As a young graduate student, I had just completed an arduous Immunology exam. My head was full of the questions I’d championed:
“Question # 5. Patient presents to the office with symptoms of a new cold virus. Analyze the physiological events in terms of immunological state of the patient. What questions or advice do you provide?”
My answer was sterile and correct:
“The first question to the patient is to evaluate the length of time the patient has exhibited symptoms. Onset of symptoms is crucial, after 14 days, the antibody responses should have occurred . Post 14 days, we should talk about Mycoplasma.
Follow up with questions concerning respiratory illness and prior history to establish risk of this patient.
Immunologically, the time of symptomology is important. When the virus enters the body, the B memory cells investigate. If no prior exposure, the B cell will begin the formulation of a virus specific antibody. T cells regulate antibody production. Immunological response requires about 7 days for IgM, 14 days for IgG to rise to a titer that will inactivate the virus, thus ridding it from the patient. The process requires multi-organ system energy. The biochemistry requires voluminous water because the pair of electrons giving energy to the effort ultimately derives from water.
Health provision to this patient is rest, drink fluids and allow the virus to be killed naturally in ten days to about two weeks post onset of symptoms.”
I knew I’d done well on the exam. I answered the questions with logical conclusions. The study group I belonged to insured serious study, cross examination and intense stochastic trial. They were tough, smart. I felt honored when asked to be in the group. I had done well.
But I was tired. My bride suggested going to my grandmother’s place. Grandmother was always fun and funny.
Driving there, looking back to the exam, my performance. Would I get the grade needed to again acquire the scholarship? I had to have it. We’d recently married, drowning in love and starving for money. Life was great. I pulled the car into the driveway.
“Come on in, Darlin’s.”, she was so sweet, southern hospitality.
She is the last Scarlet O’Hara. She had been vibrant, beautiful! Her, up on bare horseback, mane in her fisted hands, barefoot riding free in Hillsboro, North Carolina. She was quite a scallywag! She was known for being a bit of a tomboy. She was a young man’s dream. Able to ride, hunt, play cards and still be the woman she was. She was absolutely amazing. Her 89 years had placed worn scars in her wrinkled face, but not in her eyes. Her eyes could light up New York City – but she had gone there once and didn’t like it. ( Those people are cold!) Her well-worn feet were up on an old stool, the stockings were wrinkled, bundled down, wrapped around her ankles.
Her southern voice of melted sugar, “Buster? Ahm, Rod? Skeeter?” She finally got to my name, “Peter! Second grandson of my second son, Rod Hughes”
“Hi, Grandmother.” I hugged her. She gripped me like a bear, and simply would not let go. “Grandmother, I have to breathe.” Her petite stature was deceptively strong.
“And my beautiful, Katherine... Ahh Kathy, no... I mean Karen.”
My bride pointed toward herself, “Mamie, I’m Carolyn,” she waved her hand, “but you’re close enough.”
“Why, yes! Carolyn! Oh my beautiful granddaughter-in-law Carolyn. Oh! Baby! You look so good!” She hugged Carolyn, patting her. Patting was a greeting for the Miller clan, they always did it. I did it, must have gotten it from her. Carolyn didn’t really like patting, she said it made her feel like a horse. She never broke me of my patting, which is good, I probably wouldn’t have been able to.
“How are you?”
She swelled, “I’m so proud of you. You got in, didn’t you, Honey?”
“Yeah, Grandma, I’m at NC State now.”
“Good, Honey. My son, your Uncle Buster, your father’s brother went to State, back when it was a college. He was an engineer. I’m proud you stayed in North Carolina. You know I’m North Carolinian all the way. Through and through, birth to the grave. So are you, Honey. It’s in your blood.”
“I’m on my way, I guess.”
“Do you like it there in Raleigh, Darlin’?”
“Yeah, we do. I mean I do.” I looked at Carolyn, “Do you?”
“Peter, of course.” She put her arm around Grandma’s shoulders.
I draped my arm around her shoulders also. We looked like the three musketeers. “Grandma, we just took a trip to come see you and help you plant those roses. Remember?”
“Remember? Why Darlin’! They’re out on the back porch by the parlor.” She stood up as straight and tall as her short stature would allow, “Waiting for you!” She led us through the musty home. Then unlocked three locks to open the door. Three locks in Wilson, North Carolina? I picked up one lone rose bundle and followed her outside.
She rubbed her hand over her gray hair, thinking deeply. Her eyes squinted slightly and with one hand on her hip, the other straightened, a short stubby, dried out fingernail extended, pointing to a plot of her real estate, “How about there, Honey?”
“Here?” I planted the spade.
“No Darlin’, there.” The finger shook as if irritated that I could not aim with it.
“Over there, Peter.” Now Carolyn was helping me.
“Here?” I planted the spade again.
“Sugar, right over there.”
“Peter, she means here, right here.” Carolyn had leaned over and her finger was in the turf.
I looked at Grandmother, the finger was still wiggling and waving. I handed her the spade. “Here Grandmother. You get to do the earth breaking ceremony.”
She accepted the task, found her perfect place and planted the spade. She managed to get a small fledgling of grass out of the ground. She proudly extended the spade back to me. “There,” she sighed relief.
I worked on the hole, my two supervisors helped me. I’m certain I needed it, “Widen it up, Darlin’.”
“Peter, she wants it deeper.”
“It’s scraping, get that rock, Darlin’.”
“See that root, get it and pull it up, she doesn’t want it in her roses.”
I was sweating, a bit hungry and tired. The ‘help’ was going too far. “Do you want to dig?”
“No.” Carolyn backed off, but Grandmothers never do.
“Now Grandson, Listen to me. One always places a two dollar plant in a ten dollar hole. That way you get thirty dollars worth of fruit.”
Darkness was settling in and my stomach wouldn’t stop talking. Grandmother went inside, bringing out with her a flashlight. Finally, I had a stalwart hole. A hole worthy of planting a Bradley tank, let alone a $1.99 rosebush in the dark.
I hauled over the 50 pound sack of fertilizer. Opened it and she scooped out a single handful and threw it into the hole. “There, that’s perfect!” She filled the hole with water as I hauled the sack back to the garage. At my return, the rose was being unwrapped carefully by my supervisors. Grandmother immersed it into the muddy water, signalling “OK!” I scraped the black loam back into the hole.
“How’s that? Grandma?”
“That’s good, Honey. Let’s all get inside, before we catch our death of cold.”
We went inside. I washed up. I entered the living room just in time to see Carolyn drive off. “Where’s she going?”
“Up to Dick’s stand to get some hamburgers. I don’t feel like cooking. That digging and planting was just enough to take it out of me. It’s the energy… just taken out from me. Pour me some wine, please.” She propped her feet up on the stool, I went to the kitchen for her wine.
“Thank you Sugar. You know, this red wine is good for me. I like a little drink or two, here and there. It’s healthy, plenty of potassium and other vitamins that I’ve forgotten. I’ve been reading in the Reader’s Digest. Potassium is good for my bones and my hair.” She paused and thought for a second, “Did you know I do my own hair? What are those other vitamins? Do you know what they are? Now that you are in graduate college?”
“Grandma, They must be all over and swimming in that wine.” What can you say to someone who was already older than I would probably survive? It is damned difficult to argue with success.
“Thank you for helping me with my rose bush. I’m so thrilled.” She clasped her small hands together and beamed at me.
She suddenly turned serious, “Come on over here. I’m going to tell you something. It’s a secret, my Peter. I’m going to give you strong medicine that you can give to your patients. It’s strong. Real strong. The newspaper and TV keep on talking about the need of a cure for the common cold.”
She swallowed long and hard.
“I have it.” She smiled.
Her hand swept the room, “Its been passed down for generations of Millers, Lyons and Watkins.” In the darkness were framed portraits of dead relatives over the mantelpiece and covering the walls of her living room.
She gestured her finger at me to come closer. I leaned over. “I have the cure for the cold.”
“Peter! I tell you! Strong, real strong! Strong medicine nobody knows! “ She whispered the long awaited secret. “Stay in bed, cover up tightly, drink plenty of fresh milk in the morning when you take the Bayer Aspirin, and only fresh well water.”
Her whisper grew stronger, “Then in 10 days to 2 weeks the cold will be cured.” She sat back and proudly smiled, “There, that’s it! It’s finally out!”.
She turned stern, “Grandson, this is powerful Miller medicine. Now don’t you use it wild! But I guarantee it! You try that and you’ll be famous! I promise!” She grasped my head with both hands and planted a kiss on my cheek.
We heard Carolyn drive up.
Her finger went immediately to her pursed lips, “Shhh! I like her, but I don’t know her well enough. Keep the secret to yourself for a little while, Darlin’” I wasn’t sure what she meant by that, it must have shown on my face. “You see, Darlin’, it’s customary. I was married to your grandfather, Tom Hughes, and didn’t tell him until I cured him of a cold nearly a year after our wedding.”
Carolyn struggled with the door. I went over to help her. “Here, take this one, it‘s heavy.” I fumbled around getting the bags to the card table.
I was still watching Grandma.... “Just do that, son of my second son, Rod, my grandson Peter, the Doctor, it’ll work every time.” The great truth escaped through her eyes.
“Thank you grandmother.” I helped Carolyn unwrap the hamburgers.
Grandmother picked up the hamburger, raised it to her lips and with a theatrical nod, winked at me.
I winked back. I was indeed the proud recipient of a
secret very powerful.