“Doc, it’s Pete Davis. My brother, Jim, shot himself straight through his right shoe. We’ve been deer hunting. He’s bleeding bad.”
My dad, Milton Pepper, a country doctor in Salt Lake City, told Pete to bring his brother to our home immediately. Dad had set up a surgery on the ground floor of our two-story home as his own ER.
My memory of this incident, and other days like this, especially during the hunting season, is jam-packed with the scared faces of these men who paraded, with one injury or another, into the tiny first-aid clinic.
Their features smoothed out, changed, after the healing hands of my father had patched up these accidents. My sister and I watched from the upstairs windows as the patients who left the house. They seemed whole in our minds, once again.
I think of Dad often. I admit that over the years I’ve glorified him. I’m not sure I did that when he was alive. I took my father for granted.
Dad was raised by a caring mother and father. My grandfather came to Utah in 1901. He was a cooper — a barrel maker. His business grew with the addition of scrap iron. My dad’s brothers went into the family business, but not Milton.
From his earliest school years, Dad set his sights on medicine as a career. He worked after school and on weekends as a gofer and delivery boy for a wholesale drug company that eventually turned into Walgreens.
Salt Lake was somewhat isolated culturally from the rest of the country. It had all the trappings of Hometown, USA. Ultra-wide downtown streets. Water fountains on many corners bubbling up year-round with fresh, cool, spring water. And it was possible to be a one-man-medical-office doctor.
Dad set up his practice in 1932. He welcomed patients of all colors and ethnicities. He was one of two doctors in town who treated minorities. He never thought he was blazing a new trail that made him something special. People got sick, or needed an operation or had an accident. He was a doctor.
He sometimes took me with him when he made house calls. I waited in the car, which reeked of pipe and cigar smoke. But when he got back and slid his black bag into the back seat, he lit his pipe and then he began to talk. He always had something to share with me about his experience in his patients’ homes.
Once he told me he had fixed the toilet in this poor little house (which he said was absolutely spotless) with six children and an ill mother whose husband was completely flummoxed at the inability of his wife to get out of bed. I don’t remember at the time what ailment she had, and I usually got the Latin version anyway. I do remember that my father commented that she also probably took to her bed with complete exhaustion. The husband rallied after a stern talk by my father.
I didn’t know at the time that his stories would stay with me; but as I review them in my head, I realize they all had some meaning, or a hidden truth, that I might someday grasp.
I loved him (and my mother) far more than my words here today can convey. I wish I told him more often.
He died in his sleep in early 1985, and as I thought of his life during the service, it hit me that Milt Pepper was a man cut from rare cloth. He was noble, kind, and world-wise.
He was more than a dad. He was a gift.
GENE PEPPER is a published author and writer. Contact him by email at email@example.com or phone (818) 790-1990.