A question I get a lot from readers of The Resurrection of Hucklebuck Jones is, where did you come up with the name?
There’s a story behind that.
I grew up in rural Maryland, around people who weren’t above a few tall tales and superstitions. Ours was the birthplace of Harriet Tubman, but Dorchester County also birthed the legend of Big Lizz, the ghost of a former slave who, it is said, can be seen near Greenbrier Swamp carrying her dismembered head as she crosses the road.
So, it was with some skepticism that I pursued the real story of Hucklebuck. I first heard of him when I was a boy. He was said to have lived in a shanty in the woods behind Wheatley’s Church, near my home of Galestown.
But was he real? My only reference point was a day many years ago. My friend Billy and I decided to venture into the woods to see if we could find any truth to the story. Sure enough, we came across the remains of an old wood structure fallen in upon itself. We dug through the site, but found little more than an old phonograph record and some rusty cans. That was the first and last time I was there.
Fast forward forty-five years, to last fall. The protagonist for my book needed a name. Naming characters is harder than you might think. Once I decide upon a name, the character becomes real to me. If I mess it up, I’m stuck with a name I dislike or have to change during the editing process. This happened to Adam Overstreet, one of the main characters in my book, Shunned. He was originally named Kyle until it was pointed out that his name was very similar to another of the lead characters, Miles. Thank goodness for Microsoft Office’s Find and Replace feature.
Anyway, the lead character’s original name was Jocko Jones. I liked the sound of it. One of my oldest and best friends is Dan Jones, and for reasons I cannot remember, I sometimes call him Lucky. Lucky Jones. Jocko Jones sounds like Lucky Jones, so there you go.
Except, it didn’t fit. Jocko Jones sounds like the name of a circus clown, don’t you think? I needed something different. From someplace deep in my memory came Hucklebuck. I used that Find and Replace feature again and Hucklebuck Jones came to life.
That should have been enough, but it wasn’t. I had to know once and for all if the Hucklebuck of my childhood was real or myth. Through Facebook, I got in touch with another old friend who grew up in the area, Suellen Wheatley-Wilkins. Suellen’s childhood home was just across the road from Wheatley’s Church (see a connection there?). She’s a few years older than me, so I hoped she could shed some light on Hucklebuck. And boy did she ever. Here’s what I found out.
First, Hucklebuck was real. His given name was Nathaniel Parker. Hucklebuck was a nickname. You’ll find Mr. Parker’s name in the dedication of my book. Suellen shared in vivid detail Mr. Parker’s story. He arrived in the area on a bus with other migrant workers from Florida or Georgia, exact year unknown, but I’m guessing the early 1950’s. For reasons we’ll never know, Mr. Parker wasn’t on the bus when it left, choosing to put down roots near Wheatley’s Church. He spent most of his time working for one local farmer, but Hucklebuck also cut firewood for others during the fall and winter. He was known to spend his paychecks on drink, so those he worked for usually paid him with food, shoes, and clothing instead of cash.
For a time, Hucklebuck and another migrant called Ready Bill lived together in an old farmhouse. After Ready Bill passed away, Hucklebuck lived alone, eventually moving to that shack in the woods that I came across years later. Suellen’s most vivid memory of Hucklebuck was of him coming to her house when she was ill. She remembered him tearfully rubbing her head. Suellen painted a picture of a happy and caring man who likely had some mental deficiencies. She also recalled a time when Hucklebuck became ill himself and had to go into the hospital. Since he had no money, area farmers chipped in to cover his medical bills.
Sadly, no one knows for sure what happened to Hucklebuck. Eventually he moved on, as migrant workers usually do. I’d like to think his story ended well, because he certainly helped mine end that way. The Hucklebuck of my book has few similarities to the man himself, but I tried to instill his spirit into my writing.
Suellen, thank you for sharing your recollections. If others have memories you’d like to share, please do it in the comments section below. Your feedback is always welcome!
Keep on reading... Paul