Sunday, December 6, 2009

Day 54: Ease on down the road

Sidon to Mileston. 21.3 miles/932 total

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Leaving from just south of Sidon, heading for Mileston. The only town of any size I’ll be going through will be Tchula, at about the two-thirds mark.

It’s cold. The sun is trying to shine through some high clouds. There are a few clear spots over in the west. The forecast is for the temperature to reach 52 today, but that doesn’t seem likely.

Less than an hour into the walk I leave Leflore County and enter Holmes County, which was named in honor of David Holmes, the first governor of Mississippi. Actually, Holmes was the last territorial governor of Mississippi, for about eight years, then in 1817 became the first state governor for two years. After that he served one term as U.S. Senator, then was governor again briefly. But more importantly, Holmes County is the birthplace of the great Elmore James.

I enter the outskirts of Cruger. The churches on both sides of the highway are busy, souls being saved and sinners being admonished on this Sunday at mid-morning. Down a side street I see a small group of young men congregated around a few cars and a dumpster, drinking from containers in paper bags, worshipping God in their own less formal way. At the Cruger First Apostolic Faith Church it’s a little early yet for the worship service. Across the street is the Cruger Washeteria in a dilapidated yellow building, combined with the Cruger Bait Shop and Quick Stop, featuring “snocones, hair, t-shirts, caps, slacks, men’s jogging suits”--all of this written in uneven white lettering on a red sign.

Just as the commercial strips in cities have their repeating cycles of businesses—a McDonald’s, an auto parts store, a Burger King, a dollar store, a Wendy’s, a car lot, a beauty shop, a gas station, a tanning parlor, a Taco Bell—repeating every couple of miles or in the next city, so also does the seemingly barren roadside have a repeating cycle of debris—a single work glove, a child's shoe, beer and soda cans, a dirty diaper, a used ink pen, a four-inch lag bolt, a chicken bone, a dead animal, a Styrofoam container, a rubber strap from a truck. It’s an almost endless succession, interrupted once in a while by something unique or an empty space, then happening all over again, so that sometimes I feel as if I’ve been yanked back in time and distance to a point I experienced five miles or five days ago.

I’ve now left the cotton fields behind and am walking along next to the Morgan Brake National Wildlife Refuge, at about ten miles into the walk. Where the entrance to the wildlife refuge is located the map says there’s supposed to be a place called Wyatt. But there’s no Wyatt, and not even the suggestion of a Wyatt. This is truly a phantom village. Maybe there was a railroad station here once. There was supposed to have been a place called Keirn about two miles back. No Keirn, either.

Once in a great while, as the commercial shopping strips occasionally offer you something a little different, so does the road. Maybe a nice tool, some coins, a different species of dead bird. It invogorates you for a few moments. Just now I saw a dead bobcat, the first I’ve ever seen. It’s mangled and flattened, but unmistakably a bobcat, lynx rufus.

At 14.1 miles, I enter Tchula. This is a community of some size, relatively speaking, with a population of over 2,000. It’s all laid out on both sides of 49E, but only goes a couple of blocks in either direction from the highway. I drove through the downtown of Tchula on the way back up from Mileston this morning, and I don’t think I need to visit it again. The old downtown has seen better days, although there was never any chance that it was going to be one of the ten most beautiful places in the country. What commercial activity they have is visible from here on 49E. Tchula has no fewer than two (count ‘em) gas station/convenience stores and a grocery store, not to mention several little pork, chicken, and booze emporiums, housed in tiny windowless trailers. And of course churches. There’s the Rock of Ages Church of God in Christ, where they’re still rocking, even though it’s almost 2:00 p.m. At the Lampton Memorial African Methodist Episcopal Church, the lights are still on, but no one’s home. There’s even a Presbyterian church in Tchula, which indicates that there are white people here (or were, since at the last census the white population was 3.4% of the total). Children in their Sunday best are getting dropped off at home. But the real action is at the Shell mini-mart, where cars come and go regularly and men chat beside their cars. I stop to get some refreshments, then sit outside and take a rest.

Tchula has a slightly hostile feel to it that I can't quite put my finger on, and I am happy to ease on down the road. I stop first at a historical marker that says Tchula was settled in 1826 by Charles Land. Then I go by the Holiness Pentecostal Church of Christ near the intersection of 49E and Route 12, which has recently burned to the ground. I ask a couple of passersby if they know anything about it. One guy says he thinks it happened just last Thursday night. This was a bad fire, and there’s little left of the church but ashes and a few small sticks of black wood. The metal front doors are warped and melted.

Wouldn’t you know it, I’m on Martin Luther King Drive now, as I pass the Klub Kitty Kitty, with a cypress swamp on the other side of the road, red and green algae covering the water.

A couple of miles down I pass Mr. T’s Mid-Night Grill Lounge. At 20 miles I breeze by what must be Westfield, about a dozen houses sitting a half mile to the east of the highway. Then I stop at the graveyard next to the Antioch Missionary Baptist Church, Pastor Joe Jackson. I sit on the heart-shaped tombstone of Jessie L. Holmes White, who lived from 1946 to 2002. Rest in peace, Jessie.

Just before the end of the walk I enter Mileston, which isn’t much but at least has a sign. The motor home is in front of the farmer’s market, a converted gas station. It's been cold all day and I'm happy to get inside.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Google Earth shows Wyatt to be just north of the bridge on 49E on the east side at the end of what looks to be part of Dollar Lake. The ground level pictures show nothing but trees.