In his country practice, traveling miles by horse and carriage in all weathers, Ephraim began to feel the toll of West Virginia’s misty autumns, snowy winters, cloudy springs and humid summers. He would come home dog tired. He could not avoid the reality of approaching seventy and the equal reality of the need for income. His eldest two children were working but there were five more, the youngest only eight. He began to brood. He hated being an old man.
He opened the envelope, grunting in satisfaction at finding the banker’s draft — Helena had said the coal bill was due. And then as he read the letter his hands began to tremble. Looking at it again he went to the door and called Helena.
‘Is something wrong?’ she hurried from the back parlor.
‘I wondered if you would come out for a walk with me later.’ He would tell her the news gently, in a pleasant setting.
She hugged herself to his arm as they walked past an empty pasture. Where the woods began Ephraim stopped, took both her hands in his and chafed them, bent to warm them with his breath. ‘How would you feel about moving away from here?’ She pulled her hands away, startled. ‘I have had the most generous, wonderful, timely offer from Dr Abbott. It would mean living in the city — Chicago.’
Ephraim makes one last move — both in career and location. In Chapter 38, The Gleaner, after recuperating from a serious illness he accepts the offer of an editorial post with the journal of the Abbott Alkaloidal company. He and the family moved to Ravenswood, Chicago in 1899 where he lived and worked successfully until his death in January 1913, in his 85th year. The byline in his article above: The story of ‘The Gleaner,’ the oldest, handsomest and best-loved of the entire editorial staff of Clinical Medicine (Date ca 1906). Gleanings from Foreign Fields was Ephraim M Epstein’s regular column of translations from European medical journals. He also ran the Abbott medical library, fostering research.
The ill health of human kind continued as ever: tumors and gunshot wounds, epilepsy and syphilis, pneumonia and cirrhosis, scarlet fever and ulcers, tuberculosis… for many conditions treatment was much the same as Dr Epstein had used nine years ago, before he gave up practice out of grief and guilt.
However, he had to learn about the medical advances. His old enemy from Monastir and Pola remained a scourge, but at least smallpox vaccination was becoming more accepted by the public. Yellow fever still broke out in port cities, but the search for its microbes was narrowing. Childbirth, as always, presented risks, but puerperal fever was less common, theories of cleanliness taking hold. Lister’s carbolic acid solution now swabbed most surgical procedures, and a recent medical journal said a solution of iodine had proved a good antiseptic. Ephraim’s faith in himself as a physician began to return.
In his mountainous West Virginia backwater Ephraim is in full time country medical practice. He travels the rough roads far in his horse and buggy, often taking one of the children — now there are seven — for company and to talk with them to improve their minds. In Chapter 36, Whither Thou Goest, Ephraim and Helena also get descriptions from his daughter Sister Sadie of the Czar’s new repressive May Laws of 1891 which suddenly forced more than ten thousand Jews to leave Moscow. But she, like he, is now Christian. Doctor’s buggy photograph from http://www.countrydoctormuseum.org ; the museum is located in North Carolina.
He was terrified, how could he dare to practice again? The dream made Ephraim understand his God-given duty to return to medicine. He saw that he had let his own doubts stand in the way. But he did not know if he was capable; so much had happened in medicine since 1878. He was a fool, a coward, he’d run away from doctoring and forced these wandering years on his loyal loving wife. After all her sacrifice, could she forgive a turn-around?
‘Still bearing fruit when I am old, still green and full of sap,’ Ephraim quotes Psalm 92 in Chapter 35, Still Full of Sap. He is awed by becoming a father again at age 58. The birth of a boy, Leo, can never make up for the death of William, but at last Ephraim feels the call to his former profession. After nine years he ends his self-banishment and in 1887 applies to the state of West Virginia for his medical license.
‘Whatever else may not agree in this disagreeing world, a verb must agree with its noun.’ Ephraim smacked his fist into his palm and then laughed. His new patron, President Pendleton of Bethany College, had the grace and perception to laugh with the just-arrived professor of Hebrew, Greek and Biblical exegesis.
From dry, spare prairie to cradling green hills, the jolt in setting was as if the Epsteins had been picked up and put down in the panhandle of West Virginia by a tornado. After the bitterness in Dakota Territory Ephraim was buoyed with vindication. From being founding president of a university there the house, pay and privileges here are a diminishment from his previous glory, but now he has utter academic freedom. A new book project, a new geography, and, aged 56, yet again a new life awaits — with the loyal Helena and their four daughters to support.
Once again Ephraim lands on his feet, with a post at Bethany College: ideal for him as it was founded by free-thinking Disciples of Christ who believed in no sects, no denominations. His literate and independent style of Christianity surely won’t get him in trouble here. But why not support his family by doctoring? In Chapter 34, Resurrection, in the seventh year of mourning for his little son he still feels unable to return to practice. Bethany College, click here , flourishes to this day. The home of its second President, William K Pendleton, had been a station in the underground railroad for escaping slaves some 25 years before Ephraim’s time at Bethany.
… in Cincinnati Ephraim and Sadie had told Helena how the Epstein family celebrated Chanukah. Though the Jewish festival of lights was based on history and the German tradition muddled up Christianity with pagan folklore, the two celebrations had in common the deepest faith of all —
— the miracle of light in darkness. Now, along with readings from the Gospels of the story of the son of God born in a stable, the children heard about the candelabrum and the oil for one day which lasted for eight in the Temple. Jesus would have known this story too, Ephraim made sure they understood.
We jump ahead here to Chapter 35, Still Full of Sap, in Bethany, West Virginia 1885-87 in order to celebrate Christmas. Ephraim here is happily married and father of four young children. Next time, back to his chronology, continuing med school in New York City 1858. Meanwhile, happy celebrations to you.
Fasten your seatbelts… oh, but there were no seatbelts in 1850. So, hi there from Ephraim’s author and great granddaughter (one of many, but the only one I know of who’s tracked his life and turned it into a novel). This is the first post for Ephraim’s site… you’ll see I’ve begun pages where we can travel where he did: from Belarus to Kansas, from Saloniki (as he called it) to West Virginia and more, much more.
And another part where followers of Ephraim can see photos of him, his family and maybe meet up with Ephraim’s seed right here in the 21st century. And of course there’s the story page, a sketch of what he’s all about.
Pardon me while this blogsite is building, more bells and whistles will appear. I’m braving new territory as this astonishing illustrious ancestor did regularly. Speaking of travels and adventures, which I was only slant-wise, I won’t be back for a month — going on my own travels. But do watch this space as the historical novel about Ephraim M Epstein is in production countdown… 104 days till it is ready for the world. And here in this place we can have some fun exploring his world. Just think, he spoke seven languages…