Granville Wyche Burgess: Shoeless Joe and Me

Rain. It started just as we left Greenwich at 3:30 pm on July 11. I was traveling with Reba’s aunt on our way to pick up Reba in Princeton, then on to Anna’s home in Talmage, PA to spend the night, then to Burlington, NC and my sister’s home, spend the night again, then on to Greenville, SC, where my friend, Ward, had loaned us his house for two days, all in preparation for my Sunday afternoon reading at M. Judson Booksellers.

It rained all the way to Princeton, so hard at times that cars pulled over. We had to slow down to a crawl on the streets near the train station, the drain pipes had backed up so much that the roads were flooded. Fortunately, it let up a little as Reba drove and we managed to get to bed at a reasonable hour. Errands the next day, including buying groceries for Anna since she doesn’t drive, pushed our start time back from 9 am till 1 pm, so I got to practice my Edgar Cayce meditation on patience. The drive down I-81, despite all the trucks, is always beautiful with mountains on both sides. Again, a reasonable bedtime and a pleasurable morning at my sister’s. I always enjoy sitting in her beautiful kitchen and just catching up. We managed to put together a quick breakfast with Reba’s sister-in-law and husband the next morning. They are always delightful company. And, finally, on to Greenville on Saturday morning. It’s a long drive from Greenwich to Greenville—some 700 hundred miles–, but, fortunately, we have enjoyable stopping places along the way.

We had a party for old friends at Ward’s on Saturday night. And by “old,” I mean people I have known for some 60+ years. I am always grateful to be able to get together with such folks. I thanked many of them for lending me their last names for my novel. When I was creating the narrative and it was time for a name, I just picked one at random from my Greenville friends. In this manner, I came up with names for the antagonist, the leather-lunger, the owner of the “good” team, the national-anthem singer, Crusher, and several people Jimmy and Rhoda meet on their trip to the mountains. I love having my friends somehow be a part of this novel, my homage to my hometown.

Greenville has become such a cosmopolitan city. Reba and I had brunch at Up On The Roof, a restaurant with great views of the mountains. I thought back to my youth when the only place to eat besides one’s home was the S and S cafeteria. We then watched the finals of the Tennis Open, but were spared Roger Federer’s excruciating loss because I had to go to M. Judson Booksellers for my reading.

The bookstore is wonderful—another great addition to cosmopolitan Greenville. It has a café inside and is spacious and, of course, filled with exciting books. For my reading, I described aspects of life in Greenville in the days of Shoeless Joe, then read relevant passages from the book. I talked about how life in the textile mills was incredibly hard, ending with the harrowing image that the lint was so thick that workers sometimes vomited balls of cotton. I talked about how Shoeless hated his first trips to the big leagues because his teammates teased him about being such a yokel—so much so that he twice simply returned to Greenville. I read passages about how he got his nickname and one about how the Chicago White Sox lawyer enticed him to lie about his participation in the Black Sox Scandal, and I ended with a baseball game sequence in which a potato plays an important part in an on-field argument.

There were some 40 people at the reading—apparently a record for a reading at M. Judson’s. Some of them were my friends, but many of them were new to the bookstore.

The line to have books signed was long, which, of course, was thrilling for me. I loved talking to a woman who was new to Greenville and came to the reading just to learn more about the town. The person who had been instrumental in getting the Shoeless Joe Museum underway was there, and I gladly acknowledged her. And many of my friends had never been to the bookstore before, so I was happy that I was able to introduce them to it. We need our independent bookstores, and M. Judson is a beauty.

All in all, Going Back to Greenville has been a wonderful experience—and I still have the Greenville Drive baseball game to look forward to! Stay tuned!

Granville Wyche Burgess is an Emmy-nominated playwright and novelist. He is the author of The Last At-Bat of Shoeless Joe, a novel about Shoeless Joe Jackson, published by Chickadee Prince, and which is available on Kindle, and in paperback from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and your local bookstore.