Robert Lee Contributing Columnist
February 27, 2014
In the valley that I am from in Tennessee, there was a mother and father named May and Gulliver. There were seven sons and one daughter. They all lived in a two bedroom home. So they were very poor as were most people.
They had one son that was very special. His name was Jerry. He was a child that was almost dropped through the cracks. During the late 50s and early 60s, Tennessee was struggling, as were most southern states. With all its wisdom, the state told Jerry’s parents that Jerry was retarded and could not be taught anything. There were no special schools in our area at that time that could help Jerry.
Sad thing is that Jerry did not need any help for he was not retarded. He just could not talk to where you could understand him. His words were slurred. It did not help in his outward appearance that his right side was twisted and crippled. There was no one to fight for Jerry and the help that he needed. His parents knew only what they were told, they were just simple county folks. But to just look at the child then, what else would you think?
All Jerry had was time; the other kids had school. As I got older, I started to notice Jerry more. Jerry was always waiting for the school bus and his brothers. As I got to know the family better, I found out that Jerry could talk. Not like you and I but in grunts and moans. After time you could, believe it or not, understand him. As time went by, Jerry got older, and he would drag his crippled little body around our valley. Everyone knew Jerry, and they all looked out for him. He would go from house to house and ditch to ditch looking for drink bottles. The going rate was 1 cent per bottle.
Jerry saved all his money. When the rest of the kids had nothing, he had his money. Jerry saved and saved his money until one day he got it across to his father that he wanted a lawn mower. He bought an old used gas push mower when the adults in the valley only had the old time push mowers with the revolving blades.
Jerry knew what he was doing. Adults would come to Jerry and try to borrow his mower. Jerry would have nothing to do with that. He would not even allow his father to borrow it. Here was the catch — he charged. Jerry hooked all that could afford his service. He charged $2 per yard. That was great for Jerry at a time when most of the people in the valley made $8 a day. Jerry saved even harder, and he did without everything.
When the other kids had money for drinks and candy, he did without. Jerry knew he what he wanted, and he got it; a brand new bike. He could not peddle it, but he could rest his crippled leg on the peddle and push, and push he did. He pushed his little crippled body all over our valley.
The great state of Tennessee said that he would never learn anything. They tried to get the parents, when he was very young, to put him in an asylum for the retarded. He would have been lost forever.
One day after 30 years of being gone, I went back to my valley. I swear on my eyes the first person that I saw was Jerry. He was sitting at the only stop sign in the valley, on a new red bike. I pulled up to him and asked him if he knew who I was. He grunted out Robert Lee. The last time Jerry had seen me was when I was nine years old.
I was 39 when he saw me on that day. But Tennessee said that he would never be able to remember anything. All I can say is that southern people take care of their special babies.