He Were to Write His Autobiography,by
Its Title Would be “Dance Hall”
this story were a movie adaptation of a book, it would be from an autobiography
titled “Dance Hall.”
It would begin in Gonzales,
Texas, and then it would bulge out into the surrounding communities before
it moved into the present tense.
Obviously this first part would be filmed
in sepia tones, because we’re talking about a period stretching from the mid-‘40s
to the early-‘60s.
The main character is Billy, the first child of a flashy
and handsome shiny convertible-driving grocer. That grocer is about six years
older than his wife. They call him Bill.
Bill is consistently argumentative,
and he is abusive. He frequently, and for no reason at all, sprinkles his conversations
on any otherwise passive subject with his wife with absolutely hateful non sequiturs.
the sepia time frame, that Roman Catholic pair will bare five more children after
And to this day Billy, who now goes by Bill, wonders not only why
his mother stayed with his father, but why she had five more children by him.
offsets for Billy of those bad scenes are weekend trips to dance halls in Gonzales
and to all of the nearby communities, where you meet new friends, listen and dance
to good doo-wop, and out of the hundreds there, the only argument is going to
be a fist fight between the area bully and whomever he picks as his victim of
So unlike Billy’s home, where everyone has to take the brunt
of the bully, at the dance hall, Billy knows he can easily stay out of the bully’s
So Billy loves dance halls.
After school and on weekends,
Billy works at the family’s grocery store. He starts when he is 9, and he is there
almost every day. He is expected to carry his load just like his father and every
other employee does.
By 15, he can run the store by himself, and frequently
does when the rest of the family takes a vacation.
But when he can, he
rides his bike by the new brick homes that are being built in Gonzales.
He bets himself that they cost as much as $30,000.
And that’s when he
dreams “Billy’s Dream” while making another stab at trying to figure out a life
plan that will help him achieve it.
“Billy’s Dream” is to find and marry
the girl he loves, buy a new brick home, have several children, be a loving parent,
and to know that because he chose a particular profession, that he will always
be able to comfortably provide for his family and educate his children without
their needing student loans or scholarships.
Billy likes science and math,
but it won’t be until he is a senior in high school that he’ll show much academic
promise in any area.
It will be then that he’ll decided that the way to
someday get a loving wife, brick home, children, as well as a life for them --
the antithesis of the one he has lived so far -- is for him to become a physician.
Remember, that’s “Billy’s Dream.”
So he buckles down in his senior
year and makes all As, and then he goes to St. Edward’s University and then to
the University of Texas in Austin.
this point in the movie adaptation of “Dance Hall,” we switch to Technicolor,
and for the rest of the story he becomes known as Bill rather than Billy. In fact
his whole name is William H. Peterek, Jr.
first application to University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston,
is rejected. He applies again the following year. This time his application is
accompanied by a recommendation letter from highly-respected, Dr. Charles Stone,
Sr., and Bill gets accepted, and he knows from the very first day that he wants
to be a family doctor.
As shy as he is, after a couple of years in Galveston
and only having a mere handful of dates, Bill meets a nurse in the medical school’s
library. Her name is Terry, and he gets up the courage to walk up to her and ask,
“Will you go out with me on a little date?”
She tells him that she’s not
sure that she knows what a “little date” is, but that she’d love to go out with
him on a regular date.
A couple of years later they marry, and he completes
his medical schooling and the practicing in an emergency room environment of what
he has learned.
Then he and Terry begin their family, and he opens his
family practice – internal medicine office in Galveston.
After their children are grown, he and Terry move to College
Station, where he becomes a physician for the students at Texas A&M University.
And then most recently, this update: Open heart surgery, quick recovery,
back to seeing patients at A&M.
It’s now time for the closing scene of
see him sitting in a rocking chair, dressed in his usual preppy style, and telling
me, the story writer, that his adult life has turned out just as he planned it.
But even at almost
66, he chokes and tears up terribly when he talks about life in his father’s home.
had no financial help from home throughout it all. And he only got one small scholarship,
and that was for the year he went to St. Edward’s. The rest came from his personal
tenacity combined with student loans, loans that are now all paid off.
he said that studies came hard because he was, at best, nothing more than an average
student, and that he had to keep in check his attention deficit disorder syndrome,
ten years ago, I mentioned rather parenthetically in one of my Galveston County
Daily News columns, that Dr. Bill Peterek looks and acts like most of us hope
our physician will.
Oddly, other than the major story I wrote about Galveston-Houston
TV legend, Utah Carl Beach, and a column about a gambling ‘50s flim-flam man known
as Joe Pajucie, none of the 600-plus pieces I’d written about Galveston and its
people had ever brought more positive comments from readers than the one that
had the short blurb about Dr. Peterek.
an example, one of his friends wrote me that every year Bill Peterek dresses up
as Santa Claus and calls on many of his patients, patients who may not have many
more Christmases in front of them.
Another said she sends him and his staff
a bouquet of flowers after every visit.
So I said to Bill Peterek, “Are
you ever not a doctor?”
“As soon as I leave my office,” he said, trying
to sound like it was his conviction.
He added that he’s especially not
a doctor when he puts on his jeans and baseball cap civilian disguise, so that
he and Terry can go dancing at the VFW or Billy Blues without being recognized.
I grinned, but I left without having the heart to tell him. Anyone at the dance
hall who knows him immediately recognizes him in his costume.
And to them
and at that moment, he’s still that swell family doctor, Bill Peterek, even though
he’s dressed in a goofy and bad civilian disguise.
Best to let him think
for the moment that he’s got us fooled, they reason.
Cherry's Galveston Memories
January 1, 2010 column
William S. Cherry. All rights reserved
Cherry's Galveston Memories|