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Coming Home to Mississippi

Coming Home to Mississippi

Charline R. McCord
Judy H. Tucker
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 160
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  • Book Info
    Coming Home to Mississippi
    Book Description:

    In this collection, essayists examine their lives, their memories of Mississippi, the reasons they left the state, and what drew them back. They talk about how life differs and wears on you in the far-flung parts of our nation, and the qualities that make Mississippi unique.

    The writers from all corners of the state are as diverse as the regions from which they come. They are of different races, different life experiences, different talents, and different temperaments. Yet in acceding to the magical lure of Mississippi they are in many ways alike. Their roots are deep in the rich soil of this state, and they come from strong families that valued education and promoted an indomitable optimism. Successes stem from a passion, usually emerging early in life, that burns within them. But that passion is tempered, disciplined, encouraged, and influenced by the people around them, as well as the landscape and the history of their times.These essays give us a glimpse of the people and places that nurtured the young lives of the essayists and offered the values that directed them as they sought their dreams elsewhere. Often they found that opportunity was within their grasp in their home state and came back to realize their full potential. They came back, in some cases, to retire to a familiar place of pleasant memories, to family and to friends. They all have a love and respect for Mississippi and continue, back home, to use their talents to help make the state an even better place to live.

    eISBN: 978-1-62103-937-2
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. 1-4)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. 5-8)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 9-13)
    Charline R. McCord and Judy H. Tucker

    Coming Home to Mississippiis the companion to our earlier collectionGrowing Up in Mississippi. Growing Up aspires to tell the reader what makes a Mississippian, to somehow explain the influences within the state that propel our citizens of the world to accomplish so much.

    Coming Homeexamines Mississippians’ comings and goings—why they leave, where they go, what they do there, and why they always know in their bones they will be back some day. As editors, we have a vested interest in this subject; we too ventured out of state, lingered a while, and then came on back...

  4. William Dunlap
    (pp. 15-17)

    We expatriate Mississippians carry with us a burden of history and memory that would be far harder to bear were there not so many of us out there that the mathematical probability of our running into one another, anywhere on the planet, remains extremely high.

    In 1996 I was in Hanoi working on an exhibition of contemporary art from that troubled land which would travel throughout the United States. Our two nations had not had diplomatic relations since 1974, but things were slowly changing. Overseeing this delicate process was a man who was a legend in the State Department—Chargé...

  5. Morgan Freeman
    (pp. 19-23)

    I grew up in a segregated society, but I never gave it much thought until I was older. That was just the way life was for us at the time.

    Most of my friends and family were never concerned about why we had to sit in the balcony of the Paramount Theater; we simply wanted to see the movies. It was obvious blacks attended separate schools, but our parents were just as concerned about our grades as the white parents were. It never occurred to me to demand admission to the floor seats in the theater or entrance into the...

  6. Norma Watkins
    (pp. 25-31)

    For me, coming home to Mississippi was never easy. “You were notorious,” my cousin Thomas Naylor said. If you flee the place where you were born, leaving a husband and four children behind, youarenotorious, no matter how good your reasons for going might be. I left to escape bigotry and to go to graduate school, but I drove off with a civil rights lawyer and my departure was so thoroughly mingled with lust, every reason became suspect.

    My father had a stroke and I began returning to Mississippi more often to visit him. On one of those trips...

  7. William Jeanes
    (pp. 33-39)

    You should know that I am living in Mississippi because of a series of accidents and happenstance. My entire life has been guided by accidents and happenstance, so this does not feel unusual to me. But it’s only fair to say that I am not here altogether by choice.

    Beginning in 1960, I left Mississippi three times and came back three times. Whether that makes me fortunate or qualifies me as a slow learner, I’m not sure. But I’m here, and inertia being what it is at the age when most things I buy will last a lifetime, I’m likely...

  8. Willie Morris
    (pp. 41-45)

    My people settled and founded Mississippi—warriors and politicians and editors—and I was born and raised into it, growing up in a town, half delta and half hills, before the television culture and the new Dixie suburbia, absorbing mindlessly the brooding physical beauty of the land, going straight through all of school with the same white boys and girls. We were touched implicitly, even without knowing it, with the schizophrenia of race and imbued in the deep way in which feeling becomes stronger than thought with the tacit acceptance that Mississippi was different, with a more profound inwardness and...

  9. Cynthia Walker
    (pp. 47-53)

    We are living under the H in a bungalow that once belonged to 1930s chanteuse Ruth Etting, friend of gangster Bugsy Siegel, who lived more under the O or maybe even between the O and the first L. We are wishing for rain to dance on our new tin roof like Tennessee’s cat. Irony grows on trees in Hollywood. It falls to the ground like the ripened citrus fruit in our backyard. We have snow dogs in a place where it never snows. We have to pay out-of-state tuition to send Morrison to Ole Miss. And most of our friends...

  10. Michael Farris Smith
    (pp. 55-59)

    A couple of weeks ago I was preparing to travel to Paris for about a week. As I walked into our living room my wife was sitting on the love seat. Spread across her lap and falling to the floor was our favorite family blanket. Like many things put to good use, the blanket has come unraveled over time, the patchwork splitting and small white bits of padding hanging out of the breaks in the pattern. On the floor next to the love seat was her sewing box. She was in the beginning stages of stitching the blanket, working patiently...

  11. Wyatt Cooper
    (pp. 61-65)

    Thomas Wolfe wrote a book and called itYou Can’t Go Home Again.That is a catchy title and it caught on. It caught on with people, even, who know nothing of the great autobiographical novel that went with it. One often hears it quoted, repeated with the half-jocular, half-embarrassed shrug that accompanies axioms from the Bible, Shakespeare, orPoor Richard’s Almanac.As is usual with such popular utterances, it caught on precisely because it is part profound truth and part arrant nonsense.

    We recognize the truth of it because each of us has at one time or another undertaken...

  12. Judy H. Tucker
    (pp. 67-69)

    When I told my father I was getting married, he said to me, “Well, if you marry an engineer, you’ll always be moving. They follow the work.” Daddy was right. I relished the idea of new places but I wasn’t giving up my home. From the earliest days of our state when the Choctaws were resettled to the Oklahoma Territory, my father’s family has lived on the same farm in a small community in Leake County called Hopoki or Hopoca, a Choctaw word meaning something akin to “far away.”

    I felt safe on the farm. The land furnished all our...

  13. Scott Stricklin
    (pp. 71-75)

    Like many Mississippians, I was born with a love of sports. Neither of my parents was passionate about sports, though my mother displayed a passing interest. But my older brother and I were always playing, watching, or talking about games.

    Neighborhood football games often took place in our wide front yard. Since most of the players were closer to my brother’s age—he is five years older—the games involved tackling. I always thought my very participation in these games was a badge of honor. The games were physical, but they began to teach me important lessons that all Mississippians...

  14. Carolyn Haines
    (pp. 77-81)

    Home is such a powerful concept, especially for a writer. In a world where many people have come to view their “homes” as investments—a thing to be sold for a profit, some temporary place like a Motel 6—I am a homebody. My home is my refuge and my castle, though it is most ordinary to the gaze of others.

    Most of my days are spent on my small farm in Semmes, Alabama, with my abundance of stray animals and my solitary hours of imagination and writing. When I leave the farm, it is usually to promote my latest...

  15. David Sheffield
    (pp. 83-89)

    It was Africa hot in Jones County, Mississippi, the day the moving van rolled in from Los Angeles. Heat shimmered above the blacktop road, coaxing up little tar bubbles that crackled and popped under the wheels of the truck.

    The driver, who had packed up our house in the Hollywood Hills, climbed down from the cab, took a look around at the weedy yard and rusting tin roof of our temporary digs and said, “Man, you made a move.”

    We had come home to rural Mississippi after twenty-five years in big-city Los Angeles to build ourselves a modest horse farm....

  16. Ronnie Riggs
    (pp. 91-97)

    Early morning Mississippi sun sparkled down through branches covering the road ahead and I drove slowly, struggling to find a cemetery where there appeared to be none. I’d driven a thousand miles from my home in Maryland down to Mississippi, my birthplace, hoping to uncover a significant new layer of my family history. It seems no matter how far we roam from home there will always be ties pulling us back there, and so it has always been for me. I was here looking for the graves of long-gone distant relatives I had never known.

    I’d driven the road once,...

  17. Charline R. McCord
    (pp. 99-105)

    I was tricked into leaving Mississippi, and it was a very clever trick that no twelve-year-old would’ve ever seen coming. I owned a town at the time and the trick took that town away from me, or me from it. I had never had the first thought of leaving home, unlike my older brother, the trickster, who once ran away from home with a friend and spent a whole night sleeping in a concrete culvert by the railroad track. Why is it that every boy who readsThe Adventures of Huckleberry Finnthinks he has to “light out for the...

  18. Barry Hannah
    (pp. 107-109)

    I see them pass still, the little old tiny-headed women of Clinton, Mississippi, in the ’50s, in their giant cars on the brick streets. Or on their porches or at their azalea beds scolding dogs, then me; nestled in the pews and bobbing heads in the aisles of the church. Bringing in their covered dishes to church suppers. They established the tone of my world. All of them ancient beyond years now or dead. They observed and accounted. I fled them; I was a creature of the night, a little sinner. Or was I only paranoid, like the biblical thief...

  19. Jesmyn Ward
    (pp. 111-113)

    When my parents were young adults, they decided to return to Mississippi, where they were both from, with their two young children: my brother and me. They decided that a life in Mississippi was what they wanted, and they wanted to raise their children in the South. I was actually born in Berkeley, California, and when we moved home, I was three. As I grew older, I wondered about their decision, wondered what our lives would have been like if our parents had decided to raise us in California.

    My teenage years had been rough, and I’d suffered and agonized...

  20. Dolphus Weary
    (pp. 115-121)

    Dolphus Weary, August 7, 1946.The midwife couldn’t spell very well, and she never was sure of the date. But she did a fine job helping my mother bring me into the world.

    I was born in a run-down house somewhere near the one-store hamlet of Sandy Hook, Mississippi, not far from the Louisiana border.

    When I was two, our family moved back to my mother’s birthplace near D’Lo about thirty miles south of Jackson. D’Lo was supposedly named in the 1920s by a railroad conductor who had always called it “that damn low spot in the road.” The U.S....

  21. Alice Jackson
    (pp. 123-127)

    Katrina, a nasty divorce, and the need for a job pushed me out of Mississippi years after I adopted it as my home. The divorce, like the marriage, isn’t worth discussing. I survived it. Enough said. Still, I do wish the divorce hadn’t occurred during the same time I lost my beachfront home to Katrina. Couple that with the loss of my mother’s home, add the devastation of my brother and sister-in-law’s house, and if you are inclined to self-pity, you have a full-blown tragedy of Greek proportions. Fortunately, I dislike self-pity as much as I dislike talking about my...

  22. Kevin Bullard
    (pp. 129-133)

    It was 1983. I had just finished my first semester at the University of Southern Mississippi and was trying to figure out how to pay for my second. Though I didn’t know anybody in the National Guard, when I drove past the armory in Magee, my hometown at the time, the idea struck me that they could somehow help me pay for school. Nowhere in my eighteen-year-old mind did I imagine that twenty-eight years later, I’d still be in, that I’d be a lieutenant colonel or, least of all, that I would be in Afghanistan. I had mobilized for Desert...

  23. Curtis Wilkie
    (pp. 135-141)

    Home is not just where the heart is; it’s the place where we feel most comfortable.

    In a lifetime filled with many moves and much upheaval, I spent years in four different cities that I loved: Washington, Boston, Jerusalem, and New Orleans. Though I called each place “home,” at one time or another, I had a nagging sense that I never quite fit in any of them. I lacked childhood memories of classroom chums and youthful adventures in their territory. I had no family legacy in societies where that sort of thing counted, no personal standing, no parish to call...

  24. Tricia Walker
    (pp. 143-147)

    As I write this, I am riding north on the City of New Orleans train headed back to the Mississippi Delta. The gentle rhythm of the rails as we move along evokes an early comfortable memory of traveling which foreshadowed much of my professional life. And now, it seems, the roads I’ve traveled have come full circle to bring me home to Mississippi.

    I was raised in Jefferson County, just north of the county seat of Fayette, in an antebellum house in which Jefferson Davis is reported to have been the home’s first overnight guest. I had what felt like...

  25. Sela Ward
    (pp. 149-153)

    They say that once you marry and start a family, you start to return to your own childhood, consciously or not. And that’s what happened for me, in a big way. Our wedding was in May, and by December we’d already begun digging our toes back into the southern soil.

    That first summer as husband and wife, Howard and I were still livingla vida loca,traveling a lot, eating dinner out every night, making the most of our newlywed life. But we were also in our midthirties, and the urge to make life a nonstop romantic adventure was something...

  26. Russell Knight
    (pp. 155-159)

    I left Mississippi in a hurry and I didn’t look back—for almost thirty years, that is. I grew up in Jackson, and had a strong family at home. My mother was head nurse of the emergency room at University Hospital and my dad worked for Allstate Insurance. He was an awesome piano player and had his own band. I was taught at the early age of eleven how to work for what I wanted. I mowed yards, worked at a garden center, and pumped gas at the Star gas station to make a few dollars to buy whatever I...

  27. Marco St. John
    (pp. 161-165)

    My mother was a Mississippi girl born and bred in the small coastal town of Ocean Springs. My dad came to New Orleans from Guatemala. They met over in Ocean Springs and moved to New Orleans shortly after they married. When they divorced some fourteen years later, Mom came back to Ocean Springs while my dad went to New York City. The coast was always the home place for me growing up. Then I went to college in New York to be with my father. My senior year I decided to be an actor after seeing a Broadway play,The...

  28. J. Dale Thorn
    (pp. 167-173)

    Life’s mystique takes us down transformative trails, with memories that leave us to wonder. In my teens, although I loved Louisiana, I learned to be thankful for my native Mississippi and the redemption it offered an ancestor. My great-grandfather Jesse’s relocation to Mississippi was the stuff of legend. His nineteenth-century ride from Smith County, Texas, to Smith County, Mississippi, constituted a criminal act on which my destiny would pivot.

    The first time I heard that Grandpa Jesse had escaped Texas while on trial for murder, I shuddered. It was only in middle age that I learned the victim of Jesse’s...

  29. Jo McDivitt
    (pp. 175-179)

    I returned to the gardens of my childhood after leaving footprints all over the world for over thirty-seven years.

    I lived in New York City while roaming Marrakech, Paris, Rome, Bangkok, Florence, Lisbon, and other ports, looking hither and yon for the brass ring, a silver platter, a perfect sunset, and the indescribable balm that gives a free spirit a sense of place. A sense of place is not to be confused with a sense of belonging. I never needed to belong, to be a part of the “in” crowd, a status seeker, or to reside in the brief, flickering...

  30. Sam Haskell
    (pp. 181-185)

    When Judy Garland’s character, Dorothy Gale, exclaimed, “There’s no place like home!” in the classic MGM feature filmThe Wizard of Oz, it made adults and children alike think of home and count their blessings from coast to coast, and eventually throughout the entire world. The year was 1939, and in a year some claim to be the finest year in motion picture history (Gone With the Wind,Stagecoach,Goodbye,Mr. Chips,The Women, andMr. Smith Goes to Washingtonwere also released in 1939),The Wizard of Ozdistinguished itself as one of the most endearing and enduring films...

  31. Johnnie Mae Maberry
    (pp. 187-191)

    Deddy’s (we never saiddaddy) favorite saying was, “We will cross that bridge when we come to it.” My deddy, Major Maberry, crossed the bridge into restful sleep at the youthful age of fifty-seven. During Deddy’s short illness, I was living in Joliet, Illinois, which had been my home away from my Mississippi home for nearly twelve years. The year was 1983 and twelve years prior, I would never have dreamed of “crossingthatbridge” into Illinois or any other state other than Mississippi.

    Born in 1948, I grew up on Enochs Street in the Georgetown community of Hinds County....

  32. Keith Thibodeaux
    (pp. 193-197)

    My earliest memories involve listening to music and keeping time by beating on pots and pans with sticks, knives, and forks. I liked to strike up a beat on the garbage cans outside the kitchen door of our house in Lafayette, Louisiana. With the sounds of Benny Goodman, Count Basie, and Duke Ellington filling our house, I quickly developed a sense of rhythm.

    I got my first real drum when I was only two years old—a snare drum, a gift from my dad’s friend, the local music teacher in Bunkie, the small town where my family had relocated. My...

  33. Maureen Ryan
    (pp. 199-203)

    Lucinda Williams and Amos Lee toured together in the summer of 2011. Gravelly voiced folk-rock-blues singer Lucinda Williams, a true southern girl who has lived in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee, has been kicking around a while, singing blues and betrayal and bayous. But the very talented Amos Lee is a relative newcomer, a Philadelphia native who graduated from the University of South Carolina before returning home to teach elementary school, then on to success as a singer-songwriter.

    During a recent family visit back east, I joined cousins and graduate school friends at a Williams-Lee concert. After the concert, where Lucinda...

  34. Mary Donnelly Haskell
    (pp. 205-207)

    When people ask me where I’m from, I usually answer: “I was born and raised in Beaumont, Texas, but my mother’s people are from Alabama, so I spent a great deal of time there growing up—but I’mfromMississippi.”

    In 1976, following in the steps of my older sister, Pride (who was at Ole Miss in the late sixties), I traveled to Oxford from my hometown of Beaumont, Texas, and entered the freshman class as a music major. Looking back, I see that so much of the path my future would take was defined by events that first year....

  35. Bob Allan Dunaway
    (pp. 209-213)

    When I was eleven years old, I became unhappy over something and decided I would leave home. I packed a small cardboard suitcase with a few clothes and comic books and hitchhiked about forty miles to my daddy’s home. I felt sure he and my stepmother would take me in and solve all my problems. There I had no supervision and could do as I pleased. It was summer with no school days to worry about. But soon I missed my playmates and the routines established back at home, so I asked to be put on a bus and sent...

  36. Jerry W. Ward, Jr.
    (pp. 215-219)

    I am an outsider/insider Mississippian, the subject of other people’s observations and the object of my reflections. Born in Washington, D.C., in 1943, I was repatriated in the late fall of 1949 to Moss Point, my father’s hometown. My six-year-old self changed rapidly from being happy, carefree, and urban to being town-trapped, sullen, and confused. I could not understand why having an ice cream cone in the local drugstore was forbidden. So, this was Mississippi. A land of do-not-say-that and do-not-do-this. I was too young to sense the invisible segregation of the nation’s capital and unprepared for the racism of...

  37. Mary Ann Mobley
    (pp. 221-227)

    I just can’t do it—Lord knows I’ve tried! I’ve tried so many times and it just never seems to come out right no matter how hard I try or how long I anguish over it! I simply can’t seem to put my feelings of home and Mississippi to paper. When you feel something so intensely, youwantto write it down—if anguish to stanch the bleeding, if love or happiness to prolong the moment and share it. You want to let the ones who made it all possible, the ones who literally shaped your life know that you...

  38. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 228-228)
  39. Copyright Acknowledgments
    (pp. 229-230)
  40. Photography Credits
    (pp. 231-232)