Mrs. Kathryn ‘Katie’ Connors sat quietly waiting for the doctor to arrive.  She did not want to be there, but her son had insisted when, on his last visit, he noticed her pale features and hollow eyes.  She was not old in the sense of being feeble or senile.  She was 52 and had no previous illnesses except for the occasional cold or an arthritic backache. 

Dr. Kistler tapped on the exam room door and entered, clipboard in hand.  He had been the family doctor for the Connors since opening his practice during World War 1.  In fact, he had been the only trained physician in Morseburg during the 1918 Spanish Flu outbreak.  He stayed on his feet nearly 20 hours per day during the crisis, only sleeping when he could, for over a month.  He was able to save many, but Katie’s husband was not one of them.  Kevin Connors had become disabled from a poison gas attack while on the Western Front.  He was prone to respiratory infections and shortness of breath as a result.  The flu claimed him early during the outbreak.  Katie, even though newly widowed, volunteered to help her neighbors and take care of the children of those who were afflicted.  Therefore, Dr. Kistler knew Katie well.  Moreover, he also knew she was a strong woman. 

She sat solemnly, a listless stare coming from deep-set eyes surrounded by dark circles.  Her skin was pallid as if life itself was draining from it.  Dr. Kistler had seen this condition before in frontline soldiers returning from France, the carnage of their experience seared into their psyche.  They called it the “1000-yard-stare.”  It was as if the person had stopped caring and had accepted a fate known only to them personally. 

“Well, Katie,” Dr. Kistler smiled, “I can’t find anything wrong with you.  However, I do notice you look very rundown.  You have lost weight since your last visit.  I am going to have the pharmacist prepare an iron and vitamin supplement.  I want you to promise me you will eat at least two full meals a day and get plenty of sleep.  I’m also going to send my nurse around on her weekly routine to see how you are getting on, OK?”

Katie nodded in compliance.  She continued to stare, but said, “After Kevin died, I remember longing for nothing more than a quiet afternoon after a good lunch and the company of a visitor.  Those kids kept me so busy.  I’ll enjoy a chat with the nurse when she comes around.”


Katie was born in 1880 Indiana to the local general store owner.  She was one of five children.  In that era and culture, women were expected to build strong, well-bonded families.  From the earliest times that she could recall, she looked forward to motherhood.  She wanted to be a devoted wife to her husband and a good mother to her children.

Carroll was Dr. Kistler’s visiting nurse.  She was his version of outpatient care in those days.  Katie and she sat quietly, sipping tea, in the formal drawing room of the Victorian home Kevin had built.  This room had been built specifically to entertain guests.  From here, they could look out over the veranda and onto the front lawn.  Birds chirped and fluttered in the birdbath.  Annual blossoms mixed with perennials added color to the view.  However, the veranda paint peeled from weather exposure.  The grass and weeds had overtaken the wooden walkway that led from the front gate.  This once charming and homey view had lost its elegance.  What was once a well-maintained family home was in decline.

 “This tea is delicious,” Carroll remarked as she glanced around the room.  “So nice of you to brew up a fresh pot just for me.”

Katie gave a monotone reply, “Oh, it’s no trouble.  I’m glad you could find time to drop in.”

“The Dr. is concerned you may not be eating or sleeping well.  How have you been feeling my dear,” she continued.

Katie felt more at ease discussing personal issues with another female.  Carroll would be more understanding of her situation. She casually looked up at Carroll wondering how to begin.  This would not be easy.

“I’m not sure,” she murmured, looking back down into her teacup.  “Things are changing.  You know, my youngest daughter is 7-months pregnant.  It’s her first.  And, what I am about to tell you must stay strictly between us.  I am going to need your help to get through this without being a burden to my family.  Is that understood?”

Carroll’s jaw slackened and mouth fell open as she digested the words. 

“What on earth is this all about, Katie!  What is it?  Is your daughter all right?”

Katie filled both of their cups, gave Carroll’s a lump of sugar, and took a deep, silent breath before continuing.  Katie lifted her cup to her lips and felt the soothing tea glide gently over her lips and tongue.  She began ever so slowly and in her calmest voice. 

“Our lives have always been centered on family and then our community.  It is how we have evolved over these millions of years and survived as a species until this very day.  My mother taught me to think of it as the ‘Vine Of Life.’  The vine creeps forward, sets down roots, sprouts its leaves, flowers, and then begins again.  It has no time to look back at its beginnings.”

Carroll did not like the direction this monologue was going and gently interrupted with, “Katie dear, we are all familiar with the cycle of life.  But how does that have anything to do with you?”

Katie’s eyes dropped to avoid Carroll’s.  She knew this wasn’t going to be easy.

“This wonderful house my husband built,” she said as she glanced around the room and out the front window.  “I raised five beautiful children within these walls.  Now, they have all moved on, set down their own roots, and are flowering just as I always hoped.  Even my youngest is about to produce her first flower.  That famous author, ‘Jack London’ wrote a beautiful story about an Indian tribe in Alaska that would leave the elderly to fend for themselves when they were no longer any use.  It sounds harsh, but that is how that society learned to survive.  He called his story, ‘The Law Of Life’.  I read it 30 years ago and I’ve never forgotten it.”

Katie looked directly into Carroll’s face and continued, “That baby will be born in about 7 or 8 weeks.  As soon as it is safely in its mother’s arms, my job is through.  From that day forward, I will be that part of the vine that is of no use.  That will be the day I begin to die.”

Carroll was in complete shock but kept silent.  She had no idea how to respond.


Katie had a habit of watching the children walk in front of her home as they went to and from school.  She knew most by their family names.  Today was no different.  The Birch twins went by looking as freshly scrubbed as they always did.  The Hayden sisters, always with a load of books, for they favored reading as much as their mother.  And, so it went, a favorite pastime of her otherwise mundane daily routine. 

As the children passed she watched.  And as usual, the Tibbits boy was always the last to go by.  He had been born with a bad limp.  One leg was a bit shorter than the other.  It also threw his spine slightly off center, which gave him considerable pain if he tried to run or to stand in one place too long. 

As she stared out three strangers came into view . . .  who was this she wondered?  Three older boys were walking down the wooden sidewalk along the street.  She didn’t know who they were, but they had a rather determined look about them.  Just as the Tibbits boy reached the front of her house, the older boys deliberately bumped into him, knocking him on his rump, and scattering his schoolwork to the wind.

“Hey!  Watch where you’re walking, shrimp.  Learn to get out of our way when we go past.” 

Young Tibbits eased over on one side and got to his feet, favoring his shortened leg.  He was a full head shorter than the shortest of the other three.  “What’s the big idea?  Who are you and who died and gave you the sidewalk?”

“Oh, he wants to know who we are, guys.  Why don’t we wise him up so next time he’ll know,” mocked the leader of this small gang.  By that time, one of the other boys had silently crouched down behind Tibbits at about knee level.  The leader then gave Tibbits another good push and down he went again, landing flat on his butt and causing a sharp pain in his back.

“OWE,” he yelped and tried to drag himself clear.  By this time the commotion had aroused the ire of Katie who was watching intently.

Tibbits was not a fighter or even a runner for that matter.  He literally had no options.  He couldn’t outrun the gang and sure couldn’t fight his way past.  So he tried the only thing he could think of, and that was to talk his way out.  “Hey, guys, what’s this all about?  I don’t know any of you.  What’s the big problem?”

The gang leader just sneered.  “Here’s the problem, shrimp.  You’re a wimp and we don’t like wimps.”  With that, he gave Tibbits another sharp shove to the chest.  But this time he went backward over Katie’s short picket fence that surrounded her front yard.  One leg became ensnared between two of the short pickets, and Tibbits was more or less hanging backward, with his butt in the air and shoulders on the ground.  Katie, from the front parlor, had seen enough.  Her protective instincts were piqued and on full adrenaline as she grabbed a broom from the porch and marched straight to the scene of the assault and battery.

The gang leader and his cohorts were laughing and rubbing mulch into Tibbits’ face as he squealed for help and tried to protect himself.  All three of them looked up as Katie arrived.  The instigator sneered and said, “Look who's here, guys.  It’s the wicked witch of Morseburg.”

Katie, without missing a beat, got within a foot of the tallest boy and yelled, “You got to the count of five to get off my property . . . . One!”

“And if we don’t?” sneered the gangster.  “You’ll sweep us of the walkway with your magic broom?”  All three laughed and waited for Katie to respond.

“This ain’t up for negotiation, mister . . . Two!

The gang leader thought for second and realized she was serious.  Reconsidering his position, he decided he didn’t want to have to explain how he got into a tussle with an old lady.  So he nonchalantly held up his palms and said, “Ok, ok, lady.  We were only having a little fun.  He ain’t worth any trouble, so we’ll just be on our way.”

Katie leaned forward and snarled, “And if I ever see you on this street again, you’ll have to explain to your friends how an old lady with a broom could give you so many bruises.”  Upon that announcement, she broke the broomstick over her knee and with both hands put the handle to her shoulder as confidently as any major league baseball player. “. . . Three!”

It was then that all three of the gangsters realized they were outmatched, albeit by an old woman.  They cleared the picket fence like hurdlers and took off running until they were out of site.

Over a basin of wash water, Katie chatted with the young Mr. Tibbits.  “You’re the Tibbits boy aren’t you?” she asked.

“Yes, ma’am.”  My name is Paul Tibbits. 

Katie leaned back in her porch rocker and watched him as he washed the dirt from his ears and neck. 

“Yes, your cousin went to school with one of my boys.  If you ever see any of those hoodlums again, you can always stop in here.  I don’t think they’ll be bothering you again, though.  But if they do, I have friends and we know how to handle their kind.”


Within just a few weeks, the old-woman-defeats-gangsters story had made its rounds and now was just so much folklore.  Katie was glad, for she never relished notoriety.  On this day, Carroll and she were in light conversation discussing health issues.  Carroll had been stopping by as ordered by the doctor.  However, Katie was not improving.  Katie’s youngest daughter was even closer now to her delivery date and Carroll was concerned that after the delivery, Katie might be suicidal.

After the usual diet and sleep issues were covered, Carroll decided to change the subject.  She asked, “Those three hoodlums ever come back?  The whole neighborhood had a good laugh once the story got out.”

Katie didn’t even look up as she replied, “Nope.  And they won’t be giving anyone around here any problems.  I know their kind.”

Carroll just nodded in comprehension.  “How about the Tibbits boy?  Does he ever stop by?” 

Again, without moving her head and the same 1000-yard-stare Katie said, “Yep, he brings me flowers and produce from the family farm.  But he’s a quiet young man.  He doesn’t stay long.  Must be that limp.  It probably makes him self-conscience.  Can’t Dr. Kistler do something?”

Carroll casually asked, “About what?  His limp?”

Carroll knew that Katie’s motherly instincts would drift toward wanting to help young Paul and she was hoping just for this opening in their chat.  Carroll wanted Katie to know more about Paul but didn’t want to seem too eager.

Katie set her cup down and for the first time seemed interested.  “Yes, his limp.  He’s the town's doctor isn’t he?”

Carroll could now sense Katie nibbling at the bait, so she began slowly, remained calm and watched for Katie’s reaction.  “Yes, he is a doctor, but Paul needs ongoing physical therapy.”  She stopped and waited to see if Katie would take the hook.

“What is physical therapy,” Katie asked.  Katie had taken the bait.  All Carroll needed to do was set the hook and real her in.

Carroll explained how physical therapy was a new form of treatment that had been born out of necessity just after WW1 to help amputees become more mobile.  You didn’t need to be a doctor or a nurse.  But rather, you had to work under the guidance of a trained medical professional.  In those early days, some training would be necessary, but it could be learned on the job. 

In Paul’s case, the surgeons could not operate until his bones had stopped growing.  But without daily therapy, his spine, pelvis, sacrum, and hip joints were slowly being deformed due to Paul constantly favoring his shorter leg.  He must retrain his short leg to function in concert with his normal leg.  He needed to keep his knee and hip joints agile, all the while maintaining good posture.  Once his bones stopped growing, the surgeons could either lengthen his short leg or shorten the other.  But they could not undo the damage done by years of improper posture.

Weeks passed by quickly.  Katie became a grandmother again.  The strain of parting with her last daughter and new baby hurt but was not all consuming.  She arranged for an evaluation of Paul by an orthopedic surgeon and podiatrist who outlined an ongoing physical therapy plan to keep Paul’s shorter leg active during his formative years.  She also learned the basics of anatomy.  And with the guidance of Dr. Kistler, she became Paul’s physical therapist. 

Paul visited every day on his way home.  Katie watched as he overcame the painful obstacles to his new mobility.  Further, while taking care of Paul, she began taking an interest in herself, again.  Dr. Kistler noted she was beginning to gain weight and the color had returned to her face.  Katie’s sleep was more restful and refreshing.  In short, her vitality was returning.


It was the end of another long week for Dr. Kistler as he sat at his desk, finishing paperwork, and reviewing case histories.  He was totally immersed in a case of gout when his son, Hank, walked in with a friend.

“Hank, don’t you ever knock?” he asked. 

“Oh, sorry Dad,” Hank replied.  “We have a three day weekend from college and I thought I’d bring Lester home for the weekend.”

The doctor rose to greet his son’s friend and then remembered the name. 

“Aren’t you the young drama major Hank hired to play that prank on the Tibbits boy?”

Lester smiled and said, “Yes sir.  That’s me, alright.”

Dr. Kistler grinned and replied, “I heard things went well.  You managed to get the lady out of the house in no time.”

Lester’s eyes twinkled.  “You bet,” he beamed.   “Things went just as we planned."  That lady came flying out of the house, hell bent for leather.  You know, if we hadn’t run when we did, I think she might have really used that broken broom handle on us.”

Hank cut in and laughed, “What a show he put on.  He called her the wicked witch of Morseburg.  Probably the best actor to hit this town in years.”

Hank slapped Lester on the back.  "What a show," he added!

It was Friday night and neither of the two college boys wanted to miss any of the weekend's festivities. 

“We, we gotta run, Dad.  See ya later,” Hank blurted over his should.

In a flash they were gone, leaving the Dr. standing behind his desk and Carroll at his office door. 

Dr. Kistler just stared out of the open door and replied, “Ya, later son.”  And under his breath, as he lit his pipe, “Ya, what a show.”  He looked at Carroll who only smiled as he winked at her.  She turned to leave.  As she did, she looked over her should and winked back.


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