A few weeks ago, I stopped at the Coastal Courier and talked with Pat Watkins. He showed me a book called “Seasons of Liberty” by Gary Smiley and asked if I had read it. I had never even heard of it.
I read the introduction, which said the book was fiction but set Hinesville. The places in the book are actual places, and a few of the names were of actual people from Hinesville. This struck my curiosity. I wanted to read it and gather tidbits of history about Hinesville, so Pat loaned me the book.
Smiley was a radio announcer for a time and served in the Air Force. He entered federal government service and retired in 1997 as a hospital resource management officer on Fort Stewart, having earned a master’s degree in health service management. Smiley, who now lives in Savannah, has done extensive public speaking and has a great theatrical background.
The book’s main character is a sickly boy named Billy who turns 13 as the story begins. The story covers the next 10 years of Billy’s life, such as finding a girl whom he falls in love with as he is going into the eighth grade and all the trials they go through.
Billy has several guys he pals around with. The story keeps up with their lives and how each life entwined as the years go by. Billy is faced with racism. He remembered, when he was 6, seeing the water coolers in his father’s pharmacy marked “white only” and “colored.” Billy thought the colored one must have colored water like Kool-Aid coming from it. His father explained it to him and told him that life is not fair but hopefully, one day, it would change.
Billy was always bullied. One day, a new military family moved in nearby, and a boy taught Billy karate. Billy gained confidence and could now defend himself.
The story also talks about Bradwell Institute teachers such as Snag Johnson, Albert Rogers, Willie May Stafford and Faye Darsey, the senior-class English teacher who was so strict that one was certainly ready for college classes after satisfactorily completing hers.
Many places in Hinesville are mentioned, such as the Oakdale housing area at the end of West Court Street. Oakdale was built during World War II for Camp Stewart personnel, and half of it was torn down after the war. Fifty or so families lived there, and most were military dependents. There was a vacant lot nearby that many young couples parked in at night.
The Ponderosa was a popular place for young people to see who else was there, order a Coke and hamburger, park, eat and talk to pass the time. I remember going to the Ponderosa in 1963; it was still popular then. Billy said there was a sulfur well on the premises that made all the fountain drinks taste bad, but the young people didn’t mind.
The Pal Theater on Main Street was popular, as was the Stewart Drive-In where great barbeque sandwiches were served. I believe it was in the area where Walmart and Lowe’s are today. The last time I went there was to see “Walking Tall.” At age 18, Billy watched “Lure of the Wilderness,” a movie made in the Okefenokee Swamp, at the drive-in.
A favorite eating place mentioned in the story was the Cherokee Restaurant in Midway, which was the place to go for seafood. That is where I ate my first shrimp. I had to taste them on several trips before I learned to like them. Gill’s Grill in Richmond Hill and the Pirate’s House and Johnny Harris restaurants in Savannah were the family’s favorite eating places when out of town.
A deputy sheriff saw Billy run a red light on West Court and Main Street and told his father at the drugstore about it. Billy’s new bike was padlocked for a month for breaking the law, and he now had to walk all over town.
The book also tells about the boys during Vietnam and how each served his country. Billy attended University of Georgia for one year and did not study as he should have. He joined the Air force instead of being drafted into the Army. This was the best part of the book to me.
I enjoyed the book. I related to many of the places and names mentioned. It was an inspiring book with a wonderful, wholesome story. There are lessons one can learn from the story.
I am glad I read it. I highly recommend that you read it, especially if you are from Hinesville or Liberty County.