The Ballad of Doc Gillespie

by Sharon Ashton


The Ballad of Doc Gillespie

Doctor Charles John Gabriel Gillespie, 
an English G.P, used to have dreams of
reading history, but his mother took
control, and without consulting, enrolled 
her shy lanky son to read medicine.
Loving his mother, her cloud-grey hair cropped, 
Charles went to Edinburgh, granite-cold, 
and amongst genteel accents grappled with
anatomy and physiology, 
and the therapeutic qualities of
bridies, beans, and a single malt whisky.

After five years, with MB. ChB. 
Charles left Edinburgh, granite-cold, for
General Practice in Stow-on-the-Wold.
It was here, with his mother’s guidance, that
Charles negotiated partnerships both  
professional and matrimonial.
He had dreamed of a large family, but
his wife took control of their conceptions, 
and loving his wife, her pale skin freckled, 
Charles soon settled for one son and daughter.
  
At forty eight he began to stoop, and
mourning his mother, her cloud-grey hair   
                                                   cropped, 
Charles rekindled his love of history.
His son, loving his father, gave him his 
own password to literature on line,
a portal to other worlds and words not
often read, poets long-dead, characters
obscured by time and fashion, now preserved
on page after page of sepia print.
America, late nineteenth century,
drew Charles from the snug English holster of
Stow-on-the-Wold, to prairies and restless
cowboys who rode ranges and herded steer;
to coyote cries, sagebrush fires, dust clouds
and lives long gone, that seemed to him sweeter 
than his, confined in a Cotswold winter.
Hour after hour he skimmed and scanned, read to
understand, pages of the library
Of Virginia University.
Names and content gave him equal delight—
E. A. Brinistool’s Remarks by Bronco
Bob, Artemus Ward’s The Noble Red Man,
J. H. Ingraham’s The Raftsman of The 
Susquehanna… 
                            Old wars were made new to
him: Little Crow’s, Red Cloud’s, and the Great
                                                                Sioux, 
as day after day he rode internet 
highways to rustle cowfolk memories…

‘Leave the computer, Charles, remember the
Grays for dinner tonight,’ said his wife, as
he pressed ‘OK’ to process his order
with Sheplers, USA…
                                      Weeks later the
first parcel came… Alone in his study, 
inhaling the primal scent of tanned hide,
Charles unwrapped his Stetson, and beside it, 
coiled like a rattler, a tawny belt with
silver buckle wrought into a steer’s head.
Next came soft suede boots and brushed cotton 
                                                                    shirts, 
then secret lessons riding deep in the
saddle, communicating with horses
by bit and rein, sitting trots, novice pain…
When December came, Charles swapped his
                                                             shabby
corduroy suit and Christmas ties for soft checked
shirts, boots, and denims buckled with silver. 
You can’t go to work like that, what will your
partners say? What will the patients say? asked
his wife, panicking, her pale skin freckled. 
These are more practical he said, kissing
her. And as he walked away she heard him
sing Do not forsake me, oh my darling,
and she wept, knowing she would fail this test,
and would not ride with him into the West.