The dining room at the Dimmick Inn is packed on this mid June weekday afternoon. The waitress has found a table for my friend and his daughter and me in the back room. She’s taken our orders, brought us our drinks; soon our dinners will arrive. My friend and I have ordered our traditional fish and chips; his daughter has selected chicken fingers and fries. Meantime, we’re busy talking, making the most of our annual one-day rendezvous in this sleepy northeastern Pennsylvania town.
Today our discussions have revolved around medical practice, specifically the difficulties we’ve each been experiencing over the course of the past several years. My friend is a hospitalist, practicing in the southwest; I work in primary care in the northeast. Despite the differences in practice settings, the challenges we face remain remarkably similar in scope.
There’s the issue of the rapidly changing medical workplace with its inherent land mines. We seem to be badgered by administrators, inundated with patients, immersed in unsupportive work environments. Moreover, despite our decades of experience, our jobs remain tenuous. Over the span of the past 3 years each one of us has had to change jobs, working less desirable hours. As you approach the end of your career, you like to think that things might get a bit easier; but neither one of us has found that to be the case.
A little girl listens intently to our words while chewing her chicken fingers and fries. For a youngster of 7 years she has behaved very well over the course of the morning; but children can only put up with so much grown-up jargon. She begins to vie for her father’s attention; she whispers something in his ear. Finally she reaches up and attempts to hold his lips together with her small hands to corral the conversation.
The waitress returns to check on our progress. She offers a dessert menu, but the little girl declines. When 7-year-old girls decline dessert, you know it is time to go.
We banter briefly over the check; we gather our wraps and step out onto the veranda. The rain has tapered off. My friend negotiates one more walk with his daughter through the wet streets before closing out the day.
“Why don’t we go to the little park?” my friend says.
“I don’t want to go to the park,” the girl pouts.
The father takes her gently by the hand, whispers something in her ear, and we head out.
The park is not far away. En route we discover a stand of toadstools at the base of an old tree.
“Look, fungi!” the little girl says.
“That’s right,” the father says. “Le’s take a picture of them, shall we?”
He bends down to take a photo. On the sidewalk across the street we encounter a cluster of broken walnut shells.
“Look, this one looks like a face!” the little girl says. “Oh, swings!” She runs to the bank of swings in the grassy park. “Push me high!” she says. “Give me an underdoggie!”
My friend pushes from behind and runs forward beneath the swing, catapulting the little girl high in the air; she squeals with delight.
Afterwards we stroll back to where our cars are parked. The past 6 hours have flown by. Now it is time to say goodbye.
“Thanks for helping to entertain her,” my friend says.
“The pleasure was all mine,” I say.
“Children teach us what’s truly important in life, don’t they?”
Slowly, I nod my head.
Mine are all grown up now. This year my youngest will turn 30.
But I still remember that mad rush of delight when I pushed them on the swing in the park.