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by Frank Reed Nichols

A Greyhound bus hummed along the highway moving north through bayou country. Trees pointed black fingers to a sky of stars and a full moon reflection slipped across patches of wild water like a freed balloon.

Nate Fredricks, a twenty-two-year old draftsman on the bus leaving Louisiana, peered at the swampy scene. He was thinking of how he'd miss New Orleans and the great Cajun food. High expectations for a new job in Cleveland, Mississippi, helped lighten his mood. It was post World War II, and building construction was gearing up for a boom -- a dire need for homes for returning GI's.

At daylight the bus approached Natchez, and it crossed Nate's mind he'd designed some apartments there. It was quality design work, one of his old bosses admitted, but Nate didn't get the promised promotion for it.

The thirty minute stop didn't leave enough time to see anything. As they pulled out Nate had a window seat again, and what he saw was flat land of field after field of cotton. This was the Delta, rich, alluvial soil born in the Mississippi River. Suddenly, viewing the monotonous landscape, Nate was hit with homesick loneliness.

Just as suddenly, a Bible verse of a strange sort popped into his mind. "Who is man that Thou art mindful of him?"

Whining bus tires finally lulled him into trance-like dozing from which he was jerked by the driver's calling out, "Vicksburg!"

"How long are we here?" someone asked the driver. He was a big man and had been sweating; he took off his cap to run a handkerchief around the inside before answering.

"Forty-five minutes."

The bus station included a counter where soup, sandwiches and a plate lunch could be bought. Nate sat down and ordered sandwich and coffee. On the stool next to him sat a heavy-set, bald man of about fifty.

As soon as Nate ordered, the stranger turned to speak to him. In the South strangers speak to each other without a formal introduction. It's accepted behavior as long as the overture starts on an impersonal plane. Most of the time the conversation goes quickly past that.

In a voice that sounded like rocks rattling in a can, the man asked, "Are you on the bus?"

"Yeah," Nate replied.

The stranger continued, "I'm going to Cleveland . . . been to see my mother in Lake Charles."

Nate drank some of the molasses-thick coffee, coughed, recovered, and asked, "Is she doing alright?"

The stranger took a paper napkin and wiped one eye. "No, she's mighty bad."

With genuine concern in his voice, Nate responded, "I'm sorry to hear it."

The man took this as an invitation to tell more and went into detail about his mother's illness, then told about his father's declining health. He came to a stopping place, gave a sigh and looked inquiringly at Nate.

"You plan on going on to Memphis?"

"No, I'm getting off at Cleveland. I've a job waiting there."

"Is that so? Where?"

"Scott Building Supply Company," Nate answered.

"I say -- my cousin works there. Listen, I'm Chuck Wineman." He reached over to Nate and they shook hands . . .


Who is Frank Reed Nichols?

"Newspaper columnist," "poet," "novelist" -- all describe this former architect and professor who is now giving us more insight into his early life in "Three Delta Days." This novel reveals the experiences that launched Nichols, as he describes it, "on his checkered career a coupla years back." Nichols writes of his days in the Delta where he tried to fit into a pretty closed society with the handicap of not being a fisherman, hunter or really big drinker and certainly with no ties to the "in" crowd. "Goofus," he says, "didn't fit me . . . or did it?"


Want to leave a comment on Frank's excerpt from his novel in progress titled Three Delta Days?
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