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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