Portrait of a Father

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Dr. Francis C. Wilson, Emmett’s father, taking it easy in the back yard, @ 1895, Chipley, Florida. Check out that corn cob pipe!

This photograph of Emmett’s father, Dr. Francis C. Wilson, was taken on a sunny afternoon — maybe Father’s Day — around 1895.

His eyes are open, and they appear to be focused on the long corn cob pipe. I wonder if he whittled that pipe himself? Or perhaps one of his sons — Emmett? — carved it for him?

I like to think that in this photo, Dr. Wilson is glad to be off his feet and relaxing after a full day seeing of patients. Dr. Wilson had regular office hours — his home office may have been the building behind him, to the left — but he was a full-service physician who spent about a third of his time on Washington County roads.

Imagine what he had to include in his medical bag when he was on the road: Dr. Wilson treated everything from measles to yellow fever; he set broken bones, delivered babies, amputated limbs, counseled the depressed and addicted, embalmed the dead. He even performed emergency dentistry when necessary.

Here, Dr. Wilson is wearing his straw hat (a necessity when traveling for hours on the hot, dusty Florida back roads) and his white lab coat over a white shirt and suspenders, the coat bunched up a little in the back. Interesting that he’s still dressed for this office in this most casual of photos. (I have no information who took the photo, but the photographer is in the lower right hand corner of the shot, was likely one of the Wilson children.)

Of all the photos I have of the stately and serious Dr. Wilson, I like this one the best, because it illustrates something completely different for me — Dr. Wilson taking a break, which is something I don’t believe he did much, as the recently widowed, sole support of 10 children. Maybe that’s why he’s still wearing his hat and lab coat in the photo: Because he wasn’t comfortable relaxing completely.

The background information I have about this period in the Wilson family was that Dr. Wilson was channeling his grief at the loss of his wife Elizabeth into his work during this time — an absentee father who would strive to keep his emotions and feelings in check. Neighbors and friends would comment on how noble and dignified Dr. Wilson was after his devastating loss.

Obviously, Dr. Wilson loved his family, and dealt with his grief in the best way he knew how. Unfortunately, this would not have been something 13-year-old Emmett would have understood or realized at the time, and I believe this affected the relationship he had with his father, for theirs was a distant, formal relationship.

But in the end, Emmett cared about his father, as he made provision for him in his will, even while dying of alcoholism, and even after his father had basically washed his hands of Emmett.

Dr. Wilson was a tough, resilient, practical man who would sacrifice personal comfort and happiness for the good of his family. Perhaps Emmett recognized what was going on with his father toward the end of his life.

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