Al Batt: Hickory Dickory Doc, impetigo ran up the block (head)

Published 8:45 pm Tuesday, April 23, 2024

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Tales from Exit 22 by Al Batt

Education is an elastic concept.

Al Batt

We were old enough to be in school, but not much older than that. One of us contracted impetigo. It spread like wildfire through our small class. It was a bonding experience, not unlike shared tattoos today.

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Impetigo (im-puh-TIE-go) is a common and highly contagious skin infection that mainly affects infants and young children. We were a close class. There weren’t many of us, but we outnumbered our teacher. We had a collective dream of conquering the monkey bars one day. We learned together, rode buses together, ate together, played together and were germ-filled petri dishes ready to rumble. Impetigo usually appears as reddish sores on the face, especially around the nose and mouth. In about a week, the sores burst and develop honey-colored crusts. That wouldn’t have been bad if our school’s nickname for its athletic teams had been the Honey-colored Crusts, but we were the Cardinals.

After an athletic triumph, we sang as the wheels on the bus went round and round, “Everywhere we go. People want to know. Who we are. And, so we tell them. We are the Cardinals, mighty, mighty Cardinals. And if they can’t hear us. We yell a little louder.”

We were inspirational.

When you lived where I did and you were dealing with impetigo, there was only one thing to do. I joined my classmates in going to see Doc Buturf, who had an office at the local bank. He didn’t say much. “Uh, huh” was his version of a welcome mat. He’d throw in an occasional “unh unh” or “hmmm.” He was friendly enough and didn’t appear to have a broomstick up his backside. He mixed up something with a mortar and a pestle. I remember it smelling so bad it knocked flies out of the air, and it was purple. That might be a crack in my memory, but I rubbed it on my face.

The legend is that when someone asked how much they owed for services rendered, Doc said, “$1.”

If that same someone made any utterance before grabbing some money, Doc said, “$2.”

Doc said little, but he created instant inflation.

There were as many stories about Doc Buturf as there were people to tell them. The nattily dressed Doc shaved his head before Michael Jordan made that popular. I watched it happen in the barbershop.

Whether or not the topical ointment was purple or smelly, it worked.

Doc Buturf wasn’t the physician who brought me into the world. Doc Olds, from a bigger city 7 miles down the road, accepted the blame for that. When my father had an ailment, my mother took Dad’s symptoms to Doc Olds and got a proxy diagnosis. That was easier than dragging my father to the doctor’s office. Looking back, those two doctors, as excellent as they were, were closer to being Doc Adams from “Gunsmoke” than a modern-day doctor.

The bank where Doc Buturf officed was across the street from the Jack Sprat Grocery Store. A popular nursery rhyme read, “Jack Sprat could eat no fat, his wife could eat no lean. And so between them both, you see, they licked the platter clean.”

The store changed brands later and became a Cardinal Grocery Store featuring a redbird as a logo.

If my mother bought something from the friendly folks at Jack Sprat, her family was expected to eat it, unless it was a squirt gun or a bag of tiny (not even close to actual-sized) dinosaurs. This was because my family was as most families were. Children needed to be members of the Clean Plate Club because there were starving children somewhere in the world who would love to have what we were eating. I never knew how me eating everything on my plate would help others, but I was just a kid. What did I know? It wasn’t easy to clean our plates with all the vegetables grownups insisted on piling on them.

In a time when I thought only doctors and old people drove Buicks, I had no idea what Doc Buturf or Doc Olds drove. They may have had flying cars. It didn’t matter.

Time marches on.

Thanks to Doc Buturf, Doc Olds and other small-town doctors like them.

Al Batt’s column appears in the Tribune every Wednesday.