The Story of a Suitcase, a Country Doctor, and a Community
Unpacking Memories tells of the community of my childhood, a small town in Northwest Missouri, centered around stories of my father a country doctor who practiced medicine in a rural Holt County from 1952 to 1960. I was inspired to write when I opened an old forgotten suitcase that had been packed away in the hot summer of 1960. It was full of get well cards sent to my father when he was in the hospital and sympathy cards after my father's death, and many, many pictures and newspaper clippings. It was time capsule.
I was barely eight when my father died. He became a mythic figure to me - the town revered him and frequently said, "Doc Sweaney just worked himself to death." I needed to understand who he was. I needed to move away from my childhood memories and learn about his life and why fifty-two years after his death people still talked about him.
I now believe in the concept of time travel. I travelled back to that decade following World War II. I went back to my home town for the first time in twenty-three years, I talked with people who knew parents and shared a bond with my family, but I also researched the period through archival and library records. The result of this time travel is the book: Unpacking Memories: The Story of a suitcase, a country doctor, and a community. It is a true story not sugar coated. Children and fathers sometimes died. Oregon Missouri is neither Mayberry nor Peyton Place but I have been told that Unpacking Memories captures the essence of life during that time period.
Unpacking Memories evokes a world that no longer exists. You will return to a time of 4-H, country fairs with queen contests and parades. If you grew up during that era, the book may unpack your own memories of playing outside unsupervised, climbing trees, and creating your own games, watching pioneer television and building bugs with aid of the Cootie game. People who have read it who grew up in New York or in Pennsylvania during those baby boom years after World War II tell me that my Missouri childhood was really not that different from their own.
It paints a picture of medical care in that decade following World War II - a world where the word POLIO caused fear. My father was a country doctor but as an old timers said, Doc Sweaney did not ride in a house and buggy, Doc had an oldsmobile. He went on house calls, was sometimes paid by bushels of tomatoes, and made an incredible impact on his community. For my father, health care started with the word care. For those of us who struggle with the topic of our time - Health Care, so debated today, my father's approach to medicine will bring out issues of medical specialization, patient care, and surging costs. It also is a sad story of a man who was driven to help and cure others but in the end could not help and cure himself.
One of my friends from my home town when I told him that the book was developing a following in Pennsylvania, said, "But, this is our story. Are people really interested in reading about a small town in Missouri?" I said, "Bill, it is our story but it is also an American story."
My father was the child of Ozark Mountain Hillbillies, my mother taught in one-room country schools, they wrote to each other while my father was serving over-seas in World War II, and he went to medical school on the GI Bill.
This is my family's story but so many Americans have a variation on these stories. It is America's story - shared by so many of us whose parents were of the greatest generation or if not parents, grandparents.
I am proud of Unpacking Memories. And, I have received the ultimate compliment that a writer can receive, UNPACKING MEMORIES IS A REALLY GOOD READ!