I met Jim Humphreys at a local writer’s group. He recently published his memoir My Friends Walk Barefoot and I’ve found it hard to put down. Yes, it’s that good. Amazon’s description reads: “Based on actual events, tells the story of Jim Humphreys, a veterinarian in Southeast New Mexico who for more than three decades treated everything from dogs to donkeys, cats (including a Bengal tiger) to cows, and canaries to ostriches.”
Jim shared the following story, an outtake from the book, during a critique session. I hope you get a kick out of it, we sure did! He was gracious enough to allow me to share it with you. Keep reading to the end, trust me, it’s worth it!
Something about that college history class I took back in 1972 just went bad. The irony of it was that I had always loved history. Especially military history. Everything from the Revolutionary War to the Civil War to the First and Second World Wars, Korea, and Viet Nam, fascinated me. I loved to analyze the backgrounds of famous generals, the strategies that won and lost battles. What I had never considered was that, on occasion, history has a strange way of catching up with you—as it did with me.
“Good morning, Mrs. Mitchell. Hey Amigo. How’s my buddy,” I yelled and crouched to give my favorite patient a bear hug as he enthusiastically licked my face. Amigo was Mrs. Mitchell’s twelve-year-old Labrador. Cataracts and stiff joints had not stopped him from dancing around like a puppy. Amigo was one of those special dogs who had no enemies—human, canine, feline, or otherwise. He loved everybody.
“We’re just here for shots today, Dr. Humphreys,” Mrs. Mitchell said. Maureen Mitchell was a widow in her mid-seventies. Her husband had not left her with much money, although one would never have guessed as much to look at her. Her hair always looked like she had just stepped out of the beauty salon and she took great pride in the clothes and jewelry she wore. Amigo was the second generation of Mrs. Mitchell’s pets that I had cared for. I knew her well. She was always happy and relaxed, but not today.
“Dr. Humphreys,” she said. “I’ve been diagnosed with macular degeneration. They tell me it is progressing rapidly. I have an appointment to see a retinal specialist in El Paso in two weeks. I’ll have to leave Amigo with you for a few days.” The words sounded painful to speak. “You will take good care of him for me, won’t you?”
“Of course, I will,” I said. “I’m so sorry ma’am. My mother had macular degeneration. I know it can be a challenge, Mrs. Mitchell, but you know what? The past few years have seen remarkable medical advances. I’m glad you’re going to see a specialist. Don’t you worry about Amigo. I’ll take good care of him.”
A comfortable smile spread across her face. “Thank you, Dr. Humphreys. I’ll be traveling two weeks from today. Some dear friends of mine from El Paso are going to pick me up. I’ll stay with them and they’ll bring me back.” She paused and then, “By the way, I would so much like for you to meet them. Kenneth was my husband’s roommate in college. I’ve known them for many years. They are very special friends.”
“I’ll consider it a privilege,” I said. “You let Roseann know what time you expect to be here. I’ll be waiting.”
I was finishing treatments that morning, two weeks later. “Dr. Humphreys,” Roseann said. “Mrs. Mitchell and her friends from El Paso are here to drop off Amigo.”
I walked into the waiting room and saw Mrs. Mitchell standing next to the couple. I approached and looked at him. He was tall and thin with grey hair. Perhaps in his early eighties, he had prominent cheekbones and held his chin high. He wore a sport coat and bowtie. I was ten feet from him when I stopped, stunned. Were my eyes playing tricks on me, I wondered. I knew this man. Or, did I? It had to be him. Then again, it had been twenty-five years since I had last seen the man whom I assumed I was looking at. Maybe I was mistaken.
It was difficult, but I was finally able to tear my eyes away from him to address my client. “Good morning, Mrs. Mitchell.” It took several hard bumps of his nose off my knee before I realized that Amigo was demanding a hug. I knelt down.
“Hi Amigo. How’s it going, buddy?”
“Dr. Humphreys,” Mrs. Mitchell said. “I’d like you to meet my dear friends. This is Mary.” I rose to my feet, smiled, and shook her hand. Before I could say a word, Mrs. Mitchell continued, “And this is Dr. Kenneth Bailey.”
Holy cow! It was him. It took me a second to reflect on that time. Twenty-five years earlier, the first semester of my freshman year at the University of Texas at El Paso, Dr. Kenneth Bailey had been my teacher for American History 101. It was a class I should have loved. Instead, I absolutely hated it. More importantly, it was the one and only class in all of my years of school—elementary, high school, college, and veterinary school—that I ever flunked. It was devastating. My parents were terribly upset. They were used to their youngest son getting mostly As, a few Bs, and a very occasional C in school. And then, I flunked history.
I remembered his voice. He spoke with a heavy southern drawl. Many of us in his class were convinced that he must surely be a direct descendant of Robert E. Lee himself. Yes, I thought. The voice would be final confirmation. I reached out my hand. “It’s a pleasure, Dr. Bailey.”
Dr. Bailey stood at attention, his back straight as an arrow, chin high as he reached for my hand. “The pleasure is entirely mine, Dr. Humphreys. Maureen has told Mary and me so much about you. We have awaited this occasion with great anticipation.”
Yup, it was him. In the years that followed that first semester of college, I had often asked myself, how I could possibly have flunked that course. Was the material that difficult? No. Granted, it was a Monday, Wednesday, Friday class at eight in the morning. It was a huge auditorium with cushioned seats. The podium on the stage from which Dr. Bailey lectured seemed so far away. The lights were dim and the ventilation system provided a gentle humming lullaby, an environment far too conducive to falling asleep. Was I lazy? Yes. What about Dr. Bailey? He spoke in a slow, unflappable monotone. Were his lectures the most boring I had ever had to endure? Absolutely!
I struggled with what to say next. Should I tell him? Yes, I should. Or—maybe not. In the end, I decided, yes. A voice in the back of my head screamed out, Are you nuts! You can’t tell him the truth! At least—not all of it. I took a deep breath. “Dr. Bailey, you may not believe this, and I’m quite certain you don’t remember me, but I was a student of yours many years ago, sir.”
Mrs. Mitchell turned her head sharply toward me. “Oh, my goodness,” she exclaimed. “Are you sure, Dr. Humphreys? This is incredible.”
Dr. Bailey was shocked as well. “My word. I must confess that I would not have known this fact had you not seen fit to bring it to my attention, sir.” He paused for a bit, looked at his wife, and smiled. “Mary, please remind me as soon as we get home—to check the files.” He turned toward me, his eyes full of confidence and determination.
“Dr. Humphreys, I have kept extensive records on all of my students’ achievements over the years. I simply must go back through my files and find the details of your experience in my classroom.”
Suddenly, I felt cold. Will you ever learn to keep your big mouth shut, I asked myself. “Oh,” I chuckled. “I wouldn’t bother, Dr. Bailey. There really isn’t much to tell.”
“Hogwash, sir. What year was it that I had the good fortune of having you as my student?”
I felt myself sinking—deeper and deeper.
“Uh, let me think. Hm, what would it have been? I guess, uh, maybe it was…gosh, what would it have been? Maybe 1972? Really, Dr. Bailey, I don’t think…”
“By God,” he interrupted. “This will be fun. I have always prided myself on being a better-than-average professor, but I am a much better researcher.”
With a subtle but quick motion of my hand across my face, I wiped the sweat from my upper lip that I had been desperately trying to conceal. I was temporarily speechless. It took me a moment to regain my composure. Then, I reassured Mrs. Mitchell that Amigo was going to be fine and bid her and the Baileys farewell.
I watched them walk to their car and reflected on how little time it had taken for me to dig myself into this hole. It wasn’t like I had robbed a bank. I had held other secrets from the world that might be considered reasons for reprimand, but this particular secret was embarrassing. I could live with Dr. Bailey knowing I flunked his course, but what would Mrs. Mitchell think of me? Now, that was important.
It was bad enough that I had flunked, but worse than that, a week before final exams, I had gone to his office to beg for mercy. I remembered the conversation as if it were yesterday. It had not gone well.
“What can I do for you, young man?” he had asked.
“Dr. Bailey, I’m flunking your class. I show up every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, I’ve read the books—well, sort of–and I’m still flunking. I was wondering, sir, is there anything I can do for extra credit to raise my grade?”
He looked at me without smiling. “Extra credit? Are you serious? This is not a game show, young man. Why is it that I suspect you are one of those individuals who shows up on Monday morning bearing sunglasses in order to disguise the fact that you are napping during my lecture? Extra credit? No, sir! You will have to rely on the effort which you have put into my class, and perhaps someday, you will grow up.”
Oh well, I thought. There was no way in hell that Dr. Bailey was going to find any record of me or my failure in his massive files. And if by some miracle he did, then I would have to convince him and Mrs. Mitchell of the truth, that I was an immature young man who thought college was supposed to be all fun and that, eventually, I did grow up.
It was six weeks later that Mrs. Mitchell was due back in El Paso for her first follow-up eye exam. Roseann stepped into my office. “Mrs. Mitchell just called. She and the Baileys are on their way here to drop off Amigo. She wanted me to let you know that Dr. Bailey is most anxious to see you again.”
A few minutes later, I heard Mrs. Mitchell’s voice and the unmistakable clickity-clack of Amigo’s toenails trotting across the reception room floor. I had no way out. It was time to face the music. I stood, took a couple of deep breaths, released them slowly, and started a lingering walk from my office to the reception area. As I rounded the corner, I saw Dr. Bailey leaning over the counter that separated him from Roseann’s desk. I stopped and quietly backed up just far enough that he couldn’t see me. In a deliberate, bellowing voice, he announced to Roseann, “Young lady. You may not realize this, but Dr. Humphreys was one of my finest students.”
Jim Humphreys graduated from the University of Texas at El Paso with a degree in microbiology. He received his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from Texas A&M University in 1981. Jim was co-owner of College Garden Animal Hospital in Roswell, NM for thirty-three years treating both large and small animals. In 2014 he retired and moved to Las Cruces, NM.
If you’d like to connect with Jim, feel free to email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Now that you’ve read a bit of Jim’s story and seen how he was able to share it in such an interesting, humorous way, are you ready to share yours? Don’t wait, you can do this! Pick up your pen or laptop and just begin, right where you’re at.