This is an excerpt from the family history book I’m working on. The first part was posted on Friday.
The kitchen table – these were the hubs to the wheel of life. Breakfast together around the table, then out for chores or school or work, then back to the table for lunch, then out again, then back to the table for supper: tired eating at the end of a long day. The kitchen lantern hissed late into the night over those tables.
And there Samuel lay. He would have been feverish by then, perhaps clutching his gut in pain. He may have required help to walk to the table, assistance to rise up on it and then lie down. The doctor fumbled nervously through his bag as Samuel was given something to drink, something to numb the pain, and something to bite down on.
The eyes of the children peeking through the windows would have widened as Samuel Lapp’s shirt was pulled back.
“Come away!” their parents yelled from across the yard. “Get away from there!”
And they scattered, relieved to be torn from that sight.
The doctor that no longer has a name pulled the small scalpel from his bag, hands shaking. Perhaps Samuel felt the cold steel slide into his skin, or perhaps the pain he had been in for days was already clouding his mind.
His blood ran out on the sheets covering the family table as the drunk doctor pulled him apart. But he would not survive. Removed, along with the offending organ, was his life, and it fluttered around the room for a moment, then vanished into the cold December air.
My great-great grandmother, in her early 20s, sat in the back room with her three children: Anna, Benjamin and John. A widow. Her family gathered around her, hugging her, wiping her tears. The children sat there, probably wondering what kind of a doctor brought this into the house.
I wonder how that doctor felt on the train back to Philadelphia. Relieved perhaps, that it was over? Stone drunk? Would he remember the surgery in the morning? Would his life be racked with guilt because of the Amish man with appendicitis that he killed on that December day?
If I were a ghost, I would hover over him in that train and shout. I would tell him not to feel bad – his slight of hand, his willingness to try, may have killed Samuel Lapp. But on that day, December 10, 1898, that doctor saved my life. And the life of my mother’s family. The life of my son.
Because Catharine went on to marry my great-great grandfather, Amos King. And they gave birth to my great-grandmother. And so on.
One death leads to so many lives.