(C) Copyright 2010,2016 Dain L. Schult - due to the positive responses I've received so far, and thank you by the way, I decided to post another chapter of this manuscript I've been writing - a historical novel where Southern, baseball and railroad history all converge into the odyssey one young boy experiences through to old age.
Introduction to Hinky
“Now if you think I'm happy down there You’re on the right track,
And you ain't just whistling Dixie
You ain't just slapping your knee I'm a grandson of the Southland, boys,
An heir to the Confederacy”
“You Ain’t Just Whistling Dixie” by The Bellamy Brothers
Nothing, and I mean nothing, beats Southern heat and humidity as a humbling experience. It reaches out and grabs you with a tender ferocity you cannot fully appreciate until whatever clothes you’re wearing have begun to glue themselves to you with the complete assurance that you will now fully appreciate just how powerful the sun can be. As that power radiated off the ground and back up on Hinky for another round, as he meandered down the path to the creek, he was trying to rid himself of his soggy cloth prison to reach a more natural position in life – buck naked.
Hinky was in his element as a young man of the times, a veritable king of all he surveyed in the woods before him. The creek beckoned as an immediate respite to his current stickiness, an oasis of liquid privacy, of cool retreat. In the seclusion of the woods, he and the creek would join together in naturalism, serene in the knowledge that no intruders would witness the event.
So who was Hinky?
James Allen Johnson, a name offered up to honor ancestors, had fallen upon Hinky’s shoulders and slipped on down into position on school registration rolls but little where else. Could have been Dinky or Stinky, but it turned out to be Hinky and that, in itself, was a mystery. Perhaps as a young buck later, that moniker would disappear, to be supplanted by Jimmy Johnson to later show up in the obituaries as J.A. Johnson, but for right now, Hinky was in his element.
Northwest Georgia in the summer of 1908 had the same weather-beaten look as if the Yankees were still in the neighborhood causing mischief. Forty-four years after all the fighting on the way to Atlanta and nothing had changed to tame the weather or much of the landscape. The hardscrabble existence of life, after the Yankees and the Rebs had left the playing field, continued on lo these many years later.
The richness of the soil, the life-giving element of the firmaments, had already been robbed by King Cotton and there was erosion everywhere you looked – not just in the soil itself, but in the souls of the people who tried to make the soil do what it had done decades before. Only the returns grew more meager with each planting. The color was sucked out of everything, as if life was revolving in a sepia toned world devoid of spice, creativity or excitement.
Hinky’s parents rarely smiled. Hinky wasn’t supposed to be here. He was a surprise to everyone including himself. Baby of the family, due for spoiling in better future times, he arrived too late for much love now. His parent’s love had been robbed in the past by the cruelty of diseases for which no money was available to cure nor for which a cure was then available had the money been available. When your earliest memories are of hearing about most of your older brothers and sisters succumbing to scarlet fever and the like, Death becomes a playmate that keeps score. Expectations are lowered. You won’t be considered the Great White Hope of the family – the first to break through to an educated future where locked doors of opportunity swing open with a simple push. If you survive to adulthood and can help out on the farm, that is enough.
The trouble for Hinky was that he was the one who wanted to push on those doors just the same.
And Hinky had contracted a fever himself – one that was all consuming and but non fulfilling just yet – a love for baseball complete with the childhood dream of playing it forever as a big league player. He cadged newspapers whenever and wherever he could eagerly seek out the sports pages where he could disappear into the crowds cheering on the star players of that age…Cy Young, Christy Mathewson and a hulking left-handed hurler by the name of “Rube” Waddell.
Hinky fancied himself as a pitcher. He imitated the wind-up of pitchers the best he could. Playing baseball at his age was condition challenged. No playing field beckoned other than a pasture that was relatively clear of cow patties. None of his buddies could afford real baseball gear any more than Hinky could. So the game they played relied as much on imagination as it did on any skill or facility. Bats were most often sticks. Balls were sometimes rubber, sometimes leather, sometimes rocks with some cloth and tape applied as if that would make it more presentable.
Visions of winning the big game in front of an adoring crowd floated over Hinky like the creek water that was flowing over him in his rustic temperature alteration position. He lay back and let the cooling liquid carry him off of the field and into the dugout of his mind. Suddenly the cheering crowd he heard turned to the crunching, grinding sound of worn boots methodically crashing through the underbrush. Which brings us to Hinky’s daddy.