If you would have told me that I’d be writing about half-rubber, I would have thought of latex or maybe a new character in the X Men saga. The truth is that I live in half-rubber’s cradle. Savannah shares this designation with Charleston, South Carolina, because both cities have forged the game involving a stick, half of a rubber ball, and imaginary base runners into something culturally significant. It is of the South, like grits and, God love them, men who put a hand on the small of your back as you cross a threshold.
Scott Smith at the Coastal Heritage Society asked me, “Have you thought about writing something on half-rubber?” But, that was the third after two universal signs that had already pointed me in the direction of this story. The first was an afternoon with our son at Savannah’s Hull Park. What were these guys trying to hit with a stick? It doesn’t even bounce right, I thought. Half-rubber. Then, the following day, our family showed up at Target only to find a half-rubber sitting in the bottom of our cart. (Target doesn’t sell half-rubbers.)
By the time I found myself sitting in noted Savannah historian Hugh Golson‘s parlor on Duffy Street, I wondered what vortex I’d stumbled upon. Here I was sitting in front of a man who co-authored a book with a fantastic title like Andrew Low and the Sign of the Buck, and I’m asking about half-rubber. I was hooked though.
I found out about author John Warley on the Savannah Book Festival website and gave this author of the novel Bethesda’s Child a call to see if he ever played half-rubber. Turns out he did – around Sullivan’s Island. Oh, and had I ever been to Beaufort, South Carolina? I hadn’t, and John offered to take me on an informal tour. I showed up and we had a fantastic chat about the sad burning of the books that were once housed in the Beaufort library. It’s a story that reminds me of having a crystal goblet bounce awkwardly in your hands as you try to save it only to watch hit smash at your feet. While we’re in John’s car, his bud Pat Conroy calls and I’m afforded a rare opportunity to ask him if he ever played half-rubber. The writer in me sees the value of a quote from him, but he had never played the game. Nice. Half-rubber had just whipped around him like a tornado – in neighborhoods, at the Citadel, on the beaches – but he hadn’t even heard of it.
Last weekend we went to Charleston and watched Fred “Batman” Smith play half-rubber with some North Charleston tournament legends. Afterward, we followed him back to his lathe where he took a chunk of poplar and rounded it into a bat before our eyes and without a straight-edge to guide him.