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A Tribute To Paul Hemphill: On The Road

Posted: Jul 12, 2009

A Tribute To The Late Paul Hemphill

In the wake of the sad passing of my friend Paul Hemphill, I wanted to write a string of tributes to him. He was a big influence on my writing. In one of my favorite Hemphill books, Too Old To Cry--a collection of articles--there is a section of the book called On The Road. This book is always told from the perspective of a poor southern boy who travelled the world and reported on what he witnessed. Hemphill wrote an interesting perspective in the introduction to this section of the book. Each day this week, I'll try and flash glimpses into Hemphill's life and work...both deserve respect. Here's the introduction to that section of the book published in 1981.

"By now I have lost count of the number of places where I have lived. I can remember Boston and Paris and Atlanta and San Francisco. I can remember also, because of their particular shabbiness, the villa in Vietnam and the barracks at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio and the dollar-a-day rooming house in Montgomery and the free upstairs room in a little town in southeast Kansas where I once played baseball. Each, in its own time, served its purpose. It probably comes out to one domicile per year over the last twenty years since I fled the house where I grew up.

'We southerners of my generation are the first to be able to say that we ran away from home. The ones before us always kind of hung around the place. It was unspeakable for them to announce abrubtly, 'Well, I'll be leaving for St. Louis 'bout Friday.' We were the first of our kin down home to get educated and make some money and be able to buy a ticket to all of those exotic jobs. So we did it, in all of our newfound mobility, and we rode off to Chicago and Kansas City and Los Angeles and New York. And we found a whole new world waiting out there, where the waitress in a diner didn't wipe her nose with her sleeve and blurt Whatchallwant? and where they talked funny and where you actually had people with dark skin driving taxicabs. 'What in the world,' we would ask on our first visit, 'is a taxicab, anyway?'

"My old man used to drive the other men of the family crazy when they were sitting around the parlor smoking cigars and waiting for Mama Nelson to finish with the mashed potatoes. He had just come off the road, having driven his truck to Texas and back, and they knew it and he knew it. Uncle lacey hung around an office all week to sell Prudential insurance. another uncle, the crazed inventor, lay back on the grass at Inman Yards trying to envision new ways to switch boxcars for Southern Railway. 'Yeah, boy,' my old man would tell them, 'that Fort Worth. That Fort Worth's a wild place.' I think that is why I hitched to Missouri when I was a teenager..."

Paul Hemphill is already missed. Tomorrow, I'll highlight more of his work. Goodspeed to you all...

James Calemine

related tags

Nashville,
Atlanta,
Georgia,
Alabama,
Wayfaring,
Discourse,
Sports,
Music,
Mystery and Manners,

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