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Two Stories

1. The Story of All the Adopted Bean Children

Since so many of you kept after me about this subject, here is the history of Adoniram, Byram, Ella, and Everett, all adopted by the Beans in the 1930s. They actually came in sets, Ella and Everett arriving first in 1930 and the other two about seven years later to the best of my recollection.

The Beans had only three natural children: that blasted Freddy, the eldest, followed by James (Jinx) and their sister Madeline, who was also known as Minx. (She gave herself that name as a kind of tribute to her brother “Jinx” whom she idolized.) I digress, though. Mrs. Bean would have loved more children, but Madeline’s birth was a terribly difficult one which made it impossible for her to bear any more children. As a matter of fact, old Doc Winterpool told her she would be risking her life should she become pregnant again. She was heartbroken. When because of their scandalous treatment of them, Kate and Peter N. lost custody of their niece and nephew, Ella and Everett, the Beans jumped at the chance of adopting them. There were some questions about their suitability as parents as Freddy was already beginning to be known as quite the hellraiser in school and around town, but the Beans prevailed and the adoption went through.

Adoniram R. Smith and Byram R. Jones, who had been separated when very young, were reunited as siblings in Centerboro by a series of quite remarkable coincidences involving unpleasant relatives, the orphanage run by Miss Threep down in Dutch Flats, a group of gypsies, and a shared uncommon middle name (It was Rudolph, not Rollins as some have suggested.). As if the Beans didn’t have enough mouths to feed, especially with the voracious Freddy lazing about, they decided to add two more to the breakfast table and adopted the two boys while Ella and Everett were traveling abroad in Europe with Mrs. Bean’s sister. And then there were seven children—but for a short time only.

Shortly after Adoniram and Byram had been adopted, the entire nation was shocked by the tragic news from Lakehurst, New Jersey, when the Hindenburg went up (or down?) in flames. Let’s see, that would have been in 1937. A few days after that, the Beans received word that Mrs. Bean’s sister had booked a last minute passage on the dirigible, and that she and Ella and Everett had perished in the disaster. Well, the Beans were inconsolable for months, and that was it for any more adoptions. As for Adoniram and Byram, they had a pretty normal boyhood on the farm and outstanding high school careers. Adoniram was in my graduating class as a matter of fact and actually entered the army the same week as Herb and I did, but we lost touch after basic training. He fought in Europe and got wounded at the Battle of the Bulge. He came home in 1946, went to Purdue on the G.I. Bill, and eventually became a professor of some sort—I think it was in mechanical engineering—at M.I.T. Byram joined the Navy in 1943 and was assigned to the Seabees in the Pacific. When he was discharged, he stayed in San Diego, and he and some of his Navy buddies started up a housing construction firm that prospered in the post-War boom. Adoniram, a lifelong bachelor, passed away in 1987, but Byram is still alive. He retired comfortably and still lives in San Diego with his wife Betty.

Now, I would have to say that those two boys were pretty successful in life. Wouldn’t you? It makes me wonder, though. Ad (as we called him) and Byram were both raised in the same home by the same nice people as was Freddy. Yet Freddy turned out to be a thoroughly disreputable reprobate, while they became responsible, respectable citizens, probably the kind you’d like living next door to you instead of the people who actually do. Jinx and Madeline turned out OK, too, he with his pest extermination business and comedy routines and she with her travel articles and books. So then, was Freddy a “bad seed,” a wayward product of the old genetic shuffle? Or is there some deeper mystery? What could account for such a difference in temperament and character in him? And what of his mysterious disappearance? Did he really wind up in Montana as the story goes? Is he living out his last days in a nursing home somewhere, as some would have it? Or did he literally vanish from the face of the earth? There are times when I regain some flickering, fleeting memories of my first two weeks of missing time, time I may have been on Mars, and in one of these brief and admittedly surrealistic visions, I believe I saw Freddy ordering Martians about as they loaded peanuts on a conveyer belt. When I related this to my doctor, he told me to make sure I was taking my medications, but I was taking all my meds right on schedule!

2. The True Story of the "Ignormus"

Would you like to hear the true story of the Ignormus? Mr. Brooks wrote a bland parable which he called Freddy and the Ignormus. As in all of his stories set in and around Centerboro, Brooks took actual events and personages and liberally distorted facts about them to suit his narrative purposes--as he did in his treatment of me and Herb Garble, for example--and sometimes his renditions of historical facts, while "thinly veiled" to those who knew those facts, became accepted at face value by those who did not.

Beginning in the early 1800s and for many years thereafter, there had circulated among the more simple-minded residents of Centerboro stories of a baneful creature that came to be called the "Ignormus." It was supposed to have been responsible for numerous cattle and sheep mutilations, crop circles (long, long before they were called crop circles), cases of amnesia and lost time, lights in the sky over the Adirondacks, dry wells, infertility, hysterical fits, a rash of cases of missing bicycles, and, more recently, poor standardized test scores at Centerboro High School. The mysterious influence of the Ignormus was supposed to have emanated from the depths of the Big Woods, a few miles north of Centerboro.

Of course, the tiny minority of educated and/or rational types around town dismissed all the rumors of this malign force as so much superstitious baloney.  In fact the very name "Ignormus" came from a misunderstanding of something said by a pastor of the Free Association Church of Centerboro (long defunct) who preached a sermon in 1892 against the whispered tales of some evil power in the Centerboro area. (It did not come from a mispronunciation or misspelling of ignoramus as many people have reasonably assumed.) A transcript of his sermon reveals the following line: "And surely He abominates the folly and enormous ignorance of those who in their folly and enormous ignorance foolishly and ignorantly believe in such folly." A number of half-dozing (can you blame them?) congregants later agreed over ale in the local tavern that they had heard Pastor Wilberforce say: "He abominates an ignormus and 'tis foolish to ignore it."  Thus given a proper name and incubated in a culture of old wives' tales and third grade educations, the Ignormus assumed a persistent, shadowy presence in the mass consciousness of Centerboro. That's pretty much the story of the genesis of the Ignormus. Any unexplained phenomenon like a rain of frogs or a husband going out bowling two nights in a row, a plague of lawn grubs or an unexpected pregnancy, an outbreak of food poisoning or even the Martian visitation--why, it was due to the Ignormus, of course.

Mr. Brooks, well-acquainted with the folkways and tall tales of Centerboro, capitalized on all this Ignormus nonsense and wrote a book based on it. It was supposed to be about courage, facing one's fears, and all that rubbish. I suppose in some second-rate way it did get the point across, but I always thought some college professor of cultural anthropology should have come up here and investigated and done a real study and published in some journal or other. Why, it's actually not too late, so if any professor is interested, contact me. I can put you up in my house for a nominal fee (or even less expensively in my toolshed) while you do your interviews or whatever it is you do. And we can talk about the Martians, too.

Anyway, before I end this part of my ruminations about Centerboro, I'll recount the facts about Freddy and the Ignormus--not Brooks's book, but the real story.  A few of us in Centerboro who knew that infernal Freddy Bean for what he was also knew Freddy had been feeding a gambling habit of long standing. He always needed cash to pay off debts. At one point he had been pawning his own mother's silver and jewelry and other stuff that he no doubt had stolen in burglaries here and there. He'd take the loot out of town to Syracuse or Rome and dump it in pawnshops under an assumed name. I know this for a fact because I was acquainted with several pawnshop owners in those cities. (I used to collect accordions and frequent the shops all over--believe me, when someone needs quick cash, the musical instruments are the first to go.) Anyway, I was in a shop in Utica, New York, when I happened to glance out the front window and see Freddy approaching the door. I made myself inconspicuous behind a room divider and watched as he pawned two silver hairbrushes and an assortment of little odds and ends. When he left, I asked to see the brushes, and sure enough, they were inscribed with Mrs. Bean's initials. There was no use saying anything about this to the law because his parents were still making excuses for him at the time, but I knew what was what. So I dropped some broad hints here and there about what was going on. Freddy got wind of the stories and laughed them off. He said he'd get to the bottom of the hairbrushes and other items missing from the Bean household. He'd sarcastically joke around saying, "Must be the Ignormus," or "I'll nail the Ignormus's hide to the side of the barn." He could be pretty genial and charming when he wanted to be, and a lot of people were fooled by his bravado. Finally, some fifteen-year-old farmboy (initials J.W.) got caught breaking and entering at Mrs. Bingle's house in Centerboro. While the boy was cooling his jets in the pokey, Freddy went to visit him. Soon afterward, the boy confessed to other burglaries, including several at the Bean farm. Because of his age, he went to the reformatory for only a year. When he was released, he and Freddy were great pals, and before you know it, J.W. was driving around town in a nice used Hudson. That's all there was to Freddy and the Ignormus.

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