A Sample Chapter From

STEPPING FORTH, An American Girl Coming of Age in the '60s

by Ann Ulrich Miller



from 1967 -- Small Steps

So You Really Wanna Be a Vet?

"Maybe ... if you really want to be a veterinarian, Ann, … you should call up Dr. Weirich and talk to him about the profession.”

The flour sack towel in my hand begged for its place on the rack above the sink. Damp beyond effectiveness, I used it anyway to wipe the last dinner plate.

My heart was set on making a career in veterinary medicine.  My mother’s suggestion to me on that spring day seemed a good one. After thinking about it, I decided to do just that. Dr. Weirich went to our church, so that was a foot in the door.

I called him up at home on May 8 and introduced myself.

“Hello, Ann. How are you?” Dr. Weirich was a D.V.M., married and in his 30s.

When I explained to him that I wanted to be a veterinarian, he said, “That’s commendable.”

“But I was wondering …” I stammered a bit, struggling for the right approach. “Do you think I could … like, talk to you about what you do? I mean, I don’t want to be a bother.”

He laughed, immediately putting me at ease. Much to my delight, he welcomed the idea of my coming in to interview him.

My dad drove me over to the veterinary clinic after school on Wednesday, May 17. Dr. Weirich took the time to sit down and answer my questions. He suggested I come back and observe the actual work. Then he showed me around his hospital—the examination room, lab, x-ray room, pharmacy, surgery and recovery rooms, the cold room where they kept medicines, and the kennels.

The clinic smelled of disinfectant and alcohol. Everything appeared clean and sterile. I liked the pleasant atmosphere. Maybe I could ask him for a summer job. An associate of Dr. Weirich brought in a frightened cat that had a lead pellet up its nose, which had gotten compressed into its cheekbone under one eye. I was relieved to see the poor cat receiving immediate care.

My dad and I had brought along our collie-shepherd, Toto, to get her rabies shot. Toto trembled in fright and made a puddle on the floor in several spots. While Dr. Weirich went to answer the telephone, I found some paper towels and cleaned up after Toto.

At the end of our visit, Dr. Weirich gave me some papers on the veterinary college at Michigan State University and told me to come back again to watch him work—even in surgery.

Three months later, my friend Elyse and I went to the clinic to observe Dr. Weirich at work. Elyse also wanted to be a veterinarian. I was glad to have her company. On Friday, August 18, we stood in Dr. Weirich’s examination room as he took care of five dogs and a cat.

I embarrassed myself when I tried not to giggle, but it burst out anyway. I wasn’t sure what Dr. Weirich must have thought of me. What had set me off was when he referred to the patient on the table as the “bitch”—and he said it with a straight face. Elyse and I glanced at each other, and that was all it took. Without her there, I might have kept my composure.

The vet talked to us afterwards. Then Elyse put on “her act” and that made me feel inferior. She always knew, or pretended to know, every answer to my questions. The doctor would praise her for her “outstanding knowledge” and interest. Oh, I could have choked her! She interrupted me constantly. Then, when we were talking about different kinds of practices, I said that I was interested in large animals like cattle and horses, because I wanted to marry a rancher or farmer.

Dr. Weirich said, “Most veterinarians who treat the larger animals don’t know what they are doing.”

Right away, Elyse piped in, “Uh-huh!” and said, “I’m going to work with small animals.”

Dr. Weirich seemed to side with her and said, “They can have their cows and pigs.”

Oooh, I was so mad! I thought, “When I become a vet, I’ll treat any animal … whether it’s a dog, a cat, a cow, a horse, a pig, a snake, a zebra or a little child’s pet frog. I don’t care what Elyse thinks, I believe that every animal has just as much right to be living and breathing as I do.”

I gazed out the window of the vet hospital and saw the countryside with a barn and silo. Even with clouds in the sky, I thought it was beautiful. Elyse gave me some odd looks for my daydreaming.

At the end of September we had a Thursday afternoon off at school, so Elyse and I went back to the vet clinic to do more observation. One of my classmates, Lisa Brown, and her mother had brought in their cat and kitten. Lisa was just as surprised to see me as I was her.

Then, Elyse and I got bawled out by one of the old fogies that worked in the kennels. “Scram!” he told us when we went in to look around. I was so embarrassed that I wanted to never come back again. But Dr. Weirich was nice and so was his helper, John. Elyse flirted with John when he told her he was 30 years old. I’m sure he was no more than 22.


Jim Gets Deployed to Vietnam


 Operation Cedar Falls, a major ground war effort in Vietnam, began in January 1967. It involved approximately 16,000 US and 14,000 South Vietnamese troops, who set out to destroy Viet Cong operations and supply sites near Saigon, and became known as the “Iron Triangle.”

Jim was in the US Army in 1967. In mid-February he came home for a short visit before being sent to Vietnam, to the war. Before he came home on leave, my parents talked about taking Jim to California.

 California is on every mind in our house. If we go to take Jim to San Francisco, it will be this Monday, and it’s so sudden. It was first planned that Jim and I, my mother, my father and Paul would go. But I’d rather go to school than take this unbelievable trip.

— Wednesday, February 15, 1967

I wasn’t too enthused about spending that much time in a car with the others. As it turned out, they decided not to go.

Instead, my parents arranged for Jim and me to drive up to Stevens Point and spend a couple of days with Jon and Barb. I got to miss a couple days of school because of it.

My UFO sighting occurred during that visit, related in detail in a subsequent chapter.


I received a letter from Jim at the end of March.


 I sure miss Jim. Yesterday there was no Easter basket marked “Jim” hidden in the family room. I even cried a little. His letter today cheered me up.

— Monday, March 27, 1967

 Another letter came from him in early April.


Jim’s letter really brightened me up. He  told me that if I get a horse this summer, he’ll go halves with me and pay for half the horse. That will be fun, if I ever get enough money for it. We’ll have a lot of fun together with his friends and mine.

— Wednesday, April 5, 1967

 We started getting tapes from Jim in Vietnam, which the whole family enjoyed listening to. It was Jim’s 20th birthday on June 5.


I imagine that he has received the cake and presents we sent him by now. I sent one hundred seventy-five chocolate chip cookies and a tape of the Tijuana Brass, as well as a long, long letter.

It’s funny. No one has mentioned Jim today. They couldn’t have forgotten … could they? I know that I haven’t, and that when you become 20, it’s pretty important because you are no longer a teen-ager.


In late June, Jim wrote to me and sent a list of the nineteen guys in his “hutch.” I wanted to get a bunch of friends together and bake dozens of cookies for each guy in his platoon. He also sent me a couple of poems he had written. One was called “Soldier’s Lament” and the other was called “The World Stumbles On.”

Because I loved to bake, I baked two hundred forty cookies in early July for the soldiers in Jim’s platoon.


 Seven chocolate chip cookies apiece go to each man, as well as four sugar cookies and a gingerbread boy with his own name on it. It isn’t much after you think about it, but it means a lot to the men to receive a package like that.

It means an even greater deal to me. There are nineteen men and they rank from private to captain.


 When Jim’s letter came on Friday, September 22, I learned that his “hutch” had adopted a little female puppy they named Cindy. In mid-October Jim went to Australia for R & R.


 He has five days of liberty to himself. I wish he could send me a baby kangaroo or something. He writes to me a lot, and I feel I could improve my responding … and I intend to.


 Then, we had a surprise on Sunday, October 15, when Jim called home.


 Jim called just a few minutes ago. He is on R & R in Australia. I was setting my hair in the upstairs bathroom when I heard my father calling me.


 I was annoyed at first and resentful at being interrupted. I found my mother at the end of the telephone cord in the back hall. My dad was downstairs on the extension line, yelling to me that Jim had called. So I went down to the basement in my cocky way and said, “Oh, is that all?”

He ignored me and said, “Come on over and say something.”

“I can’t say anything,” I replied stubbornly, but finally took hold of the phone.


 When my dad started up the steps to call to my younger brother and sisters, I burst into a flood of tears while I heard Jim’s voice conversing with Mom. I was ashamed of myself for my attitude.


By Sunday, November 19, I had finished making twenty stockings for Jim and each of the guys in his platoon at Cam Ranh Bay. I had spent the afternoon cutting them out, pinning them, sewing them, trimming them and putting each of their names on each stocking with glitter. All I had to do now was fill them … and send them.

A week later, a woman named Freda Bollman, who was the nurse at Madison Kipp where my father worked, heard about the stockings I had made for the soldiers. She gave me a five-dollar bill in which to buy candy and goodies to fill the stockings for Jim and his buddies in Vietnam.


There are nineteen stockings altogether, plus Jim’s giant-sized one, and also a small one for their dog, Cindy.


Each little sock was filled with the following six things: a pack of Juicy Fruit gum, a candy bar, a package of pre-sweetened Kool-Aid, a toy, a Christmas sucker, and a candy cane.


Today I baked cookies to fill the two boxes they are being sent in, and Tuesday they will be sent to arrive by Christmas.

— Sunday, November 24, 1967


A letter came from Jim the day before Christmas Eve. He told me about how much the guys in his “hutch” enjoyed the stockings I’d made for them. One of the guys, Larry Craig, was going to write to me. That was just the kind of Christmas I loved … bringing happiness to others.


Copyright ©2015 by Ann Ulrich Millher
All rights reserved


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