Ghosts of Southerners past . . .
When our friendship was new and still most interesting, Poet sought to impress me. But when the new wore off, Poet cast me into the ring with his other friends who are familiar and comfortable so there is no longer a need to impress.
This was evident when he arrived at my hotel in Jackson, Miss., to pick me up for dinner. Poet, you will recall, rises up from generations of very old Mississippi Delta dirt and is what he calls, “a gentleman farmer.” Cotton, lots of cotton, is the family business for over a hundred years.
He opened the door to a four-wheel drive, dirt-covered truck that had once been red. It was as Delta dusty on the inside as the out. A few minutes later, he pulled into the gravel parking lot of a run-down cement block building with a flashing neon sign. It was a fish joint.
I looked at the dismal building and then back to Poet. “You’re kidding, right?”
“I am not.”
“What happened to the days when you picked me up in a Cadillac and took me to the high rent section for dinner?”
“You love adventure. Here ‘tis.”
Conway Twitty played on the jukebox in a room cluttered with stuffed fish and faux leather booths.
“When was the last time you heard Conway on the jukebox?” asked Poet.
“When was the last time I heard a jukebox?” I countered.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that these hole-in-the-wall places usually have the best food. That would not be this particular hole-in-the-wall. It was terrible. Poet was feeling bad about his miscalculation. After all, you don’t want to feed a friend, even one who is old and familiar, nasty food.
“The evening is still young,” He proclaimed as he snapped his dust-covered seat belt. “Let me make this up to you. I shall squire you to a more appropriate place.”
Heading up I-55, I saw the sign and I knew where I wanted to go at 9 p.m. on a starry Mississippi Sunday night.
“Turn now!” I screamed. “Let’s go to Eudora Welty’s house.”
Without a word, Poet followed my instructions until we pulled up on the English Tudor house built in 1925 by Miss Welty’s parents, the place where she would live out her life.
For years, I have longed to see that house where the legendary Southern writer created her most memorable works. But one thing or the other has always kept me away, such as the house being under renovations, or I didn’t have a reservation to tour when I had the time, or it was closed. Since it is always closed on Monday, I had already determined that, again, I would miss the tour.
We pulled into the driveway and I climbed out. Of course, I couldn’t see inside but I did walk to the side porch and sat down in the white rocking chair where, no doubt, Miss Eudora had sat many times.
While Poet waited in the front yard for the police to come – he assumed they would and he was willing to go to jail in redemption for the awful meal – I rocked and thought of the memorable characters and stories she had created.
“Stella Rondo!” I called softly, thinking of the sister from “Why I Live At The P.O.” I was mesmerized.
I thought back to other Southern nights when I have stealthily visited with the ghost-like memories of other Southern legends: The midnight hour in Montgomery when I had touched the tombstone of Hank Williams, the hot summer night when a friend and I had sat at the edge of William Faulkner’s grave in Oxford and later crept through the woods to see his house.
Poet peeped around the corner from his guard point.
“Am I forgiven?”
I smiled and nodded. Poet, despite it all, had impressed me.
[Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of “What Southern Women Know About Flirting” and “The Town That Came A-Courtin’.” Her newest book is “What Southern Women Know about Faith.” She lives near Gainesville, Ga. Sign up for her newsletter at www.rondarich.com.]