John D. Bridgers M.D.
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Memoirs and personal remembrances

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Shaggy Dog Chronicles
Chapter 0 - A Journey Starts with a Single Step

A Personal and Family Memoir
Book One:  Bridgers & Whichard


Families are like rings that touch,

And from whence they meet new ripples run,

It’s hard to ken the webs they’ve spun

When a ring continues as begun


'Twas sixty years ago.

It seems unbelievable that an incident I shared with so few so long ago should still be memorable enough to figure into my thinking today, three score years later

… and that involves those who have long since joined their maker.

Though it seems to have happened in another life, let me assure whatever readers who may address these efforts that I'm a convicted and practicing Christian, and that reincarnation has little place in my belief system. 

The life, however, that I'm thinking of now involves my days as a student at East Carolina Teachers College with majors in the teaching of science and mathematics in secondary schools. 

Part of this program was a stint of apprentice teaching and I was doing this a bare two-and-a- half years after I had finished high school, in the same high school I had attended, and with my critic teacher, Miss Evelyn Buchanan, being not only my mentor as a "practice teacher" but also having been one of my math teachers in high school - and a great favorite. 

She was an all-around lovely lady, young and vivacious, cherished as both teacher and friend, and beautiful in face, body and personality. 

'Truth be known, in addition to all the above, I half had a crush on her. 

This specific incidence in this relationship, which claims my attention was my attempt to convince and explain to a night-grade algebra class why a minus times a minus, equals a plus.

It was an axiom I had been taught and had more-or-less accepted as an article of faith, had used it time and again, and had come to understand it sufficient to my needs, but not succinctly enough to explain it. 

My students, however, were less trusting than I, wanted to know why, so I was having a hard go of it. 

Among my various analogies was the story of a merchant who had something for sale, and when he didn't sell it ended up with something he wouldn't have had --  pretty convoluted economics, which became as impossible to explain as had the axiom itself.

Miss Buchanan, noting my struggles, got me to use "signed numbers" to explain this. 

I know not exactly what the students learned, but it gave me a way of looking at numeric progression I had never thought much about before, but has stuck with me since - that numbers start with zero and not with one. 

All this goes to show an introduction, prologue or foreword about my experiences and ideas, coming as such do before "Chapter One" sounds the call to be numbered "Chapter Zero." 

If that isn't clear just think for a while why a minus times a minus yields a plus. 

I last saw Miss Buchanan about a quarter-a-century ago when our high school class held its 35th reunion. 

She had long since married a fellow from Greenville - Joe Moye - the member of a family who had settled in Pitt County in colonial days even before had the Whichards, my mother's family, who had been there since the mid-18th century. 

She was still lovely - and regal - and still seemed young to me. 

She tragically died still young, about a decade later, of cancer.  Not having lived in Greenville since 1940, I'm hazy anymore on dates involving those who stayed there. 

And so goes my first small story.

Those who know me best know that I'm addicted to story-telling.

I come by this from a long line of ancestors stretching back to the days when language and story-telling, vis-à-vis, stimulated the development of one another around camp-fires in caves.

For most of us a penchant for story-telling is as natural as breathing and eating, involving as it does an acute ear anxious to hear, a memory which clings to plot and genuine pleasure in re-telling things we've experienced and intriguing experiences we've heard about. 

When I look back on those who've been my closest friends - beyond those early days when boys are more interested in doing things together rather than talking - they're those with whom I've found particular pleasure in swapping yarns.

So in retirement, when daily contacts have been curtailed mainly to my wife, Edie, I spend much time in my motorized recliner.

When I'm not dozing, watching the news or a ball game on TV, snacking or working a cross-word puzzle, I'm thinking about stories I'd like to tell.

Lacking a live, listening audience I'm thinking about how to get a specific story in written form and down on fools cap.

Thus, comes motive as I approach my dotage to become a writer, a bent I've known before as boy, student, naval aviator, medical practitioner and teacher, and finally, as medical administrator - but an avocation in which I have never found time to really indulge myself. 

So though I don't believe in re-incarnation in after-life, I have played several roles in this one - so here is ground zero for my story. 

In this new life, however, I have found that I lack the patience for penning a single long narrative, but rather have devoted myself to stories that are terse and more succinct - this fits my attention span, and most likely, those of most who will be listening or reading anything such as this. 

From this a truism has become evident which more practiced writers have learned or known in their bones:  to wit, all stories are made up, ad infinitum, of shorter stories, finally coming own to individual sentences.

I have adopted this as a modus operandi for writing and for planning what to write, because it's much easier.

Despite spending but slight time each day with pen in hand, I feel comfortable in calling myself a writer because I spend most of my waking hours either thinking about what I want to write and just how I'm going to put things down.

It's my guess that the truly gifted writer is one who can best give flows to stringing together his necklace of short tales into a chronology.

Now to call something a memoir presumes that the things one has done are worthy of being told and set down. 

As I look back at my life I'm struck with the notion that the truly interesting facets of my story reside in those folk whom I've known, and with whom I've shared experiences and swapped stories.

It occurs to me I can tell my story with due modesty by talking, not specifically about myself, but by telling the stories of others.

The nutritionist says, "You are what you eat," and just as surely your story is a mosaic of those you've known.

This makes, of course, for somewhat convoluted and protracted narratives, so in a way I'll be chronicling my story with a series of "shaggy dog stories," so, in fact, that the whole kit and kaboodle is one long "shaggy dog story."

Further, there's the matter of my name, which to many acquaintances is "Jig Dog," and makes the title seem appropriate. 

However, lest my preface get to shaggy that will be another story for another day.

Then let us turn to "The Space Age" - we talk about this as something new, but the Bible starts its creation story by claiming there was once only space 'til "God passed his hand across the void!" 

In so doing, it is said, God made some wonderful things - we forget that space is a great building material, the basic stuff of the universe.

This was brought home to me when I worshipped one Sunday a decade or so ago in a famous Unitarian Church in the Chicago suburbs, seemingly of the modern genre, but designed almost a century ago by Frank Lloyd Wright. 

There was brochure in the pews containing Wright's comments on the genesis of this structure, his thesis being that instead of designing the inside of a building he had "carved up blocks of space, stacked them on one another and then built walls around them."

Though in quotes this probably not what he said verbatim, but I believe it embraces the gist of his thought.

Looking down into the sanctuary from my balcony seat I could see exactly that of which he spoke.

It gave me a new way of thinking about space.

Here, using Wright's techniques, I have carved up some space and veneered it with written lines. 

When I began seriously to write it occurred to me that space can be a prime punctuation device.

As I grow older it becomes progressively harder to handle small print, and particularly if it is jammed unto the page.

Something hand-written promises to be even more of a problem so my sentence and paragraph structure was re-vamped, hoping the liberal use of space will make it easier to read.

If Picasso's cubism is hailed as creative art - and what is art is the beholder's opinion - then I see my use of space as artistic as well as pragmatic.

Not only our time known as "the Space Age," but is also captioned as "The Age of Communication."

However, we sometimes forget that the biggest technological breakthrough in communications came 5000 years ago when spoken language was translated into written language, and it became possible to transmit messages over vast reaches of time and place. 

What has happened in our times is simply that electronics have vastly augmented the speed and access of communications - by sound as well as in print.

This is duplicated in hand-writing because that's where I am in word-processing.

I not only don't have a computer, I don't even own a typewriter - I have owned both but gave them away and now want neither.

The reproduction here is not as primitive as when monks of old painstakingly copied The Bible by hand, one volume at a time.

We do today have technology which permits duplication of hand-written documents but I can have this done.

Having that advantage plus "white out," though lacking others, I found it actually saved time to write this out rather than to run it past a transcriptionist several times. 

Also, it somehow seems fitting to publish a personal story in long hand so long as the main purpose is to pass it along to one' descendents. 

Further, with KINKO as my publisher I don't have to appear on any talk shows.

And this brings on my final introductory point.

I've been telling my kinsmen and in-laws for nigh thirty years or so that I'll write up the things I've learned about the principal geneal streams of our families:  to wit, the Bridgers, the Whichards, the Hamricks and the Moores.

So there's where we start when I slip over into positive numbers.

Seeking to avoid the ennui of a catalogue of "begats" I've tried to place our forebears within their milieu and to give each dimension with whatever attributes could be come by.

I start with my patrionic stream, though in all honesty these ancestors are not those to whom I feel greatest affinity;  however, others will be worked in as our story progresses - in "shaggy dog" fashion. 

One might say, so far this is just verbiage - just so many words - that it amounts to little.

Just remember, it is numbered "zero." 

 __________   ___ __________


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