If James Blanks who has half a right leg could talk, he would scream.
But he can’t talk above a whispered rasp because his voice box was taken out from cancer. And half his right leg was amputated after a fall.
Blanks, 52, can cry, though. And he did, because when Blanks stopped at a Rock Hill charity for help with food, somebody stole his bicycle.
“It wasn’t much but it was mine,” Blanks whispered.
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A friend for years – Tony Simpson – who lives in the same apartment building where Blanks lives in Rock Hill was appalled at the theft.
“This is a man who has been my friend for years, he is a generous man,” said Simpson. “A good neighbor. A friend. He lost his leg. He can’t talk after the cancer operation. But to steal from a man with one leg who can’t talk – that is just plain wrong.”
Blanks said the theft happened at his monthly stop at Pilgrims’ Inn near downtown Rock Hill. Blanks put his bicycle, locked with a chain, in some bushes nearby to try to hide it while he went inside for a few bags of food. The food helps him survive when the money from his monthly Social Security disability check runs out.
“They are great at Pilgrims’ Inn,” Blanks whispered. “The best.”
Blanks limped inside to get his food. He wasn’t away from the bike 10 minutes.
“Gone,” Blanks rasped.
At Pilgrims’ Inn, Sheryl Keeter, a volunteer who has known Blanks for years, was aghast when Blanks came back into the center with his hands filled with food bags and she learned the bicycle was taken.
“It just breaks my heart – he is a good, honest person,” Keeter said.
Pilgrims’ Inn is a nonprofit community service agency that for three decades has helped thousands of people with food, help and hope. Since 1984, Pilgrims’ Inn has provided programs ranging from its food assistance pantry to child care for low-income parents to operating an emergency shelter for women and children who are homeless.
Pilgrims’ Inn operates almost entirely on donations from the community. The incident with the bicycle is isolated and a first for Pilgrims’ Inn, said Juanita Lester, operations director. In the years that Lester has been at Pilgrims’ Inn this is the first and only time anything like this has happened.
Blanks has grown children but is fiercely independent and lives by himself. He worked for years cutting trees, scampering up and down like a squirrel. He worked construction, too, but a fall through a roof a decade ago caused the broken leg that was so severe that his lower leg had to be amputated.
There was no more ability to climb ladders and trees without a lower leg.
It got worse. With a terrible family history of cancer – the disease took his parents and a brother – Blanks who didn’t smoke was hit in the throat. Two surgeries later he is voiceless.
He uses a cellphone to text.
He uses one and a half legs to ride.
He would pedal that bike with one good leg and one prosthetic leg that ends at a sneaker. The leg and a half would churn. His knee would ache but he would pedal.
All that pedaling has left his knee on the injured leg torqued and battered. Doctors have told him that it would be far better if he used a scooter instead of a bicycle. But he didn’t have even enough extra money for food, let alone a scooter.
“A scooter would really help him,” said Simpson, the friend and neighbor. “Man with one leg, he shouldn’t be pedaling all over town.”
Blanks had to get around after the theft. Another friend let him borrow an older bike with a rusty chain. Blanks took the bike right to his apartment and locked it inside.
Where nobody can steal the bicycle, and the independence, from a man with no voice, and half a leg.
Andrew Dys: 803-329-4065
Pilgrims’ Inn, a nonprofit at 236 W. Main Street in Rock Hill, assists hundreds of clients each year. It,operates mainly using community donations. To contact Pilgrims’ Inn to help any client of the center, call 803-327-4227 or write to P.O. Box 11328, Rock Hill, S.C. 29731. Visit the Web site at pilgrimsinn.org.