By Palmer Fitzgerald
Mississippi in the late 1930s was more than a regional culture, affected by a national
freshness represented in the persons of FDR, Tom Mix, and W. C. Fields. I
remember sitting with my mama on the porch of an unpainted shack overlooking
a steep hill as my daddy jumped off a WPA road machine and began the climb.
Long Creek community was our home from which we ventured out into mostly
churches, as he was recently ordained. Up there mama shut me out of the
house to clean as I wailed, and at Long Creek Baptist I butted my head on
the floor until a deacon told her I would stop if she let me continue. I
did. On the hill they coaxed me to walk from one to the other, and daddy
cutting a sweetgum tree tried to get me to come and taste the gum. I
I guess I was one or two, and I remembered the bright lights and doctor's voice when I was spanked in the delivery room. No one ever believed this for after all I didn't become a genius, did I? At six months I heard Aunt Josephine move about as she thought I slept. Later on a Meridian Star reporter snapped my picture in a drugstore slurping an ice cream sundae "as big as he was." At least I had that one documented although the Star horribly misspelled several words. We moved over to Russell in 1940 and I was accruing a great jungle of memories. There was another porch at another unpainted shack, this one with four rooms. Curious as it was daddy paid five dollars a month rent for our modest place with a well for drawing water and an outhouse. We had no phone, the head deacon from Russell Church drove over whenever necessary. Odd because daddy was on a par with him, assistant postmaster in Meridian; a civil engineer; and other rather prominent church members. At age four mama walked me over to the engineer's place, the Isaac Russell house where Sherman had quartered his troops. Low lights reflected mostly pinks as the resident daughters sat like Roman goddesses. En route I removed and redid my belt, not an easy child for a mother. At home we saw the section-hand neighbors move, their bed springs stacked high, and I picked cotton with black Cleo. Once a transfer truck passed out of sight on the highway and I waited for it to reappear. Approaching I found it on its side. Treetops stood to the east, their coiffures reminiscent of human heads, and a rare airplane flew over. My brother and I dressed up in daddy's huge old suits and walked in heavy rains under the eves. It was a quaint time, daddy fancying himself a farmer where he plowed in suit clothes, that being all he owned. Probably fairly important, he was congenial with the county supervisor who once came by our field, he was in charge of voting on Election Day, and couples visited the house to be married. So cool, he did superb funerals, but come a possum into the yard it was mama who killed it with an axe. He stood by tightly holding a revolver in his pocket. I recall how serious he was also, when on the way to Fellowship Church, another of his pastorates; we stopped for a Co-Cola at a filling station and heard about Pearl Harbor. Lazy days, I would hate starting school. A neighbor boy ran circles through our four rooms and ate May Pops dipped in rainwater of a barrel. Mama swept, dust rising in the sun, among her whatnots and a sign proclaiming, "I am the light of the world." Our furniture-like radio spoke of a day when man would go to the moon. In town we coalesced among buildings like the fifteen-story Three foot Building, a post office suited to Rome, and merchants too soon to know what a mall was. During large downtown services daddy was called on to pray, and did so splendidly. Back at church the congregation at Russell, for this was our home base, formed two separate circles of men and woman and we children played tag, I forming the bad habit in this climate of calling adults by their first names, copying a rather sophisticated lad for whom it was suited. School didn't definitively end my religious playground, but it stunted it.
Our porch photo is of Wallow Lodge on Sapelo Island, Georgia.
Palmer Fitzgerald is a retired Navy Chief Petty Officer living near Danville, Virginia.© 2004, Palmer Fitzgerald, All Rights Reserved