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Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Road Trip (Prelude) © Claudia Schlottman


I’m on my first real road trip since Clint had the temerity to die last June.  (Yes, I still have anger issues and have no idea how long they will last).

When Clint started first grade in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, Prentiss Smith was in his class.   They knew each other but were not close friends.  Clint’s parents were, in a word, laissez -faire, in their parenting skills, and Prentiss’ parents were more traditional, so the two boys didn’t travel in the same circles.  In fact, while Prentiss was having lavish birthday parties, Clint never had one at all.  No wonder he told me when we met that he wasn’t sure if he could love because he didn’t know how it felt to be loved - neither by his parents nor his wife.  He knew the love of his children, but that’s light years from the nurturing of parents and the passions of romantic love.

When the two boys were in fourth grade, Clint’s father, a superintendent for the Illinois Central Railroad, was transferred to Jackson, Tennessee, the first of six transfers between that time and his final transfer to Vicksburg, Mississippi, when Clint was in ninth grade and where he would graduate from high school.  (Gad!  Listening to Proust has elongated my sentences in a spectacular way).

I need to get back to the road trip, but there is more vital background to be laid down before I can do that.  I’ll try to give you the short version.  After all those years of separation, Clint and Prentiss found themselves in the same Freshman class at Tulane Medical School and, and both married with children, went through medical school together but took different paths in residency.  Clint did his undergraduate work at LSU, and he chose to go into urology and returned to LSU to complete his residency in New Orleans at Charity Hospital.  Prentiss went to the University of Miami and pursued his residency in cardiovascular surgery.  Stay with me.  By 1995, they were both in private practice, Clint in Macon, Georgia and Prentiss in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Then, in April of 1968, both having been drafted into the Army, they found themselves once again united.  This time in Saigon at the Field Hospital, where they operated on GIs for the next 13 months.  When Clint arrived in Viet Nam, all billets for urologists in the field were taken, so he went to Saigon to do general surgery.  (When he got home in July of 1969, he had callouses on his hands from operating).  Prentiss did all of the cardiovascular surgery with the help of a couple of others, but he did more general surgery than anything else, and he and Clint worked together, mostly at night, because that was when most of the flaps occurred.  They performed the first kidney transplant in Southeast Asia, and many days, when they should have been sleeping, they drove across Saigon to the civilian hospital and operated on locals, both from South and North Vietnam  - for free.  A long term, long distance friendship came of that time in Vietnam, fed, also by the common thread that brought their lives together at three turning points in their lives.  As they got older, the two men became closer and tried to visit one another occasionally, especially after retirement.

Whew. Now back to the road trip.

I am convinced in my heart that Clint, though actively dying at the time, kept himself alive to go to his 50th Medical School Reunion in New Orleans last May and to come to Baton Rouge to see Prentiss, who was too ill to attend.  I won’t go into his troubles; this is already out of control. 

I’m in Baton Rouge, dogs and tow but boarded because of the Smith’s cats.  We are having drinks and talking about Clint, sharing memories and our love for that exceptional human being.  He can hardly walk, and Prentiss just brought me, unbidden, a glass of Chardonnay.  (It’s 3:30 PM over here).  I thanked him sweetly.  He is better but still very sick.  Susan reminds me of me when Clint was dying.  Prentiss is an alcoholic, as was Clint, and she is as patient with him as I came to be with The Love of My Life.  We lost our battles with the alcoholism and learned to choose to be happy (as much as is possible when your husband is killing himself) rather than be right.

This could go on for days, so I’ll give it a rest and pick up another day.

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