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A Dark Act Proves Happiness Is Relative
posted August 4, 2008
GUEST COLUMN – Don and Jimmy were
acquaintances of my childhood, although we grew up in settings as
different as day and night. Don was the only boy in a family that
enjoyed the prestige money can
bring. The family’s wealth was an accumulation of generations, and
money, however wisely or unwisely used, buys a lot of respect.
Money aside, the family’s real treasure was in the fulsome beauty of
Don’s sisters, girls of olive complexion, long dark hair and flashing
teeth and eyes. Their pictures seemed to be on every page of the high
school yearbooks, tributes to social glitter and academic achievement.
Don was of near equal status. He was handsome and outgoing, the star
pitcher on the baseball team, a starting guard on the basketball team,
captain and quarterback of the football team. He also took up a lot of
space in the yearbook.
Jimmy was born with misshapen legs and a spinal deformity that
condemned him to a life dependent on wheelchairs and a hand-operated
homemade cart. The cart was made from salvaged bicycle parts and an old
buggy seat with cracked leather upholstery.
Jimmy never got much schooling. There was a school attendance law, but
nobody enforced it on a boy who had to be lifted in and out of a chair
to get to school, get to class and get to bathroom. I never met any
brothers or sisters he may have had.
Jimmy grew up on a farm several miles outside our town’s commercial
landmarks, a livery stable and farm implement store. Those were
Saturday gathering places for most farmers, who came into town to swap
or buy mules, buy pigs, cows or chickens and talk about crops and
politics while wives and daughters shopped for cloth and thread and
things for the home.
I remember the Lake Swamp farm where I was born and raised as a notch
up from the ordinary. The chickens that walked about on our porch were
always purebreds - white leghorns, barred rocks and Rhode Island reds -
not the barnyard mixed breeds that belonged to folks who lived closer
to the swamp.
Our living standards led me to realize years later that there is much
truth to the observation that the higher one climbs up the financial
and social ladder, the closer to town his or her family was able to
Moving into town, or enjoying an upscale lifestyle as they call it in
today’s slang, gets you to the high ground and away from mosquitoes,
snakes and other creepies which tend to gather and proliferate on the
We made it into town in 1946, a couple of years after my father
scrimped up enough money selling cucumbers, beans, squash, cotton,
tobacco and home brew to make the down payment on a store. Moving to
town changed our lives.
While this turn of events was in the making, I watched Jimmy grow up
condemned to the old buggy seat that sat atop the bicycle wheels of his
cart. The cart’s drive chain ran down from a pivot post between his
legs. He pedaled with hands, arms and shoulders.
On good Saturdays Jimmy was always in town, cranking up and down the
streets and selling pencils, boiled peanuts, bags of candy, cheap
perfume, cigarettes and combs. His father had made a merchandiser of
Despite his sad lot in life, Jimmy always wore a smile, a curious thing
to me. In later years, after I had gone off to college and came home
for weekends, I would see Jimmy from time to time and wondered how
someone so cursed could be so happy. It was a question I never asked of
him or anyone in his family.
Don was off at college, too, after a grand career as the biggest man on
the high school campus. He sailed through his university studies,
entered medical school and became a doctor. His father had been a
doctor and so had been one of his grandfathers, so I was told.
In the early 1960s Don returned home, tacked up his shingle and went to
work. Within a few years he had a medical practice second to none. He
became chief of staff at the hospital and had two daughtersA former
classmate told me they were as pretty as their aunts.
A dozen years later things began to unravel for Don He was forced to
give up his prestigious position at the hospital and moved his practice
out in the country to a mobile home. His daughters were grown and
someone told me his wife had left the home.
One evening I got a telephone call. My mother was on the line. She told
me that Don was dead. He had gone into his study the night before, put
a pistol to his head and pulled the trigger. There had been no warning
My father and mother said they wouldn’t believe what had happened. They
told me the town was abuzz with rumors. They said gossips were
reporting that Don had developed a drinking habit, had gotten hooked on
drugs, had lost his wife to a lesbian love affair, and so forth and so
on. The talk was scandalous and vicious, and I suspected the truth was
far removed from the gossip.
The following weekend I went home and drove by Don’s house. I had
always admired it because I never could afford a place like that. Then
I drove into town to the corner where Jimmy used to hang out while
resting up from pedaling his cart about town. I didn’t see Jimmy
A friend who ran a shoe repair business near the railroad tracks said
Jimmy hadn’t been around in several years but he still lived out in the
country and still greeted family members and friends with a big old
grin. He had to give up his cart because of arthritis that settled into
his shoulders and hands.
I have spent years wondering why a man who seemingly had little to live
for could keep on going atop that old cart, smiling and greeting others
while enduring the stares and whispers of those who found him to be a
I have spent years wondering why another man, blessed by birth, envied
by many and prepared for life with the best money could buy, would
choose to end everything alone in a darkened room.
There are never any easy answers when it comes to making sense of what
happens to lost souls under severe stress. Only they can speak to these
things and too often they choose to remain silent.
Some are left searching in vain for answers, and wondering about the
shadowy torment that drives some to do desperate things. A desperate
act in a darkened room proves status, money and prestige are no
guarantees of happiness.
Orginally published 8/1/93 by Carl Langley
original material is property of
EdgefieldDaily.com and cannot be reproduced, rewritten or redistributed
without the expressed written permission of Edgefield Daily.com
JAM Straight Customs
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