Gallman to Brookhaven. 21.3 miles/1053.4 total
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
I'm on Highway 51 just north of the Westhaven Funeral Home in Gallman, heading down through Hazlehurst to the northern edge of Brookhaven. The sun is trying to shine through some high clouds. It’s in the high 40s, going up to 50-something, with sunshine most of the time.
I pass the residence and place of business of Sister Sophie, Reader and Advisor. For my European audience, fortune telling for money is not legal in all states. For example, it’s illegal in Michigan, New York. Gypsies, tramps, and thieves, and all that. Down here it’s got to make you think of that movie The Gift, with Cate Blanchett. [I couldn’t remember the name of the movie during the day, so I looked it up this evening; Cate Blanchett has been in a lot of movies.] Keanu Reeves was cast a bit against type there as the vicious redneck accused murderer, and did a fairly good job (for Keanu Reeves), aided by the fact that he has that naturally spotty beard, like Joe Dirt.
The vegetation hereabouts begins to remind me of southern Alabama, where my mother-in-law lives. Hilly with lots of trees, not flat and full of cotton like the Delta. Southern oaks—live oaks, water oaks, swamp oaks--and tall pine trees. Decorative gourds made into bird houses hanging from posts. Magnolias in front yards. Red dirt (although not as red as in Alabama).
In less than an hour I enter Hazlehurst, a medium-sized city by southern standards—about 5,500 population. I pause to rest in front of Bumper’s Drive In. Even at this early hour music is blaring from the speakers. It’s Chuck Berry’s “Nadine.” There’s probably no song of his that better showcases the way his lyric virtuosity and uptempo musical exuberance potentiate each other than this one:
I saw her from the corner when she turned and doubled back,
And started walking toward a coffee-colored Cadillac.
I was pushing through the crowd trying to get to where she’s at
And I was campaign shouting like a southern diplomat.
Nadine, honey is that you?
Oh Nadine, honey where are you?
Seems like every time I catch up with you
You’re up to something new.
The sun is shining brightly and the high clouds have dispersed for now as I make my way down into the center of Hazlehurst. The bright sun is the only thing that can really compensate for the fourteen hours of claustrophobic darkness in the motor home each evening.
I see the first acknowledgement that this is the hometown of Robert Johnson in the depiction of him on a mural on the side of a building. In the center of town is a little green with a historical marker about the city. Hazlehurst was named for the chief engineer of the first Jackson to New Orleans railroad. The last spike was driven here on March 31, 1858.
There’s also a marble monument to Robert Johnson. On one side it has a guitar and some musical notes and says he was born here on May 8, 1911. On the other side it says a few more things about him. At the moment there's a string of Christmas lights around the monument.
Behind some magnolia trees and a Confederate monument is the Copiah County Courthouse. It’s built of yellow brick, with four columns in front, but the doors are on either side, through columned porticoes. Inside there’s a small rotunda that looks up to a plaster dome. The main courthouse is set off in another wing behind, and it has a dome of its own and a circular gallery on the second floor. There were some renovations in 2008, with the addition of new oak railings on the second and third floors and cedar plank flooring. Altogether a unique and handsome building.
South on Highway 51 I go past a succession of large houses and mansions, no doubt of the merchants who shipped timber and other commodities from here. Most of these large houses were built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. I pause to pluck a late-growing rose from a bush in front of one of the more stately of the white mansions. It smells beautiful and seems like such a luxury in mid-December. I hold onto it for a long time.
About two-thirds through the day I enter Beauregard, population 265, but I’ll only be skirting this town. I’m guessing this place was named for Confederate General Pierre Gustav Toutant Beauregard, from Louisiana, who didn’t learn to speak English until he was twelve years old. It may have been as president of the New Orleans, Jackson and Mississippi Railroad, after the war, that he became the namesake of this little town.
I pass a sign over someone’s mailbox that says “Only Jesus Saves.” That certainly points up one of the problems in this economy. While most of us live from paycheck to paycheck, sometimes having to borrow against the next one and use our credit cards, Jesus is actually saving--squirreling away a little bit of his money every week, for a rainy day, so when hard times come, Jesus has a something to fall back on. How does he do it? It’s a miracle, I guess.
Next I enter Wesson. I’ll be going right through the middle of this town. It has a population of about 1,700. Wesson was founded in 1864 by Colonel James Madison Wesson, who had lost his cotton milling business during the war and relocated here. After the war the mill began manufacturing high quality cotton, so fine that it became known as Mississippi silk. That lasted for a few decades until the mill went bust in the latter part of the century. Wesson still has a fairly prosperous look to it, with nice customized street signs, black with gold lettering. In the center of town I stop at the gas station-convenience store to get some refreshment.
I also visit an antique mall across the street, and a Case knife store next to the Ace Hardware. This is more stuff than most Mississippi towns this size have.
A couple of miles down the road I cross into Lincoln County, which was named for President Lincoln. I half expected to discover that it had been named for a different Lincoln. Who expected there to be a county named for him in Mississippi, a place where they still celebrate Robert E. Lee's birthday? But there you are. The state is full of surprises.
At last I enter Brookhaven city limits and the motor home comes into view. I won’t see much of the city today.