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Letters from Jan: Paired
Compiled October 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 4th Quarter . . . Paired

On December 23, 1972, Jan Olson married Bruce Babcock.  The pair set up housekeeping on the banks of the Genessee River in Rochester, New York, where Jan was hard at work finishing her med-school studies.  For her residency, however, she would be paired with a different hospital 600 miles away.

In the meantime, she still occasionally found time to correspond with me.


Wednesday, June 6, 1973

I thought I would write you a letter for my twenty-sixth birthday.

Being married is quite a comfortable and contented state of being.  I think that you will experience it that way when the opportunity comes for you.

Following the tradition of one of Oberlin’s first women students, Lucy Stone, I am using “Janet Olson” as my legal and professional name.  I do open letters addressed to Mrs. Babcock as well, however!

Bruce graduated from divinity school on May 25 and will begin work as the pastor of the Genesee Valley United Methodist Church, a small (200-member) progressive church, on June 17.  To pass the time until mid-June, Bruce is substitute teaching junior high school physical education and refereeing lacrosse games (JV, varsity, and intercollegiate).

The third year of medical school is almost over now.  I delivered 30 babies during the three weeks on obstetrics.  That’s quite an accomplishment for any woman, you must agree.  (Our minister was horrified when my mother candidly announced in April, four months after my wedding, that I had delivered my first baby!)

The crisis in which I am currently confused is the choice of what to do when I grow up.  Family physician?  University health service doc?  Obstetrician/gynecologist?  How can I decide when all in medicine that I really know is how to be a medical student?!?


Thursday, July 19, 1973
(on postcard of “Lovely Lake George,” New York)

I am just leaving “lovely Lake George” after a restful six-day vacation “all by myself.”  (Bruce is a working man now.)

On July 26 we shall begin a one-month vacation to points west, stopping at various hospitals on the way, all the way out to Seattle, in search of resident programs in family medicine.  We’ll camp, of course.


You may recall it was after a similar vacation the previous year that Jan and Bruce announced their engagement.


Tuesday, November 6, 1973

I wrote you a postcard during our trip this summer and meant to mail it from Steamboat Springs, Colorado.

But we were in Steamboat Springs late on a Saturday afternoon, and the Post Office was closed, and the only stamps we had were S&H Green.  (“S&H green” is a shade lighter than Kelly.)

Our trip was almost as much fun as last year’s.  We camped in the Valley of the Jolly (ho-ho-ho!) Green Giant (Le Sueur, Minnesota) and almost got to watch the canning and packaging of Le Sueur peas.  Unfortunately we were there during the five days between pea season and corn season.  We did get to watch some packaging, however — in Battle Creek, Michigan.  Rice Krispies, it seems, are always in season.

We pitched camp in Wasatch National Forest, Utah, next to a cold, rushing, rocky mountain stream just before a violent, crashing thunderstorm.  As the storm was blowing past and the sun was beginning to set, there appeared in the sky a perfect double rainbow!  The only other parties in the campground were housed in trailers and might not have noticed the rainbow, so Bruce (in his usual fashion) ran to tell people the good news.

The day after we returned from vacation I started the advanced medical clerkship, part of my fourth-year experience.  After six weeks of an elective, I had four weeks of emergency department service.

Originally our schedule was 36 hours “on call” (ie, awake and working) alternating with 12 hours off, for the entire month.  But after two exhausting weeks of that, we students protested, and our schedule was changed.  After 27 hours “on,” we were allowed the option of going home to sleep the rest of the day.   Or, we could stay on, “to learn more.”  Strangely enough, all of us opted to go to sleep.   So our schedule for the last two weeks was 27 on, alternating with 21 off.

I don’t remember what I thought medical school would be like, but this is horrendous!  Medical people may gain in terms of wealth and prestige, but something must be said about the quality of life!

Actually, I have a true love-hate relationship with medicine.  My “on duty” hours are exciting and fascinating beyond imagination.  In what other profession could one talk with a man just released from Attica prison a day before, arbitrate a heated marital battle, resuscitate a 21-year-old man whose heart and breathing had stopped when he fell down a flight of stairs, sew a little girl’s hand back together, avoid being strangled by an insane person, and walk into a room and face the stare of a 17-year-old boy who had been shot to death through the head, all in about one week’s time?

Admittedly, family medicine practice won’t be this variegated all the time, but there is enough happening in individual people’s lives to keep one continually curious and interested.  Not to mention the good feelings when one is able to do something beneficial for someone, once in a while.

But.  I like Bruce.  Ordinary married persons are able occasionally to eat dinner together, do the laundry, go to concerts or movies, build snowmen, plan when they will have children.

Also, I recall days (long past) when I would read novels, write poetry, listen to music, daydream, play my autoharp, write letters, and ride my bicycle.  Once upon a time I was a rounded person.

I have not discovered what to do in order to regain some of my previous identities (which I liked!) without giving up medicine entirely.  The latter is not really a choice because, even if I wanted it, I could not leave Bruce alone to pay back my $--,--- debt.  (My tuition alone for this year takes up ¾ of his after-taxes salary!)

Enough of this morosity.  I would enjoy hearing from you!


Wednesday, January 9, 1974

We spent Christmas Day at home in Rochester with our own tree and a Real Christmas Dinner.  Neither Bruce nor I had ever prepared a turkey before, and we thought it would be fun.  We were brave enough to invite another couple (Lloyd and Lynn Comstock, both ’68 Oberlin graduates) to share in what we presumptuously expected would be a feast.  It was.

I flew home (parents’ home) for several days after New Year’s, to visit and to sort through and package accumulated treasures and junk.  My parents hope to retire very soon and to sell their Buck Toe Hills house, so they will need to know what to save and what to toss.

Two months from yesterday, Bruce and I will learn where we’ll be spending the next 3 years.


After graduation, medical students continue their education with a few years at a teaching hospital.  To avoid a chaotic scramble of applications, a matchmaking organization uses computers to help find a residency program for each new doctor.

Jan’s first choice was Hunterdon, less than two hours northeast of Kennett Square and Buck Toe Hills and West Chester.  Would she be going there?


Sunday, March 10, 1974

I’m sorry that I didn’t write to you earlier.  I meant to get a letter off to you immediately after I learned that you were moving, so that you wouldn’t have to feel quite so lonely as a stranger in an unfamiliar town.  I hope you survived in spite of my negligence.

March 8 was NIRMP Matching Day.  Following in the footsteps of my father, mother, brother, sister, and brother-in-law, I am going to the University of Wisconsin!

I was surprised, since I had been counting on going to Hunterdon Medical Center, the hospital I had ranked first.  But not everyone can match to his or her first choice.  The more I think about it, the more excited I get about moving to Madison.

Bruce has no idea what he will be doing next year, but he hopes not to be pastor of a church.  He has become rather disgruntled with the pastoral ministry during the past year.  He spends 60-80 hours/week working, but most of his hours are spent on correspondence, record-keeping, and other administrative details, with little sense of accomplishing things worthwhile and with minimal pay for his efforts.

Recently I did a little clothes shopping (about the first since getting married — we are poor as church mice in terms of available cash).  I purchased some stylish white slacks, which I plan to wear during my internship and residency as my “uniform.”  Also, I have some new glasses, which are copper-appearing wire-rimmed ones.  (Bruce says that I have acquired a radical look.)  With my new sheepskin (to be received May 26th, if I refrain from any unpardonable indiscretions between now and then), I should be all set to embark upon my family medicine residency.


Wednesday, May 29, 1974

Graduation was lots of fun.  The ceremony for the medical school was separate from commencement for the rest of the University, so it was an intimate occasion with hooding of only 79 persons.  The number of guests per graduate was not limited, and I rounded up 12!

On May 1-3, Bruce flew to Madison and picked us out an apartment.   Our schedule from now till July 1 is chaotic:

May 31.

Pack 18-foot Ryder truck.

June 2-4.

Travel to Madison.  Bruce drives truck; Jan drives “grasshopper” (green Nova).

June 5.

Unload truck.

June 6.

Unpack cardboard boxes.

June 7.

Fly back to Rochester.  Bruce goes to Western New York State U.M.C. Annual Conference.

June 9.

Bruce’s last Sunday at G.V.U.M.C.

June 10.

Drive “whale” (white Pontiac) to Pa.  Bruce stops at Reading; Jan continues to Kennett Square.

June 13.

Bruce is ordained elder in Reading at Eastern Pa. U.M.C. Annual Conference.

June 14.

Return to Rochester.  Bruce has wedding rehearsal in PM.

June 15.

Wedding.  Bruce’s last day at G.V.U.M.C.

June 16-23.

Vacation at Lake George.

June 24.

Drive to Kennett Square.  Bruce begins summer school at West Chester State College.

June 25.

Jan flies to Madison.

July 1.

Jan begins residency.

Aug. 1 (or so).

Bruce drives whale to Madison.

Bruce is planning to finish up the last of his M.S. in Health and Physical Education this summer and fall, and then come to Madison and look for a job.


I promptly replied as follows:  Oh, by the way, the next time you write a note on your “mushroom” paper you should fold the note so the mushrooms are showing.  The one you sent me was folded the other way, with Page 4 on the outside.  And the first thing I saw when I took it out of the envelope was the notation, “Aug. 1 (or so).  Bruce drives whale to Madison.”

Not having been previously informed about your big white Pontiac, I naturally assumed you were talking about a real whale which you kept as a pet, tied up to a dock in Lake Ontario.  I tried to imagine Bruce with spurs and a lariat, mounted on a cow pony, engineering a one-man whale drive along the shores of Lakes Erie, Huron, and Michigan.

I must confess I couldn't figure how he would get the whale inland to Madison, though.  Probably have to portage it in the trunk of a Pontiac.


Sunday, July 14, 1974

I really like this Department of Family Medicine and Practice at the University of Wisconsin!

For the months of July, August, September, and October, I am on obstetrics and emergency room with three other first-year residents.  Last night I stayed in the emergency room till 4:00 AM, just because so much was happening and it was so interesting!  I slept till 2:30 PM today.

Believe it or not, my schedule is much less demanding than it was in the third and fourth years of medical school!  Because I feel so much more rested, I am reading more, including keeping up on medical journals.  I knew there had to be a better way of medical education!

Last Saturday I went to a farm in the country and picked 17 pounds of strawberries.  I froze 8 quarts, made 20 jars of strawberry jam, and ate strawberries on cereal, ice cream, and whipped cream.

Sunday I went with Nancy Homburg (the other female first-year family practice resident) to an art exhibit and sale around Capitol Square.  As we sat down on the grass to rest our feet, we heard an outdoor symphony orchestra, watched a large and colorful Independence Weekend parade, and heard a Dixieland band.

Bruce can’t stand being away any more, and will arrive in Madison next Saturday or Sunday.  He hopes to be able to work on his M.S. research here.  If he can’t, he’ll chuck the whole idea.


Friday, October 4, 1974

Bruce searched and searched for a teaching job in health and phys. ed, but couldn’t land one.  Next he applied for all sorts of jobs that would pay money.  He was turned down for about 30, on the basis that he is “overqualified.”  Three weeks ago he finally found employment.  He is working at the neighborhood McDonald’s.

Next week my vacation starts.  Since we can’t really afford to go anywhere, Bruce will continue to work, and I’ll stay home and sleep and sew and such stuff.  Over Columbus Day weekend (sic; it should be Leif Erikson Day, of course), we’ll drive up to the “north country” to see the fall colors and stay over at my father’s sister’s home in Rhinelander.


Tuesday, January 21, 1975

November and December were spent on inpatient pediatrics, which is an enjoyable and relatively easy service.  We get to take “call” at home.

One night after the third telephone call past midnight concerning a 6-month-old baby with meningitis, seizures, abnormal respirations, and a cardiac arrhythmia, I drove in (actually, Bruce drove me in — he’s quite protective) in the midst of a blizzard.  I spent the remainder of the night sleeping in a crib across the hall from the baby’s room.  (The nurses stated at their morning report, “In Room 64, Bed 1, Dr. Olson is under observation.”)

February I will be a surgeon.  March through June will undoubtedly be the hardest months of the year — medicine, short for “internal medicine,” the specialty dealing with diseases of adults.


Monday, March 17, 1975

Bruce finally landed “a real job”:  he’s teaching math and science to so-called juvenile delinquents at the Mendota Mental Health Institute.  It pays about three times as much as McDonald’s did, so we will soon begin to be able to afford some things like shoes for Bruce (he has only one pair) and medical textbooks for me.

Bruce has been on (cable) TV several times with the new Madison Lacrosse Club, the first lacrosse team in Wisconsin.  (He plays goalie, and was second string all-Midwest all-stars while at Oberlin.)

He had an 8”x5” picture of himself in full goalie costume, making a “save,” in the Madison Capital Times.  Lacrosse season in Wisconsin starts officially next Saturday.

The sport was unfamiliar to most Wisconsinites.  To explain it, This Is Lacrosse was cablecast on Sunday evenings.  It was hosted by Bruce Tully (Wisconsin MS ’74) and featured the team he organized, the Madison Gladiators.


Wednesday, July 23, 1975

Last night I read three books:  Wilderness Cookery, A Guide to Canoe Camping, and The Singing Wilderness.  Can you guess what we are doing for our vacation the second week in August?

We had been planning to camp in the Tetons, until we discovered it would take 6 of our 9 days of vacation to get there and back.

Instead, we are taking a 7-day wilderness canoe trip in Superior National Forest (northern Minnesota) and Quetico Provincial Park (Ontario).  “Fred” (of Fred’s Favorite Summer Sausage sandwiches) is our outfitter, and will supply us with canoe, packs, and selected freeze-dried and otherwise dried foods.  We are taking only the most basic necessities, except that I plan to take my autoharp.

I have had a great deal of pleasure already out of this trip, planning, anticipating, reading.  I made Bruce and me matching navy blue polyester and cotton tee shirts, and I am now working on making a nylon tarpaulin.  Next come small, waterproof bags with drawstrings, for toilet articles.  I may make a packsack, if I have time.

You are correct if you surmise that a second year resident has more time than a first year resident.  I am taking orthopedics now, and I have one night a week of “on call,” but otherwise, no night or weekend responsibilities!  I love it, I love it!

Bruce is taking summer school courses in behavior modification, as a prerequisite for keeping his job.  He is also cultivating a beard.


Sunday, August 24, 1975

Our canoe trip was very restful.  At the last minute we gave in and took with us a small gasoline stove (about the size of a pound can of tomatoes), but fortunately we didn’t need it.  We were able to build fires even in the rain.  We also didn’t need most of my fairly elaborate first aid kit.  Our injuries amounted to sunburned noses and forearms, lacerations on the soles of our feet, one leech suction mark, and one fright due to an unexpected garter snake.

Personally, I don't share Jan's enthusiasm for such things.  A line from Major Dad, written by Earl Pomerantz:  “I don’t ‘get’ camping. ‘Hey, we’ve got some spare time.  Why don’t we go someplace and live worse than we usually do?’”

The weather was perfect.  It only rained twice, and then only after we were already camped and the tent was pitched.  We saw a double rainbow at sunset — a sight which has become traditional for us, as we have seen it on four consecutive vacations.

For three of our seven canoeing days, we were quite alone and saw no other paddlers.  We sunned and swam, played and ate, in quiet solitude.

Our longest portage was 175 rods [over half a mile], with a steep uphill slope and treacherous footing near the beginning.  Bruce had to lean our 65-pound yellow fiberglass canoe against four “canoe rests” on that portage.  I rested my backpacks against the canoe rests, too.  We saw no one on that portage — probably because by taking a slightly different route, one could arrive at the same lake after only 95 rods of portaging.

A week was all too short. 


Sunday, February 22, 1976

News flash:  we are expecting our first baby next fall!  The due date is about October 3.  I plan to take a two-month leave of absence after the baby is born, and finish my third year of residency in two years (work half time).

My parents sold their house and moved to a small apartment in Kennett Square yesterday.  They’ll live there till May, when my father will retire and they’ll move to the cottage at Lake George.

I have taken up a new musical instrument:  the saw.  I invested in a 28-inch musical saw (the standard 26-inch carpenter’s saw doesn’t get a full 2 octaves) made by Clarence Mussehl of Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin (45 minutes from here).  Mr. Mussehl is in his 80’s and is the only person in the United States to make musical saws.

On the right, actress Marlene Dietrich holds the handle of her saw between her knees in the approved fashion.  The instrument doesn't produce discrete notes but rather a pure tone that’s continuously variable in pitch, like a theremin.  Wiggling the blade adds vibrato.

I have taken music lessons from a neighbor whom I met while on the Coronary Care Unit rotation.  While taking his “social history,” I discovered that he played various bluegrass instruments, including the saw.  I have yearned to play the saw ever since I was nine years old and observed one being played on television, so we soon set up an agreement to get together for lessons.


The baby arrived in September, a week before the originally-predicted due date.  He grabbed a candy cane for his first Christmas card.


Sunday, December 19, 1976

Brian is a delight!  (How can you resist wanting children?)  He smiles, and talks to us with soft words like “Woo,” “Goo,” “Hoo,” “Boo,” “Glue,” “Oh,” “Ow,” “Hi,” and various squeaks, squeals, and shrieks.  He even says occasional intellectual words, like “Book” and “Rigor.”  (Really!)  He does push-ups onto his arms while lying on his tummy, and looks about with great interest.  His favorite objects of visual exploration at present are buttons and his own feet, especially as viewed splashing in the bathtub.  He turns over from time to time, mostly by accident.

Our new address is a small three-bedroom house which we purchased on June 25 with the help of a loan from my parents.  It’s just two years old and sits on a large lot in a suburban neighborhood, just one block away from farmers’ fields.

I am now back working half time (30 hours per week) and enjoying it very much that way.  I love to be with Brian, but not continually.  I consider working half time to give me “the best of both worlds.”


Sunday, March 13, 1977

Speaking of Brian (and I shall try to resist speaking of him for too many pages), he’s delightful!  He is 5½ months old now and is full of personality.  He is an active (kicking, wriggling, waving his arms, rolling over, jiggling, twisting, arching, wiggling, reaching, creeping) and social (smiling, pouting, laughing, playing, whimpering, giggling, howling, teasing) little boy.  It is rewarding to play with him; he breaks into infectious paroxysms of laughter at the slightest antic performed for his benefit.

I feel certain that if you met Brian, you’d change your mind about ever wanting children.

My schedule of working “half time” (which amounts to 42 hours a week including night call) is working out pretty well.  I also continue to “moonlight” in an emergency room 45 hours a month to make “extra” money (actually, it pays the mortgage).  In fact, I am moonlighting right now.  Since I am breastfeeding, Brian and I can’t be separated for too long a time, so when I moonlight I bring Brian, playpen, diapers, toys, baby bathtub, clothes, baby food, and last but not least, Bruce, along.

This juggling act (mommy, doctor, wife, emergency room physician) takes a lot of energy, so when I get any free time, I tend to take naps.

I have been wondering about something, so I’ll just ask boldly:  Are you developing any particular romantic liaisons?  (You don’t have to answer if it’s none of my business.)  The other day, after seeing our local TV news announcer at a restaurant, it occurred to me that as a TV announcer, you are known and familiar to many women in your area.  Perhaps some of them would be interested in getting to know you better, if they knew you were available and looking.  (If you are available and looking.)

I hear some scrabbling noises emanating from yonder playpen.  I think our little “chipmunk” is waking up.

P.S.  Please don’t feel we have to “take turns” writing letters, especially as I go through long periods of not writing to anyone.  I always am pleased to hear from you.


Sunday, January 8, 1978 

Christmas is twice the fun with a little boy.  Brian is 15 months old now and is running, climbing, speaking several hundred words clearly, and talking in short sentences (2-4 words).  He surprises us daily with the words he knows.  (Our reading to him since he was 6 weeks old may have something to do with this.)

Well, I finish the residency June 30th this year.  On August 1st, I join four other family physicians in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin (a city of 17,000 about 10 miles northeast of Madison), at a branch of the East Madison Clinic, a multispecialty group.  I will continue to work part time.

Bruce’s drive to work will actually be shorter from Sun Prairie than from where we live now.


Monday, September 4, 1978

Thank you for my birthday letter.  I’m sorry that I missed sending you a letter on your birthday.  How is February as a month for a birthday, anyway?  Brian is scheduled to get a little brother or sister around February 10th.

We moved here over Memorial Day weekend.  This is a three-bedroom ranch with living room, dining room, large kitchen, family room, and two bathrooms.

A Google Earth view of the Sun Prairie house in 2011

The outside has fed us well, with rhubarb, raspberries, parsley, chives, gooseberries, four varieties of tomatoes, and three varieties of grapes — not to mention the yield from our vegetable garden!

Bruce changed jobs in March in order to be able to work part time.  (We get fed up with the babysitter business and decided that the happiest child care solution for us was for each of us to work part time.)  He is now youth coordinator for Atwood Community House, a United Fund-sponsored community center on the east side of Madison.

I have been working at the Sun Prairie Clinic since August 1.  I’m really enjoying it; I’m busy, and it’s fun practicing in a small town.  In fact, Bruce was relieved when I finally went back to work after a month of “vacation” during which I grew moodier and moodier.

It’s hard getting coherent sentences on paper with M*A*S*H going on TV, so I’ll sign off for now.


And with that, we’ll sign off for this collection of letters.  For the next 37 years of the story, click here to return to my article Remembering Jan.

. . . End of 4th 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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