It Was A Hard Time For All

Part 4 of the Judy Tomaini Rock Series

 

San Antonio, Texas was a real dust bowl that summer. They dreaded the trip there. It would be good for the kids, as the show was to be set up right across the street from the Alamo. That is one way the kids learned about the United States. They were cramped in the old car, but they liked it out west, the people were friendly, and would mob the carnival. The only excitement they had, was when the carnival came to town once a year. In the 20's money was tight, but they would save all year, to go see the shows, when they rolled into town.

 

For the family, it was a good time in their life. They were living in a tent, but they didn't mind that. They had food to eat, and a little money saved back to tide them over in times of slow business. They were in Paris, Texas, and the boys were playing with other kids on the lot. They kept running around a camp fire, and playing tag. Lester was the baby that tagged along with the bigger boys. He couldn't have been more than 3 or 4 years old. And the bigger boys didn't mind playing with him. But at times they got caught up in the game they were playing, and didn't notice Lester getting closer to the fire. He had a stick, stirring the embers, and watching them float skyward. He didn't see the one that landed on the long sleeve of his shirt, and start flaming. When he did, he tripped and fell into the fire. The bigger boys heard him scream, and Donald, who was 16 months older than Bea, grabbed him out of the fire, in a matter of seconds, and rolled him on the ground. He was very lucky that Donald, his brother, got there soon enough to put it out. Bea's memory of the accident was that when he stood up, the inside of his arms were so burned, the skin rolled down into his hands. That was good, as that was the only place that burned bad. Nellie, their Mother, doctored it and bandaged his arms, and when he got older, you couldn't tell he had even been burned.

 

Nellie, had been not feeling well herself for a while. She slept a lot during the day, and on the jumps between towns. She was short of breath, and tired all the time. She was relatively young at 46. But had given birth to 9 children, though only 7 were living. Bobby and Floyd died young. One was scalded, when he pulled a pot of water off the wood stove, and the other, who was only a few months old, had "summer complaint". The kids would dehydrate, and when they were babies, it didn't take long. So for such a hard working woman, she had her share of hard times. Her husband John, was back in Indiana, living off one of his bar floozies. He could sure pick some losers. They, like him, were just drunks. He fathered 9 children, but was never a father to them. These days, he would be called a sperm donor. Ardola, the only other girl, was the exception. As she could do no wrong. Even when she followed in his footsteps, and picked up men, like they were going out of style. She was Daddy's little girl. She was 4 years older than Bea, but was gone and married at 15, with a baby on the way.

 

They pulled onto the lot that afternoon, and the boys quickly unloaded the tent, and set it up. That was their job. They wanted to get done quick so they could help the others unload and set up. That was the way they would get a little spending money. Which was very hard work for the young boys. But they were young and strong, and always there to help their Mom, as she was getting worse each day. She still had the man she had fallen for, after John left her. He was very good to her and the kids. He didn't drink, which was such an improvement over John, it was a good time in their lives. They had been all over the country, and seen places, most kids only see in their school books. Their mental stability, was very apparent, they laughed all the time, and never heard the hateful remarks, from their father any more. Life was so good the money was being saved, instead of being spent on bimbos, in the nearest bar.

 

During the night, Nellie got worse, and had to be taken to the hospital. Bea and her brothers opened the show on time the next morning and sold tickets. They wanted to surprise their Mother, by making a lot of money that day. Bea cooked their dinner, and the brothers cleaned up after. They were getting worried about their Mother. No one had come from the hospital to let them know how she was. When they awoke in the morning, the mothers boyfriend was there, waiting for them to get up. Nellie had died in the night. Her heart had burst, and she had a very painful death. She died with a handkerchief clenched in her hand. She was buried that way as she had been through such agonizing pain, her hand couldn't be opened for the funeral. This poor woman, who had worked all her life for her children was gone... Bea was around 14 years old, and now her Mother was gone, and she didn't even get to tell her goodbye. Donald had to ride in the boxcar, with the casket that held the earthly remains of his beloved Mother. It was a long trip by train, from San Antonio to Fort Wayne, Indiana. But even longer by car. And when it was loaded with the equipment and the children, it was pretty slow going. They had a break down that cost them a day of travel time. By the time they got there, she had already been buried. The cooling process, for the deceased, wasn't too good back then, and it was in the hottest part of the summer. They kept her as long as they could, but it was too late, for the children to see her one more time.

 

They arrived at the house of the woman their father was with. He didn't even make it to the funeral, since he was drunk at the time. The woman he was with, was very good to the children. They were there for about a year. Then one day they got up to find a note on the table, that John had gone to the river. He couldn't stand living any longer. The police were called, and the river was dragged for the body, but none was found. He was just gone. Like Nellie, now they had no one but an older brother that had a wife and kids of his own. The woman tried to keep them, but there was no money to feed them. They were taken to an orphanage in town, and the older boys were adopted right away. And went to work on farms. Bea, was in the orphanage for a couple of years. She missed her brothers very much, and they would try to visit when they could. But they were worked hard on the farms, and didn't have much time to do anything, but sleep when day was done.

 

Bea, was never given the chance to be adopted, as who would want someone like her. She helped to teach the little children how to read. And was well cared for while she was there. One day, she was called to come to the office of the orphanage. A woman was there, that had just found out, where Bea was. The woman was Lizzie Weeks, and her husband was Gene. They had been living in Indiana for years, and knew all about Bea, and the fact that she was a star performer with the carnival sideshow, and also worked Single-O when she was on the road. She would be a real meal ticket for Lizzie. She just told the people at the orphanage how she just wanted the poor little thing, to give her a good home, and education. Lizzie knew a Judge in town that would push the paper work through. Which he did. At first Bea was ok with the adoption, but missed her family. She would write them letters, but never got an answer, from even one of them. She kept writing, and giving the letters to Lizzie, or Mrs. Weeks, as Bea had to call her. She was never allowed out of the house, and no one even knew where she was. Before she went back on display, she had to  change her name and looks. But how could she ever make her look different, since Bea had no legs. She had a banner painted for the show, calling her Genie, like out of a bottle. But the banner painter misspelled it, and that was the beginning of "Jeanie Weeks".

 

2003 Judy Tomaini Rock, All Rights Reserved

Published with the permission of Judy Tomaini Rock

 

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