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Letters from Jan: Onward
Compiled September 2016


Background:  Before the invention of e-mail — and long before instant messaging and texts and tweets and all that — people used to write letters.  Lengthy letters, on actual paper, thoughtfully composed using proper English.

An acquaintance would write out her thoughts by hand and mail them to me.  A few days later, I'd receive her letter and compose my answer using a machine called a “typewriter,” which enabled me to retain a “carbon copy.”   After mailing the reply, I'd file my copy and her original letter for posterity.

And thus, dear posterity, I’m able to retrieve the messages I exchanged nearly half a century ago with my Oberlin College friend Janet Elaine Olson, who passed away in 2015.

I wrote Remembering Jan for this website.  Then I compiled the present article, consisting of excerpts from dozens of her letters.

What did we write about?  Among other things, we continued to discuss our separate romantic situations, hers especially, but I’m keeping that part mostly private.  She wrote candidly about her emotional ups and downs, from camping to working her way through med school.

I’ve divided this entertaining collection of correspondence into four quarters.  Click away!

Jan in our Oberlin sophomore yearbook


Finishing college, pondering relationships and God



We go our separate ways as graduates



Further adventures lead finally to wedding bells



Jan becomes a doctor and a mother



Start of 3rd Quarter . . . Onward

We pick up Jan’s story as she is in transition.  One year after her graduation from Oberlin College, she's working at Stine Labs until September, when she will enroll at the University of Rochester School of Medicine in Rochester, New York.  She’s still special friends with another Oberlin graduate.


Tuesday, June 16, 1970

Thursday Bruce becomes “The Reverend Bruce O. Babcock;” i.e., he gets ordained as a member of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Conference of the United Methodist Church.  I am taking a day of vacation that day in order to go up to Albright College in Reading, Pa., and witness the ceremonies.

(Incidentally, sometime last spring I asked Bruce, “Hey, are you going to invite me to your ordination?”  He said, “Sure.”  I promised, “Okay, then I’ll come.”  I don’t think he knew then that I was serious!)

On June 5th, when my parents left for their vacation in Wisconsin, we had a terrific thunderstorm (so powerful that a local radio station shut down for an hour and a half).  Lightning struck our house and burned out two lights.  It also loosened a good deal of rust on its way down to “ground” along a pipe in our well.  The water was so rusty that it left a quarter-inch layer of sediment on the floor of the shower where I washed my hair.  (I rinsed my hair with a gallon of de-ionized water which I had meant to use in my iron — not to rinse the iron out!)

The next day the water was still extremely rusty, so Ken and I borrowed a jug of pure water from a neighbor to use for drinking, toothbrushing, etc.  I was going out for the evening, so I trotted across the fields with soap, shower cap, and towel, and took a bath in a spring-fed stream.  I enjoyed privacy — except for a small plane which flew overhead.  When it turned around and returned, swooping very low, I grabbed a towel!


Wednesday, July 8, 1970

(As physics students at Oberlin, we had become acquainted with the optical interference patterns called “Newton’s Rings.”  For example, light waves reflected by the upper and lower surfaces of a thin film like a bubble can interfere with each other, resulting in different colors where the film varies in thickness.)

By August, Jan already knew that her roommate at Rochester would be Jean Olson, who was no relation.


Friday, August 7, 1970

Only five more weeks to go — WHOOPEE!

Jean and I have an apartment at the Graduate Living Center (the “GLICK”), which is within walking distance of the hospital and of the River Campus of the U. of R.

The Dean sent me the first-year schedule of classes ... yikes!  My days of leisure will soon be coming to an end.  The first semester we’ll have gross anatomy; biochemistry histology; psychiatry; patient, physician, and society (“P, P, & S”); and tutorial.

My mother has been up at Lake George almost continually since June 19th, helping to care for Gogo, who is very weak (nearly totally helpless) and is dying of cancer.


Wednesday, August 12, 1970

[Postcard]  An unhappiness brought all of us to Lake George.  Gogo died Sunday night.

Actually, I was glad for Gogo because although she had cancer, she never felt any pain, and she went quickly after only half a day in a coma.  Why, up until about two weeks ago, she was home (Lake George) and able to carry on a game of bridge!


Monday, August 17, 1970

I just finished making (well — finished except for the covered button trim and matching tam o’shanter) a dress for fall and winter.  I did a very fine job on it, if I do say so myself (which I do).

I don’t know of any medical schools that supply microscopes for all of their medical students.  My parents are going to buy my microscope for me.  I hope to get a BB-354, which is $947 before discount.  If my father is lucky, he’ll be able to wangle a 30-40% discount by buying wholesale directly from Bausch & Lomb through a duPont Co. purchasing agent.  They can make a “drop shipment” right in Rochester.  (That means that they bring the microscope to #540 de Kiewiet Tower and drop it, right there in front of my door.)

(Bausch & Lomb, like Kodak, was founded in Rochester, New York.  It makes optical products including intraocular lenses like the pair implanted in me in 2015.

Every year since 1933, B+L has honored outstanding high school science students with the Bausch & Lomb Honorary Science Award.  I received this 2¼" bronze medal in 1964.  Winners of the award are automatically considered for the Bausch + Lomb Science Scholarship at the University of Rochester.  Had I won, I might have made it to the U. of R. five years before Jan did.)

I have arranged for a loan for $1,500 for this year.  I won’t have to start repaying the loan or paying the interest until several months after I receive my MD°.


Wednesday, August 26, 1970

Hooray for Women’s Liberation!  Hooray for the Equal Rights Amendment!  Hooray for very liberalized abortion laws!

My father and I drove into Philly yesterday, and we purchased a Bausch & Lomb binocular microscope.  It’s beautiful!  The neatest thing about it is the flat field optics.  The entire field of view is in focus.

I have been playing with my new toy, of course.  The family got to see some blue-green refrigeration mold (aqua molda refrigeratoris?), a whisker, and a daisy petal.  The daisy petal was the most surprising.  Its surface is made of little humpy ridges, like volcano cones.

Two weeks left!  I am practically panic-stricken.  I am getting to be very scatterbrained, and I am so excited that I barely manage to stay asleep for my usual Saturday morning 9½ hour sleep.


Sunday, October 4, 1970

I can’t remember whether or not I have written you from Rochester.  I’ll assume not, since I know I have hardly written any letters since I got here.

This life is BUSY!  We really are kept going all day long every day from 8:30 AM till 5:45 or 6:00 PM at the hospital.  This is just classes and labs.  Then we come home and have to read and absorb volumes and volumes of material.

The subject matter is incredibly fascinating.  Anatomy is my favorite course.  We spend about 12 hours a week in lab dissecting our cadaver, who was a 59-year-old nurse at Riverside Hospital who gave her eyes to the eye bank and the rest of her body to the medical school.  The human body is amazing!

At home when studying anatomy, we are able to refer directly to parts of the various bones.  Each pair of students rooming together was given a box of bones to take home with them.


Sunday, December 27, 1970

I have been working much, much harder than I ever worked at Oberlin (did I ever work at Oberlin?) and enjoying it more.  All of my subjects are exciting!

Our studies in biochemistry and histology have begun to parallel those in anatomy.  For example, one Friday recently we studied the liver.  We had dissected the liver of our cadaver the previous morning in anatomy lab, and in anatomy lecture we had learned about some surgical procedures involving the liver and gall bladder.  Friday morning we heard about the biochemistry of the metabolism that goes on in the liver.  Friday afternoon, after viewing slides of liver ultrastructure, we examined fresh specimens of pig liver (donated by a nearby slaughterhouse) and peered into our microscopes in order to study liver in cross section.

Friday evening I invited Bruce to supper and promised to prepare for him anything he chose, since he had just been so kind as to take me grocery shopping in the midst of a blinding blizzard.  He picked mushrooms (Kennett Square variety) and chicken livers.  I had nonchalantly tossed them into the frying pan and was watching them sizzle away when suddenly it stuck me.  “LIVERS!” I shrieked.

Bruce came running into the kitchen to see what was the commotion.  He found me bent over the stove, my nose in the frying pan.  I picked up one of the buttery livers.  “Look!” I cried out in delight.

“Aren’t these cute?  You can distinguish the four lobes, and here is the portal vein, and here is the hepatic artery, and here is where they enter the porta hepatis along with the hepatic bile duct, and ...”

Wonder why Bruce looked so green?

I love learning the stuff, though.  I have found myself getting discouraged and frustrated when I could not seem to memorize everything.  Finally I am beginning to realize (at an emotional as well as an intellectual level) that no one, not even Jan the Genius, can know everything.  None of the professors expect that a student will have every anatomical term at the tip of his tongue, ready at a moment’s recall.  But I have been expecting this of myself most of the time, and have been disappointed.

Rochester’s weather is great.  The air is clear (no noticeable smog!) and cold.  It snows nearly every day.  (Unlike someone I know who bears the nickname “Fuzzy,” I like cold weather and lots of snow!)


Sunday, January 31, 1971

Hooray!  Final exams are over.  Whee!  This past week we had a histology exam on Monday (all day long), a biochemistry exam on Wednesday, and an anatomy exam on Friday.  I had only two hours of sleep (from 5:00 AM till 7:00 AM) the night before each of the exams.  (The first two times I tried desperately to sleep, but was too anxious.)

Friday night I had a party for eleven people (my anatomy lab group and their wives and friends).  How we ever fit eleven people into our tiny apartment I don’t understand, but it happened, and the party was a lot of fun.  For food we provided:

onion dip

rye bread

crackers and cheese

white bread

celery stuffed with cream cheese


dry-roasted peanuts


an entire ham, warm from the oven

after-dinner mints

swiss cheese and muenster cheese

and soft drinks.

Some of our guests brought potato chips, three six-packs of beer, and champagne.  We talked, played games (“paper charades”), and sang songs to the accompaniment of guitar.  The last of the guests finally left at 1:00 AM.

It had been snowing softly all evening, and Jean and I were wide awake (despite my two hours’ of sleep the previous night), so we dressed warmly and went out into the snow.  I knew that Bruce (who had attended the party, but left early) would be awake and working on a term paper which was due by 7:00 AM Saturday morning.  So Jean and I decided to walk to the seminary in the snow.

It was beautiful.  The snow was falling in huge, fluffy flakes.  We shuffled through about eight inches of fresh snow accumulation.  Ours were the only footprints in the snow.  There was hardly any wind, so we had a peaceful, comfortable 2½-mile walk.

As expected, Bruce was busily typing his paper.  After a walk around the seminary (which sits high on a hill and overlooks the city of Rochester), we all went indoors.

Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School (from a 21st-century photo by Mary Shelsby)

Jean and I proof-read about twenty pages, while Bruce clacked along on his typewriter.  At about 3:00 AM, Jean and I decided that it was time for us to go home.  ULP!  While we had been indoors, our quiet snowstorm had turned into a raging blizzard!  It was snowing furiously, and a howling and bitter wind was creating huge drifts.  There was obviously no sense in trying either to drive or to walk home until the storm calmed and the roads were plowed.  Jean and I slept overnight in Bruce’s room, and the three of us returned to the Olsons’ apartment for “breakfast” at 1:00 PM on Saturday!

Classes start again on Monday.  This semester I am taking physiology; genetics; preventive medicine; psychiatry; patient, physician, and society; first aid; and problems in adolescence.  The last two are electives.


Monday, February 22, 1971

This semester is lots more fun than last semester (which proved to be rather drudgerous at times).

One afternoon I spent four hours in the emergency department helping a fourth-year medical student.  I assisted in giving an EKG to a patient suspected of having just had a myocardial infarction.  (It turned out he had not.)  That evening I was present in OB/GYN to see a baby delivered.  WOW!  That was the most marvelous event I have ever seen!

Last week for my course Problems in Adolescence, I talked and led a discussion for over an hour on adolescence in Japan.  It is amazing that, even seven years after my AFS experience, I still speak about it so often!

My parents sent me a very formal, typewritten letter stating that since they considered me a good investment, they would be willing to lend me up to $1,500 a year to help me through medical school.  I reacted very strongly, but in a way I’m sure they never expected:  I was totally incensed.  Because of a long background of unpleasant experiences, I resent being treated as a business investment, and I fear their use of economic holds on me for manipulative means.  Finally after several weeks I had calmed down enough so that I was able to write and thank them for the offer (in a postscript), but I am still very much unwilling to accept the offer.  Unfortunately it may turn out that I have no choice.

I am working on a psychiatry term paper due this Friday.  My title is “Rx: placebo” — or something like that.  ...I’d better return to working on it.


Monday, April 5, 1971

We just finished our spring vacation.  I flew home for 4½ days (Monday through Friday noon), although the house was empty.  (My parents were in Spain and Ken was spending the week with Lynn in New Jersey.)

Tuesday I went in to Stine Labs to pay a surprise visit.  That was March 30, and I knew it was the day before my friend Drew Herd was to retire.  Drew and Dewey were so surprised that they took me out to lunch at the Glascow Arms Restaurant.  Drew and I had tenderloin tips and Dewey had filet mignon.  We had a most leisurely and pleasant meal.

Wednesday was spent driving hither and yon filling out applications for summer employment and looking for spring clothes (not at the same places).  My parents had warned me that the duPont Company is not hiring anybody and that not many organizations are hiring people these days.  They tried to prepare me to accept any kind of job at all I could get, even scrubbing floors at minimum wage.

Nevertheless, on Thursday I was offered a job as laboratory technician at Community Memorial Hospital in West Grove, Pa.  I will be paid $3.50/hour.

West Grove is about half an hour’s drive from Newark, Delaware, where I’ll be living with Chris Bekiesz, the girl who replaced me at Stine.  (West Chester, where Bruce will be living, taking more courses toward his M.S. degree in health and physical education, and working, is also about half an hour’s drive from Newark.)

My parents bought a “new” (1968) car, and they are saving the 1965 Pontiac LeMans for me to use over the summer.  I’ll pay for its feeding and maintenance, of course, and I may reimburse my parents for the depreciation.


Friday, June 4, 1971

Tomorrow I have my last class in first-year medical school.  Monday I have a physiology final (9-hour, open book), and Thursday, a genetics final (1½-hour, in class).

Right after the genetics final Jean and Zachary (a fellow med student) and I are leaving for Boston.  I’ll be staying at Jean’s home in Walpole, Massachusetts until Sunday, when Bruce and I will drive to Pennsylvania.  (If you are confused now, just wait!)  Bruce will be driving up from Pennsylvania (down to which he will be driving this Sunday, for the beginning of his classes at West Chester State College) on Friday.  He’ll stay overnight at Jean’s house, and then on Saturday, Jean and Bruce and I will go to the North-South Lacrosse Game at Tufts University.

(Do I long for the simple life?  Nope!)


Tuesday, July 13, 1971

The reason I haven’t written to you before this is that I have been too exhausted.  I’ve had problems sleeping, too.  I have nightmares about the patients at the hospital, and I usually awaken several times during the night.  Also, I sleepwalk.  A few nights ago Chris heard some “angry mutterings.”  She saw me crawling around on the floor beside my bed, talking.  I picked up my alarm clock, looked at it, and said, “Oh, my!”  “Jan, are you all right?” Chris asked, alarmed.  “Yes,” I said, annoyed.  (What a silly question!)  That woke me up, and I got back into bed.

I have observed three operations.  Occasionally I have a day off, and I get alternate weekends off.  These, too, have been full — catching up on sleep, socializing, etc.  Last free weekend (the weekend of the Fourth), Bruce and I went to the Kutztown Folk Festival, a Pennsylvania Dutch doing in Kutztown, Pa.

Bruce is the minister for the Glen Moore United Methodist Church in Glenmoore, Pa.  The church is small, folksy, and friendly.  I attend on alternate Sundays.

I’ll have to close for now.  I’ll try to write more frequently — there’s lots to tell!  Please write and let me know what you are up to!  (— to what you are up?)


While we were undergraduates, Jan and her parents had invited me to dinner at the Oberlin Inn in October 1968.  I recall that Apollo 7 was in orbit then.

Later I found a NASA collection of photos of the earth taken by that crew and the crew of Apollo 9.  Sections included “Man’s Effect” as well as future missions to other planets.  I bought two copies and sent one to Jan for her 24th birthday in June 1971.

Saturday, July 31, 1971

Thank you!  This Island Earth finally found its way to me.  It’s beautiful!  I hope that you got a copy for yourself, too.  There are some really awe-inspiring and thought-provoking pictures in that book.

Guess what good news came last week?  I got a letter from the U. of R. informing me that I have been awarded a $1000 Rochester Prize Scholarship!  You can image just how delighted that news makes me!  As long as my $1500 loan application from the Kennett National Bank and Trust Company is approved, I have no financial worries for next year.

Last week I purchased an Appalachian autoharp — polished, golden brown wood.  I am really tickled with it.  I have done nothing but practice on it in all my spare time since I got it!

At present it is at the music store for repairs (there was a slight factory defect), which is one reason you are lucky enough to receive this letter!

I just spoke with my mother on the phone a little while ago, and she made all sorts of comments about my “indulging” myself, by buying the autoharp.  Grrrr...  I had hoped that, by living on my own and not borrowing any money from my parents, I would be free from my mother’s disparaging remarks on how I spend my money.  It’s my money, my indebtedness, my future, my freedom to waste my money as I see fit!  That’s how I feel.

Dr. Hodgman (U. of R. psychiatrist) says that, although he is 40, his parents still try to instruct him on how to run his life.  UGH.

I am now officially a junior member of the American Medical Women’s Association, Inc.  I shall receive the official publication, which magazine deals with issues such as how to combine doctorhood and motherhood; part-time medical education and internship, etc.  It’s silly, I suppose, but I feel proud as anything to be carrying that small membership card!

Time to get ready for supper, now.

Please write frequently; I am starved for mail!


Saturday, October 16, 1971

It was been so long since I last wrote to you that I wouldn’t be surprised if you had forgotten who I was!  (I am a second-year medical student at The University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry....)

Last weekend, as you may know, I flew home to help marry off [my sister] Lynn.  She is now Mrs. Stephen Wilson, or Dr. Lynn Wilson, or something like that.  The wedding went perfectly (in spite of the rain).  Lynn looked beautiful in the absolutely stunning wedding gown which she herself made.

The reception was fun, too.  As maid of honor, I got to sit at the head table between Steve and [my brother] Carl.

Guess who caught the bride’s bouquet?  (My mother’s plaintive comment:  “Don’t you dare!”  She wants me to become an M.D. before I become a MRS.)

While I was home, I had to traipse off to the hospital at odd hours to get my blood drawn.  I am a volunteer in a study of low-dose oral contraceptives.  The purpose of the experiment is to determine whether low dosages of progesterone and estrogen will prevent ovulation without causing the changes in blood clotting which presently appear in all women taking “the Pills” now on the market.  I must have my blood drawn daily for 7 days a month for seven months.  For this service, I will be paid $200.  The real reward, though, is that every time I get my blood drawn, I get a free lollipop!  (This was my suggestion, which was implemented!  The NIH grant pays for the lollipops.)


Tuesday, January 11, 1972

We have final exams in two weeks.  Meanwhile they seem to be dumping our entire medical education on us in the month of January.  (Help!)  We have one lovely Sunday as a vacation between semesters.

Last week in my elective on Sex and Sex Ed., we talked to three members (two women and a man) from Rochester’s Gay Liberation Front.  Most interesting!  Homosexuals are not necessarily either criminals or sick.

Sorry I can’t write more.  Must study!


Saturday, February 26, 1972

HAPPY LATE BIRTHDAY!  Goodness!  A quarter of a century old!  How does it feel?

This past two weeks was another impossible stretch like the one a month ago.  (Did I ever recover sufficiently to write you about that one?)  We had our final, objective and practical, exam in microbiology today.  A month ago we had three comprehensive exams within the space of one week — while regular classes continued 8:30-5:00 every day!  It was awful!  Also, we had no semester break at all between semesters.  (We had an exam one Monday morning, and the second semester started that afternoon.)

Despite the studying until my eyes ached and wouldn’t focus, the exhaustion, and the griping, I managed to get the highest mark in the class on one of my exams, and at least to pass all the others.

I have decided to rent a single, one-bedroom apartment next year.  I’d like to have a place of my own to decorate and live in while I’m still single.  Another factor is that I would like to do a fair bit of entertaining — dinner parties and such — which is difficult with one roommate (as our friends are different) and next to impossible with three.

I will need a car for next year (we have rotations at six different hospitals throughout the city), so I’ll be looking for one to buy over spring vacation.  (I’ll be going home.)  Can you give me any good reasons for buying any particular brand of car (say, Chevrolet or Oldsmobile)?  I’m looking for a ’68 or ’69, six cylinder car costing less than $1,400.

Lynn (my sister) has been persuaded by her kayaking coach to try out for the summer Olympic slalom competition.  Carl (my brother) is training with an Olympic coach in white-water events, but he doesn’t intend to try out.

If I weren’t so totally exhausted and cotton-headed, I would write you a longer and more interesting epistle, but as it is, I’d better say “Good night.”  (Good night, sleep tight, don’t let the bedbugs, reduvid bugs, ticks, mites, fleas, spiders, flies, or mosquitoes bite!  If you want to know “why not,” just ask.  I’ll probably send you my parasitology text as a gift!)


Tuesday, March 7, 1972

I think I may be able to give you some clues about the young woman who has taken to answering you only in monosyllables.  From my “dating days,” I can recall only too well the phenomenon of trying to “discourage” someone.  When, for one reason or another (usually because I was “going with” somebody), I didn’t want to be asked out by some particular person, I would go out of my way to be cool and unapproachable toward that person so that he wouldn’t be tempted to ask me out (a situation that would be awkward and embarrassing to both of us).  It hardly ever had to do with whether or not I liked the person (although I frequently came to dislike anyone who was “persistent”; ie, ignored my warning signals), but had more to do with my feat of either 1) hurting the young man’s feelings by turning down his invitation, or 2) being unfair to him by going out with him (and tacitly sort of misleading him) when I knew that (for the moment at least) I “belonged” to someone else.

I have always appreciated the compliment of being asked out, and have almost always enjoyed doing things with the persons whose invitations I accepted, even though I may have felt guilty about misleading or giving “false hopes.”  But the expectation that someone is going to “pursue” you when you’d rather he didn’t (at least at present) is better than anything I know for inhibiting what otherwise would have been friendly behavior toward that person.

I strongly suspect that the young woman of whom you write is somewhat abrupt with you not because she dislikes you, but because she’s scared out of her wits that if she acts in the least bit friendly toward you, you’ll misinterpret and fall in love with her or something.  She can be friendly with the married men in the office because from them she is safe.  (Actually, she may not be, but college-age women are too naïve to know this.)  I really don’t think you need to be concerned that she dislikes you.  I have been “mean” to any number of people whom I liked perfectly well as people.  It was their unwelcome attentions I disliked.

If you can somehow assure this young woman that she can feel safe — that you’re not going to try to intrude into her relationship with Charlie — then you and she may be able to become good friends.  (You and I have done all right despite the fact that I seem to have been “going with” somebody other than you for most of the years I’ve known you!)

Last week my parents gave me a telephone call that about surprised the hair off my head.  I had written telling them that I planned to buy a car, and why, and asking my father to help me look for it.  My father said, “We have some good news for you....”  What my parents told me then took a long time to sink in, but the upshot of it was, they are going to buy me a car!  I couldn’t believe my ears.  I said, “You mean you’re going to loan me the money?”  They answered, “No, we plan to give you the car.  It seems like a practical thing.  You can have it for a graduation present from medical school.”  (They already gave me a $1,000-dollar microscope as a graduation present from medical school.)

Needless to say, I’m really pleased about that.  I had spent a number of sleepless nights wondering where I would get the money to eat in June, July, and August if I bought a car.

I’ll be going home for most of spring vacation — March 25-31.  Perhaps my car will be chosen by then!  (My parents asked if I had any particular kind of car in mind.  I said, “Yes.  Red.”)

Well, I’b I’d better do some studying.


Tuesday, May 9, 1972

My new address is 880 South Avenue, Rochester, New York 14620.  I am very happy to have moved.  Since you have never had a roommate, let alone three at one time, you don’t know how wearing it can be to share a room and/or apartment with someone else.

Being married does have a great deal in common with having a roommate, I’m sure.  But at least one gets to choose one’s spouse! 

880 South Avenue in 2015

I had never seen any of my three roommates of this year before I lived with them.  I would not have selected any of them for a spouse!

Now I am having a great time possessing an entire apartment (furnished, with BR, LR, kitchen, DR, bath, den, and basement) all by myself.  The one disadvantage that I have noticed so far is having to do the cooking, housecleaning, and dishwashing each week myself.

My parents have purchased the car they’re going to give me.  It is a 1969 Chevy II Nova, frost green, with six cylinders, and only 8,000 miles.  It will be arriving in Rochester containing one parent on May 19.  (The other parent and Ken will bring one of the family cars.)  They (family) hope to be in time for Rochester’s famous lilacs.

The next major project on my schedule is preparing for the National Board Examinations on June 13 and 14 (8 hours each day).  These exams cover all the basic science material we covered during the first two years of medical school.  I must pass the exams as one step (of three or four) toward being certified to practice medicine.


Last Sunday I worked for 5 hours at “Check Point 11” of Rochester’s Hike for Hope.  About 40,000 Rochester teenagers get people to sponsor them at so many cents a mile.  The proceeds went to Project Hope — about $500,000, I believe.  I was a volunteer at the First Aid Station, and treated blisters and sprained ankles.  Actually, we didn’t have much business as Check Point 11 was just a mile from the finish point of the 25-mile hike, and by then the kids wanted to ignore their wounds and just finish.


Sunday, June 4, 1972

Yesterday I had my very last class in the Basic Sciences (pre-clinical) part of medical school.  Next come two years of clinical training (I’ll be working on the hospital wards in Rochester’s six hospitals).  I should get my M.D. degree in June, 1974.  Then come internship (if it’s still existent) and residency.  I get paid for all training after the M.D.

A few days ago I was idly chewing upon a fingernail when a piece of one of my bottom front teeth broke off.  Now I look like a prize fighter.  (Though I assure you, I wouldn’t harm the teeniest hair on the head of a prize!)

Monday, June 26, 1972

The birthday carrier bluebird arrived today (carrying my birthday, of course).

At first I thought that I would be able to get away with using just the envelopes by themselves, writing on the inside and folding them up and licking them like aerograms.  (The envelopes aren’t glued shut until one licks them.)

Then it occurred to me that the person receiving the missive would probably open it with a letter opener as if it were some ordinary letter, and might not get the message.

Thank you!  You must have noticed how I kept sending letters in various assorted envelopes left over from various assorted boxes of matched stationery I once owned.  Those envelopes got all used up, so I am happy to have some new ones, especially emblazoned with my name and new address.

The bluebird can assist in making deliveries in case we have more weather like that of the past wet week.  My ex-roommates were evacuated from 319 Quinby Road.  (Whipple Park is located off East River Road — “River” being the roaring Genessee.)  One of them spent the night here with me.  Fortunately, Whipple Park remained high and as dry as any other area was after 5 days of rain.

I don’t remember when the last time was that I wrote to you (as usual!), but I imagine that it was before National Boards.  Well, I survived 1000 horrible questions, and fourteen plus hours of sitting in one seat regurgitating.  I was so anxious that I did not sleep at all the night before the first day of exams.  (The next night you couldn’t have stimulated my ascending reticular activating system with a sledgehammer.)  I just hope I passed so that I don’t have to go through that again in September.

Now I am working on the problem of drug interactions with digoxin (a glycoside used to treat congestive heart failure), as they affect absorption.  That didn’t sound very clear.  What I meant was, I will be measuring serum digoxin levels of patients who are or are not on certain other drugs at the same time as they are taking digoxin, and will compare the digoxin levels.

Thanks again for the envelopes!  You’ll be seeing more of them.


Tuesday, September 12, 1972

Dear Tom,

Have you had any more nightmares about me?  I promise not to send another if you’ll promise to write within the next week or two (or possibly three, if you are exceedingly busy or un-air-conditioned!).

I cannot really scold you for not writing, however.  I haven’t exactly been overtaxing the U.S. Postal Service myself.

I’ll try to catch you up on the major news of the summer.

I did manage to pass the National Board Examinations, Part I — hallelujah!

I worked in clinical pharmacology for six weeks, doing various and sundry things, the most worthwhile of which was probably carrying out the twice-weekly digoxin radio-immunoassays for Rochester General Hospital (ie, I determined serum levels of digoxin, the drug most commonly used to treat congestive heart failure).

From August 1 through September 5 (five weeks) I went on The Great Camping Trip.  The Great Trip was a marvelous experience and a wonderful vacation!  It included Rocky Mountain National Park, Mesa Verde National Park, Grand Canyon National Park, Zion National Park, Las Vegas (where we lost $10 in nickels to the slot machines), Los Angeles (with a visit to Carl and Joanne Olson, and Disneyland), San Francisco (where a medical school classmate met us and showed us Fisherman’s Wharf and Chinatown), Redwood National Park, the sand dunes of the Oregon coast, Olympic National Park, Seattle, Salt Lake City, and Fort Collins, Colorado (where we visited Marg Babcock and her fiancé).  I went with Bruce Babcock.

(Until July 29, we thought Bruce’s roommate Ron was coming on the trip, too, but at the last minute, Ron couldn’t.)

The Great Trip also included a porcupine, mule deer, a weasel, wild ducks, antelope, a perfect double rainbow that lasted a full hour at sunset, a flash flood in bright sunlight in the middle of the Mojave Desert, and a mountain jay that tried to eat the tent.

When we returned from our vacation late in the evening on Sept. 5, I phoned my parents, and then we went over to Bruce’s family’s home to tell them our news.  Bruce and I are being married on December 23.

The next day we drove to Pennsylvania.  Bruce’s soccer season at Widener Collee started the 7th (with three practices a day), and I spent the 7th-10th visiting with my family and making wedding plans and arrangements.

The wedding will be at 2:00 on Saturday, December 23, at Hockessin United Methodist Church in Hockessin, Delaware.  I hope that you will be able to come!

Above:  The Hockessin UM Church in 2012.  It’s not far from Jan’s family home across the state line in Pennsylvania:  4½ miles by car, less than two miles by crow.

I flew back to Rochester Sunday evening.  Classes started at 8AM Monday morning.  Already we have been interviewing patients and have begun learning to give physical examinations to each other.

It’s already 11PM, so I’d better get back to my “homework.”

Please write: let me know what you have been up to.  


Friday, September 15, 1972

It was good to receive your 3¼–page letter of September 12th.  (Didn’t I write you on the 12th as well?)  That letter (yours of the 12th) does not exempt you from sending another (shorter, if need be) within the next few weeks, however.

I am anxious to know how you received the news of my impending change of marital status.  If my suspicions are correct, you weren’t entirely pleased, but you reminded yourself with a certain degree of resignation that someone who wanted approximately four screaming little monsters in her home wouldn’t be suitable for you anyway.

Third year medical school is fun.  It was even worth the toil and drudgerosity of second year medical school, on order to get to this phase.


Before the above letter from Jan arrived in Ohio, I wrote her the following on Sunday, September 17.


I can’t exactly say that your announcement was unexpected, of course.  In fact, it’s my guess that the decision was made in principle as much as a year ago, with only the question of timing left open.

In your letters from the first part of 1971 you regularly referred to things you and Bruce did together, but after July 13, 1971, he was never mentioned.  I even mentioned his return to Rochester the first of this year, but you didn’t respond.  I interpreted this as an “ominous silence.”  I guess you remained silent because (a) it was a private matter, (b) it wasn’t time to make an announcement yet, and (c) you were afraid of an adverse reaction from me.

Well, you’re not going to get an adverse reaction.  On the contrary.  I think it’s safe to say that the chances of my ever qualifying as your husband are about as slim as the chances of a brick leaping spontaneously from the floor due to the organized thermal vibrations of its molecules in concert.  Assuming this, I want whatever’s best for you, and Bruce certainly is that.  It was no accident that the Great Trip included a perfect, long-lasting double rainbow.  That was a sign for your life together.

I wouldn’t be honest, though, if I didn’t admit an empty feeling on my part after hearing the news.  After all, I’ve had the honor of numbering Jan Olson among my acquaintances for the last seven years, and among my friends for five.  I can honestly say that you’ve brought me closer than anyone else to knowing what it means actually to love another person.  You’ve also been around during some of the most important parts of my life.  You’ve given me understanding advice at times, and at other times I’ve tried to do the same for you.

Perhaps I shouldn’t tell you this, but that nightmare I had about you on July 26, just the week before you and Bruce set off on the Great Trip, could have been prophetic.  I dreamed you had gotten married, but I found out about it impersonally and after the fact.  Perhaps I read it in one of the paragraphs in the “Ten Thousand Strong” section of the Alumni Magazine.  Anyhow, in my dream you were happily bubbling away at the wedding reception, and I was watching as if on television, feeling very hurt and very unloved.

It’s a tribute to you that my nightmare didn’t come true.  You wrote me the news as soon as you returned to Rochester, and the letter you wrote was a masterpiece.  First you talked of the Great Trip; then you slipped the word “we” into the narrative; then you mentioned “Marg Babcock and her fiancé”; then you revealed that the “we” was you and Bruce; then came the rainbow; then you phoned your parents and went over to Bruce’s family’s home to tell them your news.  All carefully leading up to the announcement on page 3 --- an announcement that could just as easily have been made in BOLD LETTERS! on page 1.  Instead, page 1 began with an admonition to me to write, and the letter closed with another indication that you wanted our correspondence to continue.

You know, Jan, there are a lot of people in this world — probably myself included — who in a similar situation would not have been nearly as considerate to a third party, an outsider, as you have been.  Thanks.

But then, I’m really not completely an outsider.  You’ve told me many things about your romance with Bruce, and I’ve even tried to help it along with advice in a couple of cases.  You told me about your dream of May 1969:  “Bruce asked me to marry him, and I said, ‘Yes, of course.’”  You told me about your efforts in the summer and fall of that year to win Bruce over from a friend to more than a friend, efforts that even included the purchase of a miniskirt for his trip to Lake George:  “Agonized and vulnerable, I am trapped in a prison of hope.”  Finally on November 23, 1969:  “Today I am feeling so happy that I can hardly bear it.  Je croisque quelqu’un qui a pris mon couer me tient chère.”  Thank you, Jan, for sharing that part of your life with me.

I won’t be able to make it to Hockessin on December 23, but I’ll tell you what I will do.  That Saturday afternoon from 2:00 to 2:15, whatever I’m doing, I’ll pray for you and Bruce, that your life together may be long-lasting and as perfect and beautiful as the double rainbow you saw.  And for your part, sometime in the next three months I’d like you to pray for me — that I can find someone who will mean as much to me as you have, Jan, these last five years.


Wednesday, November 29, 1972

This is a letter of Thanksgiving.

First, thank you very much for the September letter in which you congratulated me upon my betrothal.  It was beautiful!  I cried.  As a friend of mine once said, “I don’t deserve the people I know.”

Next, thank you for continuing to keep in touch.  I haven’t said much in the past 2½ months, have I?   A few of the things which have kept me busy since September are medical school (which automatically takes up all one’s time), wedding arrangements, including making my wedding dress, and moving to a new apartment.

Moving was necessitated by a growing number of indignities perpetrated by my landlord.  The most astounding thing he did was to rob my apartment the very day that he received a key so that he could show the place to prospective tenants.  The police recovered the stolen goods hidden in a room in the basement.

Finally, thank you for the wedding presents!  Bruce and I opened them on Thanksgiving Day.  The handmade wool throw is very pretty, with soft, muted, heathery colors, and I am especially pleased with the sterling silver salt and pepper shakers!  You have the honor of giving the very second wedding gift.  (The first gift was a stoneware colander, made by a next-door neighbor, and it arrived on September 9, 1972 [only four days after we told our parents of our intentions].)  I was delighted to receive a wedding gift from you.  Thank you!

Happily ever after, at least twice a year I sent Jan a gift or a card or a letter.  One occasion was her June 8 birthday, which I remembered for 50 straight years (1966 through 2015).  The other occasion combined her December 23 wedding anniversary with Christmas.

We exchanged other letters as well, of course.  In the fourth installment of this collection of correspondence, Jan's further adventures include a medical degree and a son and a move to Wisconsin — where, just like Rochester, there's plenty of snow.

. . . End of 3rd Quarter



Finishing college, pondering relationships and God



We go our separate ways as graduates



Further adventures lead finally to wedding bells




Jan becomes a doctor and a mother




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