I hadn't reflected on Arkansas in that context but I clearly remember some outstanding individuals from Arkansas that were part of that inaugural four year class of 1977. As Memphis was just across the Mississippi from Arkansas, Governor Dunn wanted to help our neighbor to the west who had no dental school , much less a world class facility, created with the restoration of full accreditation of UT's program. The best and brightest from Arkansas were selected as dental school candidates. Governor Dunn was influential in many decisions that not only affected Tennessee but was beneficial for the South. About 8% of the 160 + class were from Arkansas. As stated previously, Dr. Jolly, a UTCHS recruiter, shared with me at UTC that only 1 in 32 applicants were being accepted for this class. With only 8% of that class reserved for the Arkansas candidates, the competition must have been fierce; our class was greatly enriched by their presence. That large class size dictated seating in the brand new General Education Building, with its huge lecture halls, in alphabetical order. This enabled our instructors to more quickly learn who we were as individuals. All assignments were made alphabetically. As an example, Gross Anatomy lab had two weekly sessions, as the class was divided in half. Each lab team had four members, again whoever they might be was determined by alphabetical order.
A seemingly statistical aberration, my Gross Anatomy lab team had three of those Razorbacks. 75% of the team was from 8% of the class. Don Davison, Jake Dobbins and Lewis Dillahunty were incredible individuals. Not only were their dissections reflective of the surgical skills required for dentistry, their personalities endeared them to everyone in the class. All three were excellent clinicians and reflected well on the University of Tennessee. I am thankful for that statistical aberration.
23 Nov 2023 - Thanksgiving is a time to reflect on what we have so much to be thankful for, despite the chaos in our cities and the world. I am thankful I was born in the greatest country in the history of God's Earth. Even more so, being raised in the South by two Christian parents in a rural North Carolina (when it was conservative) environment gave me the foundation to know right from wrong and to practice the Golden Rule. I agree with one thing the Demoncrat Crooked Hillary has said: it takes a village. My sisters and I were so blessed to have an incredible extended family with grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. One could never forget the dinners at Granny Gurley's; the retired community there provided a safe and wholesome place for the cousins to play. A great swing set, one of those tall ones with a long slide attached and where I did my first PLF's (parachute landing fall) while trying to outdo my cousins Jerry, Eddie and Robbie, was beckoning in the back yard.
Those memories are strong as those visits were so infrequent, in retrospect. As my father's distinguished military career began with transitioning to active duty, his assignments ensured we were never close to home. It was a rare trip, indeed, to visit North Carolina. When we were in CONUS, an annual Christmas trip provided so much expectation and excitement. I couldn't wait to see my cousins Jerry, Janet, Judy (Jimmie came later) as well as Eddie and Robbie. My Uncles Buddy, Bill and Bobby (we had some alliteration in the family) and Gene, like my father, were manly men. They were strong role models with southern manners and always ready to take the time to interact with me. Our visits to each of their homes presented its own funscape.
Uncle Buddy was a trucker and gentleman farmer. I loved "slopping the hogs" and raiding the hen house for eggs. I clearly remember, as she does, Kara's retrieval of eggs one morning on my penultimate visit to Uncle Buddy's and my beautiful Aunt Katy's lovely home/farm. My last visit was for their son's funeral. I love and miss you, Eddie. God bless you.
Speaking of beautiful, the youngest of my aunts was a high school majorette at Goldsboro High School. Her flowing blonde hair and white boots presented quite an image; it was fair to say I had a crush on my aunt. Aunt Faye was more than a pretty face; she possessed the traits we all cherish. She, like her older brother Uncle Gene, were excellent students and athletes. They were also responsible, helping Granny Gurley with providing hospice for their grandfather, Papa. I remember sitting with him, mostly in silence, as I had never been with someone so close to death. My grandmother and aunt were constantly checking on Papa to ensure he was comfortable in every way possible. I saw my grandmother, using skills that she passed on to my mother, making or mending garments with an old Singer treadle sewing machine while she kept a watchful eye on her father as he lay in bed. I distinctly remember the sense of somber sadness when I was with Papa on those few occasions and my profound anguish when I attended his funeral. Even as a child, I felt a connection with this fine man.
My grandfather Gurley was especially dear to me. How proud I was of my grandfather who was a North Carolina state prison guard and a man among men. I remember on one of those cherished Christmas visits to Goldsboro, he presented me with a brand new wallet made by a prisoner. She was a beauty: leather, shiny and just the right fit for my right rear pocket. My first wallet and yet another indication of my passage to manhood, I will never forget my grandfather's broad smile, standing tall in his grey prison guard uniform behind his parked beautiful 1952 Chevy (with one of those curb finders attached) as he handed it to me. God has another warrior with my granddaddy Gurley.
Aunt Faye's brother, Gene, was the youngest of my uncles and felt more like a cousin, as we were much closer in age. He took me under his wing with my father's absence during his first combat tour in Vietnam. He always had pretty girlfriends and kept that string intact with his wife, Becky. I fondly remember his taking me to the local Boy's Club where they had an awesome 1:24 slot car track! So much fun and a distraction from the dread of the combat footage I would see later with the six o'clock news. Uncle Gene won a number of awards for his oratory endeavors; I enjoyed his skills on the baseball field, also.
He delivered a beautiful eulogy at my mother's funeral; Lisa remarked later, with a tear in her eye, on its eloquence. Uncle Gene can be justifiably proud of his efforts on behalf of Guilford College. Two firsts for me on one of those visits to NC: Uncle Gene was the first male cheerleader I had ever seen; I was impressed with his integration into their routines. Yes, Karen, guys are stronger than girls. I remember Guilford on top, breaking ninety points. Prior to the game another first was a visit to the International House Of Pancakes in Greensboro. Oh my! So much syrup...
Aunt Faye married a handsome young stud, Bobby, who always drove the best cars. I can still recall my first visit to their newly built beautiful home with a pool table! I didn't know anyone with one of those in their home. So much fun visiting them, as Uncle Bobby was one of the funniest men I knew. As postmaster in La Grange, NC, he was highly regarded in the community; we still recount some of Uncle Bobby's zany events at family gatherings today. Most memorable: his battle with the electric mixer and his being startled by a squirrel hurtling out of its nest while Uncle Bobby was high on a ladder, cleaning out the vent in the attic. I don't know who was surprised more, Uncle Bobby or the squirrel. He had a magnetic personality and beaming smile; his firm handshake conveyed warmth and strength, lacking in most men. I recall my wife Lisa's big smile after we went over to my parents while the Taylors were visiting Chattanooga. "I just love your aunt and uncle!" she gushed as we headed home. Luckily, it was Aunt Faye who passed her beauty on to my cousin, Shawne.
Uncle Bill Pittman and Aunt Sister (real name Emma Lee - a lot of aliases in our family - Aunt Faye is actually Marlene and Uncle Buddy is Jesse. My father was called Junior simply because he was the youngest...) had a train track in their back yard! Wow, trains provided a lot of entertainment for young boys in those days. We thought we were special forces soldiers while huddled under a railroad track trestle. Hundreds of tons of steel roaring just inches over our head surely required exceptional bravery. Cousin Jerry was eleven and I was ten; we were on the threshold of manhood and weren't afraid of anything. However, it takes a while to get used to that rumbling train at night while sleeping; the tracks were about fifty yards behind the house. As Uncle Bill and Aunt Sister lived in Belfast, a rural community, the train horn was generally used only when we asked for one as we traversed the countryside alongside the tracks. We certainly flattened a few pennies along the way.
Aunt Sister was an exceptional cook; we made sure during our carousing adventures that we weren't late for supper. At night, I marvelled at the racing equipment Uncle Bill had in his garage. As a Micro Sprint racer (in addition to being a manager at the local Honda and Schwinn bicycle dealership, he provided Jerry and me with discounts to movies as a manager at the Paramount Theater in downtown Goldsboro on weekends), he always had a racer I could admire. Further, a brilliant mechanic, Uncle Bill always had a motorcycle or two that he had repaired for his shop; they provided hours of fun, as Jerry and I honed our riding skills. I learned to ride a motorcycle on a Ducati 125 with a nearly flat rear tire. Round and round in a large circle - it was a great departure from pedalling. Jerry with his father's DNA pursued competitive racing. I can still smell that castor oil at one of his Honda 125 events. My first bike was a gold Triumph Bonneville 650 in 1973 and moving up to the Honda 750F in 1976. As I was on a full scholarship and had a great full time job, I could afford living off campus without burdening my parents; it was also possible to replace the Triumph with a Honda CB750F, pleasing Uncle Bill. One of the first with factory headers, the CB750F's beefed up cousin, the 900cc version, would win the 24 hour French endurance race several times. My last Honda was in an effort to upgrade before President Reagan's looming tariff on imported motorcycles 700cc and above. Imports, particularly Japanese, were putting pressure on the only US manufacturer, Harley-Davidson, requiring some protective measures by the president. A 50% tariff spurred me to upgrade to the 1100cc version. The 1100F supersport bike went from a 4-into-1 header to a 4-into-2 configuration and had the latest TRAC (Torque Reactive Anti-Dive Control).
Yet another benefit of my assignment to Fort Rucker, thanks to the prescience of my father, was access to a hot fueling pad located in a remote part of the post. Monday through Saturday saw air traffic land, keeping their blades turning, while specially trained crews in protective gear performed refuelling. Sundays found nothing but a chain across the limited access road to the facility; I cleared it with TOC (Tactical Operations Center) to allow a few of us motorcyclists to race on the two and a half mile "track" containing long and short straightaways, an S curve, a hairpin and a chicane. Well maintained, the asphalt roads associated with the various hot fuelling pads had no vagrant pebbles or oil spots. There were certainly no Winnebago's on your side of the road, another welcome departure from street riding. The twin shock design on the 1100 didn't fare nearly as well as the guys with the monoshocked 500-550cc bikes in the curves; the real fun was the power that rocketed it in the straightaways. The well known power production of this superbike could easily lift the front wheel at 90 mph.
Significantly, those twin shocks allowed for a big seat which provided comfortable seating for both my wife and myself on our trips to the Florida beach; the sissy bar ensured more comfort as well as not being thrown off the rear when unexpected acceleration occurred. Further, I was thankful for that sissy bar when I went to the Highway Patrol Station in order upgrade my driver's license. Upon leaving active duty and returning to Chattanooga, I obtained a new Tennessee driver's license, as I still had my old green (no picture) version from six years previously; renewal was unnecessary if serving on active duty. As summer requires taking advantage of beautiful Tennessee and southern beauty with excursions on the bike, a class 5 code for motorcycles was required. Anticipating those cones set up in a parking lot or similar, I was surprised the attractive Highway Patrol officer wanted me to take her for a ride, to "better demonstrate my abilities on this motorcycle...". Protocol had sure changed during my military service. The last time an officer rode with me was when I was sixteen years old. I had a passenger helmet strapped to my bike, so I unlocked the seat, thinking she would stop me, as she was just kidding. Nope. Glad I didn't wreck. But I digress.
I am especially thankful for that extended family in my thirteenth year; the excitement and love for me, as well as for my mother and sister, provided a contrast to the ever present worry I had for the safety of my father.
In addition to my parents and children, Kris, Kara and Dylan, I am most thankful for someone I lost nineteen years ago today. Cystic fibrosis claimed Lisa in the prime of her life at thirty-eight years old. Although the pain that ensues when your heart and soul is no longer there to welcome your every day, with those beautiful eyes, diminishes, it remains chronic.
God, however blesses us even in tragedy; those blessings may not be readily apparent but they are there. I have taken solace in that, before the 1980s, about half of the people with CF did not live into their twenties. Despite that fact, I was blessed to have my precious wife years beyond that.
I remember in 2001, three years before Lisa's ascension to Heaven, a song called Angels In Waiting caught my ear. Country music singer Tammy Cochran released it as the last song in her album as a tribute to her big brothers Alan and Shawn, their lives cut short by this always fatal genetic disorder. Lisa was born about the same time as Ms. Cochran's older brothers, yet her symptoms did not become evident until her twenties.
Tammy Cochran - Angels In Waiting
I first met Lisa when she was in her early twenties and noticed an infrequent slight cough; I asked her if she was a closet smoker. She attributed the cough to certain stimuli like frozen treats or strong smells. I remember going through the aisles of Target, her favorite store, and, as we were passing the Tide and other detergents, Lisa started coughing with more vigor than previously. At 27, she became my bride and I was able to keep my watchful eye on her. Noticing a slow progression in the frequency and duration of her coughs, I knew "food allergies" was not the culprit.
Gasping for air is a terrible way to leave this world; my mother was flown by air ambulance to Vanderbilt University where she succumbed to pulmonary fibrosis after months of declining pulmonary function. As her caregivers were fellow nurses, their compassion for this patient in distress was felt even more; they provided nitrous oxide as a means to alleviate her suffering. I will always be grateful for their efforts. Lisa and I had planned visiting my mother when she was settled in and stable. After triaging my scheduled patients, Lisa contacted the immediate treatment cases; I was treating them when my father phoned the office and asked that we come quickly. My mother's previously stable oxygen saturation was dropping. Lisa quickly rescheduled patients and, with Kara safely strapped in her car seat, we were on our way to Nashville. When the phone started ringing as we were crossing the Nickajack bridge, Lisa looked at me. We both knew it meant my beautiful and much loved mother had joined God's angels. Answering the call, my father, the patriarch of our family, affirmed he had lost the love of his life. There was no tremble in his voice or overt emotion; he calmly suggested we return to Chattanooga. I was not there when my mother passed, perhaps another blessing, sparing me the grief and anguish.
Having met a number of pulmonologists with my mother's battle with pulmonary fibrosis, I felt Lisa needed their expertise. I scoured medical journals, performing differential diagnoses myself in order to be more knowledgeable when we consulted with the specialists. I remember Brad at Access Pharmacy preparing glutamine supplements for me, as there seemed to be a connection with a number of pulmonary diseases. At any rate, after a succession of evaluations by different pulmonologists, a referral to an allergist was recommended. I contacted Dr. Marc Cromie at Chattanooga Allergy Clinic and will never forget his face when he suggested we visit TC Thompson Children's Hospital for a special test. Marc lead me to his office while his staff was tending to Lisa; he placed her pulmonary radiograph on a viewer. "Keith", he said, "you need to have her tested today.". I can never forget that radiograph; the radiopacities that covered more than 70% of where radiolucencies should have been clearly suggested cystic fibrosis. As I thanked Marc for his efforts, I saw that knowing and compassionate look in his eyes; he knew what was coming next. At Children's Hospital, the sweat chloride test confirmed cystic fibrosis.
Lisa recognized the ramifications of this devastating diagnosis; she researched it and knew there was no escape, notwithstanding the glutamine supplements. I remember sitting on the couch admiring this most beautiful creature as she chatted online with CF patients that were in their seventies via AOL. The picture of stoicism, Lisa didn't allow this unfolding situation to affect her daily life.
Her front desk performance and interactions with our patients were unaffected. Always with a smile on her face, she made some matter-of-fact decisions and planned to accelerate some plans. At the top of her bucket list: she wanted now, more than anything, to be a mother. I was afraid those plans might be unfulfilled, as CF patients have reduced fertility. Lisa knew when she was ovulating and our beautiful Kara was born on my birthday in 1995; God was still smiling on us. Again, reflecting her pragmatic planning, we agreed that Kara needed a sibling; she knew how much I loved my sisters as we grew up. She earned the monaker "Fertile Myrtle" with Dylan's arrival in 1999, only weeks after my mother's passing. God's grace was never ending. With our second child, I was buoyed by years of Lisa's relative stability in her condition; perhaps she would be one of the 70 year old conversants on AOL someday. She felt great and even asked Dr. Dewayne McCamish to perform an orthodontic evaluation for some minor movement; she started active treatment.
A few months later, she developed a need for supplemental oxygen; I placed an oxygen generator in the car as well as at home. Those monthly trips to Dewayne's office found me carrying Lisa a short distance from where we parked, as she eschewed a wheelchair. A diminutive beauty, it was almost effortless to transport her. Her treatment almost finished, Dewayne suggested she could be debanded a little early. The incredible person he is, Dewayne came to my office to deband her and get an impression for a retainer. Thank you, Dewayne.
At that point, we hoped Lisa would be a candidate for a lung transplant; she was hospitalized at the main Memorial Hospital facility. As I was forced to leave the ICU at 8 PM, I planned on seeing emergencies until I could return at 12 the next day. Memorial contacted my office midmorning and asked I come quickly, as "...we were trying feed her and it didn't go well...". I quickly returned to the ICU on that dreary and rainy November twenty-third of 2004 only to find her father and brother there, grieving. My beautiful wife of nearly twelve years had joined my mother in Heaven. I was at neither's bedside in their last moments.
Lisa had cryptically predicted several times over the preceding years that she would die where she was born. That prediction came true.
Cystic fibrosis is caused by mutations, or errors, in the cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR) gene; there are more than 2,500 recognized mutations involving codons on this gene. Most (98%) involve only one or a few nucleotides. The consequential phenotype accounts for the vast differences in life expectancy. Fortunately, and a function of God's grace, the CFTR gene is recessive; both parents have to be carriers. Not sex linked, a caucasian has a 1 in 29 chance of being a carrier.
Lisa was adopted at birth, weighing all of two pounds due to her prematurity, by an exceptional lady who, after three sons, wanted a daughter. Thrilled when she was able to adopt this tiny newborn whom she named Alisha Ann Doss, Dot's (Dorothy) first trip with Lisa was not in her car home from the hospital, but to Children's Hospital at Erlanger in an ambulance.
Lisa developed a natural curiosity about her birth mother; she tried on two separate occasions to contact her birth mother, providing the necessary fees to the State of Tennessee, only to be thwarted by the birth mother. As Lisa was only a teen with her first attempt, it must have been crushing to have your mother not want to know you, no matter what the reason. Her adopted mother would not dissuade her; conversely, she encouraged her to continue her efforts. Lisa all but forgot about that search but, years later when cystic fibrosis entered the picture, Lisa's quest assumed a higher purpose: she could possibly enable her birth mother and father to be aware of their carrier status. Once again, road blocked. Somehow, the Chattanooga Times Free Press got the story; they contacted the office in order to schedule an interview with Lisa. Hopefully, this would encourage at least more awareness about cystic fibrosis and the genetic component.
Lisa tried on two separate occasions to contact her birth mother, providing the necessary fees to the State of Tennessee, only to be blocked by the birth mother. As Lisa was only a teen with her first attempt, it must have been crushing to have your mother not want to know you, no matter what the reason. Her adopted mother would not dissuade her; conversely, she encouraged her to continue her efforts. Dot was always supportive of Lisa who had all but forgotten about that search. Years later, however, when cystic fibrosis entered the picture, Lisa hoped she could warn her siblings. Further, Lisa's quest could possibly enable her birth mother and father to be aware of their carrier status. Once again, road blocked. Somehow, the Chattanooga Times Free Press got the story; they contacted the office in order to schedule an interview with Lisa. Hopefully, this would encourage at least more awareness about cystic fibrosis and the genetic component.
A daily ritual for Lisa and Dot was the scanning of the births and deaths in the newspaper. A few years had passed since the loss of her daughter; Dot was looking at the obituaries and saw something that caused her to put down the paper and call me. "Keith - come; there's something you've got to see...". Not a clue as to what was she saw, but the urgency in her voice was not dissimilar than when she had phoned Lisa and me a decade earlier. "You won't believe this..." began that phone call. We rushed over there to view something inexplicable involving their remote camera installed in their garage, revealing a dark figure next to one of their parked cars. To this day, I cannot explain that, while I was viewing a live feed showing that figure on the monitor, it was not in the garage. Hmmm.
At any rate, I was definitely intrigued, as Dot rarely got that excited. I arrived, finding Dot, a big grin on her face, with the obituary opened in front of her. "Keith, who does this remind you of?", she queried. "Lisa" was my response. The pretty lady in the picture had a quite striking resemblance to my beautiful wife; coincidental, I thought. However, Dot's help in finding her daughter's birth mother had produced enough demographics and information about her to believe this person was Lisa's birth mother. The obituary read "Although I have no children of my own, my nieces and nephews are my angels." Dot placed a note online indicating she had an angel in Heaven, also. It was the next day that her nephew contacted Dot and confirmed that, yes, she had a child in 1966. Morality in those days cast a mark on an unwed mother. If the child was a male, it would be called a bastard. Her reluctance to reveal that part of her life can be understood.
What are the odds of finding Lisa's birth mother, anonymous to almost everyone, in the obituaries of the local newspaper? She was most recently living in north Georgia. God's divine intervention, as the China Virus would claim this charming and delightful lady, Kara and Dylan's Nana, only a few years later. Lisa now has both of her mothers. She has some catching up to do...
On those rare occasions when my beautiful wife had that pensive, even winsome, look in those eyes, I knew she was reflecting on being adopted. I reminded her of God's plans for her; she had not been aborted. Her soft smile indicated to me there was no enmity toward her birth mother; she knew Kara and Dylan were part of those plans.