Our Family Biographies

I was born in 1924: if I were a violin of the same age,

I would be one the best. As a wine I’d be first- rate

or completely sour. As a dog I’d be dead. As a book

I’d be just getting valuable or already out-of-date.

As a forest I’d be young; as a machine ridiculous.

But as a human being, I’m very tired.

I was born in 1924. When I think about mankind

I think only of those who were born the same year as I,

whose mothers lay in labor with mine,

in hospitals, unlit rooms, wherever.

Today, on my birthday, I’d like to say

a blessing over you,

you whose lives are weighed down by hopes and disappointments,

whose deeds grow less, and whose gods

more numerous–

you are all brothers of my hope, friends of my despair.

May you find lasting peace,

the living in their lives, the dead

in being dead.

And whoever remembers his childhood best,

he’s the winner,

if there are any winners.

Yehuda Amichai

translated by Chana Bloch.

I found among my mother’s possessions a golden medal larger than a silver dollar. The medal, shaped like a scroll, was decorated with a chased border, and etched with Victorian swirls — a wreath of laurel leaves encircled it — St. Gaudens himself could have designed this medal of honor. “For excellence in Confirmation class, Temple Sinai, 1912, ” the engraved letters said. I held the smooth shining object in my hand. On the back was engraved in script, The Virginia Lazarus Memorial Medal ; my mother’s name, F. Vera Scherck was inscribed at the bottom.

When I first saw the ornate golden medal, a voice inside me mocked, as I wondered, who was this child, my mother, who was first in her Sunday School class? What kind of proper too good child was she?

Then one day I found a yellowed photograph. In the center was a young man in a white hat; he was wearing a dark jacket, a high white collar and a tie. On either side of him, was a seated girl, their hair bound with ribbon bands. It was a picture of my mother, her cousin Edna Burkenroad, and their cousin, Leslie Burkenroad, who was visiting from Omaha, Nebraska. His oval face and large eyes were like my mother’s. She looked beautiful, her dark hair parted in the center. My mother, dressed in white, wore on a chain around her neck, the Virginia Lazarus Medal.

My feelings changed. Instead of ridicule, I felt a sense of discovery and of sadness. I was sad thinking of names almost forgotten, young Virginia Lazarus, who also died too soon. And, I felt nostalgia, recalling a more innocent time, even understanding my mother’s pride in being good.

In his autobiographical novel, So Long See You Tomorrow, William Maxwell wrote: “There’s a limit, surely, to what one can demand of one’s adolescent self. And to go on feeling guilty about something that happened so long ago is hardly reasonable. I do feel guilty even so. A little.”

My own memory goes back to when I was nine or ten. I remember going each week-day to Audubon School. Although the school was only down the block and across a wide street with a divider, I felt as if I walked into a distant world. The exterior of the school building was pebbly beige stucco. Across the front of the building, like watchful eyes, were two rows of small dark windows. High chain link fences surrounded the separate boys’ and girls’ dirt yards on either side. Often I felt anxious as I walked along the sidewalk to the opening in the school-yard fence.

Three of us in the fourth grade were best friends: Elise who lived with her family on the same street as Audubon School, Judith, and me. Judith, who was tall for her age, stood straight and proud. Her dark hair hung down to her shoulders, and bangs covered her forehead above her large brown eyes. I think that Judith was beautiful although I don’t remember ever seeing her smile. She lived in some mysterious place far from the school, and I wondered if her house was near the squatter’s shack’s on the Mississippi River levee. We looked down on these poor families; called the children who lived there “River Rats”. I knew that Judith’s parents were divorced, and that Judith’s mother worked as a secretary. I knew too, that she had an older brother whom she admired, but she seldom spoke of her family. In fact, Elise and I never met any of her relatives, nor did we ever visit her house.

Of our small group, I’m not sure who was the leader, whether it was Judith or Elise, but I was the follower. The three of us believed being bad in school, or what we called mischievous, was more exciting than conforming to the rules. School for us meant thinking of pranks, getting into trouble instead of trying to learn. Our pranks were not really destructive: we passed notes to each other, made up insulting names, and while the teacher wrote on the blackboard, we would throw spitballs. If we were caught, the teacher would reprimand us, or worse, she would send us to the principal. Miss Hindricks, the principal, was a massive woman, not round and comforting like a nuturing mother, but shaped like a solid mound of clay. Her face was severe: her almost colorless hair was cut straight along the sides of her face, and her lips formed a thin line. Miss Hindrick’s eyes were pale behind gray rimmed glasses. Judith, Elise, and I all felt both fear and revulsion of her.

When school was over for the day, often the three of us would be together. Once when we were walking near the school we saw a vagrant on the street. He wore dirty torn clothes and his face had a strange expression. “Look at that weird man,” I said. Judith turned to me, her eyes blazing:

“Why do you always say mean things like that? It’s not the person’s fault.” I was taken aback, and ashamed of my unkind words. I still feel puzzled and a little guilty when I think of the incident.

One Saturday on my birthday, we had a party at my house. We lived in a French Provincial house that my father had designed. Since I felt embarrassed at being better off than my classmates, I never wanted them to see how we lived. However, we did invite Judith and Elise to my birthday party. I don’t remember Elise or any of the other guests that day except Judith. I can see her standing by the front door as she was about to leave. I was behind Judith, and my mother stood facing her. Judith reached in her pocket, drew out a coin, and then she handed a quarter to my mother, saying, “This is for Carol’s birthday.” My mother looked down at Judith as if she were insulted. “I can’t take that,” she said. Judith put the coin back into her pocket without a word. I stood at the doorway behind Judith sensing her humiliation, but I didn’t know what to say or do.

Later that year, after the three of us kept disrupting the class, Miss Hindricks called our parents. With Elise and me the problem was settled easily — a scolding from our parents, and promises from us to stop the misbehavior. Judith’s case was different. I don’t remember whether Judith was defiant, but Miss Hindricks wrote a note to Judith’s mother demanding to see her. Judith’s mother could not leave work to come to see Miss Hindricks at the school. The principal then sent an ultimatum, “Either your mother comes to school or you’ll be expelled.” After being suspended, Judith was expelled. I never saw my friend again. I left Audubon School the next year, but I did see Elise occasionally. I’d ask her if she ever heard from Judith. Several years later, when we were teen-agers, Elise told me that Judith was placed in a mental hospital, diagnosed as schizophrenic. How could this have happened to my friend? Now, whenever I think about Judith, I not only wonder what became of her, I feel sad that we somehow failed our friend.

Travel back with me to Mardi Gras many years ago. Mardi Gras has a variety of associations. For me as a child, it meant a trip to fantasy land.

There’s a red glow in the sky. The day has come at last — It’s Mardi Gras! Some people call it Carnival Day, and some call it Mardi Gras. “Mama, what does Mardi Gras mean?” “It means fat Tuesday,” she answers. “It’s the day before Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent when Catholics fast. So the day before is a day to have a good time, to feast.”

“Hurry, hurry, get dressed; we’re going to the Adler’s to watch the parade.” I can hardly gobble down my breakfast. I jump up from the table to find my costume. First, I put on my silk knee socks and then my patent leather shoes. I slip my white blouse over my head and pull up my velvet Tyrolean skirt embroidered with flowers, then tie the apron in a bow. I look in the mirror to put on the matching head band. My aunt has brought the Tyrolean costume from Austria. “How do I look? How do I look?” “Carol, are you ready?” my father calls. My brother, already dressed in his Dutch boy outfit, is clopping down the hall in his wooden shoes. We pile into the car after my father shoves in the pole with a wooden chair on top. There my brother will sit to see the parade.

We gather on the Adler’s lawn. Here we meet our friends and relatives. The Adlers have a gray stone house like a fortress on the top of a low hill. Their front yard faces St. Charles Avenue, where the parade will pass. Even some of the grown-ups are in costume: clowns, sailors, a ballet dancer, and a gorilla. There’s a man with playing cards tacked all over his clothes. My mother wears a broad brimmed hat trimmed with a mass of garden flowers. My cousin Cecile, dressed as a gypsy, has a red scarf tied under her black hair. Other children, who are dashing about the yard, wear yellow and orange sateen costumes decorated with gold and silver braid. I look at their outfits — I wish only that I too could have an American factory-made costume like theirs.

Let’s go. Let’s go. We run out to the street. Vendors walk by with balloons, souvenir folders of the Mardi Gras, and badges with green, purple, and gold ribbons. “Peanuts, peanuts, hot roasted peanuts, two bags for five”, boys chant. I buy two, the bags warm in my hand. I savor the smell as I crack the soft shell– two peanuts inside and if I’m lucky I find three.

I walk out to the middle of the street and look down St. Charles Avenue. Anything coming? I see General Robert E. Lee’s statue on top of a tall column in the center of Lee Circle, but no sign of a parade yet. Soon, we hear a rumbling, a gentle thunder — booming sounds in the distance. My heart pounds with excitement. Here come the policemen mounted on prancing horses. As the horses approach on each side of the street , we are forced back to the curb. People shout as elbows poke and feet stomp toes. But as soon as the mounted police pass, the crowd surges out into the street again. Now comes a troop of police officers marching to a drum beat. Boom, boom, I feel the vibration inside my chest.

The drum beat grows fainter. Again we wait as our eyes strain to see what is coming. A high stepping horse approaches — astride the horse, a royal courtier dressed in a satin doublet. The collar of his cape stands high around his neck, and the folds of his shining cape flow over the flanks of his horse. Above a white smiling mask that covers the courtier’s face, he wears a hat adorned with feather plumes. He nods, salutes as he passes, and doffs his plumed hat.

Now a rumbling, a rat-a-tat-tat as the drum majorettes twirl their batons and step in rhythm to the music of the Redemptorist Band. My heart pounds with the beat. More marching bands pass down the street before the cheering crowds.

Following the marchers are two black men — white shifts, tied with rope belts cover their clothes. They each carry a pole that supports a sign announcing the parade.– Rex, spelled in glittering letters. After the sign, at last the first float of the parade. Pulled by eight horses, it is a towering mountain on wheels. Tinseled clouds tremble on each side as a rainbow arches across the top. Golden spangles sparkle in the sun. and spelled out on each side of the float, the theme of this Rex parade: Mother Goose Rhymes.

We stand in the street waiting for the next float. ..Here it comes! –the King of Carnival, Rex himself, high on his throne. His pale pink mask hides his face. Who is the king, I wonder. From under his jeweled crown, hangs long blond hair, and he has a curled yellow beard. High above the king’s head there is a huge purple, green, and gold crown, supported by columns. As the king bows graciously waving his scepter. Covering the back of the float, his purple velvet mantle, edged with ermine, trails from his shoulders.

When his float reaches the Boston Club, downtown, the king will toast his queen who will be waiting on the balcony of the club.

Now a black limousine drives down the avenue. Then more high school bands unfurl their banners: Sacred Heart, Rugby, Fortier, and Dominican. My father supports the chair on a pole where my brother, above the crowd, watches the parade. We soon see the floats swaying along as horses pull them. Each float transports us to a make believe world of a nursery rhyme. Here comes “Little Boy Blue.”Among the hay-stacks, the sheep and cows, are masked men in satin costumes, their eyes twinkling through openings in their masks. Each man holds onto a post on which hang strings of beads and a bag of Mardi Gras trinkets. I run up to the float. “Throw me something, mister”, I shout. “Little Boy Blue” himself, his eyes mysterious behind his smiling mask, leans over and points to me. Then he drops into my hands a string of beautiful lavender beads. As each float passes, the crowd cheers, yells, and swarms to catch beads or a doubloon, (pirate coins inscribed with a picture of Rex) tossed from the float.

Finally, after the last float, comes the “trouble wagon”, a caboose on wheels, and behind it, a police car, its siren blaring. The Rex parade is over, but later in the afternoon we will go down to Rampart Street to watch the Zulu parade. And tonight we’ll see Comus, the best parade of all, illuminated with torches called flambeaux. Then, Mardi Gras will be over for another year.

Neone, whose name was Leonie Jacobs, was my mother’s childhood friend. Often on our maid’s night off, Neone would come to stay at our house so that my parents could go out — it was as if my mother were doing Neone a favor to invite her to baby-sit.

Although as children, both my mother and Neone grew up in a poor neighborhood in New Orleans, their adult lives diverged. My mother went to college, married a wealthy architect, lived in a French provincial house, and established a circle of prominent Jewish friends. Neone on the other hand became a single working woman. She worked as a secretary for the L & N Railroad. Her father was an alcoholic and her brother Mike struggled to make a living. Neone felt the responsibility to take care of her family. I once visited Neone’s house on Leontine Street. After walking into the dimly lit living-room, I could hardly see the massive dark furniture. The oppressive feeling in that house made me anxious to run outside into the daylight again.

Although I felt comfortable with Neone, when my parents left me for the evening, I almost felt alone. I remember sitting at the breakfast-room table drinking a cup of split pea soup, feeling afraid and sick. Furthermore, I was aware and perhaps ashamed that our life was out of Neone’s reach. She wasn’t a member of our family, only a visitor, almost a peasant in the mansion of a queen and a princess. Yet Neone had a quiet dignity — she showed no envy. Both she and my mother were tall. Dressed in a high collared dark green dress, Neone’s body was like a tree trunk, straight and firmly rooted. Her green dress set off her wavy auburn hair, parted in the middle, drawn back in a bun. On either side of her oval face, an auburn curl turned in front of each ear. She had hazel eyes and the pale complexion of a red head. Neone colored her lips with a soft orange Tangee lipstick.

I did enjoy Neone’s admiration when she stayed with us, but I also felt a pang of compassion for her meager life. Once when Neone came to spend the night, I intentionally wore my ivory satin slip trimmed with lace, I paraded around the room after I removed my blouse and skirt. to get ready for bed. waiting for Neone to notice. “That’s a beautiful slip — you could be a bride”, Neone said.

I reached the time of my confirmation — this was not only a religious ceremony — it was an occasion for receiving gifts. “Carol,” Neone said to me, “would you like me to knit you a sweater for a gift?” We went together to the department store to choose a pattern from a book and a color of yarn. After looking through the book I picked a sweater pattern with small cables all the way around. Although I liked the design, I did sense that it would be difficult to knit. Yet I chose what I wanted. When finished, my sweater was indeed beautiful and I was proud to wear it. I knew that Neone wanted to do this for me in spite of the expense and the labor.

When Neone was still in her thirties, her red hair not yet touched with white, she became ill. My mother and I went to visit her in the hospital. Neone , her stomach distended, lay in the hospital bed. I knew that she was suffering with stomach cancer. The surgery she underwent only prolonged her pain. A sweet flower fragrance somewhat masked the odor of sickness in her room. I will always remember Neone: her courage, her lack of envy, and her generosity.
Of those who have died:

There are those who have no memorial,whose names have vanished as though they had never been.

But the goodness of their lives has not been lost!

Once there was a princess who had never cried. She had no reason to cry. Everything she ever wanted, she got. One day she woke up and said that she wanted to see God. “God,” her father shouted, “you mean God — don’t be silly child. No one in the whole world has seen God.” Princess Elinor smiled a sweet smile. That is exactly why I want to see him. Her father threw up his hands. Although he was often impatient with his only daughter, he loved her very much. He knew that in the end, he would do anything she asked of him and Princess Elinor knew it too.

The king called in his Chief of Law and Order and said, “my daughter demands to see God.” I order you to take care of it.” The Chief of Law and Order nodded and smiled. He knew very well who God was, and he had no doubt that he could make the princess see Him too. So he led the princess to the highest tower in the palace. He showed her The Great Book of the Land which listed all the laws that the people in that kingdom must live by, and all of the punishments for those who disobeyed. Solemnly he said, “this book is as good as God in this kingdom.” The king’s daughter pushed the great book onto the floor. “The law is not God,” she said, as she stamped her foot. I want to see God. “Baa,” said the Chief of Law and Order, and he went off to tell the king that his daughter was rude and willful.

So the king called his Chief of the Treasury. He had charge of all the gold in that kingdom. My daughter demands to see God. I order you to take care of it. The chief nodded and smiled, for he knew very well who God was. So far as he was concerned, he had no doubt that he could make the little princess see him too. He led the princess down to the deepest dungeon of the castle. There he took out a great key and unlocked a thick door, and as the big door swung open, the glitter of gold inside made princess blink. There, the treasurer said, clasping his hands under his chin and that my dear is the most money you’ll ever see in your whole life. But I want to see God. The princess stamped her foot not just a lot of old money. The treasurer looked at her flushed cheeks and put a hand on her dry forehead. Then he hurried off to the king to say that the princess must certainly be suffering from a strange kind of sickness.

Because neither of his two chiefs had been able to handle the job at all, the king decided to do it himself. He began to look around for God. Thinking about it, it occurred to him that he didn’t know what God looked like. Of course, he had never bothered to look for Him either. So he looked in the royal corners and under the royal bed, and even in the royal kitchen. But he couldn’t find God anywhere in the palace.

At last he went out the palace gate and trudged down the road to the village. On his way, he looked up into the trees around hedges and under rocks. He looked everywhere, but since he was not sure just exactly what it was he was looking for, he didn’t find anything. Soon he came to an old man who was planting a pear tree. The man was so old he hardly had a breath left in his body — yet he was planting a tree. The king smiled as he sat down to rest a moment and said, “Old man, do you expect to live long enough to eat the fruit of that tree?” The old man looked up at the king and down at the deep hole he had dug. He answered, “No but I expect my children will and if not them, their children will. Oh, I expect it will be a fine tree someday, God willing, that is.” The king looked at him curiously. Say old man, do you know God? Now the old man turned to look at him. “Of course, Don’t you?” The king stroked his royal chin. I’m really not at all sure, but my daughter wants more than anything in the world to see God. Can you show Him to her? The old man straightened up. He had often heard of the little princess who had never cried. He looked up the road toward the palace, then he looked down the road to a little house close to the roadside. Maybe I can, he said thoughtfully. When the king brought the old man before the princess, she looked at him suspiciously. Have you ever really seen God, old man? The old man nodded smiling a little. “Then show him to me, “she ordered in her harsh little voice. For she didn’t believe he had at all. First you must do something for me, the old man said. “What do you mean? What do I have to do?” asked the princess. You will only have to come with me to visit someone you don’t you know. Then will you show me God? The old man nodded. If God wills it, I will. And if He doesn’t, you’ll be sorry. She followed the old man out of the palace, down the road toward the village. But they did not go all the way. They stopped at a small poor house close to the road. The old man sat down on a box in the yard and motioned, “Go in.” The princess looked at him in surprise. She had never been in a place so poor before. Timidly, she pushed open the door and stepped in. A poor girl sat in a chair at the table. Though her smile was bright, her face was dirty. I am Princess Elinor. She wrinkled her nose at the smell of something cooking on the stove. The girl only look at her — she did not move. You’re supposed to get up and bow when you meet a princess. The girl’s smile slipped off her face and she whispered, “I can’t. “What do you mean you can’t? The girl pulled at her skirt; she pointed to her legs. I never could walk, ever. Princess Elinor looked at the girls legs, then looked quickly away. She stepped out and closed the door. Silently, she followed the old man back up the road to the palace. When they reached the palace hall, the old man turned to her. Are you ready? Ready, for what? asked the princess. She had been so busy thinking of the other girl, she had forgotten all about herself. The old man smiled. You are ready and to her surprise, he put a mirror in her hand. Now close your eyes; hold up the mirror and look deep into your heart. The princess closed her eyes and held up the mirror. Suddenly, tears began to roll down the cheeks of the princess who had never cried — big soft wet tears. Why are you crying, asked the old man? I have been selfish all my life and I did not know it until I saw that poor girl. She put the mirror down and opened her eyes. Oh, Sir, do you think it would help if I brought her some good soup and maybe a pretty dress to wear? Do you think that would help? The old man smiled. He took the mirror from her hand. After he put it carefully away, he said, “You have seen God.”

I will always remember Dr. Matas, the great man, who became my doctor. Our acquaintance began in New Orleans in 1933. When one night, I awoke with a high fever and pain under my arm, my parents first called in a physician, who not only failed to make a diagnosis, he acted with indifference. The next day, my grandfather, a friend of Dr. Matas, pleaded with the doctor to see me. Dr. Matas, who was then 73 years old, agreed to take on the case. In fact, he saved my life.

As I lay in my bed, a frightened child of ten, Dr. Matas walked into my room with an air of quiet dignity. He resembled a Spanish grandee: his white hair covered his domed forehead like a halo. A white mustache and a Van Dyke beard met in the curve of his mouth. His cheeks were rounded making a line on each side of his nose down to his jaw. Dr. Matas wore gold rimmed glasses and his thick eyebrows bristled above his dark brown eyes. His hands were delicate, almost feminine. Despite his short stature and rounded shoulders, Dr. Matas had a professional bearing. Yet I sensed his gentleness.

After Dr. Matas took charge of my medical care, he was at my bedside every day. Sometimes, he would sit pondering like the doctor in a well-known Victorian painting, his head leaning on his hand. I felt Dr. Matas’s concern. He discovered that I had streptococcus septicemia, this was before the discovery of anti-biotics. In treating me, Dr. Matas showed his interest not only in medical details, buy he also thought of me as a person. After I entered the hospital, even though I was often in pain, I liked to make drawings. Dr. Matas encouraged this hobby – he’d ask to see the pictures that I made illustrating popular songs. When my housekeeper offered to make me a bed jacket, my mother asked me what color I’d chose. I thought about it, and felt it was natural to say, “blue like my eyes”. Dr. Matas said with a twinkle: “imagine that, a ten year old thinking about such a thing”.

I was an inquisitive child even when I was ill. I noticed that one of Dr. Matas’s eyes looked strange. One day I heard the story: When Dr. Matas was a young doctor, after he had performed abdominal surgery, he threw off his mask and gloves. As he removed his surgical gown, he wiped his forehead with the hem of his gown. From this contaminated gown Dr. Matas’s eye became infected, endangering his sight. Dr. Feingold, an opthamologist, gave up his own practice for months to try to save Dr. Matas’s eye. Despite all of their efforts, specialists could not cure the diseased eye. To save the vision of his other eye, Dr. Matas’s eye had to be removed. Dr. Feingold did save the vision of one eye allowing Dr. Matas to develop his great skill.

I also noticed that suspended from a gold chain in his vest pocket, Dr. Matas wore six or seven honorary keys. When I questioned him, although he was reluctant to answer – as he held the keys in the palm of his hand, he said: “Over the years my colleagues from around the world have honered me.”

Although he was a renowned doctor, I remember Dr. Matas as a plain human being. After I had recovered from my illness, sometimes my parents and I would visit Dr. Matas in his modest office in a small frame house. His waiting room had the informality and clutter of an old fashioned living room. On at table, was the mold of the hands of a surgeon. Facing a small brick fireplace, there hung a picture that fascinated me. It portrayed Chopin at the piano, behind him a black-hooded figure. Dr. Matas explaining its meaning – he said that when Chopin performed his music, even death waited.

Dr. Matas general helper and receptionist would appear at the door to guide me down the hall to his examining room. It was a comfortable place with pictures on the wall: a print of a surgeon instructing students as he was performing a dissection, and one of the doctors, who like Dr. Matas himself, brooded over the plight of a child, while the anxious parents waited. Here, in Dr. Matas’s examining room, I lay on a sturdy table that was covered with a pad. Dr. Matas made his careful examination while Serena held for him what looked like a plumber’s trouble light attached to a long cord. Then, Dr. Matas accompanied me back to the waiting room. As he chattered with my parents and me, he had the air of a country doctor who had unlimited time to talk and to listen.

Many years later when I was a young woman, I discovered a letter that Dr. Matas had written to my parents:

My dear friends,

Yesterday, I received your most gracious and grateful letter and payment for services rendered to “our dear Carol” . In caring for her professionally during the great trial that imperiled her life, last summer, I shared your worries and anxieties with a deep sympathy and with a sense of responsibility that could hardly have been greater had she been my own child.

Dr. Matas added that his interest and readiness to help would continue.

He always did remain a friend. When I married, Dr. Matas sent me a gift of a bottle of wine. On the card he wrote:

For my dear Carol on her wedding day from her old doctor and friend, Rudolph Matas, a toast on her wedding day.

Even in his nineties, he maintained his active interest.

Having known this great man Dr. Rudolph Matas over the years, I was always surprised that he never needed to show his importance. His honor’s showed him pleasure, but he cherished simple joys.

Dr. Rudolph Matas (1860-1957), physician and surgeon, was a medical pioneer honored both at home and throughout the world. He was born at the Louque Plantation in Bonnet Carre Parish of Louisiana where his Catalonian father was residient physician and pharmacist. In 1862, the family moved to New Orleans — there he was baptized Rudolpho Matas at The Church of the Immaculate Conception. The Matas family lived not only in Louisiana, but also in Brownsville, Texas, Metamoras, Mexico; and sometimes they traveled abroad. Young Rudolph became fluent in several languages.

After completing his secondary education in Metamoras, at seventeen Rudolph Matas entered the University of Louisiana Medical College, later renamed Tulane University. He received his degree in 1880 and then began his distinguished medical career.

Dr. Matas became a vanguard surgeon, physician, and lecturer: He was the first doctor to use a vascular surgical technique for aneurism, a suturing method called “The Matas Operation.” He was the first to understand the need to control the rate of intravenous infusion — he invented “The Matas Clamp” to regulate the rate of flow. Dr. Matas performed surgery using spinal anesthesia, a first in the United States. He was the first to prescribe a pre-surgical regimen for abdominal surgery. Dr. Matas also became an authority on Yellow Fever, an advocate of Carlos Finlay’s hypothesis that the Culex Mosquito spread the Yellow Fever epidemic. Dr. Matas saved the life of Major Gorgas, who later cleared the Panama area of Yellow Fever to prepare for the contruction of the Panama Canal.

Dr. Matas accepted many honors throughout his career. At 35, he became Professor of Surgery at Tulane, and he served as Chief Surgeon at Touro Infirmary from 1906 to 1935. In addition to many honorary degrees and fellowships, he received decorations from more than fourteen countries. He presided as president of medical societies here and abroad, including: The New Orleans Medical Society, The Louisiana Medical Society, The American Surgical Association, and The International Society of Surgery.

The American Medical Association gave Dr. Matas its first Distinguished Service Medal. At home, among his many honors, the medical library of Tulane University was dedicated to Rudolph Matas.

After his retirement from active practice, Dr. Matas wrote a history of Louisiana medicine. He died at the age of 98 in 1958 at Touro Infirmary in New Orleans.


Rudolph Matas, Cohn, Isidore, M.D. with Deutch, Herman, B.Doubleday and Company, Inc., Garden City,

New York, 1960.

From the top of his head, crowned with strands of light brown hair, down to his off- white running shoes, George Kaufman’s image is like a sepia photo- graph. His eyes are brown, framed in pale rimmed glases; his complexion is fair with a few faded freckles on his nose; his sport shirt and sweat suit are the color of egg shells — a monochromatic image. George speaks with the soft mid-western voice of Jimmy Stewart. Yet his is not the voice of a country boy — his is a strong confident voice. There’s something special about George. Is it an aura? Behind translucent glasses, his eyes sparkle with humor and delight. George Kaufman is no ordinary person.

Journal of George Kaufman

February 11, 1982

I am 52 years old, middle-aged, but I guess I never thought much about death. After working at G.E.for 25 years, supervising and teaching electrical engineers, I, my wife Roberta, and our three children moved from Virginia to Connecticut where I am now a manager of a small company. Today, my best friend in the world died of cancer. We had worked together in Virginia for G.E. until I left. After I learned of his illness, I called him every few days, but today, after only three months, my friend is dead.

February 28, 1982

My friend’s death has made me re-evaluate my own life. I have worked as an electrical engineer ever since I graduated from Carnegie Tech like my father before me. Our three children are now grown, and our daughter will soon be married. I have been thinking about what I want to do now. How do I want to spend the rest of my life? My wife has a small antique business.

July 1, 1983

I quit my job. I suprised my wife, “I am going to work for you, “I said. “How are we going to live”? my wife asked. I love my wife — it’s as simple as that — I want to do this, I told her. Together, we will buy, exhibit and sell antiques.

August 1, 1984

It is my 54st birthday, and my wife has invited our children, our grand- child, and a few friends for a birthday celebration. Later, my wife looked at me: “George, if you got sick, who would I call”? I haven’t seen a doctor in nine years since I am in very good physical condition.

August 7, 1984

I made an appointment with an internist, who gave me a thorough examination. “George, everything looks perfect,” he told me. Then the nurse came in.” You’d both better walk downstairs,” she said. I saw my chest x-ray clipped to a screen. I waited — what was the doctor going say? “He pointed to a dark mass in the lower part of the lung. George, I could tell you it’s a fungus or a non-malignant tumor, but I think it is a malignant tumor in your right lung. I recall how I began to tremble, but I am an engineer; I try to look at things logically. Maybe it’s a mistake, I thought.

When I came home, I dreaded telling Roberta. She asked me, “How are you?” “Pretty good,” I said, but she knew something was wrong. We have no secrets from each other — “I probably have lung cancer, “I told her. I do know we’re in this battle together. We’ll do what we have to do, and we both have religious faith.

August 10, 1984

Today I saw a heart and lung specialist. After running more tests, including a lung scan, he confirmed the diagnosis of adeno-carcinoma. “If you have to have lung cancer, at least it’s operable,” he told me. We have to schedule surgery right away. I will have the operation at Hartford Hospital in five days, on Monday, August 15.

August 17, 1984

I am trying to write with a tube in my arm: It has been two days since my operation — I had four hours of surgery. I can remember when I was in the recovery room, the surgeon told me that the tumor was localized, but they removed two lobes of the right lung to be safe. The right lung has three lobes (60%of the total lung capacity); while the left lung has just two lobes. I am relieved that the operation is over, and I am here with my wife.

August 20, 1984

Last night the doctor came into my room. I could tell something was wrong. “We didn’t get it all,” he said; ” and that means you’ll have to have another operation tomorrow.” I know lung surgery is the worst, worse than heart surgery.

My three children are all here. I am scheduled for surgery at 7:00 a. m. My oldest son just arrived, and in half an hour, I will be in the operating room. I know my chances are miniscule.

I remember just before the operation, I was on a rolling stretcher in the elevator with my wife, my three children, and the pastor of our church. Someone was holding my hand, but none of us said a word.

August 24, 1984

I am dictating this to Roberta because I can’t sit up or focus my eyes.

I had a second four hour operation. [They stripped the lung, removed the bronchial tube connection, and then removed the right lung.] I cannot believe it has been four days since the surgery; they said I was unconscious all that time. I know it’s easy to die. I didn’t respond, the doctors said, but here I am , thank God.

August 30, 1984

I continue to dictate to my wife.

Since the last operation, I have been throwing blood clots — I now have pneumonia in my left lung. That means l will have to undergo a third operation after having had two four hour operations. This is to insert a Greenfield Filter into an artery to keep blood clots from entering my lung.

Whatever happens, we’ve had a good life. I love you, Roberta, George said. “You’re going to make it,” I told him.

I, Roberta Kaufman, will keep a record of my husband’s condition — his medical treatment. We have been married for thirty years, and I know George wants us to keep track of exactly what is happening to him:

September 2, 1984

Three days after his surgery, George is still unconscious, hooked up to nine tubes. Intravenous glucose is the only nourishment his system can absorb. Even with a respirator, his body is using only 8% of the necessary oxygen. That oxygen goes to the vital organs: the heart, the brain, the lung, the liver, and the kidneys. The rest of George’s body has shut down — this is called a catabolic state. The opposite of metabolic, the body is living off of its self, using up the fat, then the protein of the muscles. The doctors have said that after three days in a catabolic state, George will die.

October 5, 1984

George has remained in a coma for five weeks, still attached to nine hoses. I visit him every day, but he is a blob. I do hold his hand hoping that he senses we are with him.

One of George’s doctors who is an expert in chemistry, in this teaching hospital decided today to give him an infusion of soda to try to balance George’s pH. Tonight, our pastor called. “Roberta, my wife and I decided we must be praying for the wrong thing, because your husband is not getting any better.” Therefore they got the whole congregation on a prayer chain, praying for a miracle. People from all walks of life from floor sweepers to PhDs are praying for George’s recovery.

October 9, 1984

Today, after five and a half weeks in a coma , my husband opened his eyes. X-rays show that his lung has healed. “Was the Polo Ground (antique) Show cancelled?” were the first words he mouthed. I guess that’s the last thought he had on his mind.

Still on a respirator, unable to speak, George pointed to his wrist. He wanted know: first the time, then the date, and then the year. It was like Rip Van Winkle waking up.

George looks like a concentration camp victim. I smiled at him when our eyes met, because I knew George didn’t want my pity, but I wanted to weep. We do know that there is no oral or written record of such a recovery.

October 12, 1984

George managed to ask the doctor what he had to do to go home. “Get off the respirator, and have your bodily functions work,” he said. Now seven days after he regained consciousness, George is off the respirator.

October 17, 1984

George is now dictating to me:

Every time another tube comes out it’s exciting! I told the doctor, next week I’m going home. ” What will you do?” he asked. I knew all 600 pairs of muscles have been consumed — they are like strings. To go from the bed to the chair I have to use a walker and every step is pure agony. But, as I said to the doctor, the pain is marvelous because it means I am developing my muscles. I will work to regain my strength.

October 24, 1984

I came home today in an ambulance. They never thought I’d get up again, yet here I am at home. I asked my son to hold me up to the mirror. I weigh 100 pounds, and I look like a skeleton. I know that I have to redevelop all of my muscles in my body. Every day I am going to do something new to regain my strength, I told myself; my family knows I mean it.

October 28, 1984

I gained two pounds last week and two pounds this week. My wife gives me six meals every day. The physical therapist comes five days a week, and I try to work at least an hour each day on something new. However one morning, the physical therapist asked me to raise my heels off the floor. I raised them 1/4 inch — the pain was so excruciating — I fell into bed and stayed there for three days.

Thanksgiving Day, 1984

Today I walked without the walker for the first time — a shuffle since I haven’t developed my calf muscles. I can certainly give thanks. It took me three weeks to get to the living room. I asked Roberta to get a yard stick though she didn’t know the reason; then, I said please measure the path from the living- room through the kitchen and back. It’s a circle of 43 yards. I decided to do a mile each day — that’s 125 laps, and I will also use a rowing machine to develop my upper body.

October 1, 1984

Thanks, Roberta, for continuing to write down my thoughts. It’s thrilling to me. My family received a stack of letters and cards that reached from my lap up to my chin. My friends remembered all the things I had done for them. A Saudi Arabian co-worker flew to Virginia, and then drove 600 miles to see me for two hours.

December 10, 1984

I am working every day to develop my muscles, though I know, Roberta, you have to leave the room because you see the pain I endure. However, it’s unreal what people say to me. A professional football player said,” after an injury, I had to redevelop the muscles in one leg. I can’t imagine redeveloping all of the muscles of your body.”

June 10, 1984

The winter has passed, and I have been improving each day. I have walked more than 500 miles doing laps around the house. I have to record today because it’s the first time I have been out since I came home from the hospital — I went to see the pastor to tell him I’d be in church on Sunday.

June 15, 1984

Today, I was able once more to go to church. I had wanted to go as a way of saying thank you. There were 400 people there the pastor told me, some Inever seen before. After part of the service, the pastor asked me to stand up. When they cheered, tears flooded my eyes, and I could feel a tear run down my cheek.

Three years have passed since George learned that he had lung cancer and then survived the complications of his illness. He now works with his wife, Roberta, buying and selling antiques. At every antigue show, George’s endurance increases. The twinkle has returned to his eyes. He can lift, walk, even run, but he cannot yet coordinate brain and hand to write. After several years, Geaorge continues to dictate his journal.

August 24, 1987

I can now look back over the past several years: it’s great what my illness has done for my value system. I often end up feeling sorry for others. I am happy each day that I am alive. I think about the poor person who works hard to recover as I have, and does not get better. I see my improvement every day, and I can also see the wonderful opportunity I have been given to help others. That’s satisfying. Many wonderful people come up to tell me about their experience, how I’ve helped them. I have helped without even saying a word to them. They know about me and it makes their recovery easier.

An antique dealer friend told me that ten days after she had a mastectomy, she was working at an antique show. “How did you do it?” I asked her. “George, you are my inspiration,” she said. I have found so many wonderful people.

Yesterday, I ran into the doctor who looked after me in intensive care. I went to introduce myself. “Oh, George, I remember you,” he said. ” You remember me after two years? You’ve had hundreds of other patients go through this hospital. ” The doctor smiled, and he replied, “Yes I’ve seen many patients, but I never had a patient who wanted to live as much as you did.” I do have a marvelous wife to live for.