Friday, June 6, 2014
Katja's Story: Being Dad's Helper
408 S. 20th St., Philadelphia, Penna.
When my dad graduated from the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine in the 1930’s, the depression years presented very little opportunity for setting up a private practice. Jobs in the public sector were also scarce. However, the federal government hired my father as a meat inspector for the military, and he found himself driving up and down the east coast from Maine to Georgia, making sure the troops were not exposed to hoof and mouth or mad cow disease. Dad married my mother soon after he found a job, and the two of them relocated to Roanoke, Virginia, where they spent eight very happy years.
My uncle Nate, also a veterinarian, was stationed down in Mississippi during the war, and he too worked as a meat inspector for the military. When he was discharged he returned to Philadelphia and set up a private practice in center city. He and Aunt Sophie lived on top of the practice. However, they were unhappy there. The money was sparse, the living arrangements were cramped, and Nate decided to go into business with his father, my grandfather. The family campaigned to bring my parents back to Philadelphia, and in 1944 my father bought the practice and house from his brother Nate and we all moved to Philadelphia.
Although my father was trained to treat large and small animals, most of his patients were in the small animal category – dogs, cats, and birds. My mother hated living on top of the practice because of the smells that came up from the kennels, but I loved being part of an animal hospital.
Whenever Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey came to town, they needed a local vet to care for any animals that got sick. My dad had been trained to deal with large animals, and he became the Ringling Brothers veterinarian. His most famous client was Gargantua, the giant gorilla that was the circus’s main animal attraction. Gargantua frequently came down with colds, and it was important to keep him healthy. My dad was on 24-hour call, and he also treated elephants, giraffes, and whoever else wasn’t feeling well. Although he was never paid for his work, he was paid in free tickets, and, since I was the oldest child in the family, I was the one who went to the circus with my dad every year.
I first started helping my dad in his practice when I was 6 or 7. My job was to hold the animals while he was treating them. When he neutered cats or dogs, he would roll them in a blanket with only their bottoms sticking out. I would hold the animal while he castrated them. I had no conception of what was going on, but I felt very responsible and entrusted with a very important task.
It was the late years of the depression when we moved to 20th Street, and it was a financial struggle to keep a veterinary practice going. People had little money, and they didn’t have pets like they do today. Shortly after the war my dad was offered a position in Philadelphia’s Department of Public Health, and he decided to make a career of that. He kept his practice on 20th St. on a part-time basis, with the office open only in the evenings. Soon after I took a new job at my grandfather’s butter and egg business on the waterfront, learning how to candle eggs and running errands between various businesses. However, I’ll always cherish my childhood years as a veterinary assistant. It was the best thing that a child could ever have -- the experience of being an important help to their parents.
-JML (6-7): That was great mom, but what is "candle eggs"?