Christmas Eve 1967

CHRISTMAS EVE 1967
The snow flakes fell through the glow of the street light like crystal white butterflies stopped in mid flight to float gently to the ground. Laying within the glow of the street light which created the stage onto which the flakes transformed into a crystal blanket of white.
It was 6:00 pm on Christmas Eve of 1967 and I watched the the magic of the snow fall from the small porch of our small duplex behind Saint Josephs Catholic Church on Third Street in Topeka. At 11 years old I was in that in between age where I still wanted toys for Christmas but I wanted mature toys. I worried that my mother would buy me kiddie toys instead of the race cars and construction sets I craved.
She had given me good reason to worry this Christmas without knowing she had. I kept my concerns private and locked away. My mothers mental state had always been fragile but it had worsen within the past year after her and my grandmother had a falling out that had resulted in our eviction from my grandmothers home and into the duplex where we now lived.
I sighed. Mom had purchased an artificial Christmas Tree. I had always been fortunate, at least in my view, to have big and glorious live trees. But now we had this grotesque wire and plastic green monstrosity that resembled a Christmas Tree in name only. Yet for me that wasn’t the worst of it. This was the year that my mother decided that she would trim the tree in miniature twinkling lights instead of our large colorful bulbs and bubble lights. She had also not trimmed the tree with our beautiful glass ornaments. Rather she had found some punch out books of paper ornaments and had trimmed the tree in those. From the fake plastic flowers in which the twinkle lights rested to paper wise men, angels, elves and Santa’s the whole tree, to me, was a monstrosity. I was struggling to find a Christmas spirit.
I stepped back inside and surveyed the tree trying to find something of redeeming value in it and I could find nothing to like or care for in it. I shut off the ceiling light and looked at the small blinking lights through slighted eyes. Nope, it just was not working for me. I had to get out of the house and away from the tree that seemed to mock our life. I grabbed my coat, hat and gloves and left the duplex.
As I walked up Third street towards Jackson Street through the new fallen snow I started to feel more peaceful than I had a few minutes before. My sister, who was 4 years old at the time, was spending the evening at the babysitters house up the street. My mom was at work in the Toy Department at Pellitiers Department store downtown and that is where I had decided my feet would carry me.
The snow fell in big flakes softly to the ground. The air was still and because of the lack of wind the cold December air did not have the icy chill it normally did. As I walked the snow lightly crunch, crunch, crunched beneath my foot steps. I was aware that I was the only living thing walking down Jackson Street on this snowy Christmas Eve night. No dogs barked at my passing, no curious eyes gazed from windows as I walked by, no cars disturbed the clean snow in the street and no human, besides myself braved the night and the snow. I was a lone in the world, the last human on earth and I revealed in it. I prayed that this quiet fantasy world that I now found myself in would not end. The solitude was mine and belonged only to me. I did not want to share this peaceful, glistening, white covered world with anyone else.
As I approached the Capital Building I saw that the snow obscured the top of the green copper dome. I could just barely make out the glow of the search light at the top which seemed to float along with the falling snow. I turned onto 9th street and my fantasy of solitude dissipated. The sidewalks were alive with last minute Christmas shoppers flocking in and out of Pellitiers. The street crowded with vehicles picking up those shoppers or looking for places to park. I few minutes before I had walked by Crosby’s Department store which had closed early on this Christmas eve and the lack of activity there was a very stark contrast to the chaos here that was not lost on me.
I entered the warm lobby of Pellitiers and made my way past shoppers into the main store. Walking past the candy counter the Holiday tunes floating down from the organ above on the Mezzanine blanketed the store in Santa’s, Mangers and Winter Wonderlands. I found my way to the stairway down to the basement and smiled as I looked at the large ceramic Santa standing on the landing. His bag of goodies thrown over his shoulder held there by his green mittened left hand, while his green mittened right hand waved to all that transcended the stairs. I rubbed his shiny red belly as I passed and said “Ho, Ho Ho” giving him a voice he did not have.
I wound my way through Toyland stopping now and again to look at toys I would never have. As I passed the Pellitiers Santa he smiled and waved at me. I smiled and waved back. He was an old wino that they hired every year to fill the boots of the jolly old elf. He was a good man who liked children. He would not drink while on duty but if you had seen him away from his Christmas duty it would be obvious that his true love was the cheap vino he picked up for a fistful of change at the liquor store.
I pushed through the swinging doors of the stock room and opened the door to the small room behind Santa’s Throne. “Hi Mom” I said as I entered the room. My mother looked up from the bicycle she was assembling, clearly startled she said, “Oh Hi James, what are you doing here?” I shrugged, “Just thought I’d come down and walk home with you.” My mother smiled and said, “That will be nice.” She went back to assembling the bicycle. I spent the 30 minutes before she got off work and Pellitiers closed for the night flipping through a stack of Doctor Seuss books in the stockroom.
As my mother and I walked home we did not talk for a while. The snow was still falling but not quite as hard as it had been on my journey to the store. We retraced my steps and my mother noticed that my footprints were the only ones in the snow. As a large green Oldsmobile rounded the corner of 4th street and turned onto Jackson Street my mother pointed over at the Bluebird Lounge. “If your Dad was here we would find him there.” I laughed, “Yep” was my response. We walked along in silence a little ways further and as we turned onto Third Street my mother said, “I can’t believe you walked through all this snow to walk downtown and back home with me.” I shrugged, “It was something to do.” I didn’t tell her that I needed to get a way from her idea of Christmas cheer.
As we walked past Saint Josephs we could hear Christmas Eve Mass taking place inside. The internal lights lit up the colorful stain glass windows which illuminated the stations of the cross. It was a very surrealistic effect as the snow fell across the window panes bathed in the bright colors. White snowflakes turned blue, red, yellow and green, my artist eye captivated in the dance of color. While mom walked on up the street to retrieve my sister I stood on the porch of the duplex watch the display and listening to the beautiful music.
From the moment I had stood on the porch watching the snow fall through the street light to standing on the porch watching the colorful display and listening to Christmas Mass less than two hours had past. Yet within that two hour period on that long ago Christmas Eve I had regained what I had lost; the Christmas Spirit. I wish I could find that spirit again. I have never again, since that time, felt that same sense of magic or wonder of Christmas. I have tried to find it and recapture it but it has remained elusive.
I am now 63 years old and that Christmas Eve is a thing of my past but I have always held it close, my own private personal treasure to occasionally visit. It is my memory of the last time I truly felt the Christmas Spirit with the wonder of a child and it is a memory more valuable to me than all the Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh the Wise Men carried to Baby Jesus.
-The GYPSY-12/24/2019

OCTOBER 25, 1956

Today, October 25th, I was born in Topeka, Kansas at Saint Francis Hospital. In remembrance of my Birthday and the people that conceived me I would like to share with you an excerpt from my upcoming book; “Never Say Never: An Epic Journey – Volume One”. This excerpt involves things that happened surrounding and associated with my birth and does not begin in 1956 but opens in a cemetery in Holton, Kansas on a cold wet March day in 1979.

You would not give what I have gave – What did you gain, what did you save? – Shaping words not my own – Recalling memories never shown A touch, connection which cannot stand – Left on the surface of the cold still hand

I twirled the end of the cigarette between my fingers feeling the heat come off the glowing red tobacco as I forced the smoldering cherry from the end of the smoke. I watched the burning ember hit the hard ground and I could hear the sizzle as the wetness swallowed the cherry. I had no desire to disrespect the dead by tossing my cigarette on the ground in this sacred place.

I looked towards the coffin and the small group gathered near it. Some were standing but most were sitting in the folding chairs that faced the coffin like the seats in a theatre.

The funeral director with an air of solemnity that he performed on a daily basis, lifted the lid of the casket and busied himself with laying back the shroud and tidying up the body. He did this swiftly with his back to the assembled audience like a magician preparing to amaze and astound. Observe, an empty box, PRESTO a body.

The undertaker silently moved away from the casket and folded his hands in silent reverence. I slowly approached this odd tableau that I did not want to be a part of.

As I drew nearer I could see the tip of a nose then a rounded head with dark greased back thinning hair. A paisley shirt and burgundy polyester leisure suit hung loosely upon a thin, gaunt body.

I drew closer to the casket, all eyes upon me, boring into my back and pushing me onward. I looked down upon a face made of wax, a mannequin dug out of the dusty storeroom of a defunct department store. Someone as some sort of cruel joke had painted the mannequin to resemble a thinner, older version of me.

Was it made of plaster? It could be or maybe plastic.

I reached out a trembling left hand and touched the shoulder of the wine colored polyester. My hand rested there for a moment as I studied the features and let my gaze drift down to the bloodless hands crossed one over the other.

Wow, what detail they get into these mannequin’s. It actually looks like real hair on the back of the hand and on the fingers. Fingers, finger, ring finger, empty…

I looked at my left hand, the hand that rested on the shoulder of the mannequin, the hand upon where the middle finger held a ring. The ring had rested upon that finger since 1968 and had only been removed three times. Each time it had been removed I had suffered a broken bone so suffice it to say I was more than a little superstitious about it and it’s significance. Now standing here, in this mist on this cold gray day next to this overpriced box that held the earthly remains of Lee Roy Everett George the true significance of the ring suddenly hit me like a rock fired from the sling of a Sheppard boy. The ring had belonged to the man in the box. The ring had been a promise of love, a promise that had been broken. The ring had been given to my Father by my Mother and later to me by my Mother as a connection to my Father.

My Father who now lay pale and silent before me and no longer belonged to this earth but who would soon be beneath her surface. Oh God, the rain has blocked out my vision, my breath is gone and my heart now resides in my throat.

******

Shirley’s pregnancy had been difficult. She had contracted toxemia and had almost lost the baby.

Little Jimmy had been born exactly two months to the day premature at 8:35 pm on October 25th of 1956. He had been a King James birth, his head twisted around backwards which the Doctor had corrected before the small baby had left the birth canal.

Shirley thought that the child had looked like a little peanut and had sobbed with joy when they placed the small squirming bundle in her arms. She had a miracle baby and Lee Roy had a son.

Lee had been driving a taxi in Houston and Shirley had been able to get a call through to him the day after the baby was born. They had both agreed that James was a perfect name for their child considering the circumstances of his birth. They had also decided to give him the middle name of Alan. Not because it had any special significance but because it just seemed to flow off the tongue, James Alan George.

After the incident in Houston with Wesley, Lee Roy had moved the pregnant Shirley up to Topeka, Kansas and placed her into the care of her Mother. Pearl did not like Lee Roy and made no effort to hide it but she had remarked to Shirley that she had been thankful for him to, “Have enough sense to bring Shirley home where she could get proper care.”

Shirley, for her part, was actually thankful that the incident with Wesley had occurred.

Ever since it had happened she no longer felt as if Lee Roy’s affections were split between her and Wilma. Lee had become very devoted to her. It was Lee Roy who had returned home to find Wesley forcing himself on Shirley and it had been Lee Roy who had hurtled the body of his brother into the television set. Lee Roy had a temper and it had been on full display that night. It was all he could do not to kill Wesley for his trespass.

Lee Roy gave up the Merchant Marines to drive Yellow Cabs and had gone back to the logging camps. He had told Shirley that when he wasn’t logging up North he would work the Texas oil fields for the good money to make a life for them and their baby. Lee Roy had been good to his word and was even now setting up a home for the three of them in Texas.

******

Shirley stood in front of the jewelry counter at Pelletier’s department store looking at the wedding sets. Lee Roy had promised her that they would be married as soon as he could get Wilma to agree to a divorce. Wilma had been fighting him refusing to let go but Shirley was confident that Wilma would eventually give in and turn Lee loose. So until that time Shirley would continue to browse and window shop the stores for those things that would one day make the wedding she dreamed of the most glorious moment of her life.

Shirley had been at the counter for a quarter hour looking at the rings in the glass case. She was just starting to move away when a glint of light caught her eye.

At the back of the case amid the numerous displays of diamond and gold rings a single black velvet finger stood at a slightly arched angle. Upon this finger rested a wedding set consisting of the man’s band, the woman’s band and the engagement ring. There was really nothing unusual or spectacular about the set that made it more outstanding than any of the other sets. It was in fact almost too simple in it’s way when compared to the other sets around it.

The engagement ring was a simple gold band with a small quarter carrot diamond solitaire. The woman’s band consisted of another simple gold band in which small divots were cut around the top and bottom edge of the ring.

Between the divots the ring slightly bowed out creating a curved effect. The man’s band echoed the design of the woman’s band except that it was a little larger and wider in size.

No, there was really nothing special that would make this set outstanding except it’s simplicity. It was the purity of design that attracted Shirley. She had always felt that as complicated as the relationship between her and Lee Roy had been that their love was simple and pure. She felt that this set in the diamond solitaire represented the complexities of their relationship while the bands were a symbol of the simplicity of their love. “Harrumph!”

The sound brought Shirley out of her revelry making her jump. She turned to see Mr. Harrison, the floor walker, standing at her left elbow.

“Mr. Harrison you startled me.” Shirley said as she placed a hand over her heart.

“Evidently!” he dryly intoned, “And does your Mother know you are here?” Shirley hated his pompous attitude and snooty manner. Does he think he is talking to a child?

“No Harrison, my Mommy doesn’t know I am here. Why don’t you run upstairs and tell her. Or perhaps you would like a dozen vestal virgins to carry you up while naked children throw rose petals at your feet.” Shirley knew that the suggestion of Harrison’s rumored desire for younger lovers would get under his skin.

She doubted if he had ever dated anyone under eighteen but for a man nearing 50 Shirley found it disgusting that most of the women he was seen with looked like girls barely out of High school.

Harrison tugged at the corners of his slick gray vest, brushed off the sleeves of his immaculate black wool jacket, readjusted the red rose in his lapel hole, cleared his throat and turning to leave said, “Ladies.”

Slightly dipping his head and touching the edge of his mustache Harrison walked away.

Ladies? Why did he say ladies? “

I think you hurt his feelings!”

Shirley turned around to see Alice MacElwayne standing on the other side of the jewelry counter. This was her department and she ruled it with the pride that comes from the knowledge that it was her efforts that kept this department running smoothly and making a profit for the company. “Oh, Hi Alice,” Shirley said a little sheepishly, “How long have you been there?”

Alice shook her graying head and let a small smile cross her lips, “Long enough,” came her reply.

“He just really pisses me off,” Shirley stammered, “what I am doing is none of his business!”

Alice shook a finger at Shirley, “Language dear,” she admonished. Shirley grimaced under the reprimand. Alice and Pearl were best friends and at times Shirley felt like she was talking to her mother when she spoke with Alice.

“He thinks he owns the store,” Alice chuckled, “Sometimes I wish I could live within my delusions.”

Shirley sighed, “Do you think he’ll tell mom what I said?” She asked. “Without a shadow of a doubt,” answered Alice. “The little weasel is probably in her office now re-enacting the whole scene.”

Both women looked up as if they could see through the ornate tin ceiling and into Pearls second floor office.

“So, were we doing a little daydreaming dear?” Alice asked.

Shirley blushed as Alice nodded her head and reached below the counter. “Here,” she said sliding a layaway form across the counter and laying a pen on top of it, “fill this out.”

Shirley looked at the form and back up at Alice who was removing the wedding set from the velvet finger.

“Hurry dear, your mom will be here any moment and we don’t want to let her in on our little secret, do we?”

-J.A. George AKA; The GYPSY

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The GYPSY’s Blog: Sharing A Moment In Time.

On October 25th I will celebrate 63 years on this big blue marble. This year also gave birth to another classic, besides myself, that is celebrating 80 years of being the most loved movie of all time. In honor of that movie and my upcoming birthday I would like to share this excerpt with you from my upcoming book: “Never Say Never: An Epic Journey – Volume One”. What you are about to read is a true story involving real people. This part of the story is of a journey that starts in July of 2013 and ends in August of 1939.

******

As I approached the Ghost Town of Bomarton, Texas the big road machines were busy on the east side of the road turning dirt into highway. Up ahead on my right I could see 3 Cotton Trucks waiting to turn onto the highway. Cotton is a major crop in that area of Texas and though Bomarton is a Ghost Town they still have a working Gin.

As I approached the intersection at 70 mph the first of the three trucks pulled out in front of me.As the big red truck lumbered into the highway I found myself left with a split second decision; Hit the shoulder, hit the truck or pass quickly due to an approaching hill. Hitting the shoulder was not an option as there was no shoulder, the road crews had seen to that. Hitting the truck was definitely out of the question as I did not want to mar his pretty red paint job with my pretty red blood. So that left option number three; pass quickly due to an approaching hill.

Opening up the throttle I accelerated and forced Black Betty, my 2001 Harley-Davidson Roadking into the oncoming lane. As we maneuvered around the slow moving giant I checked the lane ahead. At the top of the hill was an intersection and a silver car was approaching it quickly from the left road. Without slowing down or stopping the driver turned his silver death machine right and into the oncoming lane and straight towards me. I was at the point of no return and I opened the throttle all the way; 85, 90, 95 at 100mph the big V-Twin shot past the front of crimson killer and back into our north bound lane just in time to have the discourteous and oblivious driver of the four wheel casket zoom on by heading south and barely missing me. I saluted the driver of the cotton truck with my middle finger to assure him that he was number one in my book. I then said a silent prayer of thanks to God and the Angels he had sent to watch over me.

I stopped in Seymore, Texas at the Allsups Truck stop to top off my tank. I was 125 miles from home. My tank will take me, on the highway, 175 miles before it goes to reserve. The highway between Seymore and Wichita Falls is a long and lonely stretch with no services in between. It is a section of road that no one would ever want to find themselves broke down on for any reason as help would be a long time coming. And I had no desire to find myself without gas on that road on this particular day.

Seymore, Texas is a dying town even though it can lay claim as the county seat it is dying just the same. It is a victim of that all American village murderer; the by-pass. Like so many towns in Texas and elsewhere the powers that be have seen fit to take away the towns economy by moving the highway from the center of town to the outskirts with only one or two inconvenient exits for travelers to enter or leave.

******

I imagine Seymore, in it’s heyday, to be much the same as Silver Lake, Kansas must have been at the time of my Mothers birth on July 26, 1935. My Mother was born in a barn on a farm on the outskirts of Silver Lake near Highway 24. The barns loft was now an apartment. It was the middle of the depression and my Grandfather had lost everything due to a nasty divorce from his first wife and the stock market crash of 1929. My Grandfather was a Dentist with a practice in Dodge City, Kansas when my Grandmother became pregnant with the child that would one day be my Mother. There was already a son, Karl, and Pearl was hoping for a baby girl. A couple of years previous the Hummel’s had lost their oldest child, Priscilla (named after Oscars Mother), to the whopping cough. This baby was important because Pearl was a small woman and this might be her last child as she gave birth to large children and it was very hard on her.

That was not to say that she was weak or frail, she was not, Pearl was of pioneer stock. She was born in a sod house on the Clang homestead in the Texas Panhandle in 1904. Cowboys came from near and far to see the first “White” baby girl born in Canadia, Texas. Pearl Adaline Clang Married Oscar Lennox Hummel in 1926. Oscar called Topeka, Kansas home and was quite a bit older than her. My Grandmother once hinted that it was an arranged marriage that was financially beneficial to her parents. Be that as it may she loved him and bore Oscar his first child, Priscilla in 1930.

******

I finished fueling my Motorcycle and grabbed a couple of Chimichanga’s and a bottle of water from Allsups deli. If you are ever traveling through Texas or New Mexico stop at the Allsups and treat yourself to their Chimi’s, they are not to be missed. As I sat on my bike savoring the Chimi’s a stray dog wandered the truck stop parking lot looking for scraps on the ground. The dog, looking for a hand out approached an old man who was limping down the street. The old man shooed the hungry animal away with his cane and continued on his way.I watched the old man hobble away and thought about Oscar. He had a club foot yet was still able to serve his country during World War I in his capacity as a Dentist and it was while serving his country that he became incurably crippled with the disease that would one day take his life 40 years later.

******

As I left Seymore and maneuvered Black Betty back onto the highway I thought about my Grandfather. I thought about how Oscar had graduated from Dental School in Kansas City, Missouri. I thought about how badly he wanted to serve his country when America entered the war in Europe. I tried to imagine his elation when he discovered that he would be able to go over to Europe and help Soldiers with their dental problems using a relatively new invention called X-rays. I wondered how he must have felt when he found out those same X-Rays had poisoned him and that he would never be vital and vigorous again. I shook my head at his dubious honor of being the first Dentist to be recorded with Radiation poisoning.

******

As the miles rolled away I enjoyed the bright crispness of the day and I looked in anticipation to each milestone that would bring me one more mile closer to my goal. As the big bike rumbled under me I smiled remembering one of my Mothers favorite stories about her Father.

******

When my Mother was about 3 years old her Dad was outside the barn pulling weeds. The farm where she was born belonged to Oscars Dental partner and he and Pearl helped out as they could around the property in exchange for the Barn Loft Apartment, As he was hoeing out the weeds a fancy Packard Sedan pulled up outside the fence. A stranger in a tan 3 piece Sears and Roebuck suit stepped out of the car. The first thing Oscar noticed about this stranger was not the fancy car or the tan suit but the bright white spats he was wearing. What a fool, Oscar thought, them spats will be dirty in no time out here in Farm country.

As Oscar limped towards the fence to find out what was going on the stranger pulled out a camera, and started taking pictures. Oscar noticed that it was one of those new box cameras and he wondered how something that small and cheaply made could take any sort of descent photo.As Oscar approached the fence the stranger called out, “Sure is a hot one today.” Oscar allowed that it “Sure Was A Hot One” then asked the stranger, “Whatcha doing?” The stranger produced a card from his vest pocket and handed it to Oscar. The plain white business card read; Joseph Levin, MGM Location Scout, Hollywood, California. There was also a phone number on the card with an exchange that Oscar did not recognize.

“Well Mr. Levin…”

“Please call me Joe.”

“OK, Joe. What exactly are you scouting?”

“The studio is making a movie based on a popular novel and they want to build an authentic looking Farm set. So I am out taking photos of various Farms so that we can build a set with authenticity.”

Oscar scratched his head, “Wouldn’t it be easier just to come film on a Farm that is already built rather than building one to look like a Farm that is already here?”

“Sir… what’s your name?”

“Oscar.”

“Well Oscar, there are a lot of technical hurdles to over come and it is easier for us to recreate a farm and film in Hollywood rather than try to solve the technical problems on location.”

“Uh-Huh, well I just think it is a waste of time and money to build something that is already built.”

Joseph Levin waved off the statement and said, “Oscar, your Farm may well be the star of a movie someday.”

Oscar chuckled, “Well if this Farm becomes a movie star then I will have to buy that mule over there a pair of Sunglasses so it will look like all the other Hollywood Jack Asses.”

******

I laughed out loud with the wind carrying away the sound of my laughter. I always laughed when I thought about that part or when my Mother would relate the story; “Mule, Sunglasses, Hollywood Jack Asses.” I said out loud as another laugh escaped my mouth.

******

A little over a year later Oscar, Pearl, Karl and Shirley were sitting in the Jayhawk Theater in Topeka waiting for the movie to start. They were not movie going people and with money tight it was a luxury they could ill afford. But the children wanted to see this movie and after all it was based on a famous children’s story so they did not see the harm in splurging just this once. The News Reel played talking about the European war that Oscar prayed that the US would not get dragged into yet he knew it was inevitable. With that lunatic Hitler in charge in Germany and sending Jews and Gypsies to death camps Oscar knew it was only a matter of time. He worried about his own Gypsy Hummel family still in Eastern Europe and said a silent prayer for their safety.

The children laughed and clapped at the antics of Tom and Jerry on the screen and even the normally stern Oscar found himself smiling and letting out a small chuckle. Then it was time for the main feature. Pearl admonished the children to behave as the curtains parted and the powerful overture began to play. The movie was not even 5 minutes old when Oscar sat bolt upright in his chair, his jaw dropping open. He reached across the children and grabbed his wife’s shoulder. Pearl turned and looked at Oscar and mouthed the words; “I know, I see.” At this point little Shirley cried out with glee, “Mommy, Daddy, our farm!” Oscar placed his head in his hand and mumbled, “I sure hope that damn Mule don’t want a set of white spats to go with his sunglasses.”

As Oscar, Pearl, Karl and Shirley watched the Tornado rip the small house from it’s foundation on the movie screen Pearl said a silent prayer thankful that the movie was just a fantasy and gave thanks that she had never really been in a Tornado. Her Mother had been deathly afraid of the deadly Twisters so her Father had sold their homestead in the panhandle of Texas and moved to Kansas. Looking back on it now she could see that his logic had been pretty silly.

******

The Wizard of Oz is my favorite movie of all time. I honestly have never felt like it was because of my off handed connection to it. I have just always liked it’s message of faith, love, hope and it’s promise of home as well as the music; ah, the music and as I rode the miles away the tunes drifted through my head as the wind carried me home to Kansas.

-J.A George AKA; The GYPSY-www.RubberBiskit.comCopyright 2019 – All Rights Reserved

Gypsy’s Blog: A Lament For Home

A LAMENT FOR HOME
There are times that I feel that I do not belong. I wonder if I truly know where my home is. Born and raised in Topeka, Kansas I knew where my home was until I was fifteen and then that summer of 1972 I was relocated, against my will, to Saint Joseph, Missouri and I have had no home since then.

From the smell of the Saint Joe stockyards to the glorious fall colors of the Weston, Missouri Bluffs I have been from one extreme to another. From the crystal clear mornings of Nemo, South Dakota to the struggle of living out of the back of a car in Cameron, Missouri I have seen full days and hungry days. From running away from the horror of the streets of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma to the hope of a better life in Abilene, Texas I have seen Hell and Heaven. From the indifference of Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri to the Comforting embrace of El Paso, Texas I have seen Hate and Love. From the Crack Whores of San Angelo, Texas to the dust blown hopeless streets of Midland, Texas I have known the living dead and their haunts. From the small minds of Baxter Springs, Kansas to the driven souls of Independence, Kansas I have known ignorance and inspiration. All those places, all those lessons, all that time wasted and back to a place I once considered home yet my grip on that concept is not what it once was.

When I returned to Topeka after a 43 year absence I was energized, excited and ready to re-establish myself within my home. Yet what I returned to was not the Topeka of my youth. It was a place filled with crime encouraged by corrupted institutions that would have once fought against the onslaught but now have grown lazy. If it don’t affect me then why should I be concerned? Has become the mantra heard all to often.

Community organizations have been infiltrated by those who think that to help means to climb the social ladder. Oh yes I am a volunteer would you like to see my portfolio? They have forgotten that it is about something greater than them.A city that was once beautiful has allowed itself to be taken down a sewer pipe by individuals that destroy that which was once viable and now lies in ruins. Absentee landlords are not held accountable and buildings that once housed commercial business sit stark and silent collapsing in upon themselves.The state in it’s infinite wisdom opened the doors of the asylum and set the patients lose upon the street then closed the doors behind them so that they could no longer have a safe haven. The homeless and wanton wander the streets encourage by those who claim they help. The helpers line their deep pockets with the dollars spewed forth by well meaning people who feed not with food but with enablement as the lazy give birth to cardboard signs on city street corners.

I see glimmers of hope by those within the Topeka Community who have witnessed what I have and do not turn a blind eye to it. There are those that struggle and fight against the Avant-Garde invasion into their efforts. They fight to find ways to end the corruption, the blight, the despair and the collapse of the city they love, These are the warriors that go into battle with a pin knife and a candle to show the way. They pray that more people like themselves will bring their candles and pin knifes into the fray so that they may create a mighty fire and many sharp teeth to rip to shreds the apathy, corruption and divide that destroys the community.

I look at Topeka’s History and my heart aches for the loss of what once was. I look at the communities future and it is gray and uncertain. I know that the community must reinvent itself if it is to survive. I know that the community is striving to rebirth itself yet I worry. I worry that unless the dark elements that have crawled into the community are not dealt with first that instead of rebirth Topeka will suffer a miscarriage of the fetus of progress.There are times I want to join the fight and charge forward. Then there are the times, like today, that seem like a waste of my time. I fight to stay strong but I see ignorance, sloth, avarice and apathy. My stomach turns and I ask myself; Why do I even try? Yet the next morning I awaken and go forth to add my candle and pin knife to the fight, the fight where I cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel. Frustration fills my soul and sadness grips my heart. Where is my Topeka? Where is my home?

Are you still with me? Have you traveled on my journey this day? Do you feel what I feel? Do you want to move ahead and not fall back into the abyss? Are you thinking I may have the answer? The truth is I do not; I wish I did.

I reach down deep inside and my Gypsy blood calls out to me; Release material possessions, put it all behind you and head off to the next spot in the road over the next hill and at the end of the horizon. It is tempting however I will stay, for now, because deep down inside I love Topeka and I Love my state of Kansas; it’s people, it’s places, it’s history, it’s today and it’s tomorrow. I will stay not out of a sense of duty or obligation but because I know that if everyone ran when frustration fills our souls then we would never step into the better future that it takes each and everyone of us to create. For today I will call Topeka, Kansas home and try to ignore the times that I feel that I do not belong. I wonder if I truly know where my home is.

-The GYPSY-

www.RubberBiskit.com

Copyright 2019

Oasis On 66 By J.A. George

Gypsy’s Blog: Ode To A Chair

“Good afternoon Skin Art Creations how may I help you?” I said into the phone. 

“Hey Gypsy it’s Linden.”

“Hey Linden what’s up?” 

Linden was a good friend of mine and part of the biker community that I tattooed on. I hadn’t talked to him for a while so the phone call was a pleasant surprise. My first thought was I bet it’s time for another tattoo. But this call would turn out to be something that would affect the rest of my life.

“Hey Gypsy I’m down here in Tulsa and we’re getting ready to remodel this Dentist garage. He told us to take everything out of the garage and throw it away into the dumpster. One of the things he told us to throw away is an old Dental chair and I thought about you immediately. Do you think you would want it?” 

At that time, 2001, cell phones we’re at a stage where you could take photos however the photos were usually one megapixel and not really that clear. 

“Can you take a photo of it and send it to me?” 

Linden said, “Sure but my flip phone doesn’t take that great of a photo but I’ll see what I can do.”

A few minutes later I received notification that I had a message and I looked down at my phone. On the screen was a fuzzy picture of an old blue and black Dental chair. I called Linden back. “Do you know if it works?” 

“Not sure,” Linden answered, “it’s electric and hydraulic.” 

“You know what I’ll take a chance on it how much do you want for it?” 

Now I was thinking, knowing how much Linden liked tattoos, that I can make a trade however what Linden said next was better than a tattoo trade. 

“I don’t want anything for it but you have to pick it up today otherwise it’s going in the dumpster; that’s what my boss said.”

Crap I knew I would be unable to pick it up that day as I had a full schedule in my studio. I told Linden I would call him back in just a couple minutes and see what I could do. There was only one person I could think of that might possibly have the time to drive down to Tulsa and get the chair. I called the Reverend biker Mike.

Biker Mike was my best friend in the entire world and he and I would do anything we could for each other, that is anything that was humanly possible to do. I phoned him. 

“Hey Mike are you busy?” 

“No man not really what’s up?” His gruff voice came through the phone.

I chuckled. Biker Mike, The Reverend Biker Mike, was a Motorcycle Minister and a simple, “No man not really what’s up?” sounded like it was delivered from a pulpit.

I explained to him what was “up” and asked him for his help. A few minutes later Biker Mike had all the details and was on his way to Tulsa in his little Mazda Pick-Up Truck to get the chair for me. 

At that time I had a full time Tattoo Studio in Independence, Kansas and a part time Piercing Studio in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. I already had two Dental Chairs in the Independence studio so I had instructed Biker Mike to take the chair from Tulsa to the Bartlesville Studio. 

“Go into the alley and back-up to the loading dock at the back of the building. By the time you get there I should be finished and I will head down. We can both unload it into the building.” I admonished Biker Mike with a warning. “Linden says it is very heavy so do not try and move it yourself, let me help. When we get done I’ll buy pizza and Coke’s.”

I was excited as I drove down to Bartlesville 45 miles away. If the chair worked it would be a great addition to my body piercing business.

As I drove up the street towards my studio I looked up the alley where Biker Mike’s truck with the chair in the back should be and I slammed on the brakes! I could see the truck and I could see the chair wedged in between the tailgate of the truck and the loading dock. I could also see what looked like Biker Mike’s body trapped beneath the chair. I whipped into the alley and coming to a stop I jumped out of my truck and ran over to where Biker Mike lay.

Biker Mike’s wife Terry was there frantic and beside herself. I did not like or trust Terry and now only reinforced my opinion of what an idiot I felt she was.

“Mike tried to unload the chair and it fell on him, it fell on him.”

I knelt down to check on Biker Mike and the situation.

“Did you call 911 I asked?”

“No. Why? Should I?”

I ignored her question as I assessed the situation. The chair had fallen backwards and had lodged itself between the tailgate of the truck and the loading dock which was a full 18” higher than the tailgate of the truck. Biker Mike had tumbled to the ground, possibly while trying to stop the chair from falling. Not a small man Biker Mike was now lodged between the bed of the truck and the building. He was knocked out, a good size goose egg on his forehead. His signature denim Big Smith overalls were trapped by the shoulder strap by one of the handles of the chair giving him a limp hanged appearance.

“Call 911!” I snapped at Terry. “Tell them we have an unconscious trapped male in his 40’s lying beneath a heavy object.” I looked over at her slack jawed, deer in the headlights look. “Now!” I yelled.

As she called I took my knife out of my pocket and cut the shoulder strap of the overalls which let Biker Mike collapse closer to the ground and as he did I grabbed the overalls and yanked his 250 some odd pound body from behind the truck and out from under the chair. Emergency vehicles arrived and as the Paramedics tended to Biker Mike a couple of Firemen helped me wrestle the chair onto the loading dock and into the building.

“This is a 500 Pound Monster.” One of the Fireman said, and though the chair only weighs 350 pounds anytime it has ever had to be moved I have referred to it as “The 500 Pound Monster.”

Bartlesville’s finest suggested that the now conscious Biker Mike go to the hospital but he refused. They advised him not to drive for a while and I assured them he wouldn’t. As the emergency crew dispersed I turned my attention back to Biker Mike.

“What the Hell were you thinking?” I yelled at Biker Mike, “You could of been killed!”

He looked up at me sheepishly, the knot on his head throbbing an ugly red, his left eye starting to blacken.

“I was in a hurry for that pizza you promised me.”

I looked at him dumbfounded then I burst out laughing. “Let’s go get your pizza Brother.”

******

The next day I cleaned up the chair, filled it with hydraulic fluid and plugged it in; it worked. That chair became my favorite tool. Over the next 16 years, like a trusted friend, the chair never failed me. Sometimes the chair would reside in one of my studios and sometimes it would become the working chair in my mobile tattoo facility. From Bartlesville, Oklahoma to Independence, Kansas to Sturgis, South Dakota to Laconia, New Hampshire to Council Bluffs, Iowa to Eula, Texas to Topeka, Kansas that chair saw a lot of miles, a lot of Tattoos and a lot of Piercings. That chair has also seen a lot of history.

Manufactured on April 3, 1945, 35 Days before the end of World War II, this Ritter Dental Chair was state of the art when it was made. I wish I knew what it’s journey was before it was almost dumpster fodder in Tulsa, Oklahoma but it really does not matter, the chair had proven to be a survivor.

Then in 2016 it happened. After 40 years in the Body Art Business I decided to retire. I let my ex-wife talk me into selling the 1945 Ritter Chair and  a 1937 Ritter Chair and Dental Island I owned to the owner of the building where I leased my studio space. I did not want to sell my 1945 Ritter but my ex badgered me about it and how we could use the money until I finally gave in. I was sad to lose the chair but I sucked it up and moved on.

I came out of retirement as fast as I had gone into it and leased a space from another tattoo studio in Topeka. I leased the space for 3 years. But with each passing day I realized that I needed my own studio. Working out of someone else’s place was not what an Artist that had his own studio for 40 years needed to be doing. As I started taking inventory of my equipment and prepared to open my new studio under a new name, Artist Alley Studio & Gallery, I started missing “The 500 Pound Monster”.

I contacted the man who had purchased it and the 1937 Ritter in 2016 and asked him if he still had either one of the chairs.

“Well Gypsy I have both of them but I don’t want to get rid of the green one.”

“That’s great!” I exclaimed, hoping he couldn’t hear the excitement in my voice. “I want the blue one!”

“I’ll take $150 for it.” he said.

“Sold!” I said.

This morning I pulled my trailer up to the front of the downtown Topeka store where the chair was stored. As I unloaded my dollie the owner said, “You came by yourself to get it? You know I can’t help you as I have a bad heart.” 

I Laughed, “That’s OK, I have moved this 500 Pound Monster by myself more times than I can count.”

******

The chair is now sitting in its new home, my new studio which was once a dental office. Seems sort of appropriate, old building (built in 1900), in the NOTO Arts District that was once a Dental Office and now an Art Gallery containing a chair that was once a dental chair and now an art chair.

My ex-wife talked me into getting rid of many things that were special to me. Among them  my 1970 BSA Thunderbolt Motorcycle that I threw two newspaper routes to save the money to buy when I was 15 years old. My 2001 Road King Classic Motorcycle. My 1966 Ford F250 Twin I-Beam Pick-Up Truck. My Record Collection. My Independence, Kansas Tattoo Studio. Yes, I allowed myself to be brow beaten into submission and I have forever lost those things that meant so much to me and the history of my life. I will never again have those things in my life; I may have duplicates but they will not be those things. Yet once in a while when you have lost something near and dear to you it comes back home once more. It is then that you know that you will never turn loose of that item again.

Welcome home My 500 Pound Monster, welcome home!

-The GYPSY-

31 August 2019

www.RubberBiskit.com

Gypsy’s Blog: Piqua, Kansas

Piqua, Kansas Photos By: The GYPSY

Sitting approximately halfway between Yates Center, Kansas to the west and Iola, Kansas to the east is the Kansas Ghost Town of Piqua.
The small quiet Woodson County Community has it’s claim to fame as being the birthplace of American Film actor and comedian Joseph “Buster” Keaton. Known as the “Great Stone Face” Buster Keaton’s mother Myra and father Joseph (Buster was the sixth in the family line to bear the name Joseph), were Vaudeville performers appearing at the local theater in Piqua when Myra went into labor. Buster through his career remained as humble as the town into which he was born. Yet Buster Keaton was not Piqua’s only notable native son.
Fred Leo Kipp (born October 1, 1931, at Piqua, Kansas) played professional baseball for the Brooklyn Dodgers, Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees. He is the last living player to play for both the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Yankees and has written a book about his life that is titled The Last Yankee Dodger. He currently lives in Overland Park, Kansas and runs a small construction company and promotes his book through radio interviews and book readings.
As I walked the streets of Piqua I was struck that though it is a dying community there is still an air of old time small town pride and tranquility. 
Flecks of Blue Paint cling desperately to forgotten playground equipment and structures in the town park which waits for the last blue chip to fall. While the abandoned baseball field plays silent witness to the coming conclusion.
I sat on the blue paint flecked bleachers of the abandoned Baseball field where Piqua’s finest young men, including Fred Kipp once played America’s past time. I could see the spirits of those long ago players playing those long ago forgotten games. I could smell the hotdog’s, roasted peanuts, cigarettes and the occasional whiff of whiskey from shared bottles as the the citizen’s of Piqua cheered on their local team against whatever other local team dared to challenge them. Those cheers lay as a silent echo in the baselines of the no longer used field. 
Piqua sits on a Ley Line which passes through the abandoned ball field Maybe that energy is what keeps Piqua still breathing today. Or maybe it is the spirit of those who still call Piqua home. They know that it does not matter who was born there or where the town is heading into the future they just know that for today life is good in Piqua. The people of Piqua are happy and proud to be a member of this Kansas community.

-The GYPSY-
www.RubberBiskit.com

The GYPSY’s Blog: K Building

Formidable the K Building stands defiant one of the last remaining reminders and survivors of the former Topeka Kansas State Hospital.
The K Building had always held a certain fascination with me as my Mother had been a patient housed within it’s confines in 1954.
Shirley Elizabeth Hummel had suffered a psychotic break (called nervous breakdown at the time), when she had discovered that her new Army husband had a wife in England. She had been admitted in an almost catatonic state and spent the next year in recovery.
I had drove by the gloomy, now empty and lifeless building numerous times always staring at it and wondering what lay within it’s hidden hallways.
Then one cold mid autumn day I discovered that I had an opportunity to find out what secrets the K Building still held. I was driving school bus at the time and my route included Capital City High School. “Cap City” is a school for at risk children and K Building had at one time in the 1970’s and 1980’s been used as the “Cap City” High School. It was November 9, 2014 and I had some time to kill before I would pick up the students from the Menniger Building (another remnant of the former hospital and then the high school) for their ride home. So I grabbed my camera and walked across the sleeping grass of the long broad lawn that serves as the welcome mat of the dark brick structure.
I started walking around the building taking photos, my imagination ran wild wondering what the inside looked like; what windows did my mother look out of in the sadness of her ruined psyche. Did she long to be set free or did she feel safe shut off from the world within the confines of this sanctuary of the disturbed?
I moved around to the front of the K Building and climbed the concrete stairs to take photos of the large porch where patients once sat smoking their camel cigarettes and trying to make sense of their jumbled world. As I snapped my photos I suddenly heard a creaking sound and turned around to see the entry door of the building swinging slowly open. It wavered and swung slowly back in forth in the slight breeze as if beckoning me to enter. “Come in Gypsy, come in. See what you wonder about, come in. Have your questions answered, come in. Be my guest and know, come in.’ I walked in through the heavy wooden door.
The light of the late afternoon entered the entry hall with me and illuminated the reception desk. My mother was admitted into this structure at this desk. She was just one of a long line of patients admitted into this building. But more special to me than them, she would one day be my mother.
I walked through dark and empty halls of peeling paint and cobwebs. Dust sat heavy on window seals daring you to brush it off and onto the floors that no longer held a high gloss shine.
Windows that were not boarded up fought back the outside light through glass panes frosted from age not desire. Heavy doors hung on heavy hinges within the heavy air of the building. The building seemed to envelope you holding you in and holding in it’s secrets.
I walked down the long hallways dark and foreboding like the catacombs of Paris yet the catacombs of Paris would fight to be as dismal as the K Building was and is. I wandered up stairs majestic and stolid. The craftsmanship of the building was not lost within it’s loss and decay. I explored the second floor which somehow seemed lighter and more airy than the first floor. I then ventured to the narrow stairway that moved higher into the building, to the top floor.
I new, when I entered the top floor that I had found where this buildings darkest secrets lay, they were here. I was standing in the reception area of the clinic and therapy rooms. Damaged and troubled minds and souls had poured out their torment within these rooms. The echos of their pain still permeated the air in these decaying corridors.
Which therapy room had my Mother sat in with her Doctor pouring out her soul and wailing out the torment of the betrayal she had to endure. I would never know but I could still feel her pain and the pain of those who came before and after her hanging in the air.
I moved back down the stairs and decided to explore the first floor one last time before leaving the building. I still wondered what room my mother had been housed in and resigned myself to the fact that I would never truly know. As I moved down the hallways I stared at the doors that still carried the plates where the patients in that room had their names displayed. The plates sat as empty as the rooms waiting for new patients with forgettable names and faces to occupy them once more.
I turned and headed back towards whence I had come, it was time to leave and head over to “Cap City” and pick up my students and that is when I saw it. On an old wooden door protecting an old empty room was a number; 103. Memories flooded back from my childhood and from those memories I knew I had found the room my mother had occupied during her stay in the K Building. I stepped into the room and looked around. It was empty except for an old bench beneath an even older window. Dust mites flew up from the floor and danced within the stagnant air. I moved over to one of the windows and looked out knowing my mother had looked out this same window and I smiled, remembering one of my mothers favorite sayings; “If I had one hundred and three dollars for every time that happened….” I had found my mother in this dying, dreaded monument of a long ago era that few had escaped. My mother had escaped but as evidenced she had forever carried the memory of her time within this place with her. She carried the memory and now I would too.
As I left K Building and walked off the porch I stopped and looked down a stairwell at the heavy steel door that guarded the basement access to the building. I turned and walked away from K Building knowing that it’s basement would be an exploration that may or may not happen on another day.

The GYPSY-

TheGYPSY #KansasHistoryGeeks #AmericanGhostRiders #RubberBiskitRoadShow

The GYPSY’s Blog: My Annual Holiday Giveaway

Every Year During The Holiday Season I Giveaway A Painting; This Year I Put A Twist On It.
Finding new, fun and different ways to giveaway a painting can be a challenge and this year was no different. What was different was the amount of work that went into it.
I decided that I would give away the painting to one of the people I work with at Hobby Lobby. How to choose the recipient? With a game of course.
I spent numerous nights at my craft desk creating 2.5″ x 3.5″ Festive Boxes; 48 in all. I then filled 30 of those boxes with candy. Once the boxes were loaded I left the room and had my Lovely Lady Raychel place a “W” inside one of the lids.
I did not want to know which box had the “W” because part of my fun was to see how many boxes were opened before it was found. Whoever received the box with the “W” would win the special watercolor painting I had created just for this giveaway; “Stone Retreat”.
I then made a special sign to be displayed next to the gift wrapped painting and displayed boxes:
“I Handmade A Box Just For You
Someone Will Win My Painting Too
You Don’t Have To Buy, Barter or Bid
Just Look For The “W” Inside The Lid
But One Box Only For Everyone
You Don’t Want To Ruin All The Fun
Even If The Painting You Don’t Win
In Each Box A Prize Within
Lot’s of Candy For You To Enjoy
Yummy Sweets For Each Girl and Boy
So I Say Merry Christmas To You
And Happy New Year Too
-Yours Truly J.A. George AKA; The GYPSY”
I arranged everything on a table in the Break Room on December 17th which was a freight day and would guarantee that almost every employee would be to work that day…. Let the fun begin!
All through the day people were coming to me and saying, “I didn’t win.” There was one employee however that was telling everyone, “I want to win, I want that painting.” With 20 boxes gone and just 10 left that employee picked the right box and revealed the lid with the “W”.
The irony in this particular employee winning my painting is just the day before the giveaway I had tattooed a memorial tattoo on her thigh. So now she owns two pieces of my original art.
Congratulations and Merry Christmas Shauna Staten I hope you enjoy “Stone Retreat”.