Roy Exum: Dr. McCallie’s Final Prank

Monday, October 14, 2013 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

On what would be the last Sunday of his life, Chattanooga’s much-beloved David McCallie was asleep, finally comfortable on the recliner in his study. His three sons, tending to their 92-year-old father in his last days, quietly busied themselves with the complicated infusion device that would deliver his nutrients and medicines.

David Jr., Jack and Allen are all smart – two are doctors like their dad while Allen is a lawyer – but they took great pains to make sure there was no air in the line as they resumed his treatment. “A tiny bubble is okay,” Allen explained at his father’s funeral on Saturday, “but a large amount of air can cause huge problems and even be lethal.”

With David Jr. handling the settings and powering up the machine, Allen was connecting the delivery lines to a port for their father when a hovering Jack spied a small bubble making its way through the clear tubing. “It’ll be alright … it’s tiny,” he said, but all three boys intently watched the bubble as it went through the line and then inside their sleeping father’s shirt.

Suddenly the legendary Dr. McCallie convulsed, screaming out as his body jumped and twisted madly. Young David pounced on this machine of destruction, desperately trying to turn it off. Allen madly began crimping the deadly delivery lines, trying to stop any flow, and Jack scrambled to find the plug to stop all power. And then they heard the laugh, that trademark I-got-you-again giggle each had known since early childhood and marveled that their glorious Dad lived life full all the way to the end.

The three McCallie brothers spoke at length of the marvelous father Saturday, the First Presbyterian Church sanctuary packed with hundreds of close friends who could each have spoken just as long about David’s lifetime of contributions and achievements. Most of his talent and his contributions are not known to the general public – that was never his way. Instead he was always hurrying to the next thing, be it his patients, the Hospital Authority, the city’s quest for medical excellence, or his unquenchable desire to make this world better in any way he could.

I don’t remember the first time I met him but my mother does. She told me I was about four weeks old, living in Palo Alto, Calif., as my Dad did graduate work at Stanford. At the time, David was stationed in Oakland as a young doctor in the Navy and he would come on weekends to be with my parents. (This was before Mom and Dad took David and Maddin on a blind date -- that resulted in 59 years of marriage.)

As “Uncle David” hoisted my tiny three-week-old body in the air, he said, “Look, he’s got twin toes! That’s a sign of good luck,” he told my beaming mother. Had I been able to talk I would have added “intensely handsome,” “genius,”  and some other attributes but I held my tongue as everybody gathered to see how my second and third toes were uncommonly joined, something only an eagle-eyed physician would ever notice.

His wife, of course, was one of my mother’s closest friends so I have followed the McCallie family’s road to excellence all of my life. Originally there were four brothers but the youngest and the bravest, Freddy, died of brain cancer in 1986, not before teaching the McCallie family specifically and the rest of us in a general way about God’s compassion and grace in the face of death.

“I don’t think you learn grace. Instead you just fall into it and it envelopes you. That’s when you realize God’s grace was there long before you sought it,” Allen said as he spoke of his father’s marvelous instincts and blessings but he could have just as well been speaking of his mother, or of the beloved Freddy, who in his final days pleaded with his family to quit asking for so much during family prayers and instead praise the Lord much more.

David Jr., Jack and Allen spoke eloquently of their father and, gratefully, at length. David told how his Dad went out to McCallie every Thursday to wind a beautiful clock that has chimed for eight generations of McCallies. The boys recalled how Thomas Hooke McCallie, who pastored First Presbyterian during and after the Civil War, acquired the clock and how David has restored it to hallowed glory.

They told of nights at the family table and how the house on Edgewood Circle was always a bustle. Weddings, birthdays, graduations and such were reasons for celebration and, after Freddy, funerals were, too. Jack described practicing medicine alongside his Dad and relishing the lessons, the camaraderie and the deep love his father held for his family.

My goodness, eight rows of pews in the church were taken by McCallies who came from near and far. That’s what happens when you live an entire life that started as the annual McCallie Men’s Camping Trip but has now morphed into an “everybody’s included.” “We love each other very, very much,” said cousin Marshall McCallie, a former U.S. Ambassador to Namibia for then-president George H.W. Bush.

Last year, at age 91, David McCallie insisted on sleeping in a tent, as he had done each outing for just shy a century, and a wedding was even held at the woodsy gathering. As the happy couple made their way towards the getaway car, Dr. McCallie looked down at his belt and quipped, “Well, well, this is the first time I have ever worn a hunting knife at a wedding.”

Oh the stories, the stories. Dr. McCallie wrote a sage book including the memoirs of Rev. McCallie – he who lived 150 years ago – but the accolades could have easily fit the just deceased author. He was a legend in the community, in the medical arena but – most of all – he was a patriarch whose entire life is eloquently reflected in his three surviving sons and their families.

He will be remembered with love and adoration for many years to come and I hope that one day his sons will be able to tell of “the bubble trick” without having to pause in mid-sentence. The story is an instant family classic and is not sad at all, the love and the laughter a large part of David McCallie’s journey to catch up with Maddin and Freddy.

“Whoopee,” was the elder doctor’s yelp after any good thing happened. Whoopee indeed.

royexum@aol.com

Dr. David McCallie
Dr. David McCallie

Being Proactive With Parkinson's Disease

Parkinson’s disease is the second most common neurodegenerative disease after Alzheimer’s and is the 14th leading cause of death in the United States. It affects an estimated one million Americans and four to six million worldwide,  There is no cure for Parkinson’s, and 60,000 new cases are diagnosed each year in the United States alone. Source: National Parkinson’s Foundation  ... (click for more)

Stop Yet Another Grocery Store And Gas Station On Signal Mountain Road

For those of you who enjoy the frisbee park on Signal Mountain Road (Hwy 127) and the beautiful view of trees and natural landscape at the foot of Signal Mountain, it might be time to kiss that beautiful scenery goodbye.  The Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Commission will be voting May 9 on whether to re-zone four tracts of land directly across from the frisbee ... (click for more)

Dewayne Ray Burns Wanted After Firing Shots At Fort Oglethorpe Police Officers

Dewayne Ray Burns is wanted after police in North Georgia were led on a chase, and he fired shots at officers. Burns fired shots in their direction late Thursday night. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the Fort Oglethorpe Police Department are investigating the incident. According to park rangers on the scene, the Burns ran away, while firing shots in the direction ... (click for more)

5 Considered For Cleveland City Manager Position

Five names were selected  Friday  by a citizens advisory committee to send to the Cleveland City Council for consideration as the next Cleveland city manager. The five are Angie Carrier, Joe Fivas, Mark Reeter, Seth Sumner and Julie Underwood. The list is being sent in alphabetical order so no one has an advantage when the city council considers the candidates. ... (click for more)

Shoulders, Hester Lead CSAS Past Lookout Valley, 10-7

Most of the regular-season district softball games are in the book and teams are trying to sharpen their skills as they prepare for the post-season in hopes of landing in Murfreesboro for the season-ending TSSAA state tournament the week before Memorial Day. Such is the case for the Red Bank Lionettes, who are hosting the 2016 Red Bank Invitational this weekend at the Red Bank ... (click for more)

McMasters Makes Tough Call To Play Volleyball At Lee

Grace Baptist Academy two-sport standout Claire McMasters envisioned playing basketball and volleyball at a small college after her career ended with the Lady Golden Eagles. So, she “looked at” Covenant College and Maryville College as two schools where she thought that would be possible to extend her two-sport status. McMasters’ recruiting shifted quickly once Lee University ... (click for more)