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Dr Ron's Laughter Clinic, Dr Ron's Laughter Clinic: The Ballad Of Harry Jemima

Ron Pataky tells the richly comic tale concerning much loved Harry Jemima, a man whose glistening pate would have made a billiard ball "look positively unkempt".

The unique three-quarter century saga of a small burger and fries operation in the village of Woodchuck, Wyoming ("Pop: 293 minus one - Vernal Lee Finstermocker is attending barber college in Laramie"), is undoubtedly less awesome than the phenomenal success of McDonald's over the past six decades or so. In most ways, however, it is infinitely more colorful.

Hairless Harry's, an institution in Woodchuck from its founding at the height of the depression until the unfortunate death of its owner in 1979, was a seven-stool, four-table emporium whose grill was first fired up in the fall of 1929 by an even-then-toothless cherub of a man named Harry Jemima.

Although connected in no way with the famous pancake lady, Harry was dubbed Uncle Jemima almost from the beginning by the local kids. It was an affectionate nickname he would carry for nearly fifty years, during which time he served as friend, father confessor, and all-round counselor to generations of youngsters growing up during those larkalong, carefree, years in Woodchuck.

Although Hairless Harry's proved a place of assembly for all young folks, boys in particular seemed drawn to the humble roadside shack, undaunted by its patched screen door, peeling wallpaper, and ever-present flies. Always inexplicably polite when around Harry, they came in droves - at lunchtime, after school, and weekends during the school year, dawn until closing during the pleasant summers.

They came to eat, of course. Mostly, though, they came to talk, for hours on end concerning the perennial topics of teens everywhere - touted pimple cures, music, unsympathetic parents, unconscionable teachers, cars ... and girls.

As one might reasonably guess, the "hairless" in his chosen appellative was the result of the utterly obvious fact that Harold Walter Franklin Jemima (the Third), had not so much as a single wisp of hair on his visible body (indeed, one can only marvel at the speculation that must have gone on during those years concerning what secrets the covered portions of his dough-like frame might have held).

In any event, the off-hand remark of one young wag (who went on to have his own weekly column in the nearby Tungsten Bugle), summed it up for most. "Forget all of the baldness analogies you've ever heard," the budding humorist observed, "Uncle Jemima's head makes the average billiard ball look positively unkempt!"

Harry Jemima's untimely death in 1979 came about as an indirect result of his lifelong penchant for nibbling bird gravel, a near-addiction that dated back to the time in his early teens when he'd first discovered the delights of pigeon breeding. As some children develop a bizarre fondness for consuming dirt, as some farmers get absolutely hooked on munching alfalfa, so it was that Harry cultivated his lifelong predilection for bird gravel.

Suffice it to say, since he was still inordinately robust at the time of his death at age 85, the ingestion of coarse bits of battered stone over the years had not affected his health in the least.

Harry's unfortunate demise was set in motion the morning he decided to close shop for the first Saturday ever in order to attend the Knights of Pythias picnic, held each September at the nearby reservoir, where burnt-orange tables and native stone grills gave the event an undeniable aura of big-city finery.

His decision was confirmed when he learned that dessert that pleasant autumn day would consist of individual honey-bran loaves absolutely awash in his favorite gooseberry preserves, "put up" only days before by the good ladies of the Woodchuck Affirmation Guild. (Among other things, Harry, like most of the others in town, had always been a bit curious as to what in hell these gals were "affirming"). In any event, he was smitten at the same time with the news that later in the evening an Italian fellow all the way from the city would present a professional "silhouette" mandolin concert from behind an imported Venetian silk screen.

It was by all odds the social event of the season, and Harry, in a moment of uncharacteristic abandon, was coaxed into taking a quick swim (full clothed, of course) with the rest of the gang, most of whom (not, as it turned out, that it would have mattered) were many years his junior.

For Harry, the "swim" lasted only slightly longer than it'd take piggy-backed anvils to reach the bottom of a shallow hot tub. Loaded down as usual with the ballast of the bird gravel he had consumed during the day, he exhibited the floatation capabilities of a cannon ball, sinking like a veritable shot to the bottom of an area estimated to be twenty feet, four and three-eighths inches deep. Only after a dozen or so volunteer divers had spent nearly an hour determining that they could not so much as budge his enormous weight was a construction crane summoned from a bridge site in the next county.

Alas, it was at that point well after sundown before his gravel-laden body finally was hoisted from the deep, ripping a steel railing from a protruding dock as it was swung, ponderously, inward to shore. Harry was pronounced dead at precisely 8:47 p.m., by T. Crocket Murfle, a taxidermist from nearby Clover and the only person present remotely qualified to officiate at the unhappy occasion.

Harry's funeral, needless to say, was a thoroughly emotional affair. Ex-students reportedly returned home for the occasion from as far away as Cairo, London, Moscow, and Peru (Illinois, Ohio, Idaho, and Indiana, that is). The block-long procession of cars, trucks, and ATVs spanned the entire length of the Woodchuck village limits as his body, apron-clad and virtually smothered in brilliant autumn leaves, was carted to the cemetery in the back of his familiar azure panel truck, its sides cut away for the occasion. Emblazoned in bright crimson script on each rusted door was "Eat at Hairless Harry's."

At the grave site, Baptist Pastor Furney Funkalude read words over Harry, concluding with the peaceful observation that, "Death, brothers and sisters, is nature's gentle way of telling us to slow down." A few, if appearances were an indication, thought that "nature" had evinced an unnecessarily abrupt deceleration in Harry's case. But, many of his lifelong friends nevertheless bobbed their heads in solemn agreement, and there were several young children who blew soft kisses in the general direction of the mound of leaves that nearly concealed his lifeless remains.

The much loved Harry Jemima, a man whose glistening pate would have made a billiard ball "look positively unkempt," was gone. Ceremoniously buried with him were his beloved spatula, a quart crock of his favorite gravel, and the single worn key to Hairless Harry's. It would, of course, never open again.

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