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If He Were to Write His Autobiography,
Its Title Would be “Dance Hall”

by Bill Cherry

If 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.

Throughout the sepia time frame, that Roman Catholic pair will bare five more children after Billy.

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.

The 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 the evening.

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 way.

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.

At 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.

Bill’s 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 “Dance Hall.”

We 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.

Dr. William H. Peterek, Jr
Dr. William H. Peterek, Jr
Photo by Bill Cherry

But even at almost 66, he chokes and tears up terribly when he talks about life in his father’s home.

Bill Peterek 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.

And 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, too.

About 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.

For 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.

Bill Cherry's Galveston Memories
January 1, 2010 column
Copyright William S. Cherry. All rights reserved

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Bill Cherry, a Dallas Realtor and free lance writer was a longtime columnist for "The Galveston County Daily News." His book, Bill Cherry's Galveston Memories, has sold thousands, and is still available at Barnes and Noble and Amazon.com and other bookstores.
Bill Cherry's Galveston Memories

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