The works of Dr Joe Miller.
Dr Miller’s writing is much like Texas; vivid, often sunny, and alive. Mister Spock from Star Trek may find rural Texans highly illogical, but logic would take the fun out of Dr Miller’s Texas characters. His Kansas and Ohio characters are like a Margaret Bourke-White photograph; stark, exceedingly lifelike with imagery that lingers. In Joe’s words, “The beauty most often is in the voyage, not the final port, and answers often are just more questions.”
Question: Starting with Bubba’s Rules for Country Living, what are some tips for Yankees in getting along well down South?
Answer: Tips for Yankees in the South are many. First, don’t make the mistake my Yankee mother made and assume that slow speech means a slow mind. It does not. Watch out for the man with a drawl and a smile; he is getting ready to undress you, and you likely won’t know you’re naked when he’s done. Listen for the beauty in the Southern way of speaking. There is a way to tell a tale correctly. It wanders. It detours. You often don’t know where it’s going. Listen to the rhythm, and enjoy the many paths a well-told story takes.
Question: Chainsaw says you can fix anything with pantyhose and duct tape. Tell me a few alternate uses for pantyhose.
Answer: Alternate uses for panty hose include using a pair as a temporary fan-belt when you’re broken down at the side of the road. And of course, when it’s time to break up with your girl, an off-sized pair of pantyhose in the glove compartment will speed up that sometimes agonizing process.
Question: Did you like Greater Tuna? If so, who were your favorite characters and why?
Answer: I loved Greater Tuna, but saw it so long ago I do not remember the character’s names. The synchronization of action with dialog—running over the dog comes to mind—reminded me of Woody Guthrie’s “They was poppin up and down like popcorn poppin, There was a hairpin curve. They didn’t make it. Scattered wives and children all over the side of that mountain.”
Question: I married South, too. How did you and your wife meet?
Answer: I met my Liz on the examining table. Where else does a gynecologist meet ladies? She was a patient of mine for several years, and in fact, I delivered her last two children. They were a grand bonus when I married Liz and adopted her four children. Her brother, a Urologist, calls me Saint Joseph to this day for marrying a woman with four children. At some time in their young lives, each asked what the “ M D” after my name meant. Liz told them that I loved them so much, I added “M D” to my name and that it meant “My Daddy.” I had been divorced and degraded by my first wife. Liz came along and made me whole, and has graced my life now for over forty years.
Question: Would Bubba have a Facebook page? If he did, what TV shows, Country Music stars, and football teams would he have on it?
Answer: Bubba wouldn’t have a Facebook page. Wouldn’t know how to use it. He watches football indiscriminately, but noodling for catfish takes precedent. Ask me sometime what noodling is. There’s at least a long chapter in Bubba’s book there.
Question: Did you watch the animated series, King of the Hill? If so, does Bubba remind you of the hero, Hank Hill or Joe Jack, the trucker for the company Hank works for, Strickland Propane?
Answer:Never saw King of the Hill, and can’t respond.
Question: How similar is the young character Jared, from The Other Side of Jordan to your father?
Answer: I didn’t model Jared after my father. Thinking about it for the first time, I wonder. My father used football as a way out of the coal mines of Massillon, Ohio, on to college, and a career in coaching after college. All characters have a model, no matter how vague in our minds, and perhaps the path of my father and that of Jared were similar. Interesting question that I had not heard before. A part of Jared is me as well. I enlisted on my eighteenth birthday after flunking out of my second college and went to Korea. I returned from that idiocy four years older, twenty years wiser, and slightly deaf from too much gunfire too close to my ears. School was easy then. The same kid who flunked out—twice—graduated in three years Summa Cum Laude and went on to medical school and residency. I wasn’t a damn bit smarter, just a whole lot more directed. The VA takes care of me medically, considering the hearing loss a ten percent disability. They have been wonderful. I receive a monthly check for 123 dollars, which interestingly, is almost exactly what I made as an enlisted man in Korea. I call it my “walking around” money. Liz just smiles and hands me the check when it arrives.
Question: In a small Texas town, what part of the body is the barber shop/beauty salon?
Answer: The beauty shop would have to be the brain, where plans are made and conditions set. I told a friend one time, if you need to start a woman’s movement or a ladies revolution, start it in a beauty shop. The fire you kindle can’t be contained.
Question: What part of the body is the general store?
Answer: The general store would have to be the stomach, where food, jibes, quips and jests, are digested. I often envisioned Jack Point, the jester in Gilbert and Sullivan’s Yeomen of the Guard, orchestrating the conversation there. “I’ve jibe and joke, and quip and crank, for lowly folk, and men of rank.” Jack Point is the origin of my e-mail address. In a grand song, he states: “O winnow all my folly folly folly and you’ll find, a grain or two of truth among the chaff.” Thus, foolsfolly to which is added the year of my birth.
Question: In Pipe Tobacco and Wool, you see beauty in the stretch marks of a new mother. Today, women struggle to be emaciated and on the whole, perfect. What do you have to say to women about body image?
Answer: There is beauty in stretch marks. They are a visible manifestation of the painful price of the gift of a child. You used the word, “emaciated” and it seems women do strain in that direction, looking for perfection in a size three dress and which is not worth struggling for. You probably meant emancipation, which is worth struggling for. My strong advise would be to seek emancipation as a woman, not as a poor copy of a man. Too many women think they will find freedom taking the same path and in making the same mistakes men have made all along. They are not men. They are better. When they see that light and truly believe it, they have achieved emancipation.
Question: In the Chapter titled “The Paint by Numbers Dream,” you said, “They traded risk for comfort.” Tell me about a time in which you reached for the stars.
Answer: The immediate response is that I have never had to stretch that far. I was given a good mind and the determination to go where it might take me. Medical school was a stretch, every day it was a stretch. Finding and keeping my Liz has been a grand thing, and never a stretch. Deciding I would be a doctor was perhaps the closest thing to reaching for the stars. Four years as an enlisted man, a sailor aboard a Destroyer, and a lot of time in combat, and you end up beaten down a bit. I nailed my white hat above my study desk and told myself I would never be an enlisted man again. I would be a doctor. Believe me, it was a risk. Probably ninety-five percent of folks as freshmen in a pre-med program go on to something less strenuous. Reaching for the stars has much to do with perseverance, I suppose. It likely is not a momentary action. The other time I reached for the stars was when I submitted my first article for publication. I felt like a fish on the bank of a stream, pleading for someone to see me and gently return me to the water. And apropos of nothing, a duet just ran through my mind. “Tell a tale of cock and bull, Of convincing detail full. Tale tremendous, Heaven defend us, what a tale of cock and bull.” Wilfred Shadbolt and Jack Point were wonderful together.
I rethought your “reaching for the stars” question this morning, and realized I had fallen into a time trap. Reaching for the stars is often not a sudden reaching out. Probably my greatest reach was after a bad early 1990, in which I had a second open heart surgery followed in a month by a brain surgery for a benign condition that was none the less, killing me. I could not walk without falling down, probably because a narrow retractor was “toed in” to my cerebellum during the procedure. It took four years of struggle to walk without a cane, and several years after throwing away the cane, I had to have another brain scan. My neurologist looked at it with me and asked, “My God, Miller, how do you walk?”
“I guess I’m living proof that you can train neurons to do things they weren’t supposed to do,” I replied. So, that time after brain surgery was reaching for stars. It took me four years, but I finally grasped that star. I could no longer practice, and decided I would try my hand at writing. Welshmen do two things well. We all sing, and we think our middle name is Dylan Thomas.
About the Author.
Dr Joe Miller is a retired obstetrician/gynecologist turned writer. He lives in Wichita Falls, Texas where he muses, observes then turns words into diverse emotions and laughter.
Interview by – Liz McKeown
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