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September 18, 1996

The Gift

Author Affiliations

Chicago, Ill

JAMA. 1996;276(11):854. doi:10.1001/jama.1996.03540110008002

There ought to be behind the door of every happy, contented man someone standing with a hammer continually reminding him with a tap that there are unhappy people; that however happy he may be, life will show him her claws sooner or later, trouble will come for him—disease, poverty, losses, and no one will see or hear, just as now he neither sees nor hears others.

Anton Chekhov, Gooseberries

We moved to Chicago from Bayfield, Wisconsin, in 1931. Those were tough times. No family. No job. No money. No help. Maybe it was partly our own doing. You see, Elsie became pregnant while we were still dating. I did not have much of a family to speak of. My mother died when I was 5, and while my father housed and fed me and my brothers, he did nothing more. Elsie's family was big and stable. Her father had a