This land was once the home of Choctaws, tall trees and lazy creeks winding in and out and around, shallow circuitous routes of brown leaf laden water, not fit for drinking unless filtered, not fit for washing unless you wanted a glean of dirt clinging to your things, and not fit for much of anything except cooling down from infernal August sweat and brooding fat catfish, some large enough to eat small children. It rained a lot on those hills, washing the rich red Mississippi mud down the flats, which, when the crackers expanded west from the Georgian and Virginian shores, or planters north from New Orleans, it became startlingly apparent that even a lackadaisical could scratch out a living on the fertile soil if he browbeat the pine saplings back, and a hardworking man could do very well indeed.
So, Suqualena, Meehan, Bogue Chitto, stayed in their spots… Oktibbeha stewed froth, crawdads and alligators, but the new communities popping up along the hills bore the names of a simple people with small thoughts and an occasional sense of humor. To the south lay Whynot, Quitman… to the north there was Shucktown, and the more imaginative Prismatic. In the east was Lauderdale Springs and in the west Chunky, Hickory, Duffee. All these steads sloped downward. A ring of heights made it’s way around the town, probably considered a natural fortress and a place of spiritual power in the Choctaw’s height… and on the inslope meniscus lay Meridian.
How apt a name for that place! It is at once the point from which all my knowledge has begun. It is from where everything radiates, it is the center, the zenith; but more, it is a snare around my ankle. It’s crown of hills is festooned with great ancient oaks, hardened hickory, and fairly pickled with the prickly pines that grow so fast, and provide such living as the life and livelihood of a place so imbued with poverty it is notorious. That wreath in spring has a lovely green, curling mist rise over it, dripping festoons of ivy looking vines, but by summer and the oppression of July and August the kudzu has claimed the land, choked the life out of everything, feeding on it’s own spreading tentacular greenery, a cancer of the Earth, unstoppable, insidious, and by the time the cold killing snap comes, almost even admirable for it’s first stealthy, then sudden stranglehold of nature.
Oh, Meridian, with it’s kudzu and it’s carousel, it’s antebellum mansions set smack in the midst of shotgun shacks, it’s Opera House, it’s absolute determination to counter thrive. In this place, there is constancy in classicism, above racism, above sexism, the social divide is mandate. To do well here, your father must have done well. His father also did well and you will have attended either Mississippi State or Ole Miss. If your father were a doctor, so you would be, or barring that a lawyer, or should some wild creative streak run in you, an architect. Your baby sister would be hazed at age fourteen by seventy beautiful, vicious, silken haired sirens and after several weeks, you would sit in the Little Theater and watch her be presented to society as a debutante in a white gown worth three months wages to the black woman who raised her. Anything new or different is regarded with suspicion, any thought that fell out of cadence with this tradition of cookie cutter monotony must be stamped out, and God help you if you weren’t of that eschelon of society. Like a glittering jewel they sparkle, radiating elitism, privelege, almost attainable, just beyond your fingertips they beckon to you, but will not have you in the end.
This is where I shuffled onto this mortal coil, amidst the lush choking greenery and heat, with a big heart, a sharp mind, and a family with no special pedigree.