Southern Scribe
    our culture of storytelling

 

 Porch Tale   

 

 

Pre-School in Mississippi

 

by Palmer Fitzgerald
 
 
 

The 1940s were a decade I thought would never end.  A more lurid local happening was perhaps when Mississippi state Senator Buckley's car broke down on Chunky River bridge. Prior to interstates the river looped across Highway 80 twice making for two bridges not very far apart.  He got out and began walking to get help, when he was accosted by a knife-bearing assailant.  Bravely, he tried to defend himself with a pocket knife and was murdered. Authorities dragged the river and recovered the knife and I believe the culprit was caught.  We kids didn't hang on the news because we had so much going in our own lives, although pause was given at my house to Casey, Crime Photographer.  Casy was sparkling bald, his perky assistant Ann Williams attractive, and Ethelburg, bartender at the Blue Note Cafe, a laconic assistant in wrapping up the cases at the end of the radio program.  Daddy sent off for a photo of the group.  As copied in later TV series, there was a running argument between Casey and the homicide cop at the crime scene. 

More to the point was our lackadaisical milieu there at Russell.  While we rented the house and yard, where we kids could go was virtually unlimited.  Adults must be careful about trespassing but no one questioned us and we picked bucketfuls of blackberries in the thick bramble down by the railroad tracks.  Even daddy practiced-preached by a creek several acres away to an audience of water moccasins lining the banks.  Mama milked in a red-roofed barn where she once found a hobo sleeping, and churned in summers on the porch.  I would walk or ride my bike up tracks paralleling the highway to the main drag which consisted of three stores, one also the post office and run by a World War I veteran and his wife. There was the church and a few houses, two being ante-bellum.  Mechanical hooks received and sent mail as the Southerner zoomed through, though it stopped one time to let off a returning wartime groom.

Added to the varying guests who would come to a preacher's house was daddy's mentor whom I remember more specifically as being there when snow was on the ground.  Driving an ancient truck, which he repeatedly accelerated and let coast, he spoke in a cracked teutonic voice of going West in a covered wagon when he was two.  To chance meetings of old friends on a train he accorded high drama and told it often.  A pack rat, he lived with a parrot and until he died was a fixture in daddy's life, and accompanied him in subsequent years to a Georgia island to copy a church to be chartered at Bailey.  Long Creek was still much with us, he having ordained daddy in the area.  Sometimes at a church a family was especially cordial to us and there it was the proprietors of a store across from the church, who endeared themselves by letting us into the store after-hours and gave my brother and me pencils that were worth a whole dime.  

At home daddy prepared intellectual sermons which he preached "over the heads" of the congregation, albeit with enough verve and raising of voice to attract them.  We were not a highbrow family, church songs were the only music except for the radio. I was given Treasure Island one Christmas and at dinner (noon meal) we located points on a wall map of the world.

Daddy's Uncle Gabe  stories were however a literary contribution to us boys. Little Bobby Chandler and his dad Major Chandler were prominent characters and of course black Uncle Gabe, married to Aunt Jamami, who carried a six-gun in his hip pocket and routinely saved the day.  Frequent visitors on horseback were Judge Brunson and his sidekick Jimmy Pack.Russell added a cultured element to our upbringing but it was down-country Toomsuba which grounded us along the dusty always-dirt red clay roads.  Highway 80, spanning the nation, was the only route paved other than town that I knew about. Mama's papa was a timberman and farmer in an enclave of Harpers.  His wife, mama's mama, died in childbirth with her eleventh child and was pulled to Rawson Cemetery in 1920 by white horses.  So we frequently went to see Grandpa Harper and his new wife Miss Claudy.  Waking in the mornings was exotic to the sound of guineas and livestock.  Black hired hands were on a sound cordial footing and ate at the table in the main house, a modern setting, for lately kitchens had been separated from other quarters of the house, a phenomenon still seen at Aunt Clara's house. 

Mama was next to the youngest of five boys and girls, the most notorious being the oldest boy.  Touted as a crack shot in Japan in World War I, he developed the jake-leg from bad booze and once held up a black church.  My grandpa was influential but it was with great difficulty that he got him off on that one.  It was news on the roads so far from society when a "rolling store" visited similar to today's bookmobile, but carrying a stock of grocery and household items.  Customers stood at the rear of the truck and called out what wares they wanted, their version of our entering a store at Russell or Long Creek and announcing what goods were to be slammed on the counter.  Harpersville stayed on the scene the whole decade and Long Creek slipped into the past, to return in the fifties when daddy again pastored the church for a short time.  Russell stayed prevalent with us and the new player became Fellowship Baptist near Centerhill and Bailey. These were a more isolated folk where we kids only faintly surmised how fine these rural folks could be, in addition to the outlying congregations of daddy's other country churches near Forest, and Puckett, southeast of Jackson.


Our porch photo is of Wallow Lodge on Sapelo Island, Georgia.

Palmer Fitzgerald is retired Navy and a philosophy graduade from Christopher Newport College (now University) at Newport News, Virginia.  His email address is houstonfitzgerald@yahoo.com.

 

2005, Palmer Fitzgerald, All Rights Reserved