Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Mostly Shots

 Margaret, Kenneth, Hunter, 1955

When my parents moved to Atlanta in late July of 1954, they first settled in West End, a suburb of Atlanta. We lived on Westmont Avenue in a small house with a basement. A set of metal steps ran up the side and accessed the kitchen from the driveway. My oldest brother Hunter remembers that the house sat on a slope at the bottom of a hill and at the end of the backyard was a gulch. In the basement was a cuckoo clock, a gift from our Aunt Harriett, but that story is for another blog.

I have no memory of that house. My parents rented it for about six months until they bought the home on Oana Street in southwest Atlanta in January of 1955. There they raised us four children and lived for the next twenty-three years.

Even though we left Westmont and West End, my parents did not leave behind the church they attended, West End Christian, the friends they made, or their pediatricians.

For the next five or six years, we returned to West End to see the Dr. Reynalds, pronounced "Rayno," a husband and wife practice whose office was located on the second floor of an old house on Gordon Street, now renamed Ralph Abernathy Junior Boulevard. Another famous Atlanta historical house occupies this same street --- the Wren's Nest, the home of Joel Chandler Harris, one time editor of the Atlanta Constitution and the creator and author of Uncle Remus and Brer Rabbit, a favorite childhood story book of my family.

The Wren's Nest

West End, up until the 1930s, thrived on the money of well-heeled Atlantans who built grand houses, mostly Victorians, on spacious lots that fronted what would eventually be the new streetcar line. This investment in real estate encouraged a promise of prosperity and made West End a desired location.

By the late 1950s, West End peaked and stalled and a lot of these estates, built at the end of the nineteenth century, had seen their best days. Gordon Street suffered what happens in dying neighborhoods and seceded [what a Southern word!] sections to businesses, but still had a sense of history and pride with the evident still magnificence of some of these former mansions.

The home façade of our pediatricians consisted of red brick, possibly in the Colonial style, and sported towering white columns that held up the overhang of the second story and overlooked a porch that stretched across its front.
The big house perhaps had another business on the first floor or the doctors themselves lived behind those big closed doors, but of that none of us remembers.

What I do have vivid recollections of is – the office itself, the climb up the stairs, and the shots I suffered in its confines. As my sister Margaret and I both reminisced, we seem to concur on the fact that we "mostly got shots" there.

What kind of shots? I dunno. Booster? Penicillin? Inoculations? Scary?

Sitting back, perhaps a hundred feet from Gordon Street, the house was far enough back that we first made a short climb of a few cement steps that led to the front walk and then another short walk to the steps to the porch. From there, a partially glass door opened into an expansive foyer.
Gordon Street, GSU FILE:  LBGPNS05-039a

In the middle of the foyer loomed a spiral staircase that led to the second floor and Dr. Reynalds' office. Fancy carved balusters and newel posts reminded of the house's grand past, and these few indications of its former life lay in its remaining interior structures including the impressive helical stairs. If there were windows highlighting dust motes and dead insects, I simply don't recall since I was focused on those steps and what a climb up them meant -- "mostly shots."

I hated the sight of those stairs – as I knew what awaited me above involved pain or discomfort, or both, and I knew that whatever that unknown thing was – the sight of those steps triggered it.

This was a doctor's office of the 1950s, an era of no suckers for the good little girl, no Highlights magazines to entertain, and no whining.  Crying happened there, since, you know, shots, but not whining -- it was simply unacceptable. 

Made of a deep, dark wood, the old staircase creaked loudly when stepped upon. The groaning and creaking sound made by the weight of the patients who climbed those steps is a noise I will never forget. There was no sneaking up those stairs [not that I would want to since, you know, shots], but I know that sound has never been replicated.

Note: On a visit to Mast General Store on Main Street in Waynesville, North Carolina, built in the 1930s, the sound made by the customers' tread on the upper floor of that wooden edifice groans in the same manner. In fact, it's a noise that takes some getting used to by both employees and customers, and the first time I visited that store, I thought of the Dr. Reynalds.

A clear path up the middle of the stairs, scuffed and worn to a light yellow by the high traffic, and the bannister top polished to a lighter color from the many small hands gripping and sliding along its rail was clear evidence of the many feet and hands that passed through.

I must have held my mother's hand, my always sweaty paw gripping hers as we climbed that very noisy staircase or perhaps she held me on her hip as she climbed, but that groaning, creaking sound as we made our way to the second floor -- always there.

At the top of the staircase lay a huge hallway, converted into the waiting area. Lined around the walls rested hard backed wooden chairs and back less benches, uncomfortable, scratched, and well-used. Swinging our short legs on those adult chairs and benches, we left indelible marks, scratches, and nicks in the wood as we waited fearfully and anxiously to be called into the “office” for "mostly" shots.

As I sat in that waiting room, I heard the clomp clomp of other children and adults, the loud squeaking and moaning of that old wood as they too climbed those stairs, arrived at the top as if to an execution, and shuffled to one of the waiting chairs for their appointment with the doctor.

The nurse sat at the end of the hallway behind a counter in a reverse L shape. From there, in her white uniform, white cap, white hose, and white shoes, she would call your name for your [shots] appointment: “Harriett Sue McDaniel” reverberated down that hallway.

Other children eyeballed me as my mother and I walked the plank to the door that would take me past the nurse's desk and back to the examination room. There, I hoisted myself onto the crinkly, white paper of the leather examination table and fearfully waited for .. [heh] shots.

Three or four examination rooms contained a single exam table, wooden bureaus with drawers used for storage, and on top of the bureaus, glass jars with silver tops that held cotton, wooden tongue depressors, and, of course, syringes. Bottles of alcohol fueled the smell of the place and actually greeted us at the bottom of those creaky stairs.

I can't conjure up any visual memory of either of the doctors Reynald, but the steps, the waiting room, and the examination room seem etched in my mind.

Oh yeah, and the shots.
BTW: I asked my siblings for contributions to this entry in my blog, and well, we have some shared memories, but mostly, we remember ........ the shots.



  1. That is a very vivid memory of your doctors' office. Makes me wonder how many shots you had to have. I never liked going to the doctor either, but it was probably because I usually had to go as a result of some accident that required stitches. Stitches are worse than shots because you usually get shots along with your stitches.

    What a cute picture of you. Do you remember your dolly's name?

    1. Thanks, Nan.

      Uh. No. Don't remember the doll, my velvet dress, or 1955.

      Love you for reading faithfully. It means a lot.

  2. This is great - so glad Glynn highlighted it today. I was about a decade ahead of you and I don't remember those shots in a doctor's office. I DO remember getting them at school, however, and that long line of sweet, innocent children heading as if to a gas chamber. It was horrific - and no crying allowed, either. Thanks for sharing this memory so beautifully here.

    1. Aww. Thanks for visiting. Sweet of you --
      my brother and I talked about those "shots" at school as well. Our school had a health center on the corner of its lot, and we trudged over there for various health related worries. Do you suppose one of them was for tuberculosis? We couldn't remember. Polio?

    2. Definitely polio, although for us, it came in sugar cubes. Shots were DPT boosters and vaccinations. And TB tests, but not shots. Unfortunately, those tests involved needles. :>(

  3. Oh Harriet....I know I have said this before but you need to write a book! Your descriptions are such that I could see myself on that creaky staircase. I happen to love creaky wood floors. I am sad lots of them are going away. The Dr. visit reminded me of my childhood Dentist. Hadn't changed a picture on the wall in 40 years until he retired, and had the same receptionist/hygenist named Pat who was the sweetest woman in the world. She reminded me of Andy Griffith's girlfriend Helen, (was it) I was so happy to see your comment on my site. I know you are still around, in fact I was just visiting here today. You must have read my mind, friend! I have missed you....

    1. Aww. I like it when you show up.

      Write a book? Uhm. I think I might run out of words.

      Isn't that funny about your dentist? My dentist, growing up, had the hairiest hands. And they were huge, I thought. He was fierce. He could pull a tooth with the flick of a paw.

      I've missed you more.

    2. huge, hairy, tooth-flicking pawed dentists...

      sounds a bit erma bombeck-ish.

      see, i'm not the only one thinking 'bout your book.

  4. So, your childhood doctor visits can be summed up with horses (clomp, clomp, clomp) and pirates (walking the plank)?

    I cannot really recall my childhood doctor visits (except the one where I was diagnosed with insulin-dep. diabetes, that one stuck) - I think I poked out my mind's eye for that bit of my history.

    And I agree, a book would be nice... either a non-fiction sharing or a fiction where ya weave in lot's of actual-factual truth. I'll let you pick. ;-)


    1. Thanks for letting me pick, crazy cowgirl.

      See each time I talk with you, I learn more. Diabetes. Ugh. There are worse things, I know, but that is a tough one. What a life changer.

      Thanks for coming over.


  5. Harriett,

    Holy cow another odd similarity. Born in Jacksonville at St. Lukes? Right? When we moved to Atlanta my sister Dana and I were also taken to the Reynaulds for mostly shots.I probably went to them all the way to High School.Keep that little srcret for me okay? Seems like Mr. Dr. Rayno had a goutee.Kinda went with the victorian style house.I do remember the creaky wooden floors. The smell of the old wood reminded me of the dime store my Granny Barrs worked at. The Wren's Nest was the highlight of doctor visit. if only to spot it along the way.

    Great story, Andy

    1. Andy, I moved your comment over here -- cause I want a record. So no secrets.

      Thanks for reading!

      Note: Andy is one of my former students. He's like 40. :-)

  6. I've followed you here from Sippican's place, and I must say your writing (and choice of reading material) is just elegant.

    My own memories of '50s doctor's offices include Polio in I think 1952, which has left similar sound-and-sight reactions, sometimes at the most surprising moments.

    Thank you, madam - and by the way, was your name truly Hattie McDaniel? My goodness.

    1. Thanks for visiting, Rob. I'm thrilled to have readers. LOL -- not Hattie -- Harriett -- and you must be Southern to know her name.

      Hope you come back and comment.

      I love Sipp. He's so clever.

  7. I agree- your writing is evocative and flows well. I really enjoyed this story! More! The book idea sound great to me. And I'd be honored if you linked SouthsideAtlantaMemories any time! Jeannie Weller Cooper