April 29, 2020

Lifting Future Generations With Higher Education

by Charles D. Williams, MD, FACR, FAAP

1918: The year that changed Williams’ family destiny

Grandpa Williams died at the age of 27 from the Spanish flu, leaving grandma with seven children — all farmers. The children quit school to save the farm, leaving them unable to read or write. Boll weevils got the cotton and banks got the land. Dad moved with grandma and his six siblings to a rundown farm and became sharecroppers. Someone from the Baptist church dropped by and told grandma, “You and your young-uns and the good Lord shore got this place looking good.” Dad replied, “You should have seen it when the good Lord had it by himself.”

Grandma wanted her grandchildren to do better, get out of the cotton fields and get an education. She kept repeating, “Git yore educashun. It's somethin’ they cain't take away from you.” She wanted us to attend college and get a “dilemma” to hang on our wall. We studied hard, did well in school and received scholarships. Mine was a fertilizer scholarship and a hog-killing scholarship from Swift and Co. Education took me and my first cousins further than we ever dreamed.

Even though grandma's seven children could not read or write, the seven grandchildren who carried her coffin at the time of her death were medical doctors. When I was a freshman in medical school I had one cousin who had already graduated, a first cousin who was a sophomore and another one, a senior at the Medical College of Georgia. We all used the same microscope that we kept passing down. Grandma now has 26 descendants who are medical doctors.

My dad was proud of me. I know he was. I saw it in his tears the night I graduated from high school. He wanted me to find a better way of life. Even though my dad couldn't read or write, I am proud of my dad. He saw it in my tears the night he got sick. He said, “Since I ain't educated, I'll have to use my head.” Although never formally educated, he did learn to say “thank you” and “please” and to give a dollar’s worth of work for a dollar’s worth of pay. He was the tallest when he was on his knees. He was the happiest with his hands in the soil.

Sometimes I wished I had stayed and taken my place with the home folks, but now I have different shingles on my roof. If I had to do it over, I would become a radiologist once again. Grandma was right: “Get your education and it will take you places you never dreamed of.” However, with all that medical knowledge, we could not cure dad and grandma when they got sick. If love were a cure, they would still be with us today.

2020: The year of the coronavirus

Will it change the destiny of future generations? Hope not. Maybe medical knowledge will save us. Hope so. Just like the 1918 pandemic, Americans will once again toughen up, hunker down and come back. That’s who we are.