Category Archives: Mississippi

The Right Tool for the Job

Yesterday I had a “hold my beer & wachis” moment. You see, there’s this old lemon tree in my backyard that the previous owner hacked up so badly that it was never going to produce anything, and it had gone back to root stock.  Those thorns are dangerous.

IMG_7656This is my husband’s bow saw. Part of his dowry. Yes, he came into the marriage with tools. I had never seen a bow saw, and he used it often trimming trees wherever we lived.  I love his bow saw. Now it is my inheritance from him.

With this saw, I worked at the trunk of that old lemon tree without success.  A coiled rope under the carport, a light bulb comes on above my head. I tie one end of the rope to my car and the other end to the trunk of that tree. I drive forward slowly, feeling the rope straining taunt. I hear the tree creaking, and the rope straining; I see in my rear view mirror it’s leaning forward, I keep moving. Then bang! The rope snaps, the tree springs back upright. The rope decapitates my newly planted hydrangea bush and lands in my back door neighbors yard, the other end still tied to the lemon tree.

I’m nothing if not persistent. Now this project has become a challenge of wills. I try again and again, seven times tying that rope and inching forward.

IMG_7655In between, I see what is holding that tree. It has a root about as big as my arm. I pull out the bow saw again and attack that root. Like magic, the tree is released and I’m able (with the seventh rope and car pulling) to rip loose and drag that thorny thing across the yard.  Death to you, old tree. Death to you.

But every death is a reminder of every other death.

I held that bow saw in my arms and hugged it like a newborn babe. Thank you God. Thank you Robert.

Sometimes something has bound up so strong that we just need to cut the root and free it – and ourselves. And move slowly forward.

Going Home

What does it mean to go home? And where is home?

I pondered these questions as I watched the pallbearers load the dark wooden casket of my friend and parishioner, Betty Sue, a sweet Mississippi Delta lady, into the black hearse. She was born in Clarksdale, MS and had lived in Memphis for most of her life.  But she was always a Mississippi girl, and wanted to be buried back down south in a family plot in a very old cemetery in Jackson, MS.

Her husband, children and grandchildren followed behind their matriarch, stoic upper lips readying for the long ride down to Mississippi. The Polo Club had brought lunch and toddies. The family was large. Each having thoughts of their loved one, that she would be with them no more. Homilies of eternal life with Jesus and belief in the resurrection are of only a little comfort amidst such deep grief of a sudden death.

Family love sustains. I watched the son hold his daughter’s hand, then grasp his weary-eyed father’s elbow to guide him to the car for the ride to the cemetery. A grandson stood aside, wiping tears on his suitcoat, something his grandmother would have admonished him for doing. He spoke a few words prior to the homily, memories of his grandmother he will always hold dear.

Betty Sue was a member of a Bible class that met in members’ homes for almost 20 years. The members of the class were long time friends. Several of the women began their careers fresh from college as airline stewardesses for Southern Airways. That was back when women were the only stewards on those flights, and men were the only passengers. Women lit the men’s cigarettes, poured their drinks, and fetched their briefcases from the overhead bins. The women in the Bible class love each other deeply. I led the class for a couple of years, until my schedule became too full. I miss them.

I thought about these women, all getting older and fearful that each year there will be fewer of them.  And I thought about Betty Sue and how she is dancing with the angels knowing she is heading back to her beloved Mississippi, going home to rest eternal in the shifting soils of Jackson to a cemetery that holds Confederate generals, governors, judges and mayors. And of course Eudora Welty.

Which got me to thinking about my own burial some day.  My husband and I have talked about how much we love the Mississippi River, and the Natchez Trace and how much these landmarks have been a part of our lives. We’ve decided that when we die we want half our ashes sprinkled somewhere in a woodsy area along the Trace, and the other half dumped into the Mississippi River.  So at least our ashes will dissolve into the soils that we’ve frequented. Home. In a sense.

Then I think about the river and where those waters and our ashes might end up …. perhaps resting in the soils of Africa or China, or at the bottom of the Gulf. But we’ll never know. We’ll be like Betty Sue, with folks who loved us trailing behind us as we go home, where ever it might be.

What does “going home” mean to you?

Where I’m From

The Jacoby Store in Louisiana,
where my father grew up.

A model of my fathers old red truck.
Walthall Elementary School, Hattiesburg
(I alway likened it to the Alamo)

I’m from Mamaw Bass and Papa James,
the piney woods and Gore Springs,
butter beans and blackeyed peas,
Mason jars and bumble bees.

I’m from Aunt Emma, Alvin, Helen and Jacoby,
Walthall School and the Seale-Lily.
I’m from wire clotheslines and wooden washboards,
Swings on porches and torn screen doors.

I’m from tree houses in sweet gum trees,

The Beverly Drive-in Theater
burned this past year.

the sweet aroma of burning leaves,
shrimp gumbo and the Atchafalaya River,
from Cajun music and a guitar picker.

I’m from Edwards Street and the Dairy Dream,
red eye gravy and turnip greens,
rabbits in cages and more chicken please,
hot water poured over Luzianne tea.

I’m from Hattiesburg and a wooden boat
Antoine, Pierre and a billy goat,
playing under the house, the Beverly Drive-In Theater,
From diabetes and congestive heart failure.

I’m from cane poles and mule skinners,
all you can eat buffets and catfish dinners
buttermilk cornbread, coffee and chicory,
barbequed ribs smoked with hickory.

I’m from South Carolina and Louisiana,
Anjou pears and the Bouie River,
a big old house with an old red roof,
and ceilings that were never waterproof.

I’m from a faded red truck with a running board,
from wanting things we couldn’t afford,
from a fig tree and a hand-me-down,
Hattiesburg, Laurel and the Mississippi Sound.

I’m from Lake Shelby and Kamper Park,
kids catching fireflies after dark,
from the Golden Rule and love thy neighbor,
and burning crosses and Vernon Dahmer.

From sit-ins and a cow-pulled wagon,
Woodstock and a Beretta hand gun,
fig trees, rabbits and home-grown tomatoes,
catsup poured over French fried potatoes.

I’m from fried corn and cracklin bread,
the Sunday paper in Mama’s bed,
Moonshine and hurricane Camille,
From don’t let mama behind the wheel.

I’m from a petticoat and an undershirt,
digging to China and playing in the dirt,
from the (cedar) Christmas Tree that Daddy’d provide
To playing I Spy, and a country ride.

I’m from space heaters and fire halls,
wooden steps and popcorn balls,
old wooden radios with glass tubes,
and clumsy metal trays for ice cubes.

I’m from Bayou Lafourche and the Natchez Trace,
from roller skates and playing chase,
from a Catholic, a Methodist and a Baptist,
from a bigot, a blowhard, and an absurdist.

I’m all these things inside of me,
as exciting and embarrassing as they may be.
Using this formula as a rule of thumb,
Now, can you tell me, where are you from?