12+ As a 7th grader, I became a Mental Health Center client after being labeled a “sexual pervert” by my Aunt Dot. That label was given to me for what I did one day in gym class. After Mumma and Da parted ways, some in my family thought that I was well on my way down a path that was far more sinister.
Gas Money is a heartwarming, honest narrative that shows how the everyday people we come in contact with can shape our lives forever.
Packed with much humor, lots of inspiration and occasional sadness, the collection of true stories captures the perspective and imagination of a six-year-old black boy growing up in 1960s Virginia and his soul-searching journey over the next five decades.
As a 7th grader, I became a Mental Health Center client after being labeled a “sexual pervert” by my Aunt Dot. That label was given to me for what I did one day in gym class. After Mumma and Da parted ways, some in my family thought that I was well on my way down a path that was far more sinister.
While Coach Dickens was setting up the volleyball net, a girl (her name wasn’t important) came over and whispered, “If you follow me in the girls’ locker room, I’ll let you see my breasts!” I wasn’t going to miss that opportunity because I hadn’t seen any breasts! I took about two steps into the girls’ locker room before Coach Dickens snatched me by the back of my neck, “Troy Lewis, where in the hell do you think you’re going?” Uh oh. I was marched up to the principal’s office to see Mr. Meredith, and he had Mrs. Arnetta Kidd, the school secretary, call Grandma Latimore for someone to come pick me up. I guess they felt like they had to get me off the school premises as quickly as possible! To make matters worse, Mumma was at work, so Grandma Latimore took the phone call from Mrs. Kidd. Was there anything worse at 12 years old than standing in the secretary’s office listening to her explain to your grandmother that you are being sent home from school because you were caught sneaking in the girls’ locker room to look at a half naked 12-year-old girl? Grandma Latimore lived for another 23 years, but I sincerely thought she would be dead when I got home from school. Faye came down to pick me up, and she wasn’t happy as we walked toward her car. For each step, there was a smack to the back of my head! After starting the car and getting on 33, she gave me one more smack for good measure.
Aunt Dot lived across the field from Grandma and Grandpop Latimore’s house. When she saw Faye’s car pull up, she got in her tan 1970 two-door Chevy Malibu to see what was going on. It was unusual for Faye to stop by that early in the afternoon. Aunt Dot came in and asked, “Why are you home from school early? Why did Faye have to come pick you up? Are you sick?” “Sort of,” said Faye, as she explained what I had been up to while puffing on her Parliament cigarette that came in the royal blue and white pack. Aunt Dot’s contempt for me was evident when she said, “What are you? Some kind of sexual pervert?” I didn’t even know what a “pervert” was, but her face told me it wasn’t good. She went on, “There aren’t any perverts in the Latimore family, and you aren’t going to be the first.” She turned her head in Faye’s direction. “It’s obvious this boy needs some help, and isn’t that what that new Center in Saluda where you work is supposed to do? Help people? Let one of those psychiatrist people talk some sense into his big head! I don’t know what’s wrong with him! I think he’s lost his mind.”
Counseling may have been on the verge of becoming commonplace throughout the U.S., but it was cutting edge for Middlesex County in 1973. Anyone who “talked” to someone about a problem was considered “weird” or worse, “insane.” Counseling worked for me about 40 years later, but that’s another story. At the time, psychiatry was something that took place on television, not in Middlesex County. And if people happened to drive by the Middle Peninsula-Northern Neck Mental Health Center and saw your car in the tiny parking lot, you might as well have posted it in the Southside Sentinel that you had a mental health problem because it was going to be all over the county by the next day. That’s just the way it was in a small town.
Faye made an appointment for me with Dr. Jack Billups the following morning. Looking back, I was surprised Faye and Aunt Dot didn’t set up an emergency appointment for me the previous evening! Faye picked me up at 7:30, and we drove in silence for the 2 miles up to the Mental Health Center. She was still mad at me. We pulled into the driveway of the Center, and I followed Faye inside. She took a seat at her desk, and dismissed me by pointing her index finger in the direction of Dr. Billups’ office. That was my signal to get away from her! Dr. Billups greeted me at the top of the stairs and ushered me into his office. “Have a seat on the couch and tell me why you are here.” Wow, this really is like The Bob Newhart Show! I sat down on his couch. “I’m here because I am a sexual pervert.” A smile creased his face as he sought more information. Why is he smiling? This isn’t funny! I’m a pervert! “Please explain to me why you think that you’re a pervert.” “Well, I was in 6th period gym class, and a girl walked over to me and told me that if I followed her into the girls’ locker room she would let me see her breasts. I followed her in there, and Coach Dickens caught me.” “Is that it?” “Yes, sir.” He asked if I touched her. “No, sir.” “Did anything else happen?” “No, sir. There wasn’t time for anything else to happen.” “Okay, here’s my opinion. You aren’t a sexual pervert.” “Really?” “No, I don’t think you are. I think you’re going to be okay.” “I’m not a pervert?” “No, you’re just 12! Let’s go downstairs and get your Aunt Faye to take you to school.” My counseling session lasted all of 5 minutes, but Dr. Billups’ assessment wasn’t good enough for my family. They wanted continued counseling for the first pervert in the family!
Faye picked me up Monday mornings at 7:30 for the next few weeks, but we never stopped at the Center. At least she realized I wasn’t a pervert! We drove from one end of Middlesex County to the other in her grey 1972 Datsun 240SX for an hour. As we drove “up and down the county,” she puffed on her Parliament cigarettes and drank coffee, while we talked about life, family, girls and homework. She then dropped me off at school, winked and said, “Remember, this is our secret and don’t you tell anybody!” It took about 2 months to be officially “rehabilitated.” Our secret remained just that until I revealed the truth to Mumma some 40 years later. “Are you kidding me? I’m gonna kill Faye!”
About the author:
Troy and his book, Gas Money, have been featured on C-SPAN Book TV, Steve Adubato’s One-on-One PBS TV program, radio, various newspapers and a review in The Huffington Post.
Since the launch of his book, Troy has had numerous public appearances and speaking engagements. He is a dynamic speaker who shares his inspirational stories with schools, libraries, fund-raisers and book clubs.
Troy currently resides in New Jersey and enjoys writing. Gas Money is his first foray into the literary world.
Author's US/Can Giveaway:
10 signed, print copies of Gas Money