Between Friends: Childhood adventures return with beginning of school year

Published 2:18 pm Wednesday, August 30, 2023

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Bob Ann Breland

Most everybody has their own favorite remembrances of things that happened in the past and this one I recall involved the late Dr. W.R. McGehee of Franklinton, who treated so many area people over the years at his clinic. The building is now a bank.

I have related this story in the past at some point, but with school again starting, I thought it might be appropriate to recall this day when two second graders had the entire school in a panic.

We had been out of school for the summer and a week or so before we started back I broke out with impetigo, a childhood rash that was then commonly known as Indian fire. It had just about cleared up when school started, but the “drying up” was still visible on my face, arms and legs.

My teacher was quite perturbed when I entered her room with the remnants of something that looked like measles.

She didn’t know that my mother would never let me go to school with anything contagious. This was the 1940s; there were no telephones in the country so they had no way of contacting her for assurance.

Wanting to be safe, they decided to send me to the health unit to have the rash checked before I exposed the other children. However, I was already in the room and they were already exposed – if indeed I had anything catching.

I told her my mother said if we got sick at school, we were to go to the hospital in Bogalusa, because that’s where we had insurance. The teacher assured me that this was not the same as going to the doctor; it was going to the health unit and they didn’t charge for visits.

I had no idea what a health unit was, much less where it was, so she asked the other children. Several little hands flew into the air and she chose a girl who was sure she could walk with me to the health unit.

Confidently we walked off the school grounds and she led me straight to Dr. McGehee’s clinic, which was just up the street. It was where she always went when she was sick, so it had to be the health unit. I didn’t know the difference.

We sat in the waiting room for some time as patients were seen. Finally the nurse came out and asked why we were there.

We were pretty conspicuous — two little girls in a doctor’s waiting room without an adult.  We explained that we had been sent us to have my “breaking out” examined to make sure it was not contagious.

She ushered us into the presence of Dr. McGehee, who checked me over and pronounced me “un-contagious.” He gave us candy and then called the school to report his findings. That’s when we discovered that the teacher had called the health unit to make sure we made it over there…and we hadn’t!  The search was on. We had been gone for ages as we patiently waited in the clinic.

The school was in an uproar and we were the center of attention as we calmly and innocently returned to the schoolyard. They had been looking everywhere for us until Dr. McGehee called.

These days, nobody would let two little second graders walk off the school grounds to go to the health unit, no matter how close, but those were calmer and safer days. After the events of that day, I’ll bet they never let it happen again!

When I got home that afternoon, I told Mother about our little adventure and she said she guessed we’d get a doctor bill, but we never did.