Wheatie Wallenburg

        Wheatie Wallenburg was a junkie.  At the time of the Mandolin Case he was middle aged, and on towards elderly.  Demerol was his drug of choice, and all the Docs in town knew it.  Wheatie got his name ’cause he loved the Breakfast of Champions cereal.  His usual breakfast was a bowl of Wheaties, a bag of barbecued potato chips, and a cigar.  Indie told him it was too many browns, but he couldn’t get Wheatie to change.

        Indie was his Doc, and I took care of Wheatie what little bit of time Indie was gone.  Wheatie was a house painter and yard man, and took pride in his work.  No one trimmed shrubs as neat as Wheatie Wallenburg.

        I don’t know how Wheatie got hooked on Demerol.  It was a long time ago.  I do know he was an ex-Marine and was in the first wave to land on Iwo Jima.  He didn’t talk about it much, but one night I made rounds at the hospital and some old war movie was on.  Wheatie just sat there and cried. 

        He only opened up to me on the subject once.  When you hear a man talk about how he’d spread sand on a boat deck in anticipation of combat so he wouldn’t slip on the blood of his buddies…..  well after those stories I never could find it in me to be too judgemental of Wheatie.  He lived through hell so I could live in peace the way I saw it.

        One time the State Board got after Indie and insisted he send Wheatie to rehab.  Indie thought it was a mistake to do that, and I agreed, but the Board threatened to yank Indie’s license so he complied.

        The second night there Wheatie asked for his Demerol.  And the way he told me, he was polite about it.  When the attendant refused, Wheatie hit the man over the head with a Thunderbird wine bottle.  The guy had to have stitches, and filed assault charges.  Ted David got it reduced to probation.

        We knew rehab was a mistake from the get go.  Wheatie had flash-backs and thought he was in a brig.  When you’ve been stabbed in the shins with a machete for begging for water, I can see how a man would think that way.  

        Wheatie in rehab was a wild animal in a cage, and both Indie and I knew it’d be that way.  It is hard for a guy who wears a suit and issues periodic pontifications to understand a cat like Wheatie Wallenburg.

        Wheatie came home and life returned to normal.  He’d check in the hospital twice a month for his Demerol, and Indie’d give it to him.  At first the Medical Board complained every so often, but at Christmas Indie’d write and tell them of Wheatie’s troubles.  He’d close and ask if any of them would kindly look after him.  After a couple of years the letters were returned to sender. 

        Even though Wheatie drank cheap wine he couldn’t be bought for any price.  He said me and Indie were the only folks from that side of town who paid him any mind, and he never forgot it.  Mason Marley was on a fixed income but paid him for his yard work upon completion.  At the end of the month, Indie’d find an odd job for Wheatie whether he needed it done or not.  Wheat worked one day for Jim Olden years ago, but he stiffed him, so Wheatie didn’t go back.  Olden was lucky Wheatie didn’t break his knees.

        One time Wheatie saw they were gonna have a ballet at Sandhills.  He begged me and Marfar to drive him over there, and we did.  He sat in the back seat on the way home and never spoke till I pulled up in the driveway.  “Thanks, Doc.  That’s the most beautiful thing I ever saw in my life.”  At first I though Wheatie was just taken by the picture of the girl in the paper- she had quite a set of legs- but I’m sure he was touched by the performance.  Poor Wheatie.  I wonder how his life would have been if he’d grown up picking the mandolin intead of picking out machine gun nests full of young men to blow up.

        Wheatie was 5’8″ and 165 pounds.  I told him he would put on some weight if he quit smoking, but he didn’t buy into the idea.  He wore 10 1/2 DD shoes.  He lost a couple toes from frostbite one winter, and his feet were flat.  He said they had been all his life, but somehow he hid it from the recruiters when he volunteered.

         Indie taught Wheatie enough bass guitar to where he could get by, and he sat in on some jam sessions at the Cabin.  His favorite was ‘That Good Old Mountain Dew,” and he was proud he could play or sing it in any key.  He did not read much.  His T.V show was ‘Mr. Ed.’  He thought a talking  horse was hilarious.  When someone said it was too silly Wheatie scowled and said he’d had all the serious he wanted in the Pacific.  They didn’t bring it up again.  He liked ‘Driving Miss Daisy.’  He would leave the room if someone turned the channel to a war movie.

        Indie said we should accept Wheatie for what he was, and besides that Wheatie left his life on Iwo Jima.  Indie respected everyone for what they were, and I tried my best to be like Indie on that.  

        You will enjoy more on Wheatie in the Mandolin Case.  He might only be a yard man and a Demerol junkie with no education, but he was a big help.  I need to take him back to the Ballet.  He liked that.

Dr. B

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8 Comments on “Wheatie Wallenburg”

  1. Cindy Carter Says:

    This man is my hero! He is another person that I would want in my corner.

  2. drtombibey Says:

    Ms. Cindy,

    In so many ways, Wheatie is a good man. For all his rough habits, he is very respectful of women and children, and has a soft spot for anyone who has trouble defending themselves.

    Dr. B

  3. Amy Says:

    Dr B — I linked to you from Philangelus’ blog. This story of Wheatie is a good reminder to look deeper for each individual — there may be demons that no one knows about. Thank you for such a moving story!

  4. drtombibey Says:

    Hey Amy,

    Thanks so much for visiting. You picked up on one of the major themes of the Mandolin Case. The characters are not always what they first seem to be. Some of the so-called riff-raff were pretty good folks.

    And I like to think the Mandolin Case celebrates some of the unsung and less powerful folks in this world. It is my effort to immortalize some of my patients in fiction. As a country Doc, I got to know them very well.

    I hope you will come back to visit. As a writer I am still a student, and I have learned much from my readers along the way.

    By the way, Snookers Molesby is a character in the book based on a very cool friend of mine. He dated a girl named Amy. Snookers went out with a lot of women, but Amy was the one he settled down with. His Amy died a while back and it broke Snooker’s heart. So, you carry on a long time in this old world. Maybe that will immortalize her a bit, too.

    Dr. B

  5. Karen Says:

    You know Dr B, we are so quick to judge people who have a ‘crutch’ to help them through life. Although it saddens me to see the breadth and depth of destructive addictions (and the terrible impact it has on kids particularly), most – if not all – of these people are running from something inside of themselves. We can address the surface issues all we like, but unless we find a way to help people find healing for their souls, they’re going to keep self-medicating. My passion is for the kids that grow up in that environment. How can we equip them so the generational cycle is broken and they can deal with their pain some other way? *Sigh* I run optimistic thinking skills programs for parents, teacher and foster carers to try and help break these very cycles. We need to give these kids hope above all else.

    I like Wheatie too. As we say in Australia, he sounds like a good bloke.

  6. drtombibey Says:

    Ms. Karen,

    I agree. Wheatie isn’t a bad guy, but he’d be the first to tell you he’d prefer young people not get messed up like he did.

    Your passion is a very good one. I fear as far as substance abuse we are not making much progress in the U.S.

    Look for a post in the next 48 hours on a lady named Tag. She is a young lawyer, and I think my lady readers will dig her.

    Dr. B

  7. Kim Justesen Says:

    While Wheatie is a great “character” it is the way you present him that is so wonderful. It would be easy to either over-indulge the sentimentality of this person, or to strip away his human qualities and make him a mere stereotype. You’ve shown us this believable character rather than told us about him. He becomes interesting and real through your gentle touch.

    Dr. B, I predict big things for you and your writing! Would that I could turn a phrase with as soft and melodic a way as you have. Should you ever want someone to review a chapter or two before it goes to the agent, I’m waving my hand to volunteer for the job!

    Kim J.

  8. drtombibey Says:

    Ms. Kim,

    Thanks so much. Wheatie rings so true because I know him- I just changed his name to protect his privacy.

    Your last sentence is quite timely. One of the things my agent recommended was to think of a half dozen or so people from different parts of the country to serve as “test readers.”

    The way I understand it, their input would be information for the publisher’s consideration. I can not imagine how anyone would be better qualified than you to read a few chapters and report your thoughts. It is very possible in the last tweak some of their ideas will show up.

    I’d love to put you down to send a few excerpts to after we finish this revision in January.

    Dr. B

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