How I Came to Write This Book – Part 4
Part 4: O.K. vs. T.P.
My character T.P. in FATIMA AND THE SONS OF ABRAHAM is loosely based on a man I knew as O.K. during my minor league days in North Carolina. He was not homeless like T.P., but he was a talented golfer. One day he showed up at the office with a gift for me, beckoning me outside into the parking area to present it. He opened the trunk of his caddie and withdrew a shiny new putter. Then, he handed me a driver, teed up a ball on the tree lawn along the nearby edge of the blacktop lot, and said, “Show me what you got.”
I knew how to play, but was by no means a player. I still recall the goofy peach pantsuit and matching spike-heel pumps I was wearing that day – At first I thought I would have no chance of connecting with the ball with any kind of authority in those shoes. But, as it turned out, they must have given me some stability when they sunk into the grass. I hit the drive of my life. It cleared the lot and landed in a yard on the next block, as straight and true as a thoroughbred winner in the homestretch.
O.K. was thrilled. He slapped himself on the knee as he bent over with a giggle and said, “I just knew you was a player!” Then he invited me to hit a round with him. I was a little nervous about accepting (because he was old enough to be my father, and black… Such was my mentality in those days). But he was a die-hard fan who attended most of our games. I felt safe with him.
Golf Lessons vs. Life Lessons
My instincts were correct, and O.K. gave me lessons that day that far surpassed anything I could learn on a golf course. He picked me up at the office and soon crossed the metaphorical tracks (in this case, the highway that connected Greenville to Kinston). Within minutes I was in another world – a poor black one.
I had heard the term shanty-town, but had never seen one until that day. The links-style course we drove to was in need of a mountain of TLC, but we played in the too-tall grass anyway. Afterward he introduced me to a drink he called silly-bub (which I’m sure could have made me quite silly if I had drunk more than a small glass, but O.K. didn’t try to over-serve me). I believe he did, however, serve a higher purpose that day by mentoring a young naïve girl from Ohio. He showed me a side to life I needed to see.
I don’t recall if it was him or someone else who told me that he had once been the pro at the local Country Club. I don’t know if it’s true, but I assume so. I am fascinated by the thought of another African-American breaking barriers like the ones Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby shattered in the MLB.
Every baseball team has its group of die-hards. In our case, and at that time in Kinston, they sat in separate sections by choice. But, on nights when there weren’t many more fans than the black folks behind home plate and the white ones behind the home team dugout, they would holler back and forth at one another with a running commentary of jokes about what was happening on the field. Oh, how I wish I had taped just one of those evenings. They sometimes had me (and each other) in tears. Of course, O.K., was the king of their comedy.
He was an unforgettable figure at a time when I wish I would have been less self-absorbed, and more aware of the potential long-term friendships I could have enjoyed. I did keep in touch with a few people after I left my days in the weeds of A-ball, but not enough. Besides people like O.K., there were the Brownings of Greenville who opened their home to me for a couple months when I was a refugee from college on an internship I could barely afford (in the athletic department at East Carolina University), as well as the kids from the neighborhood. (I’ll share more about them in my next blog). What a stunad I was to not nurture relationships with such wonderful people!
God Bless O.K., the Brownings, and all the rest, wherever they are today.