Remembering a small-town South Texas doctor

A FRIEND RECENTLY sent me a copy of an obituary of the mother of a friend of his. Tim, my friend, knew that I was from Crystal City and he had noticed that his friend’s mother, Genevieve Burdwell Poindexter, had lived in that town and was the widow of Cary Poindexter, a longtime doctor in Crystal City. He asked if I knew of him and I replied that Dr. Poindexter was our family doctor.

Dr. Poindexter was, for a long time, I believe, the only doctor in Crystal City. He delivered my two younger sisters and would had delivered me had I not been born in North Dakota. And his clinic was the only medical facility in the county for decades. My sister Mariana says that our family first heard of Dr. Poindexter from our grandparents, Alejandro and Manuela Palomo. One of them had required medical attention and they had gone to visit him, returning with words of praise for the fine young doctor who had just arrived in town. Later, they would tell of how the young gringo doctor had seen them walking home from running an errand downtown and offered them a ride to the house. Imagine that! A white man offering a couple of Mexicans a ride; that was just unheard of in those days.

I have only vague memories of Genevieve Poindexter. I do recall seeing her around the hospital, directing the administrative staff. If I had to describe her these many years later, I would say she looked like a young and better-looking Madeleine Albright. But I may be wrong. It’s been way too long. I remember Dr. Poindexter a bit better, but not much. He was somewhat older than his wife. His hair was white, or nearly white, and in my mind I picture him as a cross between Santa Claus and an un-gruff Walter Matthau.

The hospital – a pink Spanish colonial-style building – was on East Maverick Street (the white folks, for the most part, lived east of the railroad tracks while the Mexicans lived on the west side), a couple of blocks from the town’s main streets, which ran parallel to each other on each side of the railroad tracks. The Poindexter resident was next door. My sister Carmen lives two blocks east of where the hospital was. It was a beautiful building but it is long gone; it was razed many years ago by whoever bought the land under it. The house is still there, but it is unoccupied and in a sad state of disrepair. It looks as if it will cave in on itself any day. One building remains in the rear of the lot where the hospital once stood, a two-story stone building that was probably a servants quarters or a guest house. Somebody recently renovated it but it is still vacant.

One of the most vivid memories of that hospital is of a bunch of us neighborhood kids getting together to walk over to the clinic to get our polio shots, probably in the late 1950s. I think it was a series of three shots that we had to take, and each time we made an adventure out of it. We did not look forward to having our arms pricked but we knew the polio horror stories and gladly put up with a small amount of pain to free ourselves of that fear.

I rarely got sick when I was a kid, so I didn’t see Dr. Poindexter often. In fact, I doubt seriously I ever did visit him in his office until 1966 or 1967, when a leg injury became badly infected and I ended up having to spend a couple of nights in his clinic. He treated me well and my leg healed quickly, just as he assured me it would. Other members of my family spent more time with Dr. Poindexter, who owned not only the clinic, but also the pharmacy that was housed in the clinic.

Our family had no medical insurance (I don’t think any Mexican family did), and we had no credit cards or checking accounts, and we rarely had cash. But we knew that we could go to the clinic and see Dr. Poindexter and get treated for whatever ailed us and get whatever medicine we needed, whenever we needed it. We were never turned away, as far as I know, we never got any threatening debt-collection letters or calls (we didn’t have a phone, so that would have been impossible). We had a cuenta – an account – with El Poindexter, as we called him, and that was all we needed. We would pay down that cuenta whenever we could, which was probably every fall when we came back to town with the money we’d earned in the North Dakota sugar beet and potato fields.

Not long after he treated me for my leg injury, Dr. Poindexter closed his facility. By that time a couple of new younger doctors had come to town and started their own clinic. They probably proved too much competition and Dr. Poindexter, who was getting up in age, probably decided to retire. His departure meant that we no longer had a family doctor. We were forced to go to the new doctors, or the others that followed them, but it was never the same.

I wish I had known Mrs. Poindexter was still alive all these years. I would have liked to chat with her, to ask her questions about her experience, and her husband’s, in Crystal City.


About juanzqui7

Former Texas reporter, columnist and editorial writer.
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