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December 18, 2013
Someone once advised would-be writers to “write what you know.” If that’s the case, then I can write only about the Delta this month. I’ve been in the Delta over the past few weeks—more than I have since growing up there.
Miz Jo and I have realized that while traveling the state shooting TV stories, once we start in a certain direction we are likely to continue going that same way five or six more times before we drift off in another direction.
Our drifting toward the Delta started a few weeks ago when my hometown of Greenville gave me a Lifetime Achievement award at their annual Greenville Honors Its Own celebration. What a nice thing for anyone’s hometown to do. Thank you, Greenville.
The next week we were back in the Delta at Clarksdale shooting a freelance project. We discovered how this Delta town has positioned itself as the hub anchoring all the spokes radiating into the world of the blues. Where Highway 61 intersected Highway 49 (until the bypass blurred it) has been proclaimed as “The Crossroads.” And any blues fan knows what The Crossroads is. It’s where you can go sell your soul to the devil in order to get something you probably already had but didn’t realize it.
But just as significant as the blues is Clarksdale’s literary heritage. Columbus native Tennessee Williams spent some of his formative years here living with his grandfather, who was rector of St. Georges Episcopal Church. Tom, as he was called as a boy, would have sometimes accompanied his granddad on his pastoral rounds to places like Moon Lake Casino (now Uncle Henry’s) and the Cutrer Mansion, where he would have no doubt met Mrs. Cutrer (Blanche).
He would later use the memories of those places and people as characters and settings in his plays. For instance, Blanche DuBois reminisces about tragedy associated with Moon Lake Casino’s dance floor in Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire,” giving the whole world a peak at Clarksdale.
The next weekend we were back in the Delta again. This time Mike Jones put us up in his “honeymoon suite” among the rough cabins behind his bait shop on Lake Washington, where he houses fisher-people coming from all over to catch the dynawhoppin’ crappie out of the lake. We weren’t fishing, however. We were shooting video of a ghost hunt at the Susie B. Law house right down the road for this year’s Halloween “Mississippi Roads” show on MPB.
Mike wants the Law house preserved and welcomes moviemakers and ghost hunters and whoever else will bring attention to it and the other landmarks falling into decay around the lake. My ghost hunters told me they did find ghosts on their magnetic instruments. All I saw was an interior door opening and closing on its own. I found a reason to leave after that.
Now comes the decision of what Delta picture to submit with this article. I have Uncle Henry’s and the Curter Mansion and Ground Zero Blues Club and the sign at The Crossroads and the haunted house. But I chose the Round Barn on Lake Washington because I had just seen an excellent shot of it taken by Paul Smith in his soon to be released photo book, “The Colors of Mississippi,” and I wanted a picture of it for myself. (His is better than mine.)
Now that we’re back home, I can hardly wait to see in which direction we’ll drift off to next!
Walt Grayson is the host of “Mississippi Roads” on Mississippi Public Broadcasting television, and the author of two “Looking Around Mississippi” books and “Oh! That Reminds Me: More Mississippi Homegrown Stories.” To contact Grayson, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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