Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Old Hospital

We couldn't help it, we were boys, and boys are supposed to do things that most grown ups would think is stupid. David and I never failed to disappoint our parents with the stunts that we would think up. This one was my idea, not a good idea, but it was mine.

It was the summer of 1967, a lazy summer before I was old enough to start a steady job. I made enough money for soft serve ice cream at the Diary Queen and to get into the swimming pool by mowing a few lawns. On this particular day, David and I had walked to the Dairy Queen which was no small task for us. I lived in the last house, or the first house depending on which direction you were going, on Highway 75 in Southeast Kansas. My house was a mile South of the city limits and a quarter of a mile from the Oklahoma State Line. If I followed State Line Road a mile and then north another mile I would wind up at David's. I'd ride my bike or cut across pastures to get to David's, we would then either drive his mother mad or head into town and see what we could get into. This particular day we decided on some soft serve ice cream and see what else developed.

As we sat sucking the ice cream out of a dip cone, which had the ice cream dipped in hot chocolate causing a hard chocolate shell on the outside, we were discussing what do. David suggested, "Let's go to the park and see how fast we can get the merry-go-round to spin. Maybe that kid is there and we can make him puke again, that was so funny."

I reminded him, "Yeah, that was funny until his mother chased after us. She scared me, I thought she was going to catch us. I never saw a mother run that fast before."

Then an idea came upon me, "Let's go check out the old hospital. I hear that there is a door on the side where we can get in." The old hospital had always intrigued me ever since I could remember. It sat there empty, daring me to come visit. Being three stories tall, it loomed over the surrounding houses, a testament to one doctor's dream. It served my community well until it became outdated and a new hospital was built to replace it.

The old hospital sat on the corner of 4th and Fawn Street, a busy intersection as all the teenagers would "shoot the U" there. It was the popular turnaround spot on the west end of town when you were cruzin'. When David and I started driving we'd call it "Killing the Sheep" (shooting the ewe). The Dairy Queen was about five blocks from the hospital, to get there David and I walked down the main drag , which is 4th Avenue, where all the stores were. We passed Jack's Filling Station where you got full service with your purchase. There was the hardware store, the Board of Education which we ran by, Estes grocery, Lingles Five and Dime, and the pride of downtown, Blackledge furniture store. The last block before the hospital had Wheeler's Chevrolet and then the houses started.

As we approached the hospital we noticed a green car at General George Wark's house. He was a General in World War I and his two story gray house was the first house just south of the hospital, which was the side of the hospital that had the door we were going to use to get inside. The car worried us, it had a U.S. Army logo on the door, and we didn't want the Calvary to come riding up as we were exploring the nether regions of the hospital.

We walked to the North side of the hospital and circled around the back side, ducking behind the old trash cans and junk that was left there. We easily got to the door and slipped inside. We waited just inside the door and watched to see if anyone at the Wark house was aware of our intrusion into the bowels of the old building. We saw nothing outside so we turned our attention to the building. The door we slipped in opened into the old kitchen, at least it looked like a kitchen with all the counter tops as there weren't a stove or refrigerator. The shadows of the morning sun shining in the dirty windows cast a eerie feeling over us. A shell of a room that didn't hold a twelve year olds attention very long.

We continued out into the hall which led to the front door. The front door was a solid wood door and looked imposing. Behind the door was a closet which had a new padlock on the closet door. We tried to open it but gave up, vowing to come back with some tools so we could see what they were hiding. The rest of the first floor just held vacant rooms that were exam rooms for when the doctors had their offices there.

We walked up the marble stairs which we though was strange as we had never seen marble stairs before. On the second floor we found the operating room with the table and overhead lights left just like they were after the last operation. As we scrounged around we found some bandage scissors and some of what I now know were surgical clamps. As we looked up we saw a balcony where the surgeries were viewed. This room was the highlight of our exploration.

We then proceeded to the third floor with the intent of looking down on the surgical room. As we neared the top step we heard something in one of the rooms at the end of the hall. We figured it was a owl or rat or some other creature that had made its home there. We found the balcony and was looking down on the surgery room when we noticed a shadow appearing through the open door to the hallway. We spun around and there stood Steve, one of our friends. After our hearts left our throats and our breathing returned to normal, we found out that Steve's dad bought the old building and was going to tear it down to sell the bricks. Steve was there exploring like we were except he had a key to the front door.

It was a sad day when they bulldozed the old building. I made some money from it though as I sat on that corner with Steve and David cleaning grout off the good bricks and stacking them to be used once again. At a penny a brick, we were rich. Even today as I visit the old hometown, I'll shoot the "U" and look on that vacant lot and remember the old hospital. It went the way of so many of our old buildings, a loss to our community and a loss to a twelve year olds dreams of exploration.


lynnmosher said...

Oh, so fun read! Aren't memories so much fun to visit? Always love your stories! Blessings to you...

Anonymous said...

My hometown had a building I'd always wanted to explore--an old house that since has gained its historical society plaque. But at the time, Harper Lee's tales of Boo Radley would pale in comparison to the old woman's ghost that haunted that house!

Anonymous said...

I loved the fine detail of this story, Walk -- the specificity of detail of where things were located, the Dairy Queen, the "U" and the general's house.

PattiA. said...

This brought back lots of memories. Dad use to take me to the old hospital with him when he went to work. I remember playing on the 3rd floor in the round rooms. It was like a castle to a little girl. I loved that place! Broke my heart when they tore it down. Thanks for the memories. (The marble stairs were beautiful, weren't they?)