I spent many hours during the end of the last century, hunched in the dark before an antiquated machine with a big hand crank.
An eye-glaring microfilm machine light shone through plastic strips with faded squibbles, throwing down shadows before me to make out.
After reading microfilm for hours my eyes often hurt, but I persevered: I was on a quest!
Outside the cement walls, the blue skies and glorious ocean breezes of Hawai’i beckoned, but I wanted information and microfilm was where I could find it in those years before Ancestry.com.
One name came up over and over again: James S. Hanks. I examined every mention and started to hate him by the end of long, airless days.
He felt like the Eddie Haskell of 19th century Anderson County, Texas. As the county surveyor, and one of the wealthiest inhabitants, the man was everywhere. As he surveyed the county, he saw the best deals and often was at the county courthouse to snatch it up when property needed to be sold.
“Jimmie Hanks” served one term in the Texas legislature–but someone convinced this perpetually civic-minded man he needed to stay home with his ailing second wife and second batch of children.
Everywhere JS Hanks lived he started a school; he had ten children by his two wives, not to mention two Bell step-sons whom he loved. The James Hanks Schoolhouse was a polling place in the 1846 election. He was a trustee of the Mound Prairie Institute. After he had four daughters in a row, he founded of one of the first co-educational schools in Texas: the Stovall Academy.
James S. Hanks signed deeds, wills, probate reports and served on the school board. He was the postmaster of Tennessee Colony, Texas and owned a gin and mill factory, storehouses and a general store in the surrounding communities of Plentitude and Nechesville. He founded a Masonic Lodge.
Of course he was a Master Mason as well as a member in good standing with the Missionary Baptist Church.
His good works were too much, even to me.
When I wrote my novella An Inconvenient Gamble, I included James S. Hanks as a central character–using his surveying role as the avenue for Charles Moss to work and find a new home in 1867 Anderson County.
My heroine Jenny Duncan, who inherited a horse ranch on a prime piece of real estate, was justifiably suspicious when Hanks and Moss came to survey. I put my own annoyance with Hanks into her words and spilled a lot of my irritation with this upstanding citizen.
We want do-gooders to be hypocrites, don’t we? Click to Tweet
But something happened in the writing of An Inconvenient Gamble. As I “allowed” my James S. Hanks character to roam the story, he began doing unexpected things.
Charles Moss respected him. Jenny Duncan responded with begrudging gratitude when he helped her.
Indeed, my own irritation with him began to thaw.
Colonel James Steele Hanks was merely trying to be a helpful member of his community when few others stepped up. When he saw a need, he responded to it.
What’s wrong with that?
Maybe he was a little high-handed here and there. Maybe he manipulated Charles Moss –but it was for the good of all and no one was hurt.
Certainly Jenny Duncan benefitted both physically and intangibly.
By the time I finished writing the novella, so help me, I liked the man. Click to Tweet
“They” say not to judge a man until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes.
JS Hanks died in 1898, I can’t walk in his shoes except through my imagination.
But it worked. I’m proud to be his great-great-granddaughter.
Even if his hair cut is ridiculous.
If you’re a writer, has writing about your character made you like him/her better? Click to Tweet