I’ve always been attracted to strong women. It began with my mother, Sina Belle McAlexander Taggart. She was a quiet, reserved lady who dearly loved her family and especially her children. During the war, she had been Rosie the Riveter at a munitions plant in Jacksonville, Arkansas; she did what needed to be done.
In a family of nine siblings, she was the youngest girl. The role of the youngest girl was to be the caregiver for the family. After the war, it fell to her to take care of the grandparents, aunts, and uncles, as they got older. She was a true steel magnolia: a woman who possessed the strength of steel, yet the gentleness of a magnolia.
Part of her job was to sit with the older family members and tend to their needs. My sister and I would go along with her as she nursed the old people. John Milton, the 17th century English poet, was writing about my mother when he coined the phrase: “They also serve who only stand and wait.”
Mom was a voracious reader: magazines, books, and newspapers were always present at her side. Each week she would go to our little county library and check out a stack of books. One of the proudest moments of my childhood was when I got my first library card, just like my mother had, so I could get my own stack of books. Many physicians credit a family doctor from their childhood as their reason they went into medicine. For me, it was my mother who quietly went about her life as a caregiver who loved to read. Sitting here in my chair, I’m surrounded by books thanks in large part to my mother.
Little did I know that when I grew up and married, I would end up paired off with another steel magnolia: Dr. Annette Mary Rose Enderlin. Ms. Annette has that same strength my mother had. When she went to college, her advisor talked her out of going to medical school.
Twenty years later, after a successful career in pharmacy, at age 37, she started medical school. When she graduated, competing against kids twenty years her junior, she was accepted into a highly competitive ophthalmology residency. While she was in training, her mother and father got progressively feeble and ill.
Despite her heavy load, she spent many days and nights in their home doing what a loving daughter does. A few years later, her older sister became ill and moved into our home where she lived for the last year of her life. Now, Ms. Annette has become Grandma and Auntie. When the women of the family were given the option of what they would like to be called by the grandchildren, Annette was quick to say, “I would love to be called Grandma.”
To quote Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman to graduate from medical school in the United States: “Women make great doctors because they are born to be compassionate; men have to be trained.”
Have a good journey and stay safe.
Dr. Sam Taggart is a retired doctor/writer/marathon runner in practice in Benton for the last 45 years. He recently released Country Doctors of Arkansas, published by the Arkansas Times. His other books, The Public’s Health: A narrative history of health and disease in Arkansas, With a Heavy Heart and We All Hear Voices are available at your local booksellers or online at amazon.com.