Quote of the Day: “He must always be a stranger to the place he loves, and its people.” –Willie Morris
No, its not the name of a town, but if TB decides to write a novel or better yet a television series, I think it would be a good name for a fictional backwater.
Twice this week I’ve been for long solo drives deep into the country. Tuesday I decided a little time with nature was in order so I headed out to the family place in Phoenix, Mississippi, a hamlet tucked in the corner of Yazoo County near the border with Warren. Homesteaded by my half-Cherokee ancestors a couple of years before whites were allowed by treaty to settle there, and around the time of Mississippi’s acceptance into the Union, it is a special place. A creek runs through it, as do a host of deer and turkeys. The old home place is on our section though the cedar trees that mark the front gate, an array of wildflowers and a crumbling fence line are all that remain of what was by all accounts a fine structure before the great fire around the middle of the last century destroyed it. The land is now home to a nice stand of red oak trees, a few white oaks and way too damn many worthless beeches and gums and you can see a good bit of it cruisin or walkin through the paths maintained by the obligatory hunting club. Spring is a great time to visit because you can still see pretty far into the woods and there is no great likelihood of being shot by an overeager huntsman.
My day in Phoenix was rejuvenating. It was probably the last cool day of the spring, the sun was shining and the sky was blue beyond my capabilities of description. The only things missing from my drive were an ARB to share the ride, enough beer to get us almost drunk and a pickup. Truck. Thanks to the glories of satellite radio I had some nice tunes to keep me company though including Billy Bob Thornton’s Boxmasters singing a cover of “The Lord Knows I’m Drinkin” and the Oak Ridge Boys covering “7 Nation Army.” It’s good, I kid you not. I parked at the Old Place and walked a couple of miles down to the edge of the swollen Big Black River, listening to the birds and the wind and a few startled beings unseen. Not another human soul around for miles. Much of why I love Mississippi was embodied by the short trip.
Yesterday I drove down to Paulding, Mississippi, in Jaspar County near Laurel. Paulding is one of two courthouses devoted to Jaspar County, one of the lesser populated of the eighty-two divisions of our state. You can’t get there from here, in case you were wondering. But I needed to get there, so I did. The drive was quite pleasant. It took me through lots of pine forest and by innumerable feeding cattle, two burned out home places, and around a dozen abandoned single-wides. Eventually, I had to turn off the paved road (“you know your bi-county seat is a redneck if the directions to it include the phrase “after you turn off the paved road”) and drive two point eight miles to reach the half-paved, half gravel road that leads to the courthouse. If you are a racing fan and are familiar with the term “marbles” you now understand what I mean by that. God help me I love these Mississippi roads.
Arriving in Paulding I entered the courthouse to conduct my research. While trying to interpret orders with Exhibit A’s referenced but missing, and to review files consisting of only volumes 3, 7 and 12 in the tidy little courthouse, I had occasion to eavesdrop on bits and pieces of conversation amongst the locals. I share because I care:
Caldonia–Hey Betsy, you got time to notarize this?
Betsy Mae–Sure do. A release, huh?
Caldonia–Yep, church trip. You know how ever-body’s always tryin to sue ever-body nowadays. (fyi, Paulding is one of the places in Mississippi you do NOT want to defend a lawsuit and with its meager population, it is almost a certainty this lady and/or her whole family has helped it earn that reputation).
Betsy Mae–Sure do. Where y’all goin?
Caldonia–My youngest is goin to Atlanta. Whooo-weeee, I’m excited for her.
Betsy Mae–Atlanta! I went there once. Prayed to God if he’d ever let me out I’d never go back and I ain’t never been.
Caldonia–Ohhhhh, I never been. I always wanted to. I been down to New Orleans though oncet. They got ever-thang there.
Betsy Mae–I don’t know why people want to go to Atlanta. They’s so many cars and people and criminals–I was skeert.
Caldonia–Well, thanks for notarizin my paper. I gotta go to Laurel this afternoon.
Betsy Mae–Laurel! Why you goin to Laurel? I cain’t stand Laurel.
Caldonia–Doctor appointment. They got good food there tho.
Betsy Mae–Like what?
Caldonia–They’s a Taco Bell, a Chinese place….oh, McAllister’s….I love that place. You don’t like McAllister’s?
Betsy Mae–I guess its ok. Pricy though.
Caldonia–Yeah, it IS pricy. I better go. Have a nice day.
Betsy Mae–You be careful in Laurel now. And let me know if your littlest makes it home ok from Atlanta.
That was my reaction to the conversation. Much of what I loathe about Mississippi encapsulated nicely, interspersed with the simplicity and goodness I love. I hurried to finish my job and get back to the car to retrace the way back through the woods and home. Mojo Nixon was doing his show on Outlaw Country and rain was gently falling. He said the Oak Ridge Boys were BACK! and had a great White Stripes cover he wanted us to hear. I grinned and turned it up and tried to spin the tires when I hit the marbles.
I was in Paulding several years ago on a similar mission. After looking through files for a little while I asked the lady if there was somewhere nearby to get something to eat. She gave me directions to a vending machine, so I understand how Taco Bell could be considered fine dining.
Ed used to tell me about how there was nothing in town but a phone booth across the street. When out of town lawyers showed up for trials and got a look at their surroundings and the jury they would ask the judge for the nearest phone (pre cell era, not that you can get a signal there even now) and he would point them across the street to the booth. They would always come back a few minutes later and settle the case.
BTW, how about the defense verdicts in Claiborne County yesterday in the silica case? I always have said and learned it largely from RW, you can’t be scared to try one anywhere.
One of the things I miss about Mississippi is places like this. I’m sure we have a few up here in the wild north of Virginia.
I guess every lawyer has his/her time in Paulding as I spent about 1/2 a day there doing depositons of some witnesses many years ago. If I recall, the Courthouse doubled as a fire station, and a US post office was across the street—-and that was about it.
Did it go to the jury or was it a directed verdict?
Went to the jury, 9-3. I’m not sure who all the defendants were but Forman Perry had a couple and David Barfield had at least one. There may have been some others there too.
MD, I think Larry has ancestors from Paulding. Of course back in the day I’m sure it was a bustling hub of intellectualism, commerce and athletic prowess.
Shocking verdict. Is that the end of mass tort litigation?
If you can’t get a verdict there, where can you get one.
it was a lung cancer life time smoker. probably should not have been brought to trial.
It was a bad plaintiff’s case from a lawyer’s pov. Wrong disease process entirely. But the guy had good ID and serious health problems, just not silicosis/lung cancer. Still, impressive the jury listened to all that and didn’t let it fly.
Hey you! We have a family farm here in Texas and I have had my fair share of small-town/ country life. Driving through is the way to enjoy it. It’s good to get out and stretch your legs and enjoy nature. then you run the risk of dealing with hunters and biddies. 😀 I hope you mostly enjoyed the day.
Ahhh, Texas, I’ve done my share of driving the backroads over there too, mostly from Dallas east to LA, Houston south and over to San Antonio and all around Austin….one thing I can say for Texas roads is they usually have that lane where you can get over and let the faster car (me) pass, and people are good to do it. Also, every backwater burg had a Dairy Queen, which was nice. Those blizzards are a bit pricy though.
Don’t forget TB they were probably talking about you after you left! I can just imagine that conversation as well. Confirming yet again I want to work at the courthouse at some point in my life. It is an interesting place to be, as long as you are not the Defendant.
My GGG???-Grandfather built the first courthouse and jail in Paulding. It was a big railroad town back in the late 1800s and was the original county seat. The railroad moved and that was it for Paulding. Part of the old jail is still standing across from the courthouse down the gravel road. It has an oak growing through it. My GGG???-Grandfather kept a diary(blog) of his daily activities and it is now in the MS Archives. Good stuff – from getting captured at Corinth and escaping(walking away), killing a big swamp cat(panther), and planting his field. I had a chance to read most of it while I was living in Jackson.
good stuff, larry
I think I am related to Caldonia.
Somone I work with sent this quote to me the other day. Your story reminded me of it.
“To understand the world, you must first understand a place like Mississippi.”
My wife and I left DC this past weekend and headed up to Snowshoe, WV. I tell you there are plenty of places along the way in Virginia and WV just like this.
Fish, very true. I went to Snowshoe a couple of years ago. Beautiful drive, and wayyyyy out in the boonies. I haven’t been to every state, but I know most all of them have these backwoods places that have similar characteristics to one another, good and bad.
A good Faulkner quote. I wonder if anybody has figured out Mississippi yet? Sometimes I think I have, but then something new comes along and stumps me.
What gets me is the southern part and northern part of MS is so different. From accents to clothing and now these college kids and their hair styles.
Two weeks ago I flew back from Korea and an older man on my flight spoke to me. I knew as soon as the first word was uttered he was from North MS. Turns out he was from Cleveland and works for Transocean building oil rigs.
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