An Interesting Man
By Portwenn Hydra
Author's Note: Doc Martin and all of its characters, themes and plotlines are the property of Buffalo Pictures. This work of fiction is written for purely entertainment purposes and no infringement of legal rights is intended. Portions of this story are written from the perspective of a tourist from the United States, and there are many "Americanisms" in the story. We ask your indulgence.
Portwenn Hydra put its six heads together to create this light, summertime story for our intrepid reader and reviewer, "Chapin." Readers and writers of Doc Martin Fan Fiction have benefited greatly from Chapin's insightful reviews, words of encouragement and dedication to the Doc Martin canon. Because his doctor is as skilled as Martin Ellingham, Chapin is now recuperating from successful heart surgery. Please join Portwenn Hydra in wishing Chapin well as we present in his honor this tale of Portwenn.
On the morning of July 4, 1976, Martha Anderson was fit-to-be-tied after a short phone conversation with her youngest daughter, Zarie. She had fully expected her to arrive in Elmwood at any moment to help with today's picnic. Instead Zarie had informed her that she and some fellow named Hal were running an hour or so late. They had just left Columbia but would arrive in time for the Bicentennial parade. Well they better hurry, fumed Martha. It wasn't every day the United States celebrated its 200th anniversary.
Joyce's two daughters, Jennifer and Kimberly, were riding on the Mayor's float, and Carolann's sons, Justin and Ryan, were marching with the Cub Scouts, bless their hearts. Martha's third daughter, Debbie, was expecting a baby any minute, so her husband, Mike, had decorated a little wagon in red, white and blue for two year old Jessica. She supposed he would pull her in the wagon along with that dog of his, Buddy. He didn't go anywhere without that dog.
When Martha bothered Zarie about getting married, she would always bring up Mike: "Really, mother, do you want me to marry someone like him?" From her first junior high school dance, Zarie had been one tough customer. She came home and pronounced all the boys stupid, although she had danced with at least ten of them that night. Her only objection was that the boys weren't all that interesting.
As she watched her three sisters wed, Zarie expressed her wish to marry an interesting man - not the dull-as-dishwater husbands her sisters selected. "Maybe, Miss Zarie," Mama recently chided her, "that's why you are 26 years old and there's no hint that you'll ever marry. You keep waiting for an interesting man, and one day you'll be an old maid like your Aunt Gloria."
Driving to Elmwood that day, Zarie Anderson knew she would not be an old maid. The night before Hal Chuppins had asked her to marry him. They had known each other for only ten months, but he was the most interesting man she had ever met. On their very first date, she realized Hal was the man for her.
Zarie had just begun her fifth year teaching fourth graders at Robert J. Polk Elementary School in Columbia, Missouri. She had graduated from the University of Missouri in Kansas City with a degree in elementary education and was hired immediately. Her student teaching reports were exemplary, and she had made the Dean's List for each of eight semesters at "Mizzou." Students loved her, the principal admired her and parents – even the mothers who ran the PTA – thought she was delightful. Zarie was happy with her job and had an active social life. What more could she want, except of course, an interesting man.
She met Hal the second week of school after watching him chase a teenage boy: "You cannot do this. You have to get back to the house. You've run away one too many times," he huffed. Standing next to her prized possession, a yellow Volkswagen Beetle, Zarie looked in horror as the man tackled the boy to the ground and then hauled him to his feet. Zarie wasn't sure what to make of this, so she ran from the school parking lot shouting: "Stop it this minute," as if she were scolding fourth grade boys at morning recess.
"Look lady, this kid's escaped from a halfway house, and I'm his social worker. I've got to catch him or he'll go back to jail." Zarie still wasn't convinced and trailed after the two only to make sure the boy was safe. A block away the man pointed to a house with a sign reading "Durward County Halfway House for Youth Offenders." "Now, are you satisfied, teach?"
Totally mortified, Zarie nodded, ready to hurry off with no further explanation needed. "Look, teach, let me get him inside. Then I want to ask you something."
No one had ever called her "teach," before, and Zarie stood frozen waiting for the man to return. It was more than ten minutes before he appeared and introduced himself as Hal Chuppins. He wanted to talk to Zarie about her school. It was in a fairly poor part of Columbia, and he wondered if there were any "at risk" students at Robert J. Polk.
Of course there were. Many were in Zarie's class, but she treated them like everyone else and tried not to notice the differences. She gladly took them if the other fourth grade teachers became frustrated by their behavior. Being young, they didn't get on her nerves as they did the older women.
One thing lead to another, and Hal ended up meeting the school principal and setting up an after school program for at risk students. He was able to find money in the County's tight budget for his project and spoke of a mysterious benefactor. After the kids met for three weeks, Hal invited Zarie to a bluegrass music festival on Friday night.
What he didn't tell her was that he played banjo in one of the bands, and she would spend their date alone while he performed. Zarie didn't mind for one minute. Afterward he walked with her along the river and explained how he came to be a social worker.
Ending his four years of Army service in Viet Nam, he had taken his military benefits and gone off to the University of Missouri in Rolla. Originally, he wanted to be a forest ranger, because he loved the outdoors. But there was something about working with kids that called to him. He didn't have the patience for teaching, but thought he could help children with problems.
At the front door of her apartment building, Hal had been the perfect gentleman and said only "Night, teach." Her roommate, Sally Jane Pope, had been waiting for a complete report on the date, and Zarie gushed: "I'm going to marry him. I just know I am."
Now finally in Elmwood, Zarie was bursting to tell someone that her prediction had come true. She grabbed Hal by the hand and rushed into the house calling: Mama, Mama I've got something to tell you." But the house was empty. Stuck on the kitchen corkboard was a note from her mother: "We could not wait. We've gone on to the parade. If you miss it, your nieces and nephews will be very disappointed." Hal laughed as he read the note: "You didn't tell me I'd have mother-in-law problems."
Hal never had problems with her mother, nor anyone else in her family, especially her brothers-in-law who found they could talk about anything with him. Since their marriage in the summer of 1977, Hal and Zarie Chuppins had gotten along with most people. They even managed to get their three children through the teenage years without open warfare. Quite an accomplishment they both believed!
Zarie continued to teach and eventually became principal of a school even tougher than Robert J. Polk. Hal rose through the ranks of Durward County until he was offered a job managing the social welfare department. He and Zarie thought long and hard because the money was good, and they had two children in college. But Hal just wasn't made for management. He was a man of action and wanted to stay with the youth offenders. He always saw the best in them and turned around many young lives.
After the children finished college – and graduate school for the girls - Zarie and Hal relaxed a little more and took up hobbies. Zarie always wanted to try her hand at carpentry and finished a course in furniture making. She made a few small tables and was now working on a Windsor-style chair for Hal.
Hal's band had stuck together even though they did not perform much. Each year the five of them traveled to North Carolina for "Merlefest," in tribute to the late Merle Watson who performed with his dad, Doc Watson, a bluegrass music icon.
He had also become a lay minister at their church and was often called upon to perform weddings, particularly second and sometimes third marriages. It was at these events that Hal's goodness shone through. Known as the man who dispensed sound marital wisdom to the wayward, he often ended the ceremony by reading the poem: "Marriage Is A Bungee Jump," to the grateful bride and groom.
However, his most-recent interest was birdwatching, and he had joined a group of old codgers called "The Bird Brains." This was what brought him and Zarie to Cornwall, England, on this bright June morning. They were looking for Choughs.
On Saturday, they had attended the wedding of their niece, Georgia, in Edinburgh. Zarie's sister, Debbie, had gone into labor soon after they announced their engagement, and Georgia was born in the last minutes of July 4, 1976. Aptly enough she was named after George Washington, the first President of the United States.
Zarie smiled at the wedding remembering Martha Anderson's warning to Georgia on Christmas morning: "You'll be an old maid like your Great Aunt Gloria if you don't find a husband soon." At dinner Georgia announced her engagement to Malcolm Ferguson, a Scotsman she met while scuba diving in Aruba. Mama only sniffed: "I suppose he's an interesting man like your Uncle Hal."
Their daughters, Melissa and Laura, had been bridesmaids and son, Steve, had joined the other groomsmen in wearing a kilt made from the Ferguson family tartan. Except for the skirling bagpipes, Zarie and Hal had greatly enjoyed the day.
A long train ride through the stunning countryside of first Scotland and then England had brought them to the Bodmin Parkway Station in Cornwall. Their rental car awaited them, and Zarie thanked her stars that Hal had the foresight to take a few "right sided" driving lessons in Columbia. It had been difficult finding a car, but one of the Bird Brains provided a British MG he had bought only last year on Ebay.
The narrow lanes were lined with hedgerows, and Hal maneuvered through them with confidence. They were in pursuit of the Choughs of Cornwall, who were having an epic year on the nearby cliffsides. Hal was determined to make a Chough the 100th bird he identified and was quite excited. When the man at the car rental agency told them that David Attenborough was filming the Choughs for his "Life of Birds' series on the BBC, she thought Hal would pop.
He and the Bird Brains were great fans of the show, and after watching an episode, Hal could talk of nothing else. To see a Chough and David Attenborough - well she just wasn't sure what her husband would do. As they made their way toward the well-marked Lizard Point, Hal was sure he spotted some large caravans in the distance. He was soon proven right. They belonged to the film crew who had roped off areas near the cliffs, allowing entry to no one.
Other birders complained that the film crew would not let them proceed until Sir David announced a lunch break. That was only minutes away, and Hal and Zarie were patient. Nearly a half hour later, the ropes came down, and the birders tiptoed forward. No one wanted to be the person who frightened the Choughs.
First one bird ventured into the sky and then a second from their hiding place in a cave. Looking through his binoculars, Hal confirmed that they were indeed Choughs. Their red legs and long red bills were that distinctive. The other birders whispered in excitement as a third bird slowly flew from the cliff, circled and returned. Hal had begun recording the sightings in his birding journal when he turned to Zarie saying: "I don't feel so well." Then he collapsed at her feet.
Birders ran to him and several pulled phones from their pockets but found no signal on the moor. One of the film crew saw Hal collapse and shouted: "Let me get our nurse." Minutes later, an efficient woman examined Hal while peppering Zarie with questions. As the nurse was measuring Hal's blood pressure, he came around.
"Sir, your blood pressure is high, and your pulse is somewhat irregular. You should be seen by a doctor immediately. There's quite a good GP in Portwenn. He's treated a few gastro-intestinal problems for the crew and several bad sprains. He's not the most pleasant chap, but rumor has it that he was once a heart surgeon. Let's get you to Portwenn. It's only a few miles that way. We'll have a driver take you in one of our Rovers. You'll be more comfortable."
Zarie clung to Hal's hand as they bumped across the moor and then along the narrow village streets until arriving at a stone building with a wide terrace overlooking the harbor. As the driver helped them from the car, he said: "The doc's quite good, but I'd rather not stay about. Saw him once for a funny tummy, and he was a bit of a nutter. But you'll be fine. I'll come round in a bit to collect you."
As he deposited them on the terrace, a young woman wearing a short dress and an odd mix of jewelry rushed through the door calling: "Right then Doc, got it. Sterile gloves, nappies, tampons, adhesives and mouthwash. Sorry, I forgot them."
"Start remembering then, Morwenna," a disembodied male voice boomed. "If you can't be more responsible, there's no need to continue your employment at my surgery. Now hurry to the chemists and get back quickly," the man thundered, "I've a full schedule."
Zarie looked at Hal, and Hal looked at Zarie as a tall man dressed in the most beautiful suit imaginable walked through the door and groaned, "Oh God, tourists! This better be a genuine medical emergency."
To be continued