That small town 50 miles south of Jackson. I can see it now. That one road called the Boulevard that went from downtown out to the interstate. I can see the kids in their cars with nothing better to do than to drive up and down that two mile loop. I can see Perkins Hardware. The parking lot where deals were made and futures paved.
I grew up in a small town. Ten thousand souls for over fifty years. Not a new one. One dies another is born to breathe his first cry. Recycling, reincarnating cousins, brothers and sisters in the same dank Mississippi soil. A town stuck in stagnation. A town last in the nation in education. A leader in discrimination. I see the old plantation homes. I see the moss hanging from the trees. I see the tour of homes. I see the old churches filled with old folks and new families living off of old money and new money. Doctor’s daughters. I see the lawyer’s sons. I see the son’s of blue collar workers. Sawmills. Bodyshops. Empty vacant lots. Weeds breaking through concrete, left forgotten.
I remember when the fast food restaurants moved in. How my front yard, once silent, now within the airwaves of a Wendy’s drive-thru. I remember when Wal-Mart moved in. I remember the downtown where my father owned a sandwich shop. I remember him selling ice cream from the back of an old yellow truck. I remember the pride he had in that store when a small downtown had hope. When America still made things.
I remember how my best friend was black. How we grew up not knowing color. How we played cowboys and indians. I remember walking up to him in the hallway in first grade and how he acted like he never knew me. Flanked on both sides by his black friends I realized I was white. I knew then something wasn’t right.
Twenty years later I sit on Ancestry.com in another southern state. I try and trace my family out of Mississippi. There is nothing but that one state. My bloodline seems to have sprung from a well beneath it. No migrating down from New York. No coming up from New Orleans. Nothing but Benton Sebastian King’s John Hancock on an old census. Tradesman in a sawmill. Soon to be the father of many sons who gambled and drank. One who won half of Brookhaven in a card game one glorious day. Only to drink it all away.
Inspired by The Help by Kathryn Stockett