anyone who called Grayville home from the 1930’s until 1962 will remember
Grayville’s physician, the late Dr. Hershel L. Bass. Dr. Bass will always
be a cherished part of my childhood memory. As a graduate from the
University of Louisville, Kentucky in the early part if the 20th century, Dr
Bass practiced medicine somewhere in
Indiana before moving to Grayville sometime in
the late 1920’s or early 30’s. Perhaps Mr. Groff or someone remembers when
he and his wife, the late Noble (“Pinkie”) Bass first arrived in Grayville.
I remember how we always referred to Dr. Bass as “Doc Bass” or simply “Doc”,
whose office was in the red brick building behind Bradshaw’s Appliance store
and faced the highway. Doc Bass was the last of a vanishing breed of
doctors who still made house calls and even delivered babies in the
Grayville area. He was a kind and considerate person, and his medicines and
reassuring words somehow always brought me through my childhood illnesses.
On the other hand, Doc was also one of Grayville’s unforgettable characters,
and his medical methodologies were sometimes unorthodox to say the least.
One I will never forget is the day Doc Bass gave me a “physical exam”.
The letter arrived with an
opening statement that read something like, “Congratulations, you have been
accepted to enter the freshman class at Evansville College (now The
University of Evansville) convening September 11, 1961”. The letter
contained information about the campus, classes offered, registration forms,
etc.; and a three or four page document to be completed by a physician.
This form was quite detailed as I recall, and covered all portions of human
anatomy from head to toe, including a portion about the applicant’s mental
health. Being the procrastinator that I have always been, I waited until the
last week of August to deal with the medical form. I remember walking up
the alley from our restaurant (Art’s Café) to Doc’s office that hot August
afternoon with the document in hand.
A small sign hung over the door that read “Dr. H.L. Bass,
Physician & Surgeon”. I opened the door and entered the cool waiting room
where the aroma of pipe and cigar smoke permeated the air. The linoleum
floor crackled as I walked back to where Doc was sitting at his desk,
smoking a pipe and reading a newspaper. There was no one else there and Doc
ran the place by himself. He acted as receptionist, nurse, doctor, and
cashier all in one. “Now what the hell’s wrong with you?” he shouted as he
looked over his newspaper. “Doc they sent me this here form from college
for you to fill out,” I said, as I handed him the document. “I see they
addressed it to Mr. Werzner, ha, Mr., now isn’t that some s_ _ _ ,” he
laughed as he put down his pipe. “Well let’s see here they want you to have
a complete physical huh, well we’ll take care of that,” he said as he walked
over to the corner and picked up a wooden yardstick. “Stand there by the
door frame so I can measure your height, then step on those bathroom scales
in the corner and tell me how much you weigh,” he said as he marked the door
frame with a pencil. Damn, your getting tall he replied as I called out my
weight. “What the hell do they want all these questions for?” he asked as
he looked over the pages on his desk. “You look pretty damn healthy to me,
you ain’t been sick or anything have you?” ”No, I replied,” as Doc began
checking off all the questions as I looked on. Every so often he would read
one and chuckle, then pen a hasty remark. “I see here they want your blood
pressure too, what is your blood pressure?” “I don’t know, I’ve never had it
taken,” I replied. “Well looks like I’ll have to give them a number, sit
here and give me your arm,” he said as he opened a desk drawer.
Doc pulled an old
sphygmomanometer from the drawer and wrapped the cuff around my arm. He
donned his stethoscope and began pumping up the cuff with the squeeze bulb.
Doc pumped and pumped, but all he heard was the hiss of air leaking from one
or more leaks in the rubber tubing. “Oh s _ _ _ ,” he swore as he tossed
the sphygmomanometer back into the dusty drawer. “Well let’s say you are
about 120 over 80 and that’s normal as I recall so give me $5.00 and you’re
out of here,” said Doc with a grin as he filled in the last line. “But wait
Doc, don’t I get a break today since it’s my birthday?” I asked.
“So you are 18 today,
really?” he asked. Doc reached down and pulled open the bottom desk
drawer. He searched around for a minute and pulled up an old dark red
ledger dated 1943. He opened it to Saturday, August 28, and there at the
top of the page was penciled in; Art Werzner (my father) $15.00. “Yep,
today is your birthday alright, so here’s two dollars back for you to keep
don’t give them to Art,” he said with a laugh. “Now go on to college and do
well,” Doc hollered as I thanked him on my way out.
Back at the
restaurant I told dad I had just learned my true worth, that I had cost him
$15.00 when I was born that Saturday morning in the old home place on Spring
Street. “What!” dad retorted, “You mean he wrote down only $15.00 in his
ledger, I know he charged $25.00 to deliver a baby, I’ll bet that stinker
cheated on his taxes.” Well, that was a long time ago and Dr. Bass died
peacefully at his home in Grayville the following year as I recall. I
remember how sad I was when the late Clarence Bender told me Doc had died.
It seemed a part of Grayville died too that summer day when another of the
town’s beloved characters passed on. I remember how Doc used to drop in at
Russell Rudolph’s service station at the four way stop and they would roll
the big rubber dice for a coke. Sometimes the game progressed to a little
betting on the side between the two and anyone else who wanted to join in.
Doc had another reason for making periodic stops at the service station, as
I was told that his office did not have a bathroom. I recall he had a small
closet in one room where he stored medicines and it contained a small
porcelain sink that also served other purposes according to one Grayville
resident who happened in on Doc one day.
Sometimes Doc would
drop by the restaurant and ask if I knew who gave me my first spanking. It
was one of those little jokes that I’ll always remember. Looking back, I
sometimes wonder how we survived without the modern medical wonders we have
today. Perhaps Doc’s old-fashioned ways coupled with his sense of humor and
compassion must have compensated for the technology that was missing back
then. When my days on this earth are over, and if a physical exam is
required to enter heaven, I’ll request St Peter send me to my old friend Doc
Bass. That way I’m sure I’ll gain admission just like I did for college so
many years ago.
Grayville Native. W.F. (Bill) Werzner now living in Houston,
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