Sam Dodek closes his twinkling blue eyes and reaches into the depths of his 97-year-old memory. In seconds the stories spill out in shimmering clarity: going to the White House with his father on New Year's Day 1907 to see President Theodore Roosevelt. Riding in an open street car, 5 cents a ride. Delivering 394 babies in 365 days in 1944, the year he tried to join the Army.
That was only a fraction of the 10,100 babies he helped bring into the world during a career in the District that spanned six decades.
"I have lived from the horse-drawn streetcars to the subways," Dodek says fondly, recalling his very long life as a doctor, George Washington University professor, husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather.
Sitting in a graceful wood-carved, pink-upholstered chair in his elegant Northwest Washington home, where he has lived for 50 years, Dodek spoke with amazing precision about his life in Washington. He was only 5 when his father, who had served with Roosevelt in the Spanish-American War, took him to the White House. In those days, presidents opened the executive mansion for a public reception every New Year's.
"Do you know what he said to my father when we walked up? 'Hello Meyer,' as if they were best friends," Dodek recalled. "I remember it clear as day."
He also remembers the exhilaration of those rides on the streetcar, with its "cow catcher" net attached to the front to catch stray animals or children in its path. When he was 16, his family got its first car, a little red number which he drove sporting a red beret.
A driver's license was easy to get: His came with the car. One day, he was pulled over by a policeman on Florida Avenue for going 15 mph in a 12 mph zone. He was taken to the police station and held until a family friend could pay his $5 fine.
Washington was a small town then. Now, when he goes downtown to attend a concert, play or the opera, he finds it too busy.
"There is so much congestion, it's almost like New York," he said. "You know, you don't have to go to New York anymore for anything. Washington has what you need. Opera, ballet, plays, restaurants."
Dodek, whose parents moved to Washington from Chicago when he was 6 months old, went to public school in the District. After graduating from Central High School, he attended George Washington University, then Jefferson Medical School. He interned in Philadelphia and Cleveland and worked in New York before opening his own practice in the District in 1933.
Some of his early research included creation of an instrument to help record uterine contractions and measure the effects of various drugs--a device now on display in GWU's Dodek Room.
Dodek began delivering babies at a time when many women gave birth at home, which made it more dangerous.
He believes the most important change in society this century was the introduction of antibiotics in the 1940s. That dramatically changed the quality of life for everyone. He is still haunted by the death of a rabbi's brilliant son who developed a blister after playing tennis decades ago and died of an infection.
"I think of that all the time," he said. "Today [the blister] wouldn't mean anything."
Although he stopped delivering babies in 1969, Dodek saw longtime patients until three years ago. His advice to them was always the same: Eat healthy and watch out for other drivers. He loves it when he meets people he brought into the world.
Dodek has resided in the same elegant Northwest home on Woodland Drive since New Year's Eve 1944. He shared it with his wife, Miriam, an attorney and author, until her death a decade ago. He has two daughters, now grown, who attended Sidwell Friends School, five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
His brother, who owned the D.J. Kaufman Inc. men's wear stores, died in 1994.
Having joined the Washington Hebrew Congregation in 1915, he is now its oldest member. One of his cherished moments of the century was celebrating in the streets of Washington in May 1948 when the state of Israel was declared. But he has long been frustrated with the District's continuing lack of representation in Congress.
"Go over the river and you get full representation," he said. "Here we still don't have it, and we should."
It's difficult to imagine living nearly a century without regrets, but Dodek says he has only one: "I think if I had prayed harder God wouldn't have taken Miriam."
And his financial success taught him that the true meaning of life lies elsewhere: "It isn't how much money you make, it's the reputation you have," he said.
Dodek isn't impressed by the new millennium. "It's just another day on the calendar," he said. "Of course, I do hope I'm here, God willing."
CAPTION: "I have lived from the horse-drawn streetcars to the subways," said Sam Dodek, who delivered 10,100 babies.
CAPTION: Dodek says he still thinks about lives lost before the advent of antibiotics.