by Joe Goodell
With more demand than inquiry, but with earnest sincerity, I am frequently asked, “What brought you to Mississippi?”
Late in September, the unrelenting summer sun, a hammer which regards Mississippi as its own private anvil, yielded to a bright refreshing low humidity cool, which suggested that a pleasant southern fall was finally underway. No longer a heat-index shut-in, I cruised through my handsome neighborhood in Madison, then north through Canton, host to the world’s finest flea market. I moved northward toward Vaughan, site of the Casey Jones mishap and the ancient shop of Greg Harkins’ hand crafted chairs, and on to MS 17, past the amusing sign with an arrow pointing towards “Downtown Pickens.”
Elegant churches and the court house added a gratifying rendezvous with memory in Lexington, where I had too briefly lived in 1943, and where the 4H Club was founded in 1907. Regrettably, there hadn’t been time that year for me to attend a rustic, yet stately classroom such as those in The Little Red Schoolhouse, which I’d just visited in Richland, where tall pines and spreading oaks, like sylvan sentinels, stand benevolent watch.
In Tchula, where the lakes look more like rivers, the hills give way to the rich and vast alluvial sprawl of the South’s south, the Mississippi Delta, a land which confounds a man’s sense of distance and demands the best of his skill, endurance and imagination.
Mississippi Delta Field
My journey turned towards Greenwood, past the Egypt Plantation, where in 1969, a back-hoe unearthed a mysterious glass and iron coffin with the remains of a young lady clad in expensive red velvet, perfectly preserved since the 1830’s.
Mississippi River at Vicksburg
I’ve enjoyed visiting Greenwood often, with its Blues heritage, and Cottonlandia, and the old Opera House on Front Street, and Cotton Row, where three rivers (one of these, the Tallahatchie, whose bridge is memorialized by Bobbie Gentry) become the Yazoo. On that day, the Carroll House on Market Street had become the Junior League of Jackson for the filming of Kathryn Stockett’s story. A planter, way out west beyond River Road, was gearing up his cotton picker, grateful for the no-rain forecast, which told him that his valuable crop would stay dry.
All of the exits from Greenwood could direct my odyssey to places with boundless capacity for adventure. Some of them can, and do, hold time in abeyance, and all would offer me an immersion into compelling culture: Indianola, Leland, Greenville, the River itself, Clarksdale, (and Ground Zero Blues Club) Grenada, Oxford (and its university), Vardaman (and its sweet potatoes), Tupelo, (with Elvis’ tiny home) Winona, Starkville, (and its university) Columbus, (and the Waverley mansion).
William Faulkner’s Rowan Oak, Oxford, MS
But none that day could have matched for me the enchanting moment when conscious thought absented itself. It was as if, beckoned by a wild imperative out there where the chimeric swell of “white gold” was being nibbled away in long paths as straight as six o’clock by the lumbering pickers, where I submitted to what some might call latent lunacy, but what I’d say was an untethered fascination, although expressed with a laconic, “Hey!, Y’all giv’n’ rides t’day?”
Initially perplexed, and astonished of course, my genial host and master of machines, assumed command of the moment and welcomed me aboard his John Deere Series 99 Cotton Picker for a round trip across that extensive acreage. A short stop to unload at the module builder allowed him a pause for breath in his spirited mini-course, enriched with statistics, enhanced with digressions about hard work and long hours, a saga of modern day cotton picking.
Mississippi Delta Cotton Field
So, reflecting a bit during my drive home along our magnificent Natchez Trace Parkway….. what was it, really, that brought me to Mississippi? Indeed! A fast car and a one-way ticket, that’s what.
The Welcome to Mississippi photo is licensed under CC By 4.0 — linked to Wikimedia.org
All other photos by Deborah Fagan Carpenter