Mississippi becomes a part of you

Published 12:01 am Monday, December 31, 2007

Today, it is a truck parked along side the road piled high with turnip greens. Yesterday, it was pumpkins. The day before that, it was sweet potatoes and before that, watermelons; and, before that, home-grown tomatoes. Somewhere in between it should have been sweet corn. But, the ethanol craze came and the corn disappeared.

The Deep South is a wondrous place for the tourist or newcomer. While the markers are subtle to the natives, they are big mental cues to those with a new eye. There are farm vehicles clogging the highway ahead, looking like alien beings, and signboards proclaiming “deer corn here” or “we buy pecans,” or “boiled and live crawfish.” There is the lady who sits by the riverboat landing in Natchez, under the umbrella with her Mona Lisa smile, and her sign, “pralines.”

But, dig deeper, and it’s a lot more than that.

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It’s going to the tire place and getting treated so well and them calling all over Natchez to get you a hair appointment, because you are new and don’t really “know nobody.” It’s talking to the woman at the auto glass counter for minutes on end and realizing that she needs to know “who is your Mama ‘n’nem” so she can place you in her tableau. It’s going into the gas station, and seeing the clerk who calls you sugar and hoping to see her again.

But, dig deeper, and it’s a lot more than that.

It’s liking to talk with someone and realizing that they already have friends, and family, and it doesn’t even dawn on them to establish anything deeper with you. Now, you live in a place that has traditions, shyness of strangers, and you are not of this place and may never live long enough to be of this place.

But, dig deeper and it’s a lot more than that.

The day will come when you need help. You hear what you think is a burglar (it turns out to be a possum) and folks descend on you like a rescue squad. If you get sick, they take you to the hospital (and stay with you). If you ask for anything they bring it. Who needs friends when you have acquaintances in Mississippi? And, when you think about it, what is a friend and what is an acquaintance?

But, dig deeper and it’s a lot more than that.

You can turn the earth and plant, but if you don’t hoe and hoe, the plants you tend will be overwhelmed by others just as eager to survive. The bugs do bite. Be careful where you step. Nature rules and you are an intrusion. But you adjust, and you stay.

But, dig deeper and it’s a lot more than that.

When your back is turned, you become a part of this place. It happens quickly. That’s the reason why when folks came South 200 and some years ago, they never went back to wherever they came from. The people who settled Mississippi stayed here. Their children stayed, and on down. And, for the newcomers to the Deep South, we soon realize that it’s in our blood. We are from here. And, one day soon, someone will ask our children, “Who’s your Mama ‘n’nem?

That would be you.

Constance Holt is Jefferson County resident.