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Hello, Issaquena
By Curtis L. Johnson, Sr.

I drove into my childhood hometown just the other day. My wife and I took my oldest brother to lunch at a nice little restaurant near his home. We had spent the night in a clean motel on the newer side of town along highway 61. I had come from California for a visit with my oldest brother who had returned not long ago to live out the rest of his days in this quiet little Delta town of Clarksdale, Mississippi.

After spending a night and most of the next day there, I was ready to head north to Memphis, Tennessee. I had departed this busy county seat 30 years ago. But before leaving town I wanted to take a drive to a once popular area of town at the corner of Fourth and Issaquena Streets.

To my amazement and disappointment, I never dreamed that Issaquena would be found in such poor condition. So when I arrived, I beheld what looked to me like a ghost town. I knew that it was clearly Issaquena, not just because her name was on the street sign, but so much of my young life was spent going and coming across Issaquena where it ends at Fourth Street. I could never forget her, but I must regretfully say that the spirit and soul of the Issaquena I once knew were long gone.

Issaquena seemed as if she were on life support at best, and at her worst it appeared she had been frozen in another time period for many years. My heart was filled with sadness for what once had been a haven for people full of color and energy. I could not simply look the other way, so I spoke to Issaquena the best way I knew how. With words I had never planned, I was compelled to say:

Hello Issaquena:
I have not seen you in such a long time
We arrived last night after running just a little behind
By the time we checked into the motel, it was way past nine
I came today to share a memorable experience just one more time
I came to look around, to visit, to stare, or even an old friend to find
Many years ago there was so much about you that became a friend of mine
I remember when people came to your intersection standing under your street sign.
People from miles around came to talk, share, and care, to shop, sit awhile and dine.
Some people after a long and laborious week simply came to drink whisky and wine.
And I also remember a bench on which sat a Christian lady so divine.
She would come to your corner every Saturday, so loving and kind.
She spent the day sharing Christ with all who would listen.
I am sure the dear Christian Lady is now in heaven.
O Issaquena. Your shelters are beaten down and everything around you causes me to frown.
I am so sorry. But I know that the thought of you will always be around.
O Issaquena. Can you please tell me how they managed to disenfranchise your claim to fame?
And how did you become bound in those chains with the looks of a portrait in pain?
O issaquena. What happened to the barber shop where I use to come for hair cuts?
Where is the Phone Booth on the corner where I use to make land line phone calls?
Where is the grocery store down the street where my dear mother use to shop for food?
The New Rocksy Picture Show where my dad use to take us every Monday night is gone.
The best hamburger shop where my dad took us to eat after a movie is also gone.
I shall miss it dearly because the taste of her burgers was the best that I have ever known.
And whatever became of the Abe May Shoe Store where I got my first job when I was a teen? It too is gone.
O Issaquena. Where did they all go? I really would like to know.


Curtis writes to Ye Editor: “Growing up on the plantation in poverty, I never realized how rich I really was. As I look back on those days and develop the snapshots of my memory, I discover those golden treasures. Thanks for allowing me to share such treasures with others!”

Curtis Johnson, Sr., a native Mississippian, is a former pastor and presently owns a business with Barbara, his wife of 35 years. Residing near Sacramento, California, he is the proud father of 3 and grandfather of 6 grandchildren. He loves gardening and writing. Email address: cj8080

Read more stories by Rev. Johnson:
Mattson ~ A Place Unforgotten
More Than Race
Man, Mule and Mouse
Missing Mississippi

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