This is part two of a series about Jerry, my friend who “sticks closer than a brother,” (Proverbs 18:24). Jerry repeatedly confesses, “I have a fear of being normal,” to which I repeatedly respond, “Jerry, take my word for it, you don’t have anything to worry about”. Jerry is an old hippie, a motorcycle enthusiast with “a need for speed”. Jerry placed seventh in the nation in the light-weight twin class at Road Atlanta, a 2.5 mile course famous for its blind curves, “esses” and “Gravity Cavity”. Commentators have described Road Atlanta as “not for the faint of heart.” One rider suggested, “If they built a rollercoaster for road racing it would look a lot like Road Atlanta.”
Jerry is a peculiar mixture of the north and the south. Jerry was born in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, moved to Columbus, Georgia at age eight, back to Ft. Wayne at age eleven, to Roanoke, Alabama when he was twelve or thirteen and back to Ft. Wayne when he was fifteen, nearing sixteen.
Jerry and I have made memories to last us a lifetime, or perhaps the memories have made us. There was “the year of the concerts”; “Jerry and Goren’s Big Adventure”, our ten-day self-guided tour of Alaska in a rented Toyota Corolla, but the most memorable adventure was our five day, 1,700 mile motorcycle road trip through seven southern states. We traveled the back roads, the blue highways. We stayed the first night at my daughter, Mandy’s, outside of Memphis. We spent most of the next day on Beal Street. Jerry dreamed about playing his harmonica on Beal Street, so while he was in the restroom, I set him up to play a few songs with a blues group at Silky O’Sullivan’s. You should have seen Jerry’s expression when they yelled, “Come on up here Jerry.” It happened to be Jerry’s birthday.
We departed from Memphis and headed across northern Mississippi to Barber Motorsport Park in Leeds, Alabama. Some friends of Jerry’s were racing, so we spent a little time watching and visiting and then spent a couple of hours touring the “Barber Vintage Motorsport Museum”. But the most memorable and meaningful stop was in Roanoke, Alabama, where Jerry spent some of the most formative years of his life, (age twelve to fifteen). As we rode through town Jerry pointed out the “Tasty Freeze” where he hung out with friends, the city jail, the house he lived in, the segregated movie theatre, the school he attended and the cotton mill where his mother worked. Jerry shared story after story. Isn’t it funny how you can know someone for years and not really know them? Well I got to know Jerry that day in a way I’d never known as he shared new parts of his life story:
“I got the measles when I was four years old. I’ll never forget the pain, the cups of pus coming out of my ear. When I was around six, I was walking across the yard with a windup clock and I held it up to one ear and I heard ‘tick-tock’. Then a while later I held it up to the other ear and couldn’t hear a thing. I had no idea I was different. I thought I was the same as everybody else. When I started in school they put me on the side of the class where my deaf ear faced the teacher and I couldn’t hear. When I daydreamed, they told me, “You need to pay attention.” I ended up flunking the first and third grade.
“When I moved to Georgia a teacher took interest in me. She taught me lip reading for a while but it didn’t do much good, but she tried. So I dropped out of school when I was in the seventh grade, but nobody came after me; in Roanoke back then nobody cared. They may have said something to mom, but she worked at the cotton mill at night and I looked after my little sister, Lisa, while she worked. Mom told me, years later, that one of my teachers had come to the house to apologize. I’m not going to complain though, because you usually have it in both ears but I only had it in one. But I do wonder how different my life could have been.” This question has haunted Jerry throughout his life, “I wonder what I could have done if I’d gotten a good education?”
I’m reminded of the classic movie, “The Wizard of Oz”. The Lion said, “If I only had courage,” the Scarecrow said, “If I only had a brain,” and the Tin Man said, “If I only had a heart.” So they were “off to see the Wizard” to see if Oz would give them what they thought they lacked and so desperately longed for. But isn’t it interesting that each one, along “The Yellow Brick Road”, manifested the very traits that they thought they lacked? I’m reminded of the chorus from a song by the group, “America.” “But Oz never did give nothing to the Tin Man, that he didn’t, didn’t already have,” (Tin Man, 1974).
I’ve found it interesting that I, with my Master’s Degree in Social Work, turn to my friend, a retired truck driver, who dropped out of school in the seventh grade, when I need someone to talk things over with. I don’t mean to minimize the value of education, but there are some things like “faith, hope and love,” (1 Corinthians 13:13), that cannot be taught; they are God-given, they are transcendent. You don’t need a college degree, title or position to express and manifest what matters most.
“For I say, through the grace given to me… Think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith…having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them,” (Roman’s 12: 1-8)).“For who makes you to differ from another? And what do you have that you did not receive? Now if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?” (1 Corinthians 4:6-7).
Loren Hardin is a social worker with Southern Ohio Medical Center-Hospice, and can be reached at 740-356-2525 or at [email protected] You can order Loren’s new book, “Straight Paths,” online at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.