wit: “A fifty-five year-old male was complaining of chest pain on exertion, and the EKG shows a mild arrhythmia but inconclusive about the etiology of the symptoms….etc. etc.
I tried listening. I even tried participating. Never could. Sometimes I tried reading the medical journals on the coffee table: JAMA (the Journal of the American Medical Association), and the New England Journal of Medicine. Never made it beyond a few sentences. Which is true today, too, not that I’ve tried recently.
It was always a foreign exercise–always, seemingly, a notch or two above whatever my cerebral cortex could manage.
Thus there were two Davids: the medical one, the professional, who communicated in this incomprehensible language with the other members of the openly-secret society of physicians; and then the accessible one, the father and bon-vivant, who enjoyed music and travel and baseball games and loved his family and all the rest. Of course there was only the one man, but it’s quite possible that my doomed foray into a medical career was driven by a desire to be able to talk with my father in equal standing.
Fast forward to October, 2002. My hero Paul Wellstone dies in a plane crash. Wellstone is a liberal U.S. senator from my home state of Minnesota, and his sudden death in that airplane—which killed his wife and a daughter and several others—shocks everyone at the time, and to this day still stings and hurts.
It so happened that I was in Minnesota on a visit, and I remember a conversation with family members at the home of my grandfather Reuben. Everyone has something to contribute—Sam, the pilot, talks about the hazards of flying a small airplane in bad weather. Me, the political observer, talks about Wellstone’s many contributions and the big shoes to be filled. A cousin, who tells about meeting Wellstone at the State Fair. Reuben, the retired physician, is asleep in the next room. He would die about a year and a half later.
My take-home message is that I don’t need to be a medical expert. I can be an adult without that knowledge.
Every now and then, even at the advanced age that I currently occupy, I learn a bit of new knowledge that I find enlightening, or at least worthwhile, or at least humorous. Some examples from this week:
— A few gourmet restaurants in Paris now have insects on the menu. The reason is that the chefs are environmentally responsible. Insects are touted as the protein source of the future because they are very easy to raise and take much less inputs.
— The board game Trouble is an updated version of an ancient game, Parchesi.
— Tidal power is out, wave power is in.
— Vice-President Hubert Humphrey and entertainer Tiny Tim are both buried in the same cemetery in Minneapolis, my hometown.
— Ron DeSantis is a nasty, power-hungry jerk.
OK, that last one is not new news, but still.