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I've now had time to fully appreciate how and when I started to get to know "Humpy Stewat". It began as a grade 10 project in Social Sciences on Today's Community. Sometimes I seem to get into trouble even with the best intentions. I had applied at our Community hospital as a volunteer and I was accepted and began as a 'Candy Striper'. Three times a week after school from 4.00-7.30 pm I worked with some of the elderly patients. The nurses seemed to be overworked and the odd jobs I could do were appreciated. The patients often had no family, or if they had, no regular visitors came. I think that the time we took just to listen and talk and learn about their lives brightened up their days.
Who was Humpy Stewat? He was a diminutive gnarled old man with a grizzled face that always had a two or three days growth of unshaved whiskers. He was a drinker. Everybody knew him. He could appear at any old time in one of his over-friendly moods when he needed to visit. He would arrive in wrinkled clothes stained with spilled food, cigarette burns and whatever dirt he bumped into. Humpy would time his visits for when a group was gathered for a cool beer at our local watering hole or his biological clock sounded mealtime. I guess he figured that someone would feed him. He was harmless and everyone tolerated him. He'd be drinking as often as he could, and I don't think I ever saw him sober until I found him as a patient on Ward C. Every month or so he became a patient to dry out and get some wholesome food into him. I don't think he ever chose to spend a week or more in hospital, but the Chief of Police with the support of the magistrate would send him there forbeefing up.
For the first time in my life I saw the horror of withdrawal from alcohol and heard the hallucinations of pink elephants or whatever creatures Humpy saw. I sat beside his bed and bathed his head with a cold compress. I didn't know anything about this man, but as I heard the words in his jumble of cries, curses and pleas for mercy, little images of a past time came to light. No one seemed to know when Humpy Stewat first came to our small town of Spoonerville. He just seemed to be a permanent fixture. I don't think anyone hurt him intentionally or put him down. Although once, some boys set fire to his paper beer bag for a joke as he lay asleep in the gutter. He woke up and his hands were burned as he rescued his bottle. For him that bottle was a life support system. He had to spend a week in hospital because of the burns. That's the only incident I knew about where Humpy was a victim, except for his own failures in caring for himself.
Gradually he became more rested. He wasn't very talkative, but he was polite enough. He didn't pinch like old Mr. Burger always tried to do.
My sister Georgina was visiting our aunt in Kansas in the U.S. where she was working as an archivist at the University of Kansas. Her visit was for three weeks and I think Auntie Maude just wanted help in some of her work. Georgina was more disciplined than I was and had an eye for keeping everything in its place. I was not so bothered by a messy room and one of the major complaints of my mom and dad was why can't you clean your room'. Sometimes I could scream with frustration and eventually, like every month or two, I'd try to get my room into shape. Georgina on the other hand had a room that was always neat and tidy and at times I just hated her for it.
My name is Meghan Small and I have two brothers, Andrew and Michael, who are both away at university. Georgina and I in the view of the outside world are identical twins, although there is a story about how Georgina came into the family. But that's another story. We have had many adventures together and she is in reality one of my best friends. I am fourteen and I love to ride horses, dance and discover mysteries. We live on a small orchard farm outside the rural town called Spoonerville.
Georgina, in one of her letters home, described the work that Auntie Maude was doing. She was trying to trace the history of Jesse James, and wanted to separate the fact from the folklore that had sprung up over the last one hundred years since he and his gang robbed the banks and trains in the Wild West. Justice back then was often swift when a robber or murderer was caught. Local justice could mean the hanging tree.
Auntie Maude herself was rather a black sheep in the family. It was only once a year at Christmas that we received a fat letter describing what she had done over the last year. She never married and was nearly 75 years old. She was my father's eldest aunt, who had moved with her parents after the First World War to Kansas. She visited once when I was seven and she seemed to be a dynamo of activity. She was a renowned historian and had written books about the Great Depression of the 30's and biographies of the local and state personalities. She attracted much attention and often found that people had bequeathed their family records, diaries, and family trees to her. Sometimes it was only after death of the family that some of the ghosts buried in the closets for decades had a chance to come to the light of day.
In Auntie Maude's research about bank robberies she found that everyone thought the bank in Furnace Cliffs, Kansas was robbed by Jesse James acting on his own. The loot was never found. In later life, Frank James denied that his younger brother Jesse could have done it. He was in a different place at the time, robbing another bank. The robbery at Furnace Cliffs, Kansas was never solved.
This is where our auntie's intuition came to the fore; it seemed that the local press had described the robbery as a series of disasters, unbelievable good luck, and heroic effort by the robber.