Dr. Purple

Last week Mary and I went to a “talk” at the library.

I had seen the sign posted at the grocery store and taken a picture of it so I would remember to mention it to Mary.

But on Tuesday, March 14, everything was shut down in honor of Snowstorm Stella. I didn’t leave the house except to shovel for two days. By Thursday, the travel restrictions had been lifted and I made a trip to the grocery to pick up essentials. Someone had crossed out the date and handwritten Thursday, March 16, above it.

It turns out that someone was the local librarian. He went to every poster and changed the date.

And I was fortunate enough to see it in time.

Mary and I drove in to town and parked in front of the library that night. The snow was piled high and very few people were out and about — still. Stella was a doozy.

It turns out that Mary and I were two of six people, one of them the speaker, who ventured out that night.

We met at a rectangular table. One of the men quipped, “We need to change our name.”

The rest of the attendees were men. All over the age of 50.

Mary felt a little awkward, I could tell. They all knew each other. They talked about this and that, things familiar to them. Mary and I spoke in low voices to each other.

“You okay?” I asked her.

“Yep,” she said.

We’re both the kind of people who like to sit in the back unnoticed, but that was not going to happen at the Nights at the Round Rectangular Table.

The speaker spoke about different types of local histories, using books pulled from the library shelves for examples. A memoir. A book of old photographs. His own scholarly work about the history of a local township.

At the very end, he asked the librarian about checking out his book.

“You’re checking out your own book?” I asked.

He reddened slightly. “I’m in the middle of a move and all my books are boxed up.”

Before that, when he had finished his prepared words and taken a few questions, he asked, “Now I’d like to know why you came to this.” He turned to the man at his left who gave some answer that indicated that he was a regular at these affairs.

Mary was next. She looked like she was feeling more than a little awkward. She had already been put on the spot a few times during the discussion because she was so obviously the youngest person in the room. I tried to help her out.

“She loves history,” I said. “I saw the sign at the store and asked her if she was interested.”

They wanted to know what kind of history, what era, what she wanted to study. I think the whole reason the question had been asked in the first place was to find out what would bring a 17-year-old girl out on a snowy winter night to a talk about history.

“She brought me,” Mary said, pointing at me.

“And I came because of her,” I said, pointing back at Mary.

We both laughed. The men around the table chuckled. “I guess they each blame the other,” one of them said.

“Tell them about Dr. Purple,” Mary said.

Few topics are as interesting to me as Dr. Purple, a physician in Greene, NY, in the 1800s. When I first learned that Greene had a physician named Dr. Purple, I thought it would make a great children’s book. I started researching him.

One of the men at the table said, “Dr. Purple from Greene? That sounds like a children’s book.”

“That’s what I thought,” I told him, and I launched into telling them some of the interesting things I had learned about the man.

His life was messy, imperfect, but ultimately good. He was much loved by the townspeople.

Telling the men that night about Dr. Purple — and seeing their interest in his story — fanned the little flame of interest I keep burning for him.

The speaker gave me some suggestions on how to write such a book.

Maybe I’ll pull out my notes again and start organizing them.

 

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