‘Stars in My Crown’ and old country doctors

By Bill Corbett

This past week I had the pleasure of watching a Joel Macrae movie made in 1950 entitled “Stars In My Crown.” It was not an agenda driven movie like many of those that are made today. It was a warm and fuzzy movie featuring good old homespun philosophy. As Robert Osborne mentioned in his introduction, it was the kind of movie that after watching it, made you want to rush right out and bake a chocolate cake or an apple pie. It depicted life in a small rural American community shortly after the Civil War. Macrae played the role of the town preacher who ministered, not in the Bible thumping style of “you’ll go straight to Hell if you don’t go to church,” but rather with a down to earth common sense approach to people’s every day problems. He seemed always to have a common sense folksy story to fit almost every situation that arose.

There was some conflict, as there should be to make any story interesting, but it contained no real violence or gore. The closest it came to any violence was when the Ku Klux Klan was going to hang a freed Negro slave because he refused to sell the little parcel of land—to a white landowner—that his former owner had given him along with his freedom. But the parson defused that situation with his inimitable common sense approach.

Back in the days of rural America, it seems the two persons that members of a community most often turned to, and relied upon most when a conflict arose in their lives, were the town doctor and the preacher. One looked after physical ills, the other handled the spiritual ills. These two personages were sort of the town patriarchs, if you will. This movie reminded me of the two rural towns where I grew up—Grace and Soda Springs. Although we didn’t have a community preacher as such, we did have the typical “country doctor.”

I remember Dr. J.B. Kohler. Many longtime residents of Pocatello will remember him, also. He practiced many years in Pocatello after he left Grace. While in Grace, he was still doing house calls up until shortly before he left there. He lived around the corner and down the block from where we lived. One of the things I particularly remember about Dr. Kohler was his 1940s model Mercury automobile. That particular model had a somewhat high profile and was a bit prone to top heavy. Many was the time when Dr. Kohler was called out to administer to a patient, or on an emergency, and that Mercury would roar around the corner on our street, leaning to one side on two wheels.

After Dr. Kohler left Grace, Dr. Charles Johnson moved to town. He had retired from teaching medicine at the University of Utah, but not wanting to retire completely from medicine, he set up practice in Grace. As I remember him, he was the typical no nonsense “crusty” old country doctor, but dearly beloved by everyone in the community. He did get on my bad side once, however, when I punctured my hand on a rusty nail. I was 9 or 10 years old at the time. Penicillin had just recently come on the scene and he decided to give me a shot of the stuff—I guess to ward off any infection that he thought might develop from the rusty nail.

He did warn me that it was usually administered in four small doses, but he thought it would be better if I got the whole load in one shot and said it might be a bit more painful than if he administered it in the typical four doses. He was right, and he was on my list of not so popular people for quite some time after that. I had a lump in my rump that felt as big as a baseball and was tender for several days. 

Dr. Ellis Kackley practiced in Soda Springs and was another highly revered small town doctor of the time.

There’s an old saying, “You can’t go back,” and I suppose it’s probably true, but we can take time to slow down, stop and smell the roses. This movie brought me to that realization. We are living a fast paced life and facing a financial crisis (created by over-regulation, a corrupt Congress and bureaucratic malaise). With that and the current world turmoil, America and the world are heading into some very dark days. I fear we’re heading for more government control and greater loss of freedom. With more regulation, we will be sending more foxes to watch the hen house.

Maybe it’s time we stop and reflect on the past, apply a bit of old fashioned common sense, and see if we can bring back some of the sweet scent of those roses.

Bill Corbett lives in Pocatello. The award winning columnist and author writes fiction under the name Will Edwinson. His latest book, the national award winning “Buddy…His Trials and Treasures,” can be obtained at amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com or by asking for it at your favorite bookstore. Corbett is also a free-lance writer for IDAHO magazine. Check out his Web site at www.willedwinson.com