Currently UnavailablePosted: May 3, 2008
I got pushed. Pushed into doing something I was skeptical of. I’d held back, acted with reason and practicality. Then I succumbed, and it was my mother who made me do it.
It’s not the first time she pushed me. I recall the summer Ronald Reagan was running for president. My whole family was spending the day at the Choctaw Indian Fair in Philadelphia, Mississippi, and Reagan was scheduled to fly in by helicopter and make a speech. The area was cordoned off by big 18-wheeler trailers, presumably for crowd control and protection. As we leisurely strolled by, my mother apparently recognized what was going to happen on the other side of those trailers and pointed to the space about four feet high under one. The next thing I knew, two hands landed on my back and pushed — shoved hard! — along with a guttural command, “Go Kathy. Go under.” She pushed me under the trailer … and followed. We were in. My two tiny kids were out. I’d abandoned them, leaving their grandfather with a stroller and a little hand to hold. Mom and I watched the presidential candidate land, waved flags, clapped and cheered with the crowd, snapped pictures, and listened to the speech. After it was over, she said, “Aren’t you glad I pushed you?”
This time, the mighty push had to do with a book purchase. I don’t usually need a push; I buy books all the time. But this one was expensive. There was only ONE left in the whole wide world. I’d wanted it for years as a resource for my writing, at times when several copies were available at used bookstores. I almost put it on my Christmas list last year as a suggestion for my husband, but it cost $54 then, and I didn’t want to ask for a book with that steep of a price. The title kept coming up in my research, though, so I searched for it online again. ONE COPY AVAILABLE. $100.
I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Not that much money for a used book. Ne-ver.
I mentioned it to my mother during a phone conversation, for shock effect. She grew up during the Great Depression.
“Do it,” she said. “Get it! Buy it! Order it! I’ll even send you the money.” She sounded like one of the creatures in “Goblin Market.” Come buy, come buy. I stretched my gleaming neck. I felt her hands pushing against my back, clawing, scratching — even though she is 400 miles away — moving me up the stairs, to the mouse, to the bookseller, to the cart … and click, it was done. I bought it — Where I Was Born and Raised by David L. Cohn.
Page 12. “The Mississippi Delta begins in the lobby of the Peabody Hotel in Memphis and ends on Catfish Row in Vicksburg.” This quote I have used in essays and in my novel — this book, containing the earlier published God Shakes Creation, is the source.
Cohn goes on to explain that, of course, the Delta doesn’t begin at the Peabody. It does begin at a point south of Memphis and end at a point north of Vicksburg. The Peabody symbolized the wealth and culture of Delta white folks who used to go to Memphis to eat, shop, rub shoulders in the Peabody lobby with the rich and famous. Catfish Row “is a typical gathering-place of Negroes. Here are no marble fountains, no orchestras playing at dinner, no movement of bell-boys in bright uniforms. Tumble-down shacks lean crazily over the Mississippi River far below. Inside them are … the music of guitars, the aroma of love, and the soul-satisfying scent of catfish frying to luscious gold-brown in sizzling skillets.”
The book is old; its two parts were written in 1935 and 1947 by one who grew up in the Delta and left, then returned to offer an adult re-evaluation of Southern life — there in that place like no other, a place of complexities and contradictions and a history the rest of the country never understood, a history its own people didn’t understand and were/are slow to grow out of. The most southern place on earth.
I got my hands on it. I can’t wait to get my teeth into it.