The Rubber Biskit Road Show Presents, "Never Say Never: An Epic Journey - Volume One, Part Sixteen: Go Ahead And Make My Day
In Part Sixteen of Never Say Never: An Epic Journey - Volume One The Family loses a Father and has to move on. Jimmy loses recognition but gains a prize only to find out that his hoped for return to Topeka has been shattered by his Mothers rash decision.
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: Love Means Never Having To Say You're Sorry
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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CHAPTER FIFTEEN – GO AHEAD, MAKE MY DAY
As summer moved into fall Shirley got laid off from Big Smith and went to work for Whitaker Cable making wiring harnesses for automobiles. Jimmy started his freshman year at Central High School home of the blue and white Indian Mascot. Patty started elementary school and found herself making a long walk up Olive street hill every morning. And Ernie disappeared.
Shirley answered the knock on the door and there stood Ernie’s older brother Joe. Joe who had always led Ernie down the wrong path. Joe who had no sense of responsibility. Joe who had shown no respect for Ernie’s family when she was giving birth to Ernie’s daughter. Joe the alcoholic. Joe, the ne’er do well. Why Ernie looked up to his older brother Shirley would never understand but she would be damned if Joe would ruin her family again. Shirley tried to close the door on him but Joe’s foot kept that from happening.
“Where’s my brother?” Joe slurred. Drunk like always.
“He is not here Joe, now please just go away.”
Joe kept his foot in the door, “Why should I? He’s my brother.”
Shirley kept her hold on the door. “Joe please, Ernie has been doing well. He has cut back to only a six pack a day instead of a case a day and he has stopped drinking Vodka. When he gets around you all the progress he has made goes right out the window. Joe please“, Shirley pleaded, “If you care about Ernie just go away and leave him alone.”
Joe blew his alcohol soaked breath towards Shirley, “Tell my brother I’m at Corky’s and come pick me up, got a job for him that will make lots of money, then you’ll shut up bitch.” Joe pulled his foot back and Shirley slammed the door.
Corky whose actual name was Whitlow Stewart was Ernie and Joe’s uncle, brother to their father. Whitlow had gotten the nickname Corky because he could uncork a jug of moonshine with his teeth and spit the cork 20 feet or more. Corky had not had a sober day since 1951, since the day his brother had died, since the day Ernie had started his slow suicide.
Growing up on a Tobacco farm in Weston, Missouri Ernie took turns with his brothers and Father performing certain chores around the farm. One of these chores was plowing the fields in late winter to get them ready for the Spring Tobacco crop. On the day that it was Ernie’s turn to plow the field he ran off and joined the Army. Ernie had never wanted to be a farmer and the Army seemed to be his only escape. So that left the chore to Ernie’s father to do.
As the tractor rumbled over the field the plow blades caught on a buried stump. The tree had been cut down by Ernie’s grandfather and the stump had remained buried under ground for untold years. But on this fateful day years of erosion and the natural shifting of the ground had brought the stump to the surface. As the blades of the plow caught the stump the front end of the tractor came up off the ground throwing Ernie’s father from the seat. Before Ernie’s father could get clear the heavy machine came crashing down on him.
Ernie did not hear about the accident until he was out of basic training and returned to Weston on leave from Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas. No one had known where he was as Ernie had not written planning on surprising his family with his accomplishment. Upon hearing the news of his beloved Fathers death Ernie drowned his sorrow and guilt within a bottle and continued to drown sinking lower and lower with each year that passed. And though Corky said he did not hold Ernie responsible for his brother’s death, the words he spoke and liquor he lived in told another story.
Shirley agonized all day long about whether to tell Ernie about Joe’s visit. She had thought that maybe Joe would just leave town before she had to tell Ernie of his visit but then Corky would tell Ernie. Shirley knew that there was no way around it; she would have to tell Ernie that his worthless trouble making Brother was in town. The problem of telling Ernie about Joe was resolved for Shirley late that afternoon when Ernie burst through the door announcing, “Hey Shirley, look who I found at Corky’s!”
As dinner was served and eaten Joe talked endlessly about his job doing construction work in Louisiana. Ernie listened to his older brother hanging on his every word. Shirley’s stomach was in a knot, she knew it was coming and the waiting for Joe to make his move was driving her crazy. As Jimmy and Patty cleared away the dishes from the small kitchen table Joe said, “So Ernie, ya outta come down to Baton Rouge for a while and make some good money. Beats living in this dive.”
Shirley jumped up from the table, “NO!” she shouted, “Ernie is not going with you to Louisiana Joe, this ’dive’ is his home.”
Joe got up from the table and ignoring Shirley said to Ernie, “When ya get done letting your woman pull you around by the short hairs come over to Blue Town and we can talk.”
Blue Town was a neighborhood bar a block from their duplex. As Joe walked out the kitchen door Shirley picked up a glass and threw it at him. The glass barely missed his head and shattered on the door frame.
In a blind rage Shirley grabbed the broom which was leaning against the wall next to the backdoor and ran towards Joe screaming. Ernie intercepted her and grabbing both her wrists Ernie ordered the children to their rooms. Shirley fought against Ernie but he was bigger and stronger than her and he had an iron grip. Slowly Shirley lost her will to fight and as Ernie felt her relaxing he slowly relaxed his grip on her wrists.
Shirley sat down hard in one of the yellow vinyl covered kitchen chairs dropping the broom to the floor. Ernie kneeled down in front of her, “I am just going to go down to Blue Town and have a beer and shoot a game of pool with Joe.” Shirley stared straight ahead looking through Ernie not at him. “I am going to tell him that my family is here and I cannot leave just because he says so.” Shirley said nothing. Ernie kissed Shirley on the forehead “I’ll be back in a couple of hours, promise.”
As Ernie rose and turned to go Shirley said, “If you are not home by midnight don’t come home.”
Ernie turned back around, “I said that I am not going anywhere.”
Shirley just stared at him and said nothing. Ernie walked out the front door and out of their lives. He did not return by midnight and did not even return by the time Shirley left for work the next morning.
When Shirley got home from work Ernie’s clothes and his few personal possessions were gone from the duplex. A note on the dresser read simply: “Will be home in the spring with lots of cash. Ernie.” It was the last time Shirley ever heard from Ernie. Shirley had to sit down with the children that evening and explain to them that their Father would not be returning.
As summer turned into Fall Jimmy fell in love for the first time in his life. Spotting a 1970 BSA Thunderbolt motorcycle in the window of Beckley Motors at 8th and Messanie Streets Jimmy had found a mistress that would satisfy his every need. At almost 16 years old Jimmy’s every need consisted of only one thing; the need for speed. Jimmy got a job throwing 2 newspaper routes to save the $650.00 for his dream girl.
Shirley wished that Jimmy had never seen the motorcycle but she supported his decision to work for it. She would get up early with him on Sunday mornings helping him fold the bulky Sunday editions. She would drive him across town to throw his second route and on rainy or snowy days she would drive the two routes in her station wagon while Jimmy threw papers from the back. And the morning that Buster, Jimmy’s beloved dog of 16 years died Shirley took his route for him.
Jimmy was diligent in his work and saved every penny and Shirley was proud of the effort he was putting forth. She would soon find that she had even more reason to be proud of her son on a cold and icy winter morning in early February of 1973.
Jimmy was just a few weeks away from having enough money for his motorcycle. As he threw his papers along 10th street he dreamed of all the places he and his beloved motorcycle would go to. He envisioned wide open spaces and the endless highways of his beloved Kansas rolling by as he ate up the open road on the Thunderbolt.
As Jimmy got to the corner of 10th and Locust he stopped to turn the cassette tape over in the player he carried in his newspaper bag. The mono player was bulky but Jimmy could not imagine throwing his routes without his music. As he headed up Locust towards 11th street he sang harmonies with Cher; “Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves, they hear it from the people of the town they call them; Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves but every night all the men would…”
Jimmy abruptly stopped singing and stared at the back of the apartment building that sat at the corner of 11th and Locust. The building was an old brick structure that had been painted a dark olive green. There were 4 units in the building, two up and two down. Looking up the north side of the building Jimmy saw smoke coming out of the front of the building and mixing with the frigid 4:00 am air.
Jimmy dropped his newspaper bag and ran to the front of the building. Without hesitation he ran into the front hallway of the building and saw that the smoke was pouring out of the first apartment. The door was slightly ajar and he looked in. Upon a couch on the far wall Jimmy could see a man laying down with his back to him. The man was curled in a fetal position and flames were shooting up from the arm of the couch nearest the man’s feet.
Jimmy ran across the room and tried to wake the man up but he would not stir. Beer bottles on the floor, an ashtray full of cigarette butts lying upside down on the floor and the smell of alcohol fighting for dominance over the smoke told a story without words. Jimmy grabbed the man and pulled him off the couch. He was old, small, sickly and very intoxicated. Jimmy pulled the rail thin drunk out into the snow covered front yard and ran back inside. Pounding on the door of the other downstairs apartment Jimmy yelled, “FIRE!” The smoke was burning his eyes and throat as he ran to the top of the stairs yelling, “FIRE, FIRE, FIRE!” The two apartment doors at the top of the stairs opened at the same time and the occupants ran back down the stairs with Jimmy and outside.
As they exited the building the sound of sirens could be heard coming up the road. An aide at the nursing home across the road had seen the smoke pouring out of the apartment building and had called the fire department. As the engine pulled up Jimmy pointed at the building and told the first Fireman that approached, “The couch in the first apartment is on fire.” Two Firemen entered the building, one carrying a large extinguisher. A loud whoosh sound came from the building and the two Firemen exited the building carrying the smoldering couch between them.
Jimmy went back around the building, recovered his newspaper bag and finished his route. When he got home Shirley was waiting for him. She had his papers for his second route loaded in the station wagon and was looking up the street at the flashing lights. “What’s going on up there?” Shirley asked her son as he walked up. Jimmy looked at his watch, “Let’s get going mom, I’m running late. I’ll tell you about it on our way.” Shirley wrinkled her nose, “Why do you smell like smoke?”
Shirley was proud of her son and spent most of her day at work bragging on what he had done. When she got home from work she headed straight to the kitchen to grab the newspaper that Jimmy always left on the table before he went out to throw his afternoon route. Popping the rubber band off the paper Shirley looked at page one. There was a picture of an ambulance attendant administering oxygen to the old man Jimmy had told her about. Shirley read the headline: Firemen Respond To Burning Couch. Shirley read on:
“St. Joseph Firefighters responded to an early morning one alarm fire at an apartment building located at 11th and Locust Streets where they found a man asleep on a burning couch. The man who was intoxicated had left a burning cigarette in an ashtray on the arm of the couch. The Fire Marshall’s investigation determined that the cigarette had fallen from the ashtray setting the arm of the couch on fire. The quick action by the St. Joseph Fire Department is credited with the safe evacuation of all residents in the building…”
Shirley quickly read through the rest of the article. As she finished she threw the paper on the floor exclaiming, “What the Fuck!” Shirley went to the front room angry and upset. Snatching the phone book from under the tan Princess phone Shirley quickly found the listing she was looking for and grabbing the phone she dialed the number. Two rings and a friendly female voice said, “News-Press, how may I direct your call?”
Shirley demanded, “Who do I talk to about one of your news stories?” The friendly female said, “That would be the News Editor, I’ll connect you.”
“Jones,” the male voice announced. It was the last word he was able to say for the next few minutes. Shirley immediately launched into a tirade demanding to know why her son’s part in the fire had been totally omitted. “The Firemen did not rescue those people my son did!” Shirley was upset and the editor let her wind down before he responded with, “Were you there?”
Shirley said “What?”
The editor repeated his question. “Were you there?”
Shirley said, “Were you?”
The editor cleared his throat. “Our reporter was there and the only people that were on the scene were the victims and the Firemen. Therefore it stands to reason that the Firemen saved the people.”
Shirley was incredulous, “So you make things up instead of finding out the facts?”
The editor said, “Our reporters have the highest integrity and always…“
Shirley cut him off, “My son is a paperboy delivering your piece of shit paper you piece of shit. After he helped those people he continued his route.”
The editor simply said, “You can’t prove that” and hung up the phone.
Shirley was livid. She grabbed her car keys and headed for the door, how dare those arrogant ass wipes take away the recognition that was due her son. Shirley almost ran her daughter over as she headed out the door.
“Patricia, get in the car!”
Patty knew that her mother was angry because she had used her formal name. Patty did not argue Patty got into the car.
Shirley burnt rubber from her tires as she pulled away from the curve. A few moments later she was screeching her brakes as she pulled up in front of the apartment house where the fire had taken place. “Stay in the car”, she ordered her daughter. The ruined couch sat in the middle of the dirty snow in the front yard of the building. Shirley glanced at it as she entered the front hallway. The smell of smoke that permeated the building was the same smell that Jimmy had on him earlier in the morning.
“Hello? Is anyone here?” Shirley called out. She waited for a response then called out again, “Hello?”
A man wearing dirty Big Smith overalls came out from the back of the fire damaged apartment. “Hi, can I help you?”
Shirley briefly wondered if she had sewn those coveralls when she had worked at Big Smith, “Hi, do you live here?”
The man wiped his hands on a rag as dirty as the coveralls and extended it for Shirley to shake. As Shirley shook his hand the man said with a laugh, “Sometimes it feels like it. My name is Joe, I’m the owner. How can I help you?”
Shirley shuddered momentarily at the hated name then explained why she was there and fought hard to keep her temper under control as she relayed Jimmy’s involvement.
Joe listened attentively then said, “Well that explains a lot. My tenants said that a boy had woken them up yelling fire and when they got outside old Fred was passed out drunk in the snow. They told me that it was a madhouse around here once the Firemen had arrived and that the boy had disappeared.”
Joe smiled, “Tell your son Thank you from me for saving my building and from my tenants for saving their life.”
Shirley heaved a sigh of relief, Jimmy had told the truth. “How is Fred?” she asked.
Joe laughed again, “Drunk and looking for a new place to live. Tell you what, I’ll call that stupid ass newspaper and set them straight.” Shirley thanked him and returned to the station wagon.
“What’s going on Mom?” Patty wanted to know. So Shirley explained. Once Patty had heard the whole story all she said was, “That’s not right.”
Shirley drove up Messanie Street towards Central High School looking for James who walked home that direction most every day. Spying him on the other side of the street she swung around the block and picked him up.
“What’s up Mom?” he asked as he climbed into the back seat.
Shirley explained what had transpired that afternoon as she drove down the street. When she finished Jimmy said, “It’s no big deal Mom.”
Shirley looked in her rearview mirror at the reversed reflection of her son. “It is a big deal and I will not let them get away with this.”
Shirley pulled up in front of the Firehouse. Again ordering Patty to stay in the car she told Jimmy to follow her. As she entered the main lobby of the station a tall Fireman approached her. “Can I help you?”
Shirley looked around the room, “Is your Chief here?”
A man slightly shorter than the man that had greeted Shirley came around a corner. “I’m this station's Chief. What can I do for you?”
Shirley pushed Jimmy in front of her, “This is my son, Jimmy. He is the one that dragged the man off the burning couch and woke everyone up in that apartment house fire this morning, not your men.”
The Chief looked at Jimmy whose face was turning red with embarrassment. “My men”, the Chief started, “said they pulled the people from that building. I was not on duty last night, my assistant Chief was and he confirmed it. Are you calling my men liars?”
The first Fireman that had greeted Shirley lowered his head and walked away. This was not lost on her. “Yes I am. I already confirmed with the owner of the building that my son did what he said he did. Your men are liars and I bet that guy that just walked away is one of them.”
The Chief scratched his chin and looked over his shoulder. “Joe, come here.” Shirley cringed; what is it with all these guys named Joe. “Did this boy pull people from that apartment house?”
Joe looked at Jimmy and then quickly looked away, “All he did was tell us that there was a burning couch in the first apartment, we did the rest.”
The Chief dismissed Joe then turning back to Shirley said, “There you have it, that’s what really happened. Now ma’am, if there is nothing else…”
Shirley exploded, “THERE IS A LOT ELSE! You would have had to have been blind not to see the guy was lying and telling half-truths.”
The Chief's face turned red, “Look lady, my guys put their life on the line every day. The two men that saved those people last night are up for commendations. Even if they are lying so what? They are heroes daily and deserve some recognition. Would you take that from them?”
Before Shirley could answer Jimmy interrupted, “Excuse me. I did yell for those people to get out of the building and I did drag the guy off the couch. I was just trying to help, that’s all.” Jimmy turned and walked back to the station wagon.
Shirley stared hard at the Chief. “You are a real piece of work and your hero’s are pieces of shit.”
Shirley turned and went back to her car slamming the door and peeling away leaving a black tire streak on the immaculate driveway of the firehouse.
Over the next couple of weeks Shirley tried everything she could think of to expose the paper, the Fire Chief and the lying Firemen but to no avail. The owner of the building did contact the newspaper office to confirm that Jimmy had got the people out of the smoke filled building but the Editor took the same stance with him that he had taken with Shirley; you can’t prove it.
One day Jimmy went to his Mother and said, “Mom, let it go, it is not worth it.”
Shirley looked at her son and started crying, “But it’s not fair.”
Jimmy shook his head and simply said, “I know.”
One day in Early March Jimmy made a deposit to his bank account and when the teller handed him back his savings book his total was $674.38. Jimmy shouted, "Yeah" as he ran out the door. That night Jimmy could hardly sleep as his heart pounded against his rib cage trying to escape his chest. Open roads and long highways beckoned to Jimmy calling him by name through the wind he envisioned flowing over him as he maneuvered curves at breakneck speeds on his new motorcycle.
Jimmy danced like he had to pee as he waited for the bank guard to unlock the doors. Jimmy had thrown his two newspaper routes and had been sitting on the stoop of the bank, passbook in hand for the past two hours. Jimmy rushed inside and withdrew all but $4.38 from his savings then ran as fast as he could to Beckley Motors. He burst into the show room more out of breath than he had ever been. Jimmy’s adrenaline level was so high at that point it was a wonder that he didn't drop dead right then and there of a massive coronary when he saw that "His Motorcycle" was no longer sitting in the window where it had always sat.
"Mr." draw in breath, "Mr. Beck…" draw in breath, hands on knees, "Mr. Beckley…" long exhale.
Mr. Beckley, as always, sitting in his Barcalounger, glanced over the top of the newspaper Jimmy had left in his door at 4:00am. "Yes," he asked, "what can I do for you?"
Taking in a deep breath and trying to hide his rising anxiety Jimmy half demanded and half asked, "Where's my bike?"
Mr. Beckley gave Jimmy a puzzled look, "What bike?" he asked.
What Bike? What Bike? Is he crazy? "The bike that has been sitting in the window forever, the bike that I have been saving for, the red and chrome Thunderbolt, where is it Mr. Beckley?" Jimmy almost shouts.
"Oh that bike," he suddenly understands, "Well I sold it."
Jimmy looked at him dumbfounded, "But it was there when I threw your paper this morning" he stammered.
"Yeah, I know but we have removed it from display and I am holding it for the customer," Mr. Beckley said.
"But I've been saving for it." Jimmy was now almost in tears.
"Well George," Mr. Beckley always called him George and would never use his first name or his adopted last name of Stewart, "I'm in business to make money and when a customer has cash in hand I have to take it."
Jimmy’s whole world collapsed around him. Everything he had worked for, everything he had wanted was tied up in that piece of chrome and red art that held his heart within its grip. God said, "Thou shall have no other Gods before me," and though Jimmy did not put "My Motorcycle” before him it sure ran a close second.
"Did you want to buy a motorcycle?" Mr. Beckley asked.
"Yes," is the only answer Jimmy could manage.
"Well how much do you have?" he inquired.
Jimmy held up his fist full of cash. Mr. Beckley took the money, counted it then handed it back to Jimmy. "I think I have one you'll like." He said as he took Jimmy’s arm and led him up the ramp towards the shop.
"I wanted the Thunderbolt." Jimmy said in almost a whisper as he allowed himself to be guided.
They passed through the big double doors and there in front of them was "My Bike" with a big yellow tag tied to the handle bars. Large red letters proclaim, "SOLD." Jimmy felt the tears welling up as his vision started to blur. He couldn’t look at it; he had to go on and forget that it ever existed. Jimmy walked past the bike and headed for the shop.
"Where are you going?" Mr. Beckley asked.
"To look at whatever it is you want to show me." Jimmy could now feel the anger starting to replace the shock and hurt he felt.
"Well," Mr. Beckley says, "Isn't this the bike you wanted?"
Jimmy looked at him uncomprehending. He knows it is why is he trying to torture me like this? "Yes, it was." he said through gritted teeth, his fists balled up.
"Then give me your money and let’s get your paperwork done, took you long enough to save for it. Hell, I could have sold that bike a couple of dozen times waiting on you."
Jimmy’s jaw dropped as the realization hit him that this stoic, humorless (or so he thought) old man just yanked his chain and pulled a practical joke on him. "Are you serious?" Jimmy asked.
"Of course I'm serious," Mr. Beckley said, "I'm always serious about money."
Jimmy later found out that when Mr. Beckley figured out how intent he was on owning that bike he called his mother up to see if he was really serious.
"God I wish he had never seen that motorcycle," Shirley told Mr. Beckley, "that's all he talks about."
Mr. Beckley had not sold the bike waiting for Jimmy to buy it and on the day he had his money Shirley had called Mr. Beckley and told him Jimmy was on his way.
Jimmy pulled up in front of the duplex on his new bike. Kicking down the jimmy stand on the motorcycle Jimmy dismounted and rushed inside to share his new treasure with his mother and sister. As Jimmy entered the house he found his mom on the phone.
“OK Jerry, we’ll see you and the boys this weekend.” Shirley hung up and looked at her son with a wide smile on her face.
“Mom, wait until you see…”
Shirley cut him off, “Wait a minute I have some great news for all of us; we are moving.”
Jimmy looked at his mother uncomprehending, “Moving?”
Shirley smiled, “Yep, that was your Uncle Jerry on the phone and he got us a house in Weston, Missouri.”
Jerry was Ernie’s younger brother and the assistant Police Chief in Weston. Shirley and Jerry had always liked each other and had always been friends. Jerry did not drink like his other brothers did and his dislike for their alcoholism was something that he and Shirley had in common.
Jimmy looked at her incredulously, “Weston?” he croaked, “But what about Topeka?”
“Forget Topeka”, Shirley said, “We can’t go back there, ever. Weston will be so much better. Your Uncle Jerry and your cousins will be here this weekend to move us.”
Jimmy’s heart sunk in his chest. When Ernie had left Jimmy had held onto a hope that his Mother might decide to go back to Topeka. Now she had shattered that dream with her “great news”. Jimmy fought back the tears as he said, “Nothing is better than Topeka Mom and I will never forget!”
Jimmy slammed out the front door and mounting his new bike he tickled the carburetor and kicked her thru just as Mr. Beckley had shown him to do. Opening up the throttle and accelerating up the street Jimmy, for the first time in his life, went for a ride to clear the cobwebs from his head and the pain from his heart.