Natchez is place I want to call home
I’ve been writing this letter in my head for more than a year now. My recent visit to Los Angeles is what inspired me to finally write it on paper.
I left Natchez at the tender age of 11. I grew up in south central L.A., commonly referred to as “The Concrete Jungle.” I did pretty good for a while but eventually became a product of my environment. I made it to the 11th grade before my criminal career began.
I spent most of my childhood and young adult life incarcerated with some of the most ruthless criminals you could ever imagine.
But thoughts of Natchez were never far from my mind. Many nights I lay awake in my jail cell thinking about the fun-filled days of living in the country. I thought about how my grandmother used to depend on me to get the fireplace started every morning. How my Uncle Ernest taught me how to drive a tractor.
I thought about how my four siblings and I would get dressed and attend church every Sunday morning. I learned how to hunt, fish and garden on our 55 acres of land that I now call paradise. My grandmother, mother and uncle raised us right. They didn’t spare the rod!
They instilled responsibility, morals, principles and work ethics in us. Not having a father in our life turned me into a man-child at an early age. We were raised as God-fearing folks.
Fast forward to Nov. 16, 1996. I thought I was invincible. I came back to Natchez for all the wrong reasons. I came back to hustle. Well, karma finally caught up with me. On Nov. 16, 1996, I got caught up in a drug deal gone bad. I was shot five times at point blank range — twice in the head and three times in the shoulder.
My partner was shot once in the forehead and died. God spared my life that night but my right arm was paralyzed as a result of the shooting.
Eventually I was able to pull myself back together and realize that God had given me another chance to live. He blessed me with the gift to write my autobiography. Many of you have read my living testimony, and I’m honored to have shared it with you.
Two weeks ago I took an Amtrak train to L.A. I’d never ridden on a train before, and I wanted to see the countryside from another viewpoint.
I felt like a child as I went from state to state. I watched the landscapes change from lush greens to brown, dry deserts. I was already missing Natchez, and I hadn’t even made it to Arizona. The very first thing I noticed when I finally arrived in L.A. was the smog. The noise pollution was next. Traffic was a nightmare.
I felt like I’d just entered the Twilight Zone. I was in a city of millions compared to 20,000 here. Los Angeles is a place where you never even know your neighbor’s name. People don’t even make eye contact; no warm smiles. It’s a place where real thugs roam the streets. Police and ambulance sirens are a way of life.
I had days where I really started to miss Natchez. I walked around like I had a secret treasure map, and I was the only one that knew about it. That secret was Natchez. Natchez is a place that just makes you feel good.
It’s a place where the air is so good a deep breath hurts your lungs. It’s a place where everybody smiles, teeth or no teeth.
This is a place where people still say “ma’am” and “sir.” It’s a place where that good ole religion still exists, where the pastor knows your first name.
This is a place where there’s no excuse for homelessness. A place where nearly everybody’s related. Natchez is steeped in history and tradition, a place where total strangers help each other and speak to you like they’ve known you all your life.
Natchez is a place where wannabe thugs have no clue what a real thug is.
Natchez has opened its arms and embraced me. I’m so grateful for that.
I’ve made friends that I could’ve never imagined. I’m finally learning how to enjoy life.
Yes you can take a boy out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the boy.
I write about Natchez with passion because that’s just the way I feel. Maybe it’s just my deep appreciation for life. But I know I’m not the only one that feels like this. It doesn’t matter whether you’re black or white, Republican or Democrat, Catholic or Baptist.
We all serve the same God, and we can all agree to disagree. I know that God chooses the most unlikely people to show just how powerful he is.
A very close friend of mine once told me that Natchez is the closest thing to being in Mayberry.
So in closing, I’d just like to take this opportunity to thank all of you that have supported me in my quest to become a writer.
But more importantly, I’d just like to say, “Thank you Natchez!”
Gregory Marshall is a Natchez resident.