Can’t Afford Urine! (From Kathleen’s memoirs of the 1930s)


After we finished our shopping, we walked across the square to the corner drugstore for ice-cream to pass the time for Mama to go see the doctor. We slid into a booth where I had to make a huge decision: chocolate, strawberry, or vanilla. I worried over it, quizzing Mama and Annie which was best, finally choosing vanilla, just like I always did. Annie let me have a little taste of her strawberry, and I was happy, knowing I had made the best decision, again. We licked our cones carefully, not wasting a drop, knowing we wouldn’t see ice cream again till we got to Clarksville again. Annie’s friend, Margie, came by and sat down as we finished our cones. Annie asked to go to the library across the square while Mama went to the doctor. Since Mama could see the library from the doctor’s office, surely there couldn’t be too much harm in that. Mama lectured Annie on her behavior, told her not to step a foot outside the library no matter what, not talk to any boys, not to talk in the library, and that she’d better there when we came back for her. I wondered how Annie could talk to boys if she couldn’t talk in the library in the first place and hoped the library didn’t catch on fire since Annie had to stay inside no matter what, but knew better than to point any of that out to Mama.

Mama took my hand and together we went up the stairs. Mama holding the rail, pressing mes against the inside wall, we made their way to Dr. Payne’s office on the second floor directly over the drug store. Clarksville enjoyed joking about the names of their three doctors, Drs. Payne, Reed, and Wright. While they waited for Dr. Payne, Mama made me sit up straight, brushed my hair out of my eyes, and gave me last minute instructions. “Don’t move out of this chair till I get back. I’ll be right in the next room. Miz Brown is right there if you need anything, but don’t you bother her.” Miz Brown pinned me with a hard look, making sure I didn’t feel free to bother her, when she called Mama in. I was too shy and worried to bother her anyway. ‘Mama must be dying if she was spending money on the doctor’ A small fan oscillated on Miz Brown’s desk as a few flies meandered through a hole in the screen and stopped by for a little taste of me sweltering in the corner, waiting for Mama and her bad news. I could have moved two chairs over and caught a small breeze, but dared not move without Mama’s permission. With no experience at doctor’s visits, Mama’s illness intensified with the wait. Eventually Mama reappeared, looking just as when she’d left. I hurried to her side as she counted out eight quarters into Miz Brown’s hand and took her receipt. As we turned to go, Dr. Payne stuck his head out of the office and spoke to her, “Oh, Miz Holdaway, I forgot to tell you. When you come back in two weeks, be sure to bring a sample of urine.”

I felt sick. A sample of urine! A sample of urine! Why in the world do we have to bring Dr. Payne a sample of urine? Mama gave him two dollars! I knew better than to open my mouth in the doctor’s office but was tugging on Mama’s skirt as soon as the door shut behind us on the landing. “Mama, Mama! Where are we supposed to get a sample of urine? Dr. Payne has a lot more money than we do! If he wants a sample of urine, why can’t he buy his own?”

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