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September 14, 2006

From the Publisher

Street clinics


This week's cover story brought back a flood of memories for me.

In 1972 we were in San Diego waiting for our official acceptance into the Peace Corps. We -- my husband, who had a newly minted doctorate in physical oceanography, along with our two young daughters -- were on our way to South America where Bob was going to work at a marine lab and I was going to teach English, or something useful. Those were the days we still thought we could change the world and the Peace Corps seemed a good way to do it.

The only problem was our assignment was to be in Chile and our government was not happy with Chile's new Marxist president. The State Department approval of Peace Corps paperwork never came through in 1972, so when Humboldt State University needed someone to teach physical oceanography, we ended up here.

Bob and I were pretty straight by anyone's standards in those days. (When our adult children got around to asking about our wild hippy days, I always say, "What days were those? Changing diapers?") But that fall we did something rather stupid and Bob and I were thankful that the Open Door Clinic had opened its doors the year before. (See this week's cover story.)

It was that first Thanksgiving and we had good friends down from Oregon with their two children. We also invited a stray HSU student who had nowhere to go for dinner. The student brought along brownies "for the adults," thinking he was doing us a favor. (I know you are laughing by now, but let me finish.)

To this day I don't know what was in the brownies, but I don't think it was simply Humboldt homegrown. When my Oregon girlfriend began exhibiting very bizarre behavior, we knew the rest of us were in trouble. The student quickly left. My husband and I thought there was a remote possibility those four children would wake up the next morning with four dead adults, so we considered our options. Turning ourselves into the police or showing up at the hospital might mean the end of Bob's new teaching career, we reasoned with the few functioning brain cells we had remaining. So we called the Open Door and they kindly sent over someone to babysit us until the crisis passed.

We were so grateful we began volunteering at the Open Door. Bob took shifts answering the phones at the walk-in clinic. He eventually served on the board of directors. I typed grant applications on my home typewriter.

In those days, it was not just a street clinic for druggies (and other stupid people). There were many who wandered in with serious mental illnesses. And there were people just too poor to access regular medical care. These were profound needs and the Open Door was the community's attempt to meet those needs.

And by community I don't mean just Arcata. We met and made good friends over the years with many Eurekans -- among them, Sally Christensen and Ardene Janssen -- who were every bit convinced that we needed a clinic to help people not being helped.

It was our introduction to Humboldt County, a place we decided to make our permanent home. And the following year, 1973, Chilean President Salvador Allende was assassinated.


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