LAST RESPECTS AND BURNING QUESTIONS

LAST RESPECTS AND BURNING QUESTIONS
I had rode my motorcycle into Rochester Cemetery only once before today. It was on July 26, 2013 when I came to lay my mothers ashes to rest between the graves of her parents. Rochester Cemetery sits on a hill on Menninger Road on the northwest outskirts of Topeka, Kansas. The cemetery was chartered in 1850 and is the final resting place of Kansans, not Kansans and everyone else in between. It is also the final resting place of 14 members of my family. Someday my earthly remains will rest within the grounds of Rochester Cemetery.
As I maneuvered the big Harley Ultra Classic up the steep drive and into the cemetery I wondered if the thump, thump, thump of the big V-Twin was disturbing the dead. Silver Streak, the name I christened my motorcycle with, navigated the tight, thin roads of the cemetery. “C’mon Silver, I urged the bike, let’s find Stanley.
Stanley is a large memorial stone on a family grave plot. The white stone features a palm leaf and the word Stanley carved beneath the leaf. Stanley has been the marker I have used since a child to locate the graves of my grandparents and now my mother. Stanley is directly across the road from their resting places and without him I would have a harder time of finding them within the maze of cemetery roads. We located Stanley and I saluted the stone, “Thank You Stanley.”
As I shut off Silver Streak the tick, tick, tick of the cooling engine replaced the sound of the crickets that would normally be heard in the cemetery during the summer months. But on this early day in March the children of crickets past were sleeping below the ground within their tiny eggs. I dismounted the bike and headed across the road towards my mother and grandparents graves.
As I approached the graves I was pleased to see that the marker I had set for my mother had weathered the rough winter well. It made me feel good that even if I was never able to afford the marker she had dreamed of at least my humble effort would endure for years to come. I knelt down and placed my right hand on the marker and my left hand on the spot on the ground where my mothers ashes lay beneath. I knelt in silence trying to calm my heart which was in turmoil. I had come to the cemetery that day to seek advice from my ancestors. I had things in my life that were troubling me and I needed their wisdom.
There are those who will say, “The dead do not speak.” But they would be wrong. The dead speak loudly if you just take the time to listen. I spoke my concerns to my grandfather and grandmother and while waiting for their response I turned to my mother. I leaned on her cross and looked up to the sky. “Mom, I really do not know why I am asking your advice. You usually get sidetracked when faced with a hard subject and never give a straight answer. But I am going to assume that once you got to heaven they fixed that flaw and you can listen and give straight answers.” I told my mother what was on my mind.
I knelt with my head down in silence. The cemetery was still, not even the sound of an early Robin chirp broke that silence. After long moments I looked up and around. My eyes wandered down the hill towards the low area of the cemetery. In all the years I had visited here I had never been down the hill to the tree line beyond the graves. I stood up and I wandered in that direction.
Walking through the gaps between the numerous graves I crossed the lower road and winding my way through a small section of graves I found myself at the tree line. Through the trees I could see a small pond. Walking through the trees and down the embankment I stood on the edge of the pond. It was obvious that it had been constructed as a runoff for the cemetery. How long in the past the pond had been made only the spirits of the cemetery knew. Towards the south end of the pond was a drive. A large pile of gravel and raw dirt rested there. On the north end of the pond a large tree had fallen across the expanse somewhere in the past. Woodpeckers had pocked its surface and its branches that reached into the pond no doubt created a haven for small aquatic creatures; salamanders, frogs, insects and maybe even minnows.
I stood and looked at the still waters of the pond and the tree. This simple pond next to a cemetery was a symbolic example of the circle of life. Life sprung forth then death came. From death came life which thrived and eventually died giving life to a new generation; a never ending and vital circle. A bright red Cardinal landed on the dead tree and cocked its small pointed head at me as if to put a punctuation mark on my thoughts. The small bird took one hop towards me and then flew away to signal that it was time for me to move away from the pond.
I headed back up the embankment and wound my way through the graves. I paused a moment at my mother and grandparents graves. I touched my mothers cross marker and smiled. I liked the marker, Though just a couple of feet high it resembled the type of stone markers that you would find on ancient graves in Europe. My family had migrated from Germany to America so this cross marking the grave of a Hummel seemed appropriate and right. I said, “Bye Mom, Bye Grandpa, Bye Grandma. Wish I could have known you Grandpa. Miss you Grandma, Miss you Mom. Love you all.” I moved away and returned to the road. I still did not have the answer to my questions and I had other ancestors to visit.
As I walked up the road I passed the graves of Samuel and Amanda Dykes. I stopped and said hello to Grandma and Grandpa Dykes. Sam and Amanda are the parents of my Aunt Patricia, the wife of my Uncle Karl. Karl Hummel is my mothers brother and passed in April of 2020 after a long fight with cancer. Though the Dykes were not blood they were still family and out of respect I was taught when a child to call them Grandma and Grandpa. The house they once owned sits just a couple of blocks from my home. I have found memories of stopping by that house to visit with them. But what I remember most was Sam’s Harmonica playing.
Samuel Dykes carried a briefcase with his various harmonica’s inside. A couple of times a month Sam was asked to come forward to the church podium and play a hymn on his harmonica. Angels could not have sang those hymns more beautifully than Samuel Dykes played them on his harmonicas. Sam passed away suddenly in 1964 and left many people grieving his loss, myself included. I was just 8 years old at the time and the passing of Samuel Dykes was the first time I had to deal with the loss of someone I cared about.
I noticed that Sam’s Birthday was on March 4th. Today was March 2nd and I would not be back in the cemetery to wish him a Happy Birthday on the 4th so I said, “Happy Birthday Grandpa Dykes.” I bid him and Grandma Dykes farewell and moved on up the road. As I walked away I smiled; I like to imagine that God calls Sam up to the podium every Sunday to play a hymn and show the Angels how their voices should sound.
I stopped at the graves of my Great Aunt Harriet and my Great Uncle Karl Hummel, my Uncle Karl’s namesake. Next to them is the grave of Lucien Vick. He is a relative but how I do not know. My Great Aunt Harriet was the first woman ever stationed at the Kodiak Base Naval Station on Kodiak Island in Alaska. My Great Uncle Karl was a singer with the Metropolitan Opera in New York. I paid my respects and moved off to visit the gravesites of their parents, my Great Grandparents, Walter and Priscilla Hummel.
I stood at the graves of my Great Grandparents and my head bowed. Walter had been the first Livery and Tack maker in Topeka making mule harnesses for the 7th Calvary. Priscilla had been a devoted wife and mother giving birth to Harriet, Lucius, Karl, Ralph and Oscar, my Grandfather. I spoke my questions to them then remained silent, listening. In a few moments my head turned and I looked towards the gravesite of my Great Uncle Ralph Hummel and his wife Buena Vista, the namesake of Buena Vista, Arkansas.
Between the graves of my Great Grandparents and the Graves of my Great Uncle are two empty spots. Someday those spots will not be empty, they will be where me and my wife Raychel will be laid to rest. As I looked at the empty spots the answers to the questions that had been troubling me suddenly flooded into my head. I now knew that my ancestors had spoken to me and had answered my questions. Now with those answers my turbulent mind and heart knew peace. I sighed and said, “Thank you, I knew you would help.”
I believe strongly in the power of prayer and I believe God answers prayer. I also believe that he sends his Angels to help us in our time of turmoil. The Angels he sent this day were the ones that were responsible for giving me my life. Life sprung forth then death came. From death came life which thrived and eventually died giving life to a new generation; a never ending and vital circle. I had one more stop to make before leaving Rochester Cemetery.
I stood in front of the grave graves of my Uncle Karl Lennox Hummel and my cousin Deanna Hummel. My cousin Deanna had been a police officer in Shawnee Mission, Kansas and had been murdered by a drunk driver while on duty. My Uncle Karl having succumbed to the cancer on April 28, 2020 had been laid to rest next to his daughter with no memorial service.
The Coronavirus Pandemic robbed many families of their chance to say goodbye to loved ones. I shook my head feeling a mixed emotion of sadness and anger at those that deny the Pandemic. They claim the virus is not real, they refuse to practice social distancing and refuse to wear masks. Many are refusing to take the vaccine. They wallow in their ignorance and inconsideration of others shouting, “We are exercising our rights”, while violating the rights of others. Here before me was a victim of the Pandemic. It is true that my Uncle died from cancer but he was denied his right to have his family come together and say goodbye because of the Pandemic. How many more must suffer this indignity because people refuse to do the right thing?
I knelt down and placed my hand on the long flat stone that bore the names of Karl, Deanna and Patricia Hummel. My Aunt Pat is not here yet and hopefully it will be a long time before she is. But her spot is waiting for her next to her husband. Karl, Deanna and my cousin Lenny who passed away during a bicycle race years ago when a car ran him off the road and over a cliff will be waiting for her at Heaven’s gate. My Aunt Pat shares a birthday with my sister thus being my sister Patricia’s namesake.
I was happy that I was finally able to pay my respects to my Uncle Karl. He loomed large in my life when I was a child. Partial owner of a bicycle shop, he gave me my first bicycle, a Huffy. He also made an 8’ by 4’ board into the home of a Lionel Train set for me on my 7th Christmas. Family gatherings featured my Uncle Karl and Aunt Pat along with their seven children, my cousins. My cousins and I spent many a summer afternoon in a field near their home on Massachusetts street collecting grasshoppers and fireflies in jars. Uncle Karl and Aunt Pat had offered to raise me because of my mothers mental condition but she refused. I have often wondered who I would have become if I had been raised in that family. Yet I realize that I am exactly who I am meant to be.
I last saw my Uncle Karl on July 26, 2013 when I laid my mother to rest. He stood by me at the graveside as we sang Amazing Grace which my Mom had requested. We spoke and caught up with each other before he left me to say my final goodbyes to my mother, his sister. When I left Texas and moved back to Topeka in November 2013 I thought several times about contacting him and my Aunt Pat. But somehow I felt like I would be an intrusion because of the years that had passed between us. I never contacted them instead keeping track of their lives through my cousin Scott and my Aunt pat’s Facebook page. In 2015 I led the team that restored Animal Land in Gage park. My Aunt Pat sent me a short message that simply stated, “Your Uncle Karl is proud of you.” That meant a lot to me.
I rose from the grave and said, “Well Uncle Karl, looks like I have to buy more flowers from now on.” I had made a vow years ago that as long as I was alive my relatives, buried in Rochester Cemetery would have flowers on their graves. I place flowers on my grandparents and mothers graves. Flowers are laid on the graves of Grandma and Grandpa Dykes. I place flowers on the graves of Lucien Vick, Great Aunt Harriet and Great Uncle Karl. My great Grandparents get flowers as does Ralph, Buena Vista and Lucius Hummel. I have always left flowers at Deanna’s grave and now I will leave them at Uncle Karl’s grave. I wonder if anyone will ever lay flowers at my grave.
I returned to Silver Streak filled with a mixture of melancholia and joy. I had finally had the answers to my burning questions and I had finally had a chance to pay my respects to my Uncle Karl. As I put back on my riding gear I surveyed the cemetery. Rochester is an odd mixture of an old peaceful cemetery and a dark gothic burial ground. There are portions of the cemetery whose serenity gives way to a place where the living dead would be at home. I like the feel, I like the contrast. It feels like life not death.
As I mounted the big Harley and prepared to start it a Robin alighted on top of Stanley’s Stone and sang to me. “Ah, there you are.” I said. I started the bike and the Robin watched me ride away and out of this hallowed ground. I left with the knowledge that love is eternal.
-The GYPSY- March 8, 2021

HI-YO SILVER AWAY

HI-YO SILVER AWAY

There are times when you walk into history. There are times when history walks into you. Then there are times when you fall face first into history and history comes crashing down on top of you. Today was such a day for me. As I pulled myself out from under the weight of the history that fell on me I knew I would need to share the moment with you dear reader.

My wife Raychel and I decided to spend the day doing some random shopping in Lawrence. If you want to do random shopping Lawrence, Kansas is about as random as it gets, especially on Massachusetts Street. Downtown Lawrence is peppered with a wide range of random shops selling an eclectic mix of random items.

The eateries on Massachusetts Street are just as random. If you cannot find something to your taste in downtown Lawrence then you weren’t really hungry to begin with. Raychel and I were hungry and something to our taste was The Mad Greek.

I am not ashamed to admit that The Mad Greek is our favorite eatery in Lawrence. I am also not ashamed to admit that we happily devoured Gyros and Chicken Provolone washed down with ice cold beer.

We sat, talked and enjoyed each other’s company as we let our feast settle. Then we found our way across the street to The Toy Store. As we walked through the doors our inner child found its way out of our psyche. I threatened to buy Kazoos and start my own Kazoo blues band. Raychel bought a whirly gig throw off to occupy her very active mind.

We left The Toy Store and headed down the street to Love Garden. No it is not another restaurant. If you guessed that it is a floral shop you would be wrong. No it is not a bordello and it is not a Hippy Head Shop. However if you said music store full of vintage vinyl record albums then you would be correct. It was in this magical place that History jumped on me and beat me to the floor.

I browsed the thousands of albums not 100% sure what I was looking for. I have been trying to replace albums I sold or gave away a long time ago. I also keep my eyes open for albums my mother once had. I grew up listening to her albums so for me it is a matter of nostalgia. I also am a sucker for strange and unusual albums.

I found two Uriah Heep albums; Magicians Birthday and Wonderland. Uriah Heep is one of my favorite groups and if I would have left after finding those albums it still would have been a good find and a good day. But my day was about to get even better.

As Raychel held the Uriah Heep albums I flipped through the one dollar bin. Paul Revere and the Raiders, The Ventures and Henry Mancini all made it onto the stack in Raychel’s hands. I got excited when I found the Fabulous Thunderbirds and the soundtrack album to the movie The Great Escape. Then it happened, I took the first step into the attack on my person by history.

As I flipped through the one dollar rack my hand fell on a four album set. On the front of the box were two familiar figures; Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels. Emblazoned across the top of the box were those magical, heroic words, “The Lone Ranger”.  My mind instantly took a trip back to those golden days of yesteryear.

The year was 1989 and I was driving a big truck over the road coast to coast. I pulled into a truck stop near the Arkansas/Oklahoma border on the Arkansas side. I pulled into a space next to a big silver Peterbilt Truck.

As I walked around the nose of the truck a movement caught my eye. There, clinging to the truck’s grill was a tiny brown bat. Horrified, I started looking for a stick to remove the little bat from the grill. While looking for a stick a man walked up and asked me what I was doing. I showed him the bat and said I was looking for a stick to remove it so it wouldn’t be injured.

The man pulled a pen from his pocket and carefully removed the bat. He carried the bat over to a nearby tree where the bat quickly transferred itself from the pen to the tree. The man said he was glad I had seen the bat as it was his truck and he would not want to pull out and hurt the little guy. I agreed. I told the man how I had once been a Zookeeper and how I had an affinity for animals, especially Bats.

As we stood there talking I could not shake the feeling that I knew this man. I finally asked, “Do I know you? Have we met before?” The man laughed, “In a way we probably have met.” His voice was familiar and mysterious.. “What do you mean, in a way?” The man laughed again and said, “Hold on this may help.”

The man opened the door of his big silver truck and reached inside. When he turned back around he was wearing a large pair of black Foster Grant sunglasses and a white cowboy hat. I looked at him, silver truck, white cowbo… “Dear God, you are Clayton Moore! The Lone Ranger!” He laughed, “So I guess you do know me.”

Mr. Moore offered to buy me a cup of coffee and I took him up on it. As we drank coffee and ate pie he told me how he had come to drive a big rig.

He said that he had signed a contract that had made it so that he could never make a public appearance without the mask. “It killed my film career but I receive a very nice pension and get paid for personal appearances; those are not as numerous as they once were.” 

Mr. Moore told me that the ranch where the series had been filmed had been given to him as part of the deal. He was bitter about the lawsuit that had forced him to remove his mask. “I am grateful that Foster Grant made it possible for me, in a way, to keep the mask. I am glad that awful movie failed.”

I asked him why he was driving a truck. His answer was simple and straight to the point; “I get bored. I have everything I want but having everything comes with a price. Before I was a successful actor I made ends meet by driving a truck. Seemed a logical way to ease my occasional boredom.”

All too soon it was time for us to go our separate ways. I headed for the eastern horizon while he drove his mighty truck into the western sunset. Who was that sunglassed man? Pretty sure I know and he left me with a silver memory.

Bringing myself back into the present I placed the Lone Ranger box set on top of the other albums in Raychels arms.

When we returned home to Topeka I immediately started checking the albums. Repairs to covers and checking for any scratches that might have to be dealt with. I saved my treasure, The Lone Ranger box set, for last. I opened the box and pulled the first album from its sleeve; perfect condition. I set it to one side and picked up the second album. It was at this point that the history I had taken a step into when I found the cherished set tripped me and fell on me with the force of a fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust and a hearty ‘Hi-Yo Silver’.

Resting on top of the 3rd album was a greeting card size envelope. The postmark on the Twentynine cent stamp showed 12 December 1994. The envelope was addressed to Wayne Glenn at KTXR in Springfield, Missouri. The return address showed the card had come from Fred W. Foy in Reading, Massachusetts. 

Inside the envelope was a homemade Christmas card. The front had a deep green design of a stylistically drawn Christmas tree. Inside the tree were a pair of cowboy boots and intertwined in the boots were FWF in a Saloon font. Above the design was written ‘Merry Christmas’ in the same Saloon font.

The inside of the card featured a red horseshoe design. Above the horseshoe was written in the familiar Saloon font ‘…And A Hearty…’. Inside the top of the horseshoe the Saloon font proclaimed, ‘Happy New Year’. Between the two legs of the horseshoe was the name, ‘Fred Foy’. Opposite from the greeting was a date stamp, ‘Received Dec. 15, 1994 KTXR’.

The card felt like something important. I sent up an entreaty to the Google Search God and its Keeper of Fates the Mighty Wikipedia answered my call.

Wayne Glenn is known as the “Old Record Collector”. He had a weekly show on KTXR in Springfield, Missouri from 1977 to his semi-retirement in 2019. Mr. Glenn has more than 15,000 albums. He had 2,139 episodes of his “Remember When” radio program. The show ran for 7 hours on Saturday mornings and 3 hours on Sunday evening. On August 10, 2019 he scaled back to a one hour show on KTXR. 

Wayne Glenn has written 13 books on Ozark history. With 42 years as a radio show host and accomplished author Wayne Glenn has a lot to be proud of and has made his mark on broadcast history.. 

Fred W. Foy had felt that Mr. Glenn was worthy of receiving a Christmas Card and I needed to know who Fred W. Foy was. What I found was way beyond anything I could have ever expected or imagined.

Frederick William Foy (March 27, 1921 – December 22, 2010) was an American radio and television announcer and actor, who used Fred Foy as his professional name. Radio historian Jim Harmon described Foy as “the announcer, perhaps the greatest announcer-narrator in the history of radio drama.”

Fred Foy was a Corporal during World War II and did World Series play by plays for the GI’s. He was an accomplished radio announcer and pitchman doing narrations for shows such as The Green Hornet and Challenge of the Yukon. In 1948 he first uttered the words that would become the most recognized opening in radio and television history:

“Hi-Yo, Silver! A fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust and a hearty “Hi-Yo Silver”… The Lone Ranger! With his faithful Indian companion, Tonto, the daring and resourceful masked rider of the plains led the fight for law and order in the early Western United States. Nowhere in the pages of history can one find a greater champion of justice. Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear. From out of the past come the thundering hoof-beats of the great horse Silver. The Lone Ranger rides again!”

And there I sat, holding a Christmas card in my hand sent to one of greatest record collectors in America, Wayne Glenn, from one of the greatest radio and television narrators and announcers in American History, Fred Foy.

How this box set of the greatest hits of “The Lone Ranger” radio program, that had apparently belonged to Wayne Glenn at one time, ended up in a $1.00 bin in a Lawrence, Kansas bookstore is anyone’s guess. How the Christmas card from Fred Foy found it’s way tucked neatly between two albums in the box set is also anyone’s guess. What isn’t anyone’s guess is that this Historic piece of American Radio and Television History now rests in the hands of someone who will protect and preserve it.

Yes history fell on top of me and this was an important tale to be told. With that thought in mind I would like to leave you with this seldom heard song that played on The Lone Ranger syndicated television series in the 1970’s. It was heard just before the Fred Foy opening was played and featured edited scenes from the color pilot episode of The Lone Ranger from 1955 which retold the Masked Man of The Plains origin story:

“Six Texas Rangers (Hi-yo, hi-yo) rode in the sun (Hi-yo, hi-yo);

Six men of justice rode into an ambush, and all were killed but one.

One lone survivor (Hi-yo, hi-yo) lay on the trail (Hi-yo, hi-yo);

Found there by Tonto, the brave Indian Tonto, he lived to tell the tale.

(Hi-yo Silver, Hi-yo Silver away! Hi-yo Silver, Hi-yo Silver away!)

His wounds quickly mended (Hi-yo, hi-yo) and there in the night (Hi-yo, hi-yo),

Six graves were put there to hide from the outlaws that one man lived to fight.

He chose silver bullets (Hi-yo, hi-yo) the sign of his name (Hi-yo, hi-yo); A mask to disguise him, a great silver stallion, and thus began his fame.

(Hi-yo Silver, Hi-yo Silver away! Hi-yo Silver, Hi-yo Silver away! THE LONE RANGER IS HIS NAME!) 

-The GYPSY-

THE LAST GIANT

THE LAST GIANT By: J.A. George AKA; The GYPSY 

His name was Matthew Dillon Ceratotherium Simum. We just called him Matt and he was just 15 years old when he died. Matt was also the last of his kind. Matt was the last wild caught Southern White Rhino and he was my friend.

Matt stood 6’ at the shoulder and weighed in at around 5,000 pounds. Captured in southern Africa when he was just a year-old. Matt was shipped to the United States to the San Diego Zoo in California as part of a conservation of species program. After his capture international restrictions were implemented that kept any more Southern White Rhinos to be exported from Africa.

Matt eventually was loaned out to El Paso Zoological Park in El Paso, Texas. The hope was that Matt, whose bloodline was unique and not found in any other Southern White Rhinoceros in North America, would breed with the two female Southern White Rhinos also on loan from San Diego. The Two Females were Miss Kitty, a 17-year-old female who stood 5’ 6” at her shoulder and weighed in at around 3,500 pounds and Daisy May. Daisy was a young and vibrant 10 years old and weighed in at a trim 3,000 pounds and was a petite 5’ at her shoulder. Of the 3 loaned Rhinos Daisy was the most social. But Matt was King.

I received my introduction to my 3 charges when I became lead Keeper of the Hoof stock area in June of 1983. I was used to dealing with small and large species alike. Having come from Abilene Zoological Gardens in Abilene, Texas I had helped birth a Giraffe that was born breach. I had assisted the Herpetologist in getting the 10’ Alligator Humpy back into his enclosure numerous times. Humpy had a Gypsy Soul and liked to wander. My life had been saved by an Asian Elephant 9a story for another day), and I had assisted walking 3-year-old African Elephants around the Zoo Grounds. There are numerous more examples I could give of my work with large species, but you get the idea.

Yet when I was first introduced to these 3 giants, Matt, Miss Kitty and Daisy, I do not think that I was prepared for the welcome I received. The Zoo’s Vet Tech, Claudia Newman, did the introductions. As we walked up the long drive to the central Hoof Stock barn, I could see the 3 Rhinos watching us from their enclosure to our left. This enclosure was large. It swooped down from the central barn towards a lower gutter that sat at the base of a 10’ concrete retaining wall. At the top of this wall and protected from the edge by a short fence and planter that surrounded the hoof stock exhibits the public could look down into the Rhinos curved 100’ x 50’ x 30’ exhibit.

The exhibits substrate was caliche dirt, commonly called desert concrete. This dirt was ideal for Rhino’s with one exception. Miss Kitty was allergic to the dust from this dirt.

As we entered the hoof stock barn the 3 Rhinos rushed up to the stockade fence. This fence was made from concrete anchored wooden utility poles. The poles showed wear from the Rhinos need, like overgrown cats, to rub against them. In this stockade barrier there was a cutaway that was 4’ high and just wide enough for two Rhino heads and that is what greeted us as we walked up to the opening, two Rhino heads belonging to Miss Kitty and Daisy.

Looking at Rhinos from a distance is not like being a foot away from them. It is a little disconcerting at first being nose to nose with a head that is almost as large as your entire body. Claudia made the introductions; This is Miss Kitty, and this is Daisy. Both animals snorted at the sound of their names. That, she indicated the large male Rhino standing back away from the females is Matt. I laughed, “Matt Dillon, Miss Kitty and Daisy?” Claudia nodded, “Yep, the saloon girl.” We laughed and it seemed as if the Rhino’s laughed with us.

Claudia showed me how to apply the Hydrocortisone cream around Miss Kitty’s eyes to help with her allergies. Miss Kitty was used to this routine and stood still as the cream was applied. Daisy nudged her big square upper lip against my forearm. “She wants you to scratch her nose.” I scratched her nose and she purred. I gave Claudia a look. “They are as intelligent as dogs but have many mannerisms like a cat.” She pointed at their wallow, a pit containing their urine and feces in the middle of the exhibit. “They always do their business in the same spot. They rub on things to scratch and leave a scent. They purr and…” Claudia scratched Miss Kitty behind the ear. “They love to be scratched behind the ear.” Miss Kitty half closed her eyes and purred.

Suddenly Matt moved forward and shoved the two females out of the way. His mass made Miss Kitty and Daisy look small. He laid his head on the fence and snorted stamping a rear foot once. “He let’s the females get attention first but when it comes to who eats first the Marshall of Dodge City is first up to the table.’ I laughed and said, “Being from Kansas and being a fan of Gunsmoke I can totally understand the Marshall exercising his rights.” Matt seemed to like the statement as he turned his head towards me and snorted.

Claudia handed me a bucket of sweet horse and mule feed and I held it for Matt as he happily chowed down. When he had enough, I repeated the scenario with Miss Kitty and then Daisy. The hierarchy was obvious, and it would be a scenario that was repeated twice a day in the upcoming months. We took a bale of alfalfa hay from the large stack in the center of the barn, broke it apart and threw it into the exhibit. Claudia said, “Time for the shit cart.”

We rolled the large metal cart into the exhibit and down to the wallow. Using pitch forks we began cleaning out the feces and throwing it into the cart. (I bet you thought a Zookeepers life was all glamour and playing with animals.) At one-point Matt approached us snorting and stomping. Claudia picked up a dirt clod and chucked it at Matt hitting his thick hide on the shoulder. The dirt clod exploded in a rain of dust and Matt ran back up to where Miss Kitty and Daisy were enjoying their breakfast. “Sometimes he likes to show his dominance, but dirt clods shake him up and put him back in his place. He is really a gentle giant” Claudia explained. “Let’s hope I never run out of dirt clods.” I said.

We dumped the Shit Cart in the Zoo’s large dumpster, hosed it out, put up our tools and moved on to care for the next animals; White Tail Deer, North American Bison, Dromedary Camel, Nilgai Antelope and Ostrich. This was my morning routine everyday but twice a day I got to spend quality time with the Rhino’s, and we became close.

June turned to July. July turned to August and August turned to September. Matt and I became close. He started liking the type of attention Miss Kitty and Daisy craved. I no longer had to use dirt clods to spook him; I had learned his language. When he challenged me, I challenged back. I stomped my foot and snorted. I commanded him, “Matt, Get Back!” He would turn and retreat. I had exercised my dominance. Matt was King when I wasn’t around, but I was King when present. But it was more than that. I had developed a deep respect for Matt and the females. I believe with all my heart that respect was returned in kind. In short, we liked each other.

Now do not misunderstand what I am saying. Rhinos are wild animals, and it should never be assumed that they are domesticated in any way. There is an old Zookeeper saying, “Never Turn Your Spine On A Bovine.” In other words, never let your guard down and I never did. One day Matt became agitated because of some unruly children in the public viewing area. His agitation was beyond my control to spook him back. I had to run up the 10’ retaining wall, a trick I had learned as a way to save my life long before parkour was a part of the English language. This skill would again come in handy at a critical time in the relationship between me and Matt.

It was shortly after Labor Day of 1983 that Robert Fulton, the Zoo’s Director, called me to his office. I had been at the Zoo for 3 months and was enjoying every day. I prayed that I was not in trouble. When I entered his office David Benavidez, the Zoo’s Foreman and Claudia were already seated. Mr. Fulton invited me to have a seat and I inquired as to what was happening.

“San Diego wants the Rhinos back.” I was stunned. “What? Why?” Mr. Fulton sighed. “As you know Matts bloodline is unique. We have been unsuccessful in our breeding program. San Diego is upping their program and they want them back. We must send them; they belong to San Diego.” I was stunned. The thought that I would ever lose my friends had never crossed my mind. Rhinos have a lifespan of up to 50 years in captivity and at the time I thought we would all grow old together.

Mr. Fulton informed me that 3 Rhino sized crates were being delivered the next day from Grand Prairie Animal Park. They would be lowered into the exhibit by crane and it would be my job between then and October 10th to get them accustomed to the crates.

So, the daily routine changed. They no longer got their sweet horse and mule feed at the stockade cutaway. Instead, I would pour the feed on the floor right inside the crate. Miss Kitty and Daisy would follow me and had no problem eating their feed in a new way. Matt was more wary. He would snort and stomp and wanted no part of these new arrangements. He missed eating from the bucket in my hand. But even with the trust that had developed between us I could not risk getting up close and personal with him without a barrier. So, I came up with a plan.

The crates had a double layer of bars at the back. There was enough room between these bars for a man to stand. Also, a man could get in between the bars but a Rhino could not. The reason for the spaced bars was to give a animal handler a means of escape or to give a vet safe access to the animal once they were crated. I started standing at the backside of the crate in between the bars and feeding Matt from that side. After a tedious week of on again, off again trust in these new arrangements Matt trusted me and easily came to the bars for his feed.

Since Matt was now use to the crate, I began introducing the feed into the crate. I started at the process at the open end of the crate and day by day moved the feed in deeper. I did this for all 3 animals, and it worked. Soon they were stepping into the crates to get their horse and mule feed.

October 10th came sooner than I wanted it to. The day broke bright and sunny. Fall in the high desert brings a mix of warm and cool breezes intermixed with each other and this morning was no different. The Zoo was closed until all 3 animals could be captured and loaded. Only 3 people were allowed in that end of the Zoo that morning; me, the transport driver and the Veterinarian sent from Grand Prairie Animal Park. The vet’s job would be to administer a tranquilizer if needed and to be with the Rhinos on the long trip to San Diego.

Zoo Staff mingled, anxious outside the zoo’s commissary. They could see down the driveway where the flat bed truck and crane that would load the crates sat. The transport driver had positioned himself on top of one of the crates. He was laying flat, out of sight of the Rhino’s, ready to drop the bar in place after a Rhino entered the crate. The Vet sat on the wall with a dart gun ready to tranquilize if needed. I stood in the driveway, a bucket of Horse and Mule in hand, ready to betray my friends. A mix of feelings filled me, nervousness, anxiety and fear. But mostly my heart was filled with sadness. I steeled myself and entered the exhibit.

Miss Kitty was first. I had treated her eye earlier and I had felt bad that I had not been able to feed her or the other two. They had been fasted since the night before so that they would be hungry and hopefully move into the crates quickly to be fed. I walked backward into the crate with Miss Kitty following me in her big square mouth trying to get the bucket of feed. I stepped between the bars, dumped the feed and as Miss Kitty lowered her head and started to eat the transport driver dropped the bar in place, I exited out the back and tossed a bale of alfalfa into the crate as the transport driver secured the crate.

Daisy and Matt watched with curiosity. Who were these strange people in their home? Why was Miss Kitty sealed in that box? Daisy was a little more wary when it came to her turn, but she entered the crate and was secured. I cannot tell you the feeling of being in a confined space with an animal that could stomp you like a bug or crush your internal organs with the hairy horn on their snout. The saving grace is that within the crate they cannot charge and if spooked they are more likely to back out than lunge forward. So it was with Matt.

As Matt entered the crate, he became anxious. He looked at me, he snorted his anger at being betrayed and backed out as the transport driver tried to drop the bar. Matt ran out into the exhibit and stood snorting and stomping. As I exited the crate Matt charged and I ran, right up the 10’ foot wall. I yelled at the transport driver to stay put and he gave me a thumbs up.

Mr. Fulton came down to see what had happened. We conferred with the Vet and decided we would wait a half hour and try again. We took a break to give Matt a chance to calm down. However, the second attempt to lure him into the crate was just as unsuccessful as the first.

The decision was made to tranquilize him. The idea was to give Matt just enough sedative to make him groggy then the Vet and I would use cattle prods to guide him into the crate. I exited the exhibit as the vet took aim and fired. Twenty minutes later Matt was still not showing any effects from the tranquilizer. He was stomping around the exhibit and letting me know that he was incredibly angry with me and the current situation. The decision was made to administer a second dose. The sound of the air rifle echoed off the steel beams of the barn as the dart entered Matts gray right shoulder just above the first dart.

The effect was almost immediate, and Matt started staggering around the exhibit. The Veterinarian and I entered the exhibit with our cattle prods. The Vet on one side and me on the other we goaded Matt into the crate. All the while I talked to Matt telling him how sorry I was that it had gone this way. The bar was dropped into place and Matt was crated. The Vet entered the backside of the crate where the double bars were located and administered an antidote. I threw a bale of alfalfa into the crate then I kneeled in front of the collapsed Matt.

I was crying and I asked Matt to forgive me for being his Judas. Now before you say that I was being too hard on myself please consider this; I had just broken the trust and respect I had built up with these animals. They had no way of knowing that we were not harming them. They did not know that they were being transported to the home they had once been at with others of their kind. They had no idea that they were going to live their lives under the best care any animal could ask for. They did not even care that they were possibly one of the pieces of the puzzle for the survival of their species. All they knew was that their trusted human had betrayed them. I had turned Judas for the 64 coins I earned daily for my pay.

I said goodbye to Matt, Daisy and Miss Kitty in turn. And as I cried my friends were craned onto the flat bed, secured and made ready for the trip to San Diego. Mr. Fulton stood next to me as we watched this final ceremony in the time that these magnificent creatures had spent at the El Paso Zoo. He put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Why don’t you take the rest of the day off and go home.” I did not argue. I walked up to the commissary, clocked out and mounted my motorcycle but I did not go home.

I followed the transport and its 3 crates of precious cargo to the New Mexico border 20 miles away. At the sign that stated, “Welcome To New Mexico Land of Enchantment” I pulled over and watch my 3 friends disappear towards the horizon on Interstate 10 that would carry them to California. When I could see them no longer, I said, “our time together was enchanting, and I will miss you. I then turned my motorcycle towards the upper Rio Grande Valley and spent the rest of the day riding the sadness away.

I arrived at work early on October 13, 1983 to a gray day. A rare desert storm was threatening to hit, and I wanted to get my outside duties done quickly before it rained. It had been 3 days since I had said goodbye to Matt, Miss Kitty and Daisy. I thought about them often and knew I had to finish the clean up of their former exhibit and get it ready for whoever the next occupant would be. I had been putting it off because it pained me to look at it. I could see the indentations of the crates and though the wallow was cleaned out and dry it would need to be filled with dirt. Looking at these things brought an overwhelming sadness to me, but I knew it must be done.

I had finished my morning duties and had just hauled the first wheelbarrow full of dirt down to the wallow when Mr. Fulton appeared at the gate. The usually jovial Director was sober and serious as he asked me to step out and talk with him.

“I just received a call from San Diego. Miss Kitty and Daisy arrived safely and are being acclimated.” I suddenly felt my chest tighten. “What about Matt?” Mr. Fulton lowered his head looking at the asphalt floor of the barn. “Matt died in route, right outside San Diego.” I sat down hard on a hay bale and started to cry. “No! What? How?” Mr. Fulton ignoring the crisp freshness of his three-piece suit sat down beside me. “The Vet only administered enough antidote for one tranquilizer. Matt never recovered from the second dose.” I jumped up and looked at Mr. Fulton, “So they killed him?” The Zoo Director stood up brushing off his slacks. “It was an accident.” I was furious. “An accident? How do you accidently forget to give enough antidote? Bull Shit!”

Mr. Fulton acknowledged that it would seem to be neglect. He told me that San Diego was not happy and launching an investigation. “They are not happy?” I shot back. “I am not happy but what good does that do poor Matt?” I started crying again. There was silence in the barn. After a few moments Mr. Fulton cleared his throat and said, “For whatever this is worth San Diego sent a team of Vets out to the transport which was stopped at a rest area alongside the interstate. They harvested Matts testicles while they were still viable. Matt may be gone but his legacy will live on through his offspring.” I looked up at Mr. Fulton and said, “But they are not Matt.”

Mr. Fulton said that he understood how I was feeling and suggested I take the rest of the day off. I said, “I have work to do.” I grabbed the wheelbarrow and went for another load of dirt. Mr. Fulton left leaving me to my work, thoughts and sorrow. As the rain started to fall and I wiped away all traces of my friend it was hard to tell whether my face was wet from the storm or the memory of my lost friend.


You have just read the story of one of the hardest moments of my life. It has been over 37 years since those events took place. Now here we are in 2020. A horrendous year where so many have died so needlessly just like Matt died needlessly. Human or Animal a needless death is still a needless death. It causes us to reflect on mortality, that of ourselves and others.

As 2020 was ending and the last week approached, I was trying to decide on a final painting for this year; a painting that would sum up what this year has meant for me and others. I was coming up short for a subject matter and so likewise was my time coming up short to do a painting before 2021 arrived. With only 4 days to go I saw a photograph by National Geographic photographer and filmmaker Ami Vitale. She has traveled the world over to show us not only violence and conflict but also the beauty and humanity of the natural world.

The photograph that I saw that Vitale took on March 19, of 2018 was of Sudan the last male Northern White Rhino left on earth. The photo was taken at Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Northern Kenya, the emotional photograph shows Joseph Wachira, Sudan’s friend and keeper comforting The Last Giant moments before he passed away. It is not hard to imagine the impact this photograph had on me. Grabbing my canvas, paint and brushes I set to work.

Some of you have seen the photographs of my dog Kato Kite watching me work on this painting that is not only a statement on 2020 but also a tribute to Sudan and my friend Matt. It seemed fitting that I have a current animal friend with me as I remembered another animal friend from long ago.

I am an interpretive artist. I do not do photo realism. Though I can see the realistic aspects in a photograph that may serve as my inspiration I paint from the heart. I may overemphasize certain aspects of reality to bring forth the emotion I am feeling or trying to convey. Though my paintings have a base in reality, emotion is the base of my paintings. I could bore you by relating the creation process, but I won’t. What I will tell you is this; as the clock counted down to midnight on New Years Eve and the 1963 Classic Comedy Movie “It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” played on the television I signed the finished painting.

I generally will allow the viewer of my work to interpret the painting in their own way. But in this case, I want to explain its motivation. This past year, 2020 caused a lot of pain and sorrow for so many. Such as the pain and sorrow me and Joseph Wachira experienced at the passing of our friends. Both animals were the last of their kind; one the last wild caught the other the last on earth. Both passing’s were traumatic and an immeasurable loss. Yet just as Matts testicles were harvested so that new generations of Southern White Rhinoceros may once again populate the earth so too was Sudan’s testicles harvested so that the great Northern White Rhinoceros may, hopefully, once more roam the earth.

The story of these two Last Giants so far apart yet so intricately linked together can serve as a lesson for mankind. From the travesty and traumatic crisis, the year 2020 has been we can harvest from it hope for a new beginning for future generations. All we must do is harvest the lessons we have learned and push forward into the future. From our pain joy can take root and grow.

I envy Joseph Wachira. He was able to be there in Sudan’s last moments and say goodbye. I could not be there in Matt’s last moments to say goodbye. I have however given Matt a proper send off by sharing with you his story. May this tribute to The Last Giant serve as my goodbye to 2020 and the hope for a brighter better future for us all.

-The GYPSY-

 

 

 

OUR EASTER GIFT TO YOU A FREE EBOOK BY: The GYPSY

OUR EASTER GIFT TO YOU A FREE EBOOK BY: The GYPSY. AVAILABLE FOR DOWNLOAD FROM AMAZON.COM APRIL 12 TO APRIL 16, 2020While we spend Easter at home during this Pandemic we invite you to enjoy this FREE EBOOK by The GYPSY to pass the time. Stay Healthy and Safe.
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MAKING NORMAN

Now Available As An eBook On Amazon.Com
MAKING NORMAN: A CHRISTMAS STORY
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B084DRXPD3

Making Norman is the story of Norman The Nutcracker who does not know he is a Nutcracker and who does not know his name is Norman. But most importantly of all Norman the Nutcracker does not know what his purpose is. The only thing Norman really knows is that he must find his name and purpose which he soon discovers is not being a Nutcracker.

Follow the adventures of Norman the Nutcracker from his creation in the Toy Makers Factory to his abduction from the toy factory to his quest in the downtown streets of Topeka, Kansas to discover his name and his purpose.

This is the first children’s book by one of America’s favorite artists James A. George AKA; The GYPSY. Illustrated by the author young and old alike will delight in Norman the Nutcrackers adventures and the amazing friends he meets on his way to discovering himself.

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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Copyright Tatman Productions LLC

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: 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