Doc Tompkins

by Doc Sawzall


It had been drizzling for most of the late autumn day and the sky cleared as dusk descended on the small, central Massachusetts town of Hutchinson. It was late October and as the sun dropped from the sky, so did the temperature. Hutchinson was one of those small proverbial towns just far enough from Worcester to remain inconsequential. The inclement weather wasn't enough to stop the annual harvest fair, as expected turnout was better than anticipated. The fair was a throwback to when times were different, an annual tradition honoring the farming community's heyday. Several of the surrounding towns joined in making it truly a regional affair.

At one time, the town was a thriving community with large dairy farms, a woolen mill and a foundry that provided prosperity to all for generations. That is until it became cheaper to surrender milk production to Vermont and New Hampshire farms. Along with the dairy industry, textiles and products produced by the factories and foundries went south, where labor was cheap and the climate anti-union. In the fullness of time even these fleeing industries and farms would lose out to cheaper labor overseas and farming conglomerates.

There were a few holdouts, folks to stubborn to see the handwriting on the wall, in the greater Hutchinson area there were perhaps five farms left and on the edge of extinction. Two remained in Hutchinson, one in New Hanover and three failing farms left in North Dana on the north shore of the reservoir. The woolen mill had long been boarded up and stood derelict and crumbling. It had been there for nearly a hundred and fifty years perched on the Weir River. Its origins beginning when water power once harnessed, was king.

In its heyday after the First World War, the woolen mill had provided employment for successive waves of immigration of the huddled masses of polacks, wops, hebes, portoguees, limeys and all sorts of Eastern European trash to the horror of the Protestant community, most if not all were Catholics. With the conclusion of the Second World War the latest influx of Catholics, fleeing a decimated war-torn Europe found its way to the shores of America and like a virus migrated to where the work was.

They brought with them, a second wave of the Polish, Italians, Jews, Irish, Portuguese, English and those fortunate to escape the killing fields of Eastern Europe…the bloodlands between Hitler and Stalin…like the first wave of immigrants, they brought a need and a desire to build anew. To see that their sons and daughters would become more, so much more than they were, for this was the land of opportunity. Every mother's son a doctor, a dentist, a teacher or a banker, to be somebody in a respected, well-paying profession.

In helping to win the war, America assumed a leading role in shaping the new world order. Prior to the war, industrial America was but a mere blip of what Fortress America would become. In ramping up to provide the advances in technology, material and munitions to feed the Allies, supporting the march to victory, fortress America was born.

Fortress America changed to Industrial America and Bread Basket America. More importantly Suburban America was born. The old ways were gone, it was the power of the brains of every mother's son/daughter, that drove this new economy. Levittown's sprang up on what was once productive farmland, suburban sprawl was born and farms gave way to large scale agriculture and corporate farming.

GI's coming home from the service, on the backs of the GI Bill, bought cars, houses, went to college and helped Industrial America produce record numbers of automobiles, washing machines, refrigerators, toasters, TV's and all sorts of devices that increased leisure time. Roads improved; the Interstate Highway System was born, fully opening the country for folks to "See the USA in their Chevrolet". All of this fueled by the constant demand for cheap labor to maximize corporate profits.

To the generation home from saving the world, work was found in the cities for those coming out of college on the GI Bill. Intellectual capital helped refine and develop products for sale as inexorably unskilled and union labor priced itself out of the markets of the north, giving birth to the beginnings of the 'innovation economy'. Work if it could be had, was to be found in Worcester, and as far away as Boston. Some of the first spacesuits for astronauts were built in Worcester, the technology that drove the space race could be found, headquartered on the Rt 128-belt. The technology that was developed in the build up of the space race made possible the advances of the 60's, 70's and 80's.

As the 50's changed into the 60's and then the 70's Hutchinson became a bedroom community. Hairdressers, diners, an ice cream parlor, a restaurant or two and a crumbling old hotel were what remained of businesses left in Hutchinson center in the 90's. The foundry through fits and starts had managed to retool from farming implements to specialized metal castings at less of a quarter of the labor force in its heyday.

The school system did its best to provide an education and a path outward. In the mid 60's the town fathers along with the four surrounding towns saw the future and took the federal monies to regionalize. It was a pragmatic decision; the gray-haired town fathers knew the winds of change were about them and things would never be the same. To that point, it was a five-town collective decision, that in building the new schools, that no expenses would be spared. It was an unusual step for the quintessential tight-fisted Yankee scions. They had the foresight and were determined to see that their sons and daughters would have the tools to move forward in this new world.

The world had irrevocably changed, the space race and cold war had seen to that, new technologies created inroads into everyday average households with products that simplified your life expanding commercial opportunities.

The Highway Department had a staff of four. Any road improvements necessary were funded either by the state or the feds. The Highway Department also served as the core of the Fire Department and the Cemetery Department, aided by summer help out of school, who would handle the bulk of the mowing. There were three full time police officers and four auxiliary part time officers. All of these folks also formed what was known as the Hutchinson Rescue Squad. The town paid for their training to become First Responders and if desired, Emergency Medical Technicians.

Because of the distance from Worcester, some twenty odd miles, Hutchinson needed a rescue squad. A fully organized and trained group of EMT's who handled medical emergencies. Worcester Memorial Hospital saw a need, and working with the Hutchinson Rescue Squad, the town fathers, was able to secure federal and state grants to open a health center just out of the town center, on the state road to Worcester.

The clinic had been built some years ago, fully staffed and one of Hutchinson's own, was coming back from Iraq to run it as Medical Director. Tom Lonergan, the current director was retiring after twenty-years. There wasn't much Ephraim Tompkins hadn't seen in his tour of duty with the United States Army. Family tradition had those Tomkins young, who wanted to serve, choose that branch; the Tompkins could trace Army service back generations to Ethan Allan who fought in the Revolution with the Green Mountain boys. Ephraim was the latest after his cousin Sam, who followed Ethan and his father Earl. Both were Medal of Honor winners.

Ephraim, commonly known to family and friends as Effr had always wanted to be a doctor. While there was a family trust that would have paid for his schooling, thanks to cousin Ethan and his life partner and husband Aric, a sense of duty and obligation led him to choose the Army, which paid for his medical training and degree as a trauma surgeon. His desire to become a doctor was solidified after serving with the Hutchinson Rescue Squad.

Effr thrived as an Army Doctor, there wasn't much he hadn't seen, not only was the Army good for inflicting deadly force directed against the enemy it also was very good at the self-inflicted variety. He excelled at triage, emergency surgery and the work needed to stabilize the patient within that first 'Golden Hour'. Ninety percent of lives saved and successful outcomes were a result of measures taken within the first sixty minutes. From forward surgical suites just behind the lines of action, to operating rooms at base hospitals Effr generally found himself in the thick of things and in demand for the most difficult of surgeries.

It wasn't ever going to be a career in the service, there was always the plan to return home and work in one of the Worcester or Boston hospitals. When the Hutchinson Family Health Center approached him, knowing he wasn't reenlisting, about taking over, Effr accepted in a heartbeat and as soon as he wrapped up his service obligations he went home.

On a late Saturday October evening after the annual harvest fair, Timothy "Rabbit" Johnson never made it home.

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