The Rubber Biskit Road Show Presents, "Never Say Never: An Epic Journey - Volume One, Part Fourteen: Houston We Have A Problem
In Part Fourteen of Never Say Never: An Epic Journey - Volume One The GYPSY relates the aftermath of the horrendous bureaucratic overreach that has put his family in danger of being broke apart forever. Shirley must make a decision between losing her children or asking a man she dislikes for help.
Join The GYPSY as he takes you on an Epic Journey into his life, the life of his family and the life of his mother; Shirley Elizabeth Hummel, who suffered from mental illness her entire life.
Shirley's story is not an easy one to hear. At times you will be uncomfortable with her situation. Other times you may laugh or fill the warmth that all to often eluded her. You may even find yourself angry and horrified at the situations and tragedies that drove Shirley further and further into her illness. The one thing you will not leave with is ignorance.
The telling of Shirley's story will educate and inform you. You will come away with an understanding of the highs and lows that mental illness plays in the sufferer as well as the family, friends and acquaintances of the mentally ill.
Each Tuesday On The Rubber Biskit Road Show The GYPSY will present a new chapter of his novel "Never Say Never: An Epic Journey - Volume One"
Next Weeks Episode: I've Got A Feeling We Are Not In Kansas Anymore
I'm The GYPSY and You're Not and This Is The Rubber Biskit Road Show Presented By Artist Alley Studio Featuring The Artisan, Handcrafted and Branded Creations of The GYPSY and Mad Hatter. Visit Us At www.ArtistAlleyStudio.com
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EPISODE FOURTEEN – HOUSTON, WE HAVE A PROBLEM
It was the last day of the 1971-1972 school year and Jimmy was out for the summer. The last school bell of the year had sounded at noon; Jimmy and his buddy Mark wasted absolutely no time in vacating the Marjorie French Junior High School campus. As they walked down the street together they talked excitedly about what they would do together during the summer break and what it would be like to be the “Big Men on Campus” next year. In the Fall they would be freshmen, not 7th graders, not 8th graders but freshmen and there was a sense of power in that fact that neither boy could explain yet both felt.
Mark asked Jimmy if he wanted to come over to his house and shoot some pool. “Sure do”, said Jimmy, “but I have to go home first and check in with Mom.”
Mark had a full size pool table in his basement and Jimmy never passed up an opportunity to shoot a game on Mark’s awesome table; he could see himself sinking the 8 ball in the corner pocket of that marvelous gold felted altar.
Jimmy left Mark at his house and rushed to his house. Cutting across the field behind Mark's house Jimmy soon found himself at 29th street, a quick jog across the bridge that crossed the Shunganunga creek and Jimmy was home.
“Hey Mom!” he called out as he entered the house but there was no answer. Jimmy passed through the kitchen and went to her bedroom door. Knocking on the door Jimmy said, “Mom?” He tried the door and found it unlocked, slowly turning the door knob and pushing the door slowly open Jimmy looked inside the room.
Shirley was still in bed with the covers pulled up around her head, the smell of vomit filled the room from the bucket next to the bed and there were tissues crumbled and littering the floor. Shirley had still been asleep that morning when Jimmy and Patty headed for school, that was not unusual, but for her to still be in bed at noon, well Jimmy knew something was wrong.
Jimmy crossed the room and nudging his Mom’s shoulder said, “Are you OK Mom?”
Shirley rolled over and barely opened her eyes. She looked at Jimmy and said, “No son, I am not OK, I am very sick.”
Jimmy took a step back from the bed, not because his Mother was sick but because of how she looked. Shirley was running a high fever and had been sweating. Her long black hair lay in greasy strands on her head, her skin was a pasty white and her eyes were red rimmed. The overall effect was that of the living dead; A Vampire.
“Is there anything I can do for you Mom?”
Shirley shook her head no. “I’ll be O…”
Before Shirley could finish her sentence she broke out into a coughing fit. Jimmy waited patiently while the coughing racked her body. As the coughing subsided Shirley laid back into her pillows and let out a sigh, “I just need to rest.”
Jimmy asked, “What about our appointment?”
Shirley looked at him as if he had just spoken a foreign language to her. “Our what?” She asked back.
“Our appointment Mom, at Family Services, it’s today, it’s every Thursday.”
Shirley closed her eyes, “Oh crap, I forgot. What time is it?”
Jimmy looked at the clock, “It’s twelve thirty.”
Shirley let out a long exhale, “Good, we have time.”
Shirley rolled over and bleary eyed looked at her alarm clock. Reaching over she set it for 2:00. “I’m going to sleep until two, hopefully…”
Another coughing attack struck Shirley. She leaned over the bed and grabbed the bucket in case she puked but she did not have to worry about that as she had not eaten all day. Jimmy waited patiently for the coughing fit to end. Shirley took in several deep breaths, set the bucket down and collapsed into her pillows.
“Mom, shouldn’t we cancel the appointment?” Jimmy asked.
Shirley shook her head, “No we can’t, we can’t afford too. Evans Whore would love for us to miss an appointment so she can steal you kids and lock me away.”
Jimmy was concerned, “I know she hates us…”
Shirley cut him off, “No son she is scared of us and that makes her very dangerous.” Shirley’s eyes turned redder and her cheeks puffed out as she fought back another coughing attack. “We’ll keep the appointment and to Hell with her.”
Jimmy knew it was useless to argue with his mother. “Mom can I go over to Mark’s house and shoot some pool until it is time to go?”
Shirley forced a smile, “Sure son, have fun but be home by two thirty.”
Jimmy headed for the door. “Thanks Mom I’ll be…
Shirley stopped him, “Wait Jimmy, you said you are going to Marks?” Jimmy nodded his head. “Just hang there, I’ll pick you up on the way out.”
Jimmy smiled, “Cool, thanks mom.”
She waved him off as she launched into another coughing fit.
As Jimmy went out the front door the school bus carrying his sister pulled up in front of the house.
“Hey Patty!” He called out as his sister exited the bus. “Mom is sick, don’t bother her.”
His sister walked towards the house, “OK, where are you going?”
Jimmy started walking across the yard towards the street, “I’m on my way to Mark’s. If you watch TV keep the volume down.”
Patty ran over to him, “Can I go?” she asked.
“Nope, no girls allowed.” He laughed and ran across the bridge as his sister turned and stomped into the house.
“Eight ball corner pocket”, Jimmy said as the ball traveled across the gold felt and fell into the corner pocket.
“Damn It”, Mark said, “I owe you another Coke.”
Jimmy laughed and taking a large swing from his Coke bottle said, “Let me finish this one and I’ll allow you to pay your debt.” Jimmy looked up at the clock on the wall and about spit out the Coke he was in the process of swallowing.
“What’s wrong with you?” Mark asked.
Jimmy ignoring Mark’s question asked his own, “What time is it?”
Mark looked at the clock on the wall and laughed, “Hope you weren’t going by that clock, it’s been busted for a while. My Mom has been on my Dad’s ass to fix it.”
Jimmy had been going by that clock. He did not know how long it had been since he had last looked at the clock but it had not changed from the time it showed on its face the last time he looked at it. The time showed as 1:53.
“Mark what time is it?” Jimmy asked frantically.
Mark looked at his wrist watch and said, “Three Thirty; what difference does it make?”
Jimmy dropped his cue on the table and pushing past Mark rushed up the stairs.
Out of breath Jimmy burst through the door of his house 5 minutes later. Patty sat in the middle of the front room watching TV. Jimmy ran around her, through the kitchen and not bothering with knocking shoved his mother’s room door open.
“Mom, wake up its 3:35... MOM!”
Shirley rolled over and looking at the clock yelled, “Oh Shit! I didn’t hear the alarm.”
Jimmy went back into the front room and confronted his sister, “Patty, did you hear Mom’s alarm go off?”
Patty looked up at him from where she sat on the floor. “Sure did.” She said.
“Then why didn’t you make sure she was awake?”
Patty shrugged her shoulders, “You said not to bother her.”
Jimmy was beside himself. “You know that we have an appointment with the Therapist every Thursday, you should have yelled for Mom to get up.”
Patty turned her attention back to the TV. “You didn’t let me go with you so I don’t care if you go to Therapy.”
Jimmy just stood and looked at his sister, dumbfounded. “You stupid little…”
Shirley yelled from her bedroom, “SHUT UP BOTH OF YOU.”
Jimmy could hear his Mother dialing the phone.
“Hello? Yes this is Shirley Stewart I had an appointment this afternoon with…”
Shirley went into a coughing attack. Jimmy rushed into the room and took the phone receiver from his Mothers outstretched hand.
“Hi, this is Jim, James George. My Mom is sick and coughing. We both had appointments at 3:30.” (Pause), “Shirley Stewart.” (Pause), “Yes with Dr. Jones.” (Pause), “Yes my appointment was with Dr. Leland.” (Pause), “Yes, yes, OK I’ll tell her. Are you sure we can’t come now?” (Pause), “OK, thank you.” Jimmy hung up the phone.
Shirley was sitting on the edge of her bed trying to catch her breath. “What did they say?” she asked Jimmy.
“The lady said that they could not see us today since we were late but that she would let both Doctors know that we had called.”
Shirley held out her hand, “Give me the phone.” Shirley dialed the memorized Phone number.
“Hello, can I speak with Miss Evans? This is Shirley Stewart.” (Pause), “Oh I see, OK, can I get a message to her?” (Pause), “All right, please tell her that I called.” (Pause), “Yes, my phone number is 2320301” (Pause), “Yes, thank you.”
Shirley hung up the phone. She didn’t know if the twisting in her stomach was from the flu bug she was battling or what she feared was about to happen to herself and her children.
Shirley called in sick on Friday and spent most of the day phoning the AFDC office and leaving messages for Miss Evans. Late in the Day she was informed by the receptionist that due to the Memorial Day weekend Miss Evans would not be back in the office until Tuesday May 30th.
Shirley went to work on Saturday and on Sunday she loaded up the children and headed out to Lake Shawnee. Shirley had packed a picnic lunch and they sat at one of the tables by the lake enjoying their lunch of Bologna Sandwiches, potato chips and Shasta soda. Shirley wanted to spend this time with her children as it was probably the last time she would ever have with them.
After lunch they headed out to Rochester Cemetery where they put flowers on the family graves. They always started with Shirley’s father’s grave. Jimmy always knew they were near the grave when he saw the large Stanley stone with the palm frond carved on it. Shirley kneeled at the grave of her Father while the children wandered through the cemetery looking at the stones and markers.
“Hi Daddy, it’s me Beth. I messed up again. Why am I always messing up?” Shirley felt the tears starting to flow. “I wish you were here to talk to me, to tell me what to do, I don’t know what to do anymore. Mommy won’t talk to me, she is still mad at me because of that bastard Walter Scott.” Shirley wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. “Oh Daddy what am I going to do? Karl said that he and Patricia would take the children but they are my children. Why does everyone want to take my children?” Jimmy had walked up behind his mother and stood silently eavesdropping. “Daddy I’m not a bad little girl so why do bad things always happen to me? I try to be good; I try to do the right thing. Oh Daddy please help me I don’t want to lose my children.” Heavy sobs wracked Shirley’s body. Jimmy silently moved off to give his Mother her time.
Monday morning, Memorial Day, Shirley left for work. Patty played in her room with her dolls and Jimmy walked down to the creek with his fishing pole. Baiting his hook he cast his line in the water and sat on the bank watching the red and white bobbin bounce and dance on the surface of the water. Jimmy’s Step-Father Ernie Stewart had once said to him, “Boy, when you got a lot on your mind go fishing. That’s where you can clear your head and find your answers; Go Fishing.” So Jimmy had taken his Step-Fathers advice and had gone fishing.
Shirley did not have to be at work until ten O’clock on Tuesday morning so she decided to spend the morning trying to get in contact with the hateful Miss Evans. Shirley had prayed to God over and over again that Miss Evans would accept her explanation and not steal her children or her freedom from her. It was 8:30 and Shirley was just reaching for the phone to call the AFDC office when it rang startling her. Shirley picked up the receiver, fumbling it, and brought it to her ear, “Hello?” There was a pause and then a dreaded familiar voice said, “Mrs. Stewart, this is Miss Evans…
“I was sick on Thursday…” Shirley began to say but Miss Evans cut her off. “Mrs. Stewart neither you nor your son James kept your appointments as you legally agreed to do.”
Shirley was trying to keep her composure. “But I was sick that day, we called the clinic and I have been trying to call you.”
Miss Evans ignored Shirley and continued her accusation. “You were required by law to attend your therapy sessions or you would be committed to the State Hospital and your children would go into foster care.”
Shirley could feel the anger rising up inside of her and was fighting to maintain control. “Don’t you understand? I was sick!”
“I don’t want to hear your excuses; I don’t need your excuses. I know what is better for you and your children than you do. I went before the Judge Friday morning to have him sign the final order for…”
Shirley screamed into the phone, “YOU CAN’T DO THIS!”
Miss Evans cleared her throat, “I can and I did. Pack a bag for yourself and your children. Report to my office Friday morning June 2nd at 9:00 am. If you and the children are not in my office at that time I will issue a warrant for your arrest and send the Sheriff‘s department to your home to pick you and the children up.”
Shirley felt like she was going to faint.
“Don’t worry Mrs. Stewart, the children will be well cared for until we find proper Foster Homes for them. I believe both of your children are familiar with the fine services offered by the Juvenile Detention Center.” Miss Evans ended with one last admonishment, “Nine O’clock on the 2nd Mrs. Stewart, or else.” Miss Evans hung up the phone without waiting for Shirley’s reply.
Shirley slowly returned the receiver to the cradle of her phone. She stared straight ahead at the picture of her Father that hung on the wall. She had never felt as lost and alone as she now felt.
“Mom?” Jimmy stood in the doorway of Shirley’s room looking at her sitting on the edge of her bed staring at the wall. Shirley looked small and weak to the teenager; small, weak, powerless. “We are going back to Juvie, aren’t we?” Shirley did not answer. “Here Mom” Jimmy held out her address book to her, “Call him, call Dad.”
Shirley looked at the offered book, “Lee Roy?” she asked.
“No Mom, Dad, Ernie.”
She drew back away from the book as if it was a deadly serpent, looking up at Jimmy with eyes wide she said, “No, I will not call Ernest! I will not beg for help from that man!”
Jimmy sat down next to his Mother on the bed, the book in his right hand holding it in front of her.
“Dad loves us and I know he still loves you, he would be happy to help you just have to ask him.”
Shirley looked down at the book, “He’s an alcoholic…”
Jimmy nodded his head, “I know Mom but I have been thinking about him a lot lately. You have been praying to God for help, maybe he put Ernie in my head as a way of getting us help.”
Shirley did not Love Ernest Albert Stewart; she cared about him but had never loved him. She had met him at the Town Topic Hamburger Café on Broadway in Kansas City, Missouri when Jimmy was just 5 years old. Jimmy had walked up to him and asked him for a penny for the bubble gum machine when Shirley had refused to give the boy any money. Ernie reached into his pocket, pulled out a penny and stuck it in the machine for the boy. Handing the gum ball to Jimmy he stood up straight and smiling at Shirley offered his hand to her, “Hi, I’m Ernie.” She took his hand and a month later took his name.
Shirley had married Ernie for two reasons; she was lonely ever since Lee Roy had gone away and Jimmy needed a Father. Ernie was great with Jimmy, spending time with the boy and teaching him things that only a man can teach a boy. Jimmy became Ernie’s shadow and wherever Ernie went Jimmy was there.
Shirley became pregnant and Ernie moved the family from Kansas City to a small town called Ithaca, Nebraska just west of Omaha. Ernie’s Brother Jerry was an officer in the Air Force and was attached to an Airfield near Wahoo, Nebraska. Jerry had gotten Ernie a job building grain bins and all was right with the world until Shirley went into Wahoo General Hospital to give birth to Patty.
While Shirley was recovering in the hospital Ernie’s older brother Joe showed up in Ithaca. Joe was a severe alcoholic and it did not take much persuading on his part to get Ernie to fall off the wagon. Ernie abandoned his family and Shirley was stranded in Nebraska with a newborn and her son.
Shirley phoned her Mother for help to get back home to Topeka. Pearl contacted Shirley’s Brother Karl who agreed to come rescue her as long as she named her newborn daughter Patricia. The baby had been born on Karl’s wife’s birthday October 16. Karl came and picked up the dislocated family. Shirley and the children moved into one of her Mothers apartments at 700 SW Western.
Contact with Ernie had become sporadic over the years. He could not afford the court ordered child support as he could not hold a steady job due to his alcoholism. So Ernie did odd jobs here and there to survive. He loved the children but became hesitant to keep in contact because every time he came to visit Shirley had him arrested for back child support. Shirley’s Mother had admonished her for this, “Shirley, you need to decide what is more important, the money or a Father for the children.”
Now Shirley had a decision to make. What was more important, keeping her children and her freedom or the disgust she had for Ernie’s alcoholism. She reached out and took the address book from Jimmy’s hand. Jimmy stood up and without a word handed his Mother the phone and left her room closing the door behind him.
Jimmy sat in the small living room for a little while listening to the muffled conversation coming from the bedroom. He was happy to hear his Mother talking, which meant that she had made contact with Ernie. “Who is Mommy talking to?” Patty asked. “Mom will tell you later, leave her alone right now.” Patty shrugged and went back to drawing in her coloring book. The walls of the small room felt like they were closing in on Jimmy so he went out and sat on the front stoop watching the traffic go by on 29th Street.
Forty Five minutes later Shirley came out the front door and headed for the Rambler, “Going to work, see you around six.”
Jimmy jumped up, “Wait Mom, what did Ernie say?”
Shirley closed the door to the Rambler and started the engine. She rolled down the window. “Your Dad will be here this afternoon”, she said putting the car into gear. Shirley pulled out of the driveway and headed up the road.
Jimmy was laying on his bed reading. He was currently engrossed in the story of Esmeralda and Quasimodo when he heard the vehicle pull into the driveway. Jimmy looked at the clock as he jumped out of bed; it was just a few minutes after two O’clock. Jimmy rushed outside and there stood Ernie outside his pick-up truck hugging Patty who had made it to him before Jimmy had.
Jimmy ran up to Ernie to hug him too. Ernie let loose of his daughter and gave Jimmy a bear hug.
“Hi son, how’s it going?”
The pick-up truck Ernie had arrived in was a match for the man. Ernie had always reminded Jimmy of Clint Eastwood. A little over six feet tall Ernie was lanky with wiry muscles. Steely blue eyed and wavy sandy hair combed back off of his broad forehead, His straight nose ended in the signature ball of the Stewart clan. His jaw was square and strong. The only thing not movie star like about the man was his teeth which were severely stained and missing in some places from years of alcohol and tobacco abuse.
The Pick-Up truck was a 1962 Chevy which was pieced together from other 1962 Chevy’s. Jimmy found it ironic that the truck was born the same year as his sister. Jimmy looked at the patch work truck and for the first time in his life realized that Ernie was a patchwork man.
“Son is that a creek I see over there?”
Jimmy said, “Yes sir, the Shunganunga.”
Ernie reached into the back of his truck and produced two bamboo poles and a can of stink bait.
“How’s the fishing?”
Jimmy smiled, “Lots of Bull Heads.”
Ernie handed one of the poles to Patty and said, “Well what are you waiting for son? Go grab your pole and let’s catch some dinner.”
For the next couple of hours Ernie listened attentively to the children relate the story of all that had happened over the past couple of months. As the catch increased Ernie’s questions increased. Finally he said, “So this Evans Whore has a hard on against you all because you stood up to her?” Jimmy started laughing. “What’s so funny son?” Jimmy snorted, “That’s what Mom calls her; Evans Whore.” Ernie laughed, “Great minds think alike.”
For a while they sat on the edge of the bank, fishing for Bullheads. Ernie was watching his line in the water and did not say anything. Jimmy had seen his Dad in deep contemplation before and knew not to disturb him. Patty became bored with the fishing and announced that she was going to watch TV. Ernie pulled in her line and sat the pole on the bank.
“You’re fifteen now son, right?” It was more a statement than a question.
“Yes sir”, Jimmy said.
“Uh, huh. Well you have been forced to grow up pretty fast recently and to act like a man. I need you to act like a man now so we can help your Mother; can you do that?”
Jimmy nodded his head, “Yes sir”, he said.
“Good, now here is what we are going to do…”
By the time Shirley got home a few minutes after six the house was filled with the smells of frying fish, potatoes, onions and beer. Shirley had forgotten what a good cook Ernie was. He had been a mess hall cook during the Korean War and he had carried that skill with him after he had left the service. After the best dinner Shirley, Jimmy and Patty had in a long time Ernie asked Jimmy to keep an eye on his sister while he and Shirley went for a ride so they could talk.
Patty was asleep and Jimmy was in bed reading when Shirley and Ernie returned home. Shirley came into Jimmy’s room while Ernie went to the kitchen to grab a Falstaff from the fridge.
“Your Dad and I are back together and we are really going to work on our relationship for the sake of you children. I am going to quit my job tomorrow and I need your help to pack up the house.”
Jimmy said, “I know, Dad told me that he is moving us to St. Joe, Missouri so that we will be out of the state of Kansas.”
Shirley sat down on the edge of Jimmy’s bed and brushed back a strand of hair off of his forehead as Ernie entered the room.
“We are going to try to make this work son”, Ernie said. “We don’t know what will happen and we don’t know if your Mother and I can get along but we both agree that we need to get you children out of Kansas before that Evans Whore gets her hands on you kids.”
Shirley tucked Jimmy in, she had not tucked her son into bed for five years but it seemed the right thing to do. She kissed his forehead and said, “You get some sleep now, we have a big day tomorrow and a lot to do.”
As Shirley left the room Ernie stopped at the door and reached for the light switch. As he shut out the light he said, “I Love You Son.”
Jimmy looked at the silhouette of his Dad in the doorway, strong and tall. “I Love You Too Dad!”
Ernie closed the door and as Jimmy snuggled down beneath the sheet that covered his body he smiled, Jimmy had not been this happy in a long time. “Thank you God”, he said as sleep overtook him.