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Speaking of Tunica...
by Kent Fletcher

A year or so after my father died in November, 1965, I got an invitation to go to Colorado to see my kin in Pueblo and go skiing. My cousin invited me out, saying to snow ski is just great, lots of fun. So I began making plans to head that way.

As fate would have it, the day I planned to fly out of Memphis to Dallas and on to Colorado Springs, the Fletcher Funeral Home had to deliver flowers to Forest Hill Cemetery in Memphis. I was selected to load said flowers into my car and drop them off for a graveside service later in the day at that cemetery. So I loaded up my old classic 1952 Chevrolet 2-door sedan with said flowers and boodled off to Memphis, cruising up Highway 61 through Clarksdale and Tunica.

As I pulled up to turn off Highway 61 at Shelby Drive, my faithful and trusty car simply died in the turning lane. After a few minutes of cranking, I noted the freewheeling spinning of the cranking, and figured I'd blown a timing belt.

Great, just great, I thought. I've got flowers in the car to deliver and a plane to catch later in the day, and now my car is dead. What am I going to do?

Someone was looking out for me, for as I was standing there contemplating my situation, a lady pulled up and asked if I needed help.

"Yes, I do," I replied. "I've got a load of flowers in my car to deliver to Forest Hill Cemetery in Memphis, and then I've got to catch a plane this afternoon for Colorado Springs."

Of course, I guess she stopped because I was dressed to the gills in a suit and an overcoat cause the weather was not really warm, being January and all. So she pulled over and asked me some other pertinent questions, all the while loading the flowers in the back of her car, saying she would help me get the flowers to their destination and even take me out to the airport. In the meantime, I called back to Cleveland to tell them what had happened, and either my brother or Mr. Whit called a wrecker service in Memphis and had the car towed to a known garage for repairs. I told them about this lady who had stopped, and of course I got her name, address, and other pertinent information for reimbursement for her act of kindness.

Some 40+ years later I can only remember her first name - Betsy - but I do remember her telling me she was from Hollywood, Mississippi, just outside Tunica. After waiting a bit for the wrecker and seeing my car towed off, Miss Betsy and I headed out for the cemetery and later to the airport. During our ride we swapped stories and other bits of information, and I also learned she had some connection with one Tyrone Power, an actor out of California. Perhaps Miss Betsy knew Mr. Power's third wife, Deborah Ann Montgomery Minardos, who was the ex-wife of Nico Minardos, a Hollywood actor. Deborah was from Tunica, Mississippi, as I have just found out. She passed away on April 3, 2006.

I eventually made it to Colorado and back. I once stopped in Tunica and did see Miss Betsy, I think, or at least spoke with someone who knew her. Best I remember, she was a striking woman. But that's neither here nor there.

Yesterday and this morning on a writers' board I frequent, there was a candid discussion going on about the casinos around Tunica, Mississippi, and this reminded me of the story above, about my trip to Memphis. As it is, I've not been through Tunica in several years, and then only on the way to Cleveland after seeing my dear friend, George Campbell, Jr., at Baptist Hospital in Memphis. I came through the area at night so there was not too much to see, other than the plethora of lights coming off the casino boats just a few short miles, if that much, away from the highway.

I stopped in Robinsonville for gas, and was wowed by the four-lane section of Highway 61 from Memphis to Tunica. As I drove on south out of Tunica, Highway 61 again funneled back to a two-lane stretch to Clarksdale, what was once described as the "straight stretch," some 30+ miles long and inherently dangerous to drive, especially at night. And as the discussion continued, I wondered about Miss Betsy and if she made out big time with the land she probably owned outside Tunica, in Hollywood, Mississippi. Perhaps one day in the coming months, I'll venture up that way, see what I can find out.


Kent Fletcher, native Mississippian and retired military, now lives in Texas.
Contact Kent at this e-mail address.

Read more of Kent’s “meanderings”:

A Sea Story
Hotrods and high school
Raisin’ Delta cain
Roguing beans and a ‘39 Plymouth
Ghosts of Christmas Past

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