Kinky Palm

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“Don’t know. Don’t know who said “ ’Lo, Kinky,’” said Kinky Palm that warm summer night at the fairgrounds many years ago. I said it and I can only hope, looking back, that it was out of kindness which I was prone to and not clowning, which I was also prone to. It was probably a little of both. If Kinky had another name, almost no one knew it. Everyone called him Kinky Palm.

I had never seen him up-close before or after that time there in the wheel-rutted, dirt parking lot of the county fair. A group of my teen-aged friends and I were just leaving around dark when we spotted him.

When I called him by name, a faint but amused smile softened his face, a face that wore the deep lines of a life lived hard. He was a drunk when he could get enough money for booze. He lived in an old weather-beaten shack near Big Pond about five or six miles east of town, across the railroad tracks, and in the country.

It was dark there in the country. He must have stumbled numbers of times climbing the two tall steps leading up to his rickety porch in that old shack. Wherever he went, he walked. How he survived all those years without being struck by a car on those dark back roads is known only to God.

Kinky was a local legend, but not in a good way. He was peculiar, a loner, and odd. For that, he was the brunt of jokes and cruel, merciless teasing by kids. Some bullied him, some probably even beat him up just for the fun of it. He was easy prey, frail, and thirsty for a drink.

Wispy thin and rather tallish, wiry loose strands of thin, dirty gray hair sat on top of his head. He wore dingy tee-shirts marred with weeks of ground-in dirt and faded blue jeans that hung low on his bony frame. His hands resembled gnarly roots of ginger, crippled and knotty. Mostly I remember his eyes; squinty, red-rimmed, and cloudy. They spoke his sad truth in volumes.

I’ve thought of him over the years, remembering that night of our brief exchange so many years ago at the county fair. I’ve wondered why he was even at the fair. Maybe someone took pity and bought him some food. Maybe someone gave him a bottle of liquor. Maybe he knew that would happen if he showed up. We saw him when he appeared to be heading out with a long six-mile walk ahead of him over those dark back roads. He haunts me.

Who was Kinky Palm? More importantly, who could he have been? What circumstances led to that old shack, those dirty tee-shirts, and those cloudy eyes? What decisions?

In my thoughts, I’ve wondered if he was a veteran of the war, who and where his family was, if he had grown up in those parts close to that old shack.

I’ve wondered what sober thoughts went through his mind in the clear of a new day and what demons tormented him in the lonely dark. I’ve wondered if he ever knew love. I’ll never know. All I know is I remember with a deep sadness a lost life lived by a man known as Kinky Palm. Who could have saved Kinky?

About Bonnie Hathcock

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Bonnie C. Hathcock, author of Lilac Dreams, has over 35 years of experience in corporate America in leadership positions in sales, marketing, and human resources. Most recently, she was the chief human resources officer and senior vice president for Humana Inc., a Fortune 100 corporation with over $40b in revenues and 40,000 employees.

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