Thursday, October 04, 2007

On their way east, Harry and Bess ate lunch at the Princess Restaurant in Frostburg, Maryland. A bronze plaque above the booth where they sat commemorates the historic event:

SUNDAY, JUNE 21, 1953

Local legend has it that the Trumans were directed to the restaurant by the town doctor, Martin Rothstein. Doc, as he was universally known, was a Princess regular. As he was leaving the restaurant that Sunday afternoon, he spotted a car going the wrong way down a one-way street. Doc flagged the car down. When the driver rolled the window down, Doc saw that it was Harry Truman, who asked him to recommend a place to eat. Naturally Doc recommended the Princess.

Doc was Frostburg’s Moonlight Graham. In the early 1950s he charged $40 for delivering a baby – and that included nine months of follow-up care. House calls were just a part of the job.

Doc was also a very particular fellow. Every Thursday he had liver and onions for dinner at the Princess. But the liver had to be cooked just right: exactly two minutes per side. If it was cooked for just a few seconds more or less, Doc would know.

In the real world, Moonlight Grahams don’t walk into the cornfield and fade away. They end up in places like Room 111 of the Frostburg Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. That’s where I saw old Doc Rothstein this afternoon, his skin so translucent you could see the capillaries underneath. He was on his side in a bed, wearing a green gown that barely covered him. Across the hall a fellow traveler was watching Wheel of Fortune with the sound turned up so loud you could hear it before the elevator doors even opened.

I’d hoped Doc would brighten when I told him why I had come to see him, that his spirits would soar at recalling a sweet memory from long ago. But he was uncomfortable, tired, and sick. He told me the story. It took about two minutes. I think he was glad to see me go.

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