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v v CHAPTER 5 Homeless M y mother, Joyce Ardys Maxwell (Honey), was born to Clarence and Ruby Maxwell in Bogalusa, Louisiana, on May 24, 1926. My granddad, whose name I bear as my middle name, grew up in Mississippi and, at the age of six, worked for the railroad as a water boy, carrying buckets of water to the men who laid the railroad tracks. He worked for the Gulf, Mobile and Ohio Railroad until he retired at sixty-­ five. When he was young, my grandfather’s goal was to become a locomotive engineer. One day, as a fireman (the person who threw coal or wood into the steam engine) in his early twenties, he was fueling the train engine when the engineer stuck his head out the window. A large bird slammed right into the engineer’s face, totally blinding him. He staggered back into the locomotive and yelled to my granddad that he would have to steer the train by himself. My granddad took over the controls and drove the train in safely. After that, he was promoted to engineer, a job he held until he retired. Being a train engineer at that time was like being an astronaut in our time. Everyone respected and loved him. He was my hero. I loved to sit in his backyard under the tall pine trees listening to his stories. My grandmother, Ruby Maxwell, grew up in Louisiana with four older brothers and a sister. My grandmother was more of a mother to me than Honey could be and was my inspiration throughout my life. Their small house in Jackson, Mississippi, was the only real home I ever knew. At one point, my brothers, Honey, and I lived with them for nearly a year, but we were too much for them to handle after Granddad retired. My mother, Honey, at age eighteen, and my father on their wedding day in 1945. Courtesy of the Sarpalius family. Homeless • 31 My grandmother told me that when Honey was three years old, she got very sick, running a high fever. Following the custom at that time, my grandparents put her in a bathtub packed with ice to try to reduce her fever. She recovered, but over time she became extremely hyperactive and easily agitated. My grandmother always thought that the high fever had affected Honey’s mind. As years passed, Honey grew tall and beautiful. She had black hair and liquid brown eyes. Growing up in Jackson, Mississippi, she was a typical southern belle: popular, smart, and talented as both a cook and an artist. To me she looked like Ava Gardner. When she was a senior in high school, she attended a dance where she met my father, Robert William Sarpalius, who was in town for basic training for the US Army Air Force. They fell in love instantly. My father was six foot two and very handsome. He had black hair and a killer smile, plus he was in uniform, a big turn-­ on for teenage girls. They married eight days later. My father had joined the US Army Air Force at age nineteen. He quickly became a navigator for the B-29 bomber and was promoted to lieutenant. He and his crew had flown to Mississippi from Chicago for a few weeks of training. Following their marriage, my father’s crew had taken off without him so he could drive back to Chicago with his bride. On their way, the plane developed mechanical problems and crashed. Tragically, all the other men in his crew were killed. Bill Farell, the pilot, was my father’s friend. I was named in his honor. Honey and Bob Sarpalius had three children. I was the oldest, born in Los Angeles; Bobby, named after Dad, was born in Sacramento; and Karl, named after my father’s dad, was born in Houston. Honey also gave birth to three stillborn boys. When I was about eight years old, we were living in La Porte, Texas, in an old green house with a large screened-­ in porch that overlooked a bayou. By this time my father had been promoted to captain. One day my mother had been drinking heavily, and because he was late getting home, she was convinced my father was out with another woman. She had cooked a big pot of lima beans and ham for dinner. When he finally drove in the driveway, Honey grabbed that pot of lima beans and headed for the door...

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