Chapter 5: Doc and Penelope Watkins move to Adel


We are now visiting Adel in 1912. 

The Stricklund Building on the south of the town square was no longer a jail. A new jail had been built north of the square. The old jail building was put up for sale. The three cells in the basement were left to go with the building, along with the doors and locks. Barton helped get the building ready for sale.

The doors didn’t match the new cells in the new jail, and they were too expensive to tear out, though with the Akins boys in town, the county School Superintendent suggested they should hold school in the building and then Mr. Bean might be able keep control of his class with older boys.  Yes, his name was Mr. Bean, and yes, the students thought it was funny. And yes, he was tall and lean, so you can guess what the kids called him at recess. 
Likewise, 'Akin' sounds kinda like 'achin', and the Akin family was a pain to Mr. Bean.

But the building was not turned into a school. The County put it on the market. 

At the same time, a couple came into town to look around. Brother and sister; both single, Doctor Watkins and his sister, Miss Penelope. Doc was looking to set up a medical practice, having just graduated from the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. They thought Adel might be a good spot for them. 

Though no one dared ask at that time, it seemed Miss Penelope was older than the Doctor, and acted like an older sister. There was ample room on the main floor for the medical practice, and a three-bedroom apartment upstairs. Trained as a nurse, Miss Penelope would be his assistant. She would also do some of the record keeping. 

Doc Watkins had a waiting room/reception area, a private office, and an examination room for patient privacy. 
By 1912, the effect of invisible germs were recognized, and they now used separate exam rooms, which helped prevent the spread of disease between patients. Before that, examinations often took place in a one-room doctor's office, which created a fuss, as you can imagine. 

Business gradually built up for the Doctor’s medical practice. Sometimes, he stayed busier than he really wanted to be. 
Whenever he could get three days off in a row, the Doc would get on the train for Keokuk, Iowa to hunt geodes. 
(while geodes couldn't run very fast, they could hide pretty well.)
That part of the state delivers a lot of geodes. After five years at Adel, the doctor had a sizable collection and displayed them in his office. The geodes kept fidgety kids busy, while waiting in a place that smelled of alcohol and held memories of sharp needles and stinging iodine. 
The doctor had a car, yet hired the livery stable to haul him out into the country during times of mud and deep snow before those roads were paved or graveled. One thing about being a doctor in a farming community; he didn’t often have to go out to deliver babies in February. 

Doc Watkins used to speculate bringing in a dentist and putting him in the same building, and they could practice together. Miss Penelope objected. She said there were already enough moans, grunts and tears in the building as it was, without adding the noise that dental patients would make. Doc relented to her wishes. 

The Doc and Miss Penelope often went for drives when the roads were decent. They would travel to the other towns in the county. The doctor also joined a medical association in Des Moines and would take the train a couple of times a month to partake of city life. Though he grew up on a farm, his medical training put him in a big city and he enjoyed the distractions that a bigger city offered. 

Almost no one knew that he owned a clarinet. It was a popular instrument at the time, but he kept it a secret. 
He would go to Des Moines for lessons down on Euclid Street. The man who gave him lessons knew, and a widow, Mrs. Carver, a mile east of Ortonville knew. Mrs. Carver became a young widow when her husband died from a farm accident. Doc Watkins tended to him, but could not save him. 
Doc never charged her for his services, and over the next few years, when he needed to get out of the office, he would go out to Mrs. Carver’s farm and fix fence or some such thing. He had done a lot of farm repairs as a boy. 

One Saturday afternoon, Doc was in the barn, supposedly fixing the haymow ladder. Widow Carver intended to take him out a glass of lemonade. On her way across the barnyard, she thought she could hear Canadian geese honking. Since it wasn’t time for them to migrate, she looked around for the source of the noise. She peeked in the barn door and saw Doc attempting his clarinet. 
Mrs. Carver stepped into the barn and during a pause in the practice, cleared her throat. Doc Watkins nearly jumped out of his skin, then turned as red as the rubber in his knee-jerk hammer. He explained his desire for secrecy and privacy. 

She smiled and said, “Your secret is safe with me. You can practice here whenever you want.” 
But she thought to herself, “He better not practice with the haymow door open, or the neighbors will think that fall has come early.” 

While Doc had his distractions, Miss Penelope had amusements of her own. She was an odd combination of farm girl, which was her upbringing; and city refinement, which she learned during her nursing training. These talents included pursuits typical for a woman of that place and time. She did needlepoint, was devious with a croquet mallet and would bait her own hook when fishing. This impressed a lot of men around Adel. She said that after helping pull a calf or turn a breech baby, baiting a hook is no big deal. 

But it is now the fall of the year, in our time. Parker has gone home to his parents and school, and Dallas County is in an election year. It’s time to learn how county government works… 

Eric J. Rose
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