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Its Thanksgiving and I’m back in the red clay hills of North East Mississippi under a cold blanket of a thousand stars. My parents retired and moved down here , where we spent the weekends when I was a kid. Where my Grandmother moved back to after marrying a sailor and starting a family in New York, circling back by way of Memphis. It seems like this place is the beginning or ending of most of the circuits that define my family’s history. The soil is a sandy clay that has so much iron that it’s a rusty red color. It will stain your clothes and your soul.
This song is a bit of what I remember from growing up down here part time. We lived in Memphis and I went to very urban elementary school downtown. On the weekends the four of us piled on to the bench seat of Pop’s 65 Chevy truck and headed for Grandmas house. It was like living in 2 different worlds. I had kids of my own before I fully realized that not everybody grew up like this. I was equally alien and at ease in both of these worlds.
During the summer I would come down and spend a week or 2 with my Grandma. She lived alone on a piece of land that featured a creek, a bit of woods and a pond. It didn’t much matter where her property ended because it was bordered by kin and neighbors who didn’t care if me and my brother went exploring. We dabbled in old cars and had a pasture full of them in various states of decay and disassembly. When we tired of exploring there was always a clubhouse or fort to be built from scrap lumber or cane poles to pull tiny perch from the lake.
My Grandma grew up all over Tippah County. The family worked the saw mills and moved often to be near them. She was the youngest of 10. One of our favorite forms of entertainment was riding through the back roads to places she had lived. She had a big white Chrysler Corodoba . It was a giant 70s boat with Buckshot Mudders on the back. We would burn an afternoon on the gravel roads and hit the place on the highway for a peanut butter milkshake before calling it a night.
Grandma still worked for the Pep factory making wiring harnesses for Ford automobiles, so during the day I would stay with her older sister, my Aunt Nancy. They farmed and had horses and dogs and all kinds of fascinations. She was an amazing cook. I once ate 10 of her biscuits with deer tenderloin, losing a tooth in the 8th one (at least that’s how 6 year old me remembers it). She had a granddaughter Jennifer, around my age that came to play sometimes. I remember the two of us hiding under the kitchen table when thunder shook the little house.
My Uncle Jeff* had a muffler shop up the road and also housed the volunteer fire department. His son, my cousin Stacey, and I spent many hours playing “Dukes of Hazzard” or standing on the stump (that’s a story for another day). The muffler shop had a pot belly wood stove and one of several tin roofs I listened to the rain under. He had a drink machine out front that you opened the door to take out a glass bottle. The bag of change he pulled from the machine was in his desk drawer and we would go into it at 10, 2 and 4 to get our Dr. Pepper fix. I don’t think he ever made any money on that drink machine.
As I got older and grew a life of my own I made it down less and less. My parents retired and moved to the piece of land they bought down there. I still make it down several times a year, but not as much as I would like. My Grandma passed earlier this year. I started writing the song before that, when I realized she was slipping away. I found myself thinking about that piece of time and wanted something I could hold on to.
*Jeff is actually my Mother’s cousin but here in the south if they’re older they are Uncle or Aunt and if they’re the same age or younger they’re cousin.