by Lonnye Sue Sims Pearson
I stepped out on my front porch this morning and smelled spring. You know, that distinctively clean-new-growth-warm-weather-is-coming-even-though-it's-chilly aroma. Immediately, I felt a pang of homesickness that I have not felt in years.
Outside the deep Southern states of Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Tennessee and Mississippi, the Mississippi Delta is unknown. It exists, but few events occur that make the rest of the country take notice.
According to local folklore, the Mississippi Delta begins in the lobby of the Peabody Hotel in Memphis and ends on Catfish Row in Vicksburg. It is a large, flat agricultural, alluvial region in the northwest corner of the state that has long been one of the economically poorest areas in America, if not the poorest. It stretches north to just over the Mississippi-Tennessee border, east about a hundred miles to the red clay hills, and south to the rolling, kudzu-covered land where Sherman marched into the state during the Civil War. The Delta even crosses the mighty Mississippi into Arkansas, but, of course, there it is known as the Arkansas Delta.
Known simply as The Delta, this area is a unique combination of beauty and wonder that abides only in the eyes and imaginations of its natives. The Delta produces a distinctive personality, dialect and attitude. Perhaps it is the isolation; perhaps it is the fact that the Delta was the last region in Mississippi to be settled; perhaps it is the proximity to the infamous river or the humidity or the mosquitoes; perhaps it's magic. Whatever that "something" is that makes the region a world unto itself, it cannot be denied by the natives of the Delta.
So on this late winter morning while a chill settles over the Coastal Plains of North Carolina, the memories of Delta mornings flood my senses. I remember -- no, I feel - the silky, sticky, humid air close around me, and the texture of the dark earth between my fingers is so strong I am suprised at the sand I find beneath the azaleas and dogwoods in my Goldsboro garden. I hear the buzzing and chirping and humming of life. I see the turned fields and the muddy waters of rivers and creeks and bayous (pronounced bi-o in the Delta) covered in creeping vegetation that cannot be stopped and spectacular sunrises and sunsets that cannot be matched anywhere else on earth. I smell the mesmerizing sweetness of black loam mingled with muddy river water, honeysuckle, wisteria, rambling roses, privet hedge and diesel fuel.
For you to understand, I would have to take you to that vast, open region that was once covered in hardwood forests, riddled with swamps and bogs created by the overflowing Mississippi River, choked with briars and shrubby plants so thick a man must hack his way through to show you the two-foot deep topsoil so rich you can plant a broomstick and it will sprout green. I would have to take you to the rice fields with their precise levees, to the catfish farms where pond water sparkles in the glaring sun, to the oxbow lakes formed by the mighty river waters, to the cemtery where blues guitarist Robert Johnson is buried, to the cotton field where my daddy was born, to the state penitentiary where my grandfather was a camp warden. I would have to take you to Rosedale and Benoit and Greenville snuggled up to the massive levee built to retain raging flood waters; to Ruleville to meet the costume designer for John Wayne; to Batesville where caskets are made; to Clarksdale to the Blues Museum and Madidi, Morgan Freeman's restaurant; to Moorhead where the Southern crosses the Yellow Dog; to Indianola to visit the catfish processing plant that ships catfish all over the world; to Belzoni to see the catfish ponds dotting the landscape; to the Delta side of Yazoo City, home of author Willie Morris; to Greenwood, a city named for Greenwood Leflore, a Choctaw chief; to Rolling Fork, which takes its name from the "rolling fork" in Deer Creek and to Cleveland, the jewel of the Delta, my hometown.
Even after a lengthy tour, the visit would be just that -- a visit. One must live in the Delta to understand its power.
Oh, the aroma of spring is magical, isn't it?
Lonnye Sue Sims Pearson grew up in the Mississippi Delta, but now calls North Carolina home. She's an English teacher (one of THOSE), and she loves to share her stories.
Write Lonnye Sue at Deltamiss2002
To read more of Lonnye Sue's tales at USADS, visit these links:
The Last Train
Elvis Forever . . . And Ever
Peace on Earth
Pecan tree oddity
Read many more great stories listed on our USADS Articles pages.
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