Henry Aaron is 'The Last Hero'

Even as a teenager, Henry was expressing his lack of comfort with public life. On subjects both complex and innocuous, he would not easily divulge information, and he developed an early suspicion of anyone who took an interest in him. The reason, he would later say, was not the result of any personal trauma, but, rather, that of growing up in Mobile, where the black credo of survival was to focus on the work and let it speak for itself. It was a trait that was equal parts Her¬bert and Stella. Not only did Stella remind him never to be ostentatious but Herbert and all black males in Mobile knew what could happen to a black man who drew too much attention to himself. "My grandfather used to say all the time, 'They don't want you to get too high. Know your place,' " recalled Henry's nephew, Tommie Aaron, Jr. "I think a lot of that rubbed off on all of us."

In fact, Henry would employ the recipe for star power best articu¬lated in the old Western The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance: "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend." That, too, was ?tting, because as a movie fan, Henry fell in love with Westerns. He did not volunteer much truth, so the scribes printed the legend. There was more than one drawback to Henry's approach, however: As dif?cult as it was to piece together his early years, writers—virtually all of them white, carrying the prejudices against blacks that were common at the time—?lled in the blanks for him, de?ned him, creating a cari¬cature, from which he would not easily escape.

There was no magic moment to his childhood, no secret formula or bolt of lightning that transformed the broomstick -swinging boy into a baseball-playing man. He was not a particularly charismatic teenager, but he was single-minded. When he was not playing base¬ball, he spent his time on Three Mile Creek or in the pool halls of the Avenue, smoking with the adults.

Henry would occasionally cut the postage stamp of grass in front of the house. He would gather wood as Herbert demanded and he did his chores dutifully. Sometimes the two would clash, as fathers and sons do, over the future. Herbert, who earned sixteen cents an hour on Pinto Island, would have three quarters in his pocket and give his son two. There was, Herbert would say, an opportunity for Henry to have more than three coins in his pocket, to have, perhaps, an easier go of life if he would care more about school.

Like the rest of the Aaron children, Henry attended Morning Star Baptist Church, a mandatory requirement in Stella Aaron's house. For his part, Herbert didn't care much for the ?re -and -brimstone carrying-on that was part of the tradition of the southern black Bap¬tist Church. He preferred the more sober Episcopal Church, and attended somewhat regularly. After church, Henry would rush over to Carver Park, and that was where part of the legend was actually true.

Page
Join the Discussion
You are using an outdated version of Internet Explorer. Please click here to upgrade your browser in order to comment.
blog comments powered by Disqus
 
You Might Also Like...