I love traveling the backroads of Mississippi. The old narrow highways hold haunting images of what life was like back in the day I was a kid — old country stores with crooked screen doors and PURE Oil signs and empty gins and red dirt roads and kudzu and old family homes leaning to decay, smothered in vines. I am constantly braking to look, and I am always grabbing for my camera. My son has threatened to create me a bumper sticker that says, “This Car Makes Violent Stops and Starts.”
Last week’s jaunt deeper South took me down the Natchez Trace to Tupelo and then across Highway 6 through Oxford and Batesville to Clarksdale, where I hit the famous 61.
It’s still cotton time in the Delta, and in places the road was lined with white, little fluffs that were blown off trailers and hang to edges of the asphalt. I traveled through fields of picked cotton, cotton still on the vine, active gins and compresses…and those cotton fluffs at the side of the road. It chokes me up to even think about it, and the tears flow freely. I think my blood must be white. Cotton was King when I was little.
In Batesville, trailers of cotton had been dropped off for ginning, and I noticed plant yards full of them, all with messages spray-painted on the front sides. “I Am Sick of Healthcare.” “God bless America.” “The Dollar Shall Rise Again.” This was new! They didn’t used to do this when I was a little girl. I found it funny and fascinating and made one of those violent stops on the side of the road to take some pictures — thoughts and concerns and prayerful thanksgiving of grassroots America. Free billboards.