How I Came to Write This Book – Part 3
Part 3: Good Characters Are Everywhere
Kinston, North Carolina in 1983 was like a foreign country to me. I couldn’t figure out why everyone moved so slowly.
Southern hospitality was a mixed bag. I had no idea how ticked-off people still were to have lost the Civil War. As a damn Yankee, I truly was a foreigner to some. Others, however, were as gracious and kind as a shade-giving magnolia.
Setting the Scene
Our tiny brick office building with the wooden screen door was always opened when we were there…we being Ray and Ruth Kuhlman and me. Mr. and Mrs. Kuhlman, as they insisted I call them, were quite the pair. They had met in Asia during WWII. He had been a Hump Pilot for the Army, flying cargo missions over the Himalayas, and she was a former WAC (member of the Women’s Army Corp). They were two tough birds.
One of the first things they taught me was to pay a bill the day it arrived. They knew they were thought of as damn Yankees, and they also knew that folks used that term with more endearment after word got around town that the Kuhlmans never kept folks waiting for their cash.
After his days in the military, Ray became a pilot for United and retired from them only to never step on an airplane again. They were members of the Officers Club on the Air Force Base in nearby Goldsboro and never lived moments as heady again as those days when they first met. How could anyone? I learned very quickly from them that war for all its ugliness is also one of the most exhilarating experiences one could endure; almost nothing tops it. And as members of The Greatest Generation, they expected no less than everything you had to offer.
They gave me the title, Assistant General Manager, which sounded right fancy, but was anything but. The old-fashioned ballpark we called home, known as Grainger Stadium, was full of legend and lore, and allowed me a fair number of memorable moments, as well.
One moment I’ll never forget was when a truly sad incident occurred. When they dropped the news on me I walked out of the office. I was shocked. I just wanted a chance to collect myself in quiet. I’m not generally a weepy chick, but ol’ Ruth chased me down thinking for sure that’s what I’d be up to. When she found me sitting in one of the green wooden seats in the front row along the third base line, she leaned on the end of the railing of the ramp that led into the comfy confines and said to me, “Girly, that better be the last tear you ever shed if you want to make it in this man’s game.”
Years later, when I first saw the movie A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN and heard Tom Hanks utter similar words, I nearly fell out of my chair. Ruth Kuhlman was a woman who knew exactly how to work with the men of that time. I learned as much from her as anybody. She loved to let her husband think he was in charge, but she wore the iron pants that ran that Single-A Minor League club (affiliated in those days with the Toronto Blue Jays).
Characters You May Recognize
One day, a big man came in dressed in bibbed overalls and a straw hat. I had trouble with the lazy drawl of the Carolinas on a good day, let alone when someone was speaking with a mouth full of chaw. I had no idea what he said to Mrs. Kuhlman. It was the first time I ever actually saw someone pull out a “wad of dough that could choke a horse.”
He peeled off a few hundred dollar bills, tipped his hat and left. “What the heck just happened here,” I asked Mrs. Kuhlman. She said to me that was (so-and-so), the richest tobacco farmer in eastern North Carolina. He just came in to pay for his season tickets.
I never did get to know that man, but you might notice one of the characters in my book, FATIMA AND THE SONS OF ABRAHAM is loosely based on the guy. There’s a little bit of Ruth Kuhlman in my character, Marietta as well.
Ohh, Lordy. I’m just gettin’ started. Tune in to my next installment for more of the characters of K-town.