Do You Smell Pork?

January 26th, 2011 by Harrumpher Leave a reply »

LanierWho knew? We certainly were not aware that we rented an apartment in a very historic home in Danville, VA, when I was a lad. No one, not even the owner told us.

Now there’s a marker at 770 Main Street, it is on the historic walking tour, and may have the additional cachet of being haunted. To us, Dr. Samuel Newman and his wife, whose first name I likely never knew, occupied the first floor for living and his pediatric practice. To historians, this is the oldest known residence in the city. The first mayor, Capt. James Lanier, had it built in 1830.

We were across the street from the Main Street Methodist Church. We attended it several times a week, as was the Southern wont of the time — choir practice, Methodist Youth Fellowship, volunteer sessions, prayer meetings, and over two hours each Sunday with an hour for kids and adults in Sunday school, followed by about 90 minutes of service with lots of hymns and 20 to 30-minute prayers buttressing the sermon. The YMCA was right down the road, as were three movie theaters. We had little reason to venture off Main Street.

The pic above is of that same 770 Main Street. That is a postal card in a compilation of them as a history of the city. Clara Garrett Fountain was somehow inspired to share part of her 100-year collection. Thanks to her and as the image is long out of anyone’s copyright I claim fair use, as I do to her cut line:

The nearby house at 770 Main Street, currently the office of Garrett & Garrett, attorneys, is the oldest documented residence in the city. Built in 1830 by Danville’s first  mayor, Captain James Lanier, it is remembered by many as the office of Dr. Samuel Newman, the city’s first pediatrician.

Dr. Newman turned out to be more than that. To us, he was the guy who jabbed penicillin hypos in my butt for my recurrent tonsil inflammations. As I found out later, he was also well known in Danville and several nearby cities and towns for his children’s clinics and forward looking preventative medicine for kids.

There’s a wonderful symmetry there in that the house served as a children’s clinic during the Civil War over 80 years before Dr. Newman bought it.  It also turns out that a clinic in nearby Martinsville was named for him. Scholarships from the Charity League of Martinsville and Henry County go to high school grads and college students in his name.

Dr. Newman and his wife were Jewish. That’s not all that remarkable here and now, although it seemed nearly everyone three miles above the North Carolina border in the middle of the state was Christian, some flavor of Protestant, in the 1950s. Catholics were rare and Jews much more so.

However, he was also a Virginian. As nearly everyone else around, he appreciated the long, skillful tradition of the region for its smoked porks — hams and particularly bacon. He worked long days and liked to start with some protein.

His wife was short and round. She always wore a purple ribbon around her neck, with a small key on the bottom. She kept the cashbox and took the payments for those who visited the practice. While her dresses were both fashionable and well pressed, over the years, the ribbon got dingy and a bit raveled.

In general, she kept a kosher table even though they were not Orthodox. She was a bit old world and put up with his breakfast preferences. However, many mornings when my sister and I came down the main stairs to the ground floor on our way to school, we’d see her running up and down the hall separating their living half from his office. She’d wave a hand fan or just her arms as she walked up and down, asking us at high volume, “Do you smell pork? Do you smell pork?”

I was reminded of her today while looking through Good Book (overly long subtitle) by David Plotz, self-defined as “never a very observant” (but proud) Jew. First of all, can that really be his name, asks someone with the last name of Ball? In Yiddish, of course, plotz means to burst, as if from strong emotion.

Regardless, he writes of poring through the Bible (at least the Old Testament) and finding remarkable passages, upon which he remarks. He did after writing this rush through the New Testament, in a defensive skim to prepare for an appearance on The Colbert Show. He wasted his time in the sense that Stephen didn’t ask a single question about the new stuff.

His section on Leviticus includes:

…God says that the pig, because it doesn’t chew the cud, is “impure.” Understood. But then the Lord describes lots and lots of other animals – including lobster, shrimp, ostrich, and most insects – as “abominations.” “Abomination” is a much stronger word than “impure.” Does this imply that bacon, pork chops, pulled pork, and ham are less bad than lobster? Can it really be that eating pork is a minor dietary offense, the kashruth equivalent of a parking ticket? God, I hope so!

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15 Responses

  1. P.Kushner says:

    Dr. Samuel Newman’s wife was named Ida Newman.

  2. mmacht says:

    P.Kushner is quite right. Although most called her Miss Ida. She was my sweet grandmother.

  3. Harrumpher says:

    Thank you for the comment on Mrs. Newman. She was always so busy and always looking out for him.

    I recall shooting basketball on the lowest lawn with two of their grandsons.

  4. maury macht says:

    then we must have met. the two grandsons playing ball down there were me and my brother buck macht. i don’t remember this, however. for years, the spanglers lived in one upstairs apartment; the other became an insurance office. we stayed in the back bedroom of that office.

  5. Harrumpher says:

    Sure, then we shot hoops two or three times at the huge garage near the willow in the third yard. That was one devil of set of terraces all the way down to the creek and bamboo. You guys were younger than I, I’m pretty sure. I was there from age 8 through 12.

    We were in the apartment to the left as you looked at the building. Then the other upstairs apartment had a single woman, whom Mrs. Newman worried about because she suntanned darker than the local black folk, and she spent a lot of time in the back tanning. It was during segregation, but your grandmother’s concern was oddly sweet.

  6. maury macht says:

    You’re recollections are spot on. I called my brother Buck, who remembers a Mike and Ann Ball, and recalls Mike had a flat top in those days. Being younger than Buck, I don’t have the recollection.

  7. Harrumpher says:

    That caused a real laugh. You too – I’d forgotten I had a flattop around fourth grade.

  8. Buck Macht says:

    Hi Mike, I remember you and your sister well. We used to ride bikes on the parking lot behind the house and shoot hoops as you wrote my brother Maury. I remember your sister being older than you by maybe a year. Or was it the opposite? Anyway, I remeber good times palying with both of you. I might have been 9 or 10. Nice article about our grandparents. I hadn’ thought about the purple ribbon wiht the key in a long time.

  9. Buck Macht says:

    Sorry for the mistakes in the spelling above. I think quicker than I type. Our grandfather was very ecumenical in his thinking, long before ecumenicism was brought to the public’s attention by Pope John XXIII in the 1960s. Grandpa had deep respect for his Jewish tradition and was actually buried in the “Orthodx” style with a shroud in a pine box. But he espoused what he called the “universal value of love.” One of his favorite etchings he had was by an artist who titled the work “There are Many Rooms in God’s House.” I think this expression is from the New Testament. Best wishes.

  10. Harrumpher says:

    I see by mentions of your grandfather on the net and his pro bono work that he was a good man, doing things I as an elementary-school student did not know. I found him a good, pleasant and efficient physician as well. He was our doc for over four years. He was a total package…and mensch.

    Oh, and as for Pat, we looked like twins to many. That annoyed her, as she is 18 months older and back then wanted to be seen as the older sister. Now in our sixties, being older is less of a priority for her.

  11. My folks thought the world of Dr. Newman.

    At 5, I was scared shitless of him! Later, I never understood his gruffness toward kids, I would expect anything to put them at ease, not the opposite.

    But to be fair, he did pull me through some “Hairy” illnesses.

  12. Harrumpher says:

    Good stuff, Glen. I was not familiar withyour Lee Street site. It’s powerful stuff and a good companion to the Johnny Westbrook one.

  13. Thanks Michael, for your very encouraging words! I’m grateful.

  14. Two items, first: In my quest to find folks from my old neighborhood, there is one who is reputed to have boarded at the Newman house in the 1950s to early 1960s. His name was Walter Cobb, DoB ~1933.
    Mrs. Newman told my mother that “…he was a nice boy, that they enjoyed his company, and that he often helped around the place.”

    If anyone knows of him, I would love to hear from them. glen.w(at)comcast(dot)net

    Second item: on my web site there is a photo of Doctor Newman’s handiwork. When I was four or five I caught my left thumb in a large iron gate at the National Cemetery on Lee Street. I was rushed to the doctor’s office, there he patched me up and gave me a SHOT which hurt like the dickens! Like all little kids, I proudly sported my bandaged thumb around for the longest time.
    The iron gate can be seen in the adjacent photo. http://www.lee-street.com/#frank

  15. Harrumpher says:

    I didn’t know Mr. Cobb. We were there ’56-’61. We had one of two upper apartments and a couple had the other. Of course as you know, the good doc and his missus had offices and their living on the ground floor. (What a wonderful, multi-level yard!)

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