Tuesday, May 20, 2008

A Tale of a Homeland Hero

Today I received a phone call from a Charles Hutchins, who is in Florida, and is somehow connected to the University of Michigan, since this was his e-mail server. I do not know this man, but he found my name and address on the Internet. Years ago, I wrote a story about a man named Dr. Harold Furlong. He was an obstetrician and an artist. He delivered hundreds of babies, including me, and founded an art institute in Pontiac, MI.

Mr. Hutchins e-mailed me a huge amount of material and wants me to write about it, using this material, concerning the programs at U. of M. endowed by Dr. Furlong and named for both him and his wife. Dr. Furlong's interest was Woman's Health and this is the program in Ann Arbor bearing his name.

Dr. Furlong was a Congressional Medal of Honor winner. He had served in WWII and had single-handedly rescued his platoon when it was surrounded by the Germans. He entered Medical School at U. of M. when he returned home, and was very reticent when it came to talking about his medal. I had to drag the information out of him.

He was a handsome, tall, lean elderly man, and when he sat at his desk in his home office, its walls hung with examples of his many paintings, he looked like a patrician gentleman. One couldn't even imagine him being a soldier, let alone earning the highest honor in our land. The photographers at the paper were all busy at that particular time, so I took a picture of Dr. Furlong myself. I was a complete amateur at photography, but that picture was like a miracle. The sun was shining through his office window, lighting that patrician face and his white hair with a glow that seemed almost holy. The picture now hangs in the Art Institute that he founded.

On the night he delivered me, the 12th child, and the only baby my mother had with the care of a doctor, he traveled more than 20 miles through the darkness to make it to our farm. Of course, he did not remember the trip, because he had made so many night journeys to deliver so many babies.

I have talked with both Hubert and Harold (Bud) about the night of my birth. They remember that it was an exceptionally dark September night with a chill in the air. They both described it as "spooky." Frightened by the excitement and the fact that our mother was in a bedroom that they were not allowed to enter, they clung together, worried that their world was somehow being shattered. Pop had a worried look on his face and paid no attention to them. Every time they approached the bedroom, someone would shoo them away, and it was a terrifying time for these two boys, who were about ten and twelve at the time.

The Farm that we lived in at that time was always called the "Big Farm." Later, we moved to the "Little Farm," which evidently was in better shape than the dilapidated Big Farm. Bud told me years later that someone had bought the Big Farm and that it had become a show place, painted and polished, renovated as these old houses sometimes are. At the time we lived there, however, it was crumbling and cold. According to Mom, who told me about it when I grew older, it was one of the few places they lived that was big enough for all of their kids, but it was so drafty and cold that the kids would huddle together anyway.

At some time that evening, Hubert and Bud crawled into the back seat of Herman's old car. Herman always had a car, but it never failed to rattle along as though it were in terrible pain, blowing out black smoke, and emitting pitiful groans. The boys were still hiding in the car when Pop and Herman took off in it to fetch Dr. Furlong. Hubert said that he doesn't think that either of them ever knew that he and Bud were in the back seat or, if they did, they did not mention it.

At some time around midnight, I entered the world, and became another Furlong baby. It was many years later that I met him and told him of that dark night and my two brothers hiding in the back seat of the car. He talked with me for hours, telling me of his experiences on the road, the babies he had delivered, and the joy of holding a newborn in his hands.

What can I say to this very nice gent who went to such lengths to find me? My writing days are over. The man who encouraged me, inspired me, and gave me the freedom to write the stories I wanted to write is now gone. He left the paper because of his delicate health and went back to the state where he had lived so many years. He died a lonely death in Florida and I did not see him again until he was laying in his coffin.

What I want now is to read my books, spend time with my family and my dog, putter around with friends, and not try to describe the world I see with words. My writing life, I feel, was like a beautiful sunset, breathtaking as one views it, but eventually fading into darkness.