Wednesday, 12 August 2009


With sadness today I learnt of the death of James Lee Hobbs, of Stapleton GA, one of those who gave me invaluable information and great friendliness when I was researching Hand Me My Travelin' Shoes. He died this June 17, aged 83, and is buried at Pleasant Grove Baptist Church, Avera, GA.

Here's how I first encountered Mr. Hobbs, on August 5, 2001 (from Chapter 7):

At the 66 gas station, an old guy filling up his quaint, green 1970s sedan tells me I should speak to Mr. James Lee Hobbs: “He knows all about this part of the world, and he’ll just love to tell you about it, too. He’s an old-timer,” he says approvingly, and gives me directions to the house.

The quiet orderliness of Stapleton’s streets is disrupted only by the anarchy of people driving around them on white golf carts, as if they were cars. There’s a craze for it here. It gives suburbia a hint of the sinister - as if a desperate Patrick McGooghan might come panicking round the corner at any moment, pursued by a lumbering giant balloon.

I walk up the steps in the humming heat and cross the wonderfully wide old porch to the door of Mr. Hobbs’ big white house, its paint faded and flaking, and from the porch I look across the road at a nouveau Southfork of a place where a fat pink woman finishes whizzing a strimmer and promptly sits astride a mower as if disciplining a rodeo steed by squashing it. Her vast garden accommodates pagodas, a hot tub, fountains and a motorhome. Its best feature is a row of blood-red canna lilies, thick as a hedge and functioning as one, running forty feet along the edge of her property, facing the big old wooden house.

Mr. James Lee Hobbs comes to the door in his vest and trousers and, as so often, the first minute or two of conversation takes place with some apparent reluctance: he keeps the screen door between us and I can barely make out more than his silhouette. But then he emerges, pale and freckled, the once-ginger hair on his chest now faded to off-white like the paint on his house. He invites me to sit on a rocker on the verandah. The sound of the mower dies across the way and the fitful sounds of mosquitos replace it. We sit in the warm evening air, gazing out toward the small crossroads that is downtown Stapleton, and he tells me how the place used to be.

The uncredited photograph of his house was found online today here.


Ken said...

That's truly interesting. James Hobbs is was a cousin of mine, always seeing him when I visited my Grandparents. But after their deaths, never ventured into that part of the world. Just curious to hear what type of man you found him to be and how he assisted you. I never knew him closely, but always the kindest person you'd ever meet.

Michael Gray said...

Thank you. Yes, he was kind and gracious to me, and thoughtful about the past and present of Stapleton in particular and C20Georgia in general.

I'd like to think that my book is absolutely full of similarly interesting encounters. I hope you're going to buy it!