Brookhaven to Norfield. 19.5 miles/1072.9 total
Thursday, December 17, 2009
I’m just inside Brookhaven, headed down through that city and a couple of small towns to my destination a few miles south of Norfield. Cloudy, temperature in the mid-40s. They predict rain for this afternoon .
I’ll be going right through the center of Brookhaven, which has a population of just under 10,000 and is the county seat of Lincoln County. The city was named for Brookhaven, New York by its founder, Samuel Jayne, in 1818.
This morning I awoke to discover that I’d run out of propane during the night. No propane means no heat, no hot water, and no stove. The stove I can do without, and use the microwave, but the heat and hot water are things I like to have first thing in the morning so I can take a warm shower. I just don’t feel human without that shower, and it’s nice to step out of the shower into a warm place. Overnight I can stay warm without the heat, at least in this climate, where it rarely gets below freezing. Finding propane will be job one at the end of this day, which I hope will be at about 4:00 p.m. The last time I filled the 25-gallon tank was up in Salem, Illinois, home town of William Jennings Bryan. So I can’t complain that the motor home uses too much propane.
Highway 51 widens from two lanes into five here in the northern outskirts of Brookhaven. Next to a little shack called Dude’s Hot Biscuits they’re selling Louisiana navel oranges from a stand. I turn left onto Union Avenue. It’s good to be in a bustling little city. I find walking through cities so much more diverting than walking through the country, at least so far. There’s so much more country than there is city that it gets a little tiresome.
Union is a narrow, paved, sidewalkless street of little brick ranch houses that give way, after the railroad tracks, to some larger and older frame houses with porches. They’re not necessarily nicer, just larger. Union has turned into Church Street, and I turn left onto Monticello. Downtown the old Brookhaven train station is still intact and being used as a train station, unlike most of its kind. Streets with downtown shops face the train station from both sides.
Down at the end of the park next to the train station there’s a historical marker and a little manger scene of white metal figures ringed with Christmas lights. Some wise men, too. If this is municipal property, Brookhaven is showing a disregard for the separation of church and state. I suppose that’s par for the course down here. But God knows there are enough churches that could put religious stuff up in their front yards that they don’t need to do it in the town parks.
There’s a bust of J.W. McGrath, 1861-1922, some kind of muckety-muck here in Brookhaven. Down from there is an old log cabin, the Foster Smith Cabin, circa 1820. At the far end of this little linear park along the tracks there’s another historical marker, which commemorates the Brookhaven Light Artillery, also known as Hoskins’s Battery. It saw action in numerous Civil War engagements, including the Battle of Jackson, the Battle of Mechanicsburg, the Atlanta Campaign, and the Battle of Nashville. Losers.
I walk down Chickasaw Street past the Presbyterian Church, a red brick building in need of paint and repairs that looks like it might have some touches of the Moorish revival style. Anyway, it has those middle eastern type pointed arches over the windows. Interesting structure, worth restoring if anybody cares to.
On down Chickasaw there are some hundred-year-old frame houses crisply restored, a few of which are painted pink and pale yellow, two colors I dislike in houses. But then, nobody asked me. It’s when I go through a neighborhood like this that I feel the inadequacy of my vocabulary to describe architectural styles. One of my deficiencies as a narrator. I should look for a little pocket-sized book on American residential and public architecture (similar to the one I have on trees) with roof styles, what the different kinds of columns are, and all that. Like George Costanza on Seinfeld, I've always wished that I could be an architect.
Outside the city, I come up to a fence behind which a herd of beef cattle are grazing and they all start moving away from me. They don’t realize that the guy who’s raising them is the one they should fear, not me, because he’ll be loading them onto trucks one of these days and then—look out. They’ll be dead meat, literally. I’m just a friendly guy passing by.
I see a sign by the side of the road that says “Jesus Completely Saves.” If you ask me, that kicks things up a notch from yesterday, when the sign said “Only Jesus Saves.” This one seems to imply that he saves everything. He puts it all in the bank. I guess he can just go into a wastebasket at McDonald’s and get part of a burger and do the whole loaves and fishes thing with it, then turn some water into wine, and kick back. Nice deal.
Soon I’ll be walking through the village of Bogue Chitto. When I first saw the name, I was curious about how the locals pronounced it, and I assumed it wouldn’t be exactly the way I thought it might be pronounced. On Tuesday I was driving back up from McComb and decided to get off at the Bogue Chitto exit and get something to eat at the Shell Truck Stop there. Well, first of all, don’t believe any of that crap about truckers knowing the best places to eat. Overfed and undernourished is what most of them are. From what I’ve seen, a trucker wouldn’t know good food if it came up and slapped him in the face, and there's no chance of that happening at a truck stop.
So as I was waiting for my cheeseburger and fries (edible but overpriced), I decided to ask the fat blond woman who was busy squeezing my burger down onto the grill with a spatula just how the locals pronounce Bogue Chitto.
“Excuse me, ma’am,” I said, “I’m not from around here. How do you say the name of this place?” She turned around and looked at me blankly, then her eyes began to narrow and it seemed to dawn on her that she was talking to a really stupid person. Slowly she said, “Shell.”
That was a joke. (Insert rim shot here.) Actually she said “SHAY-ull.” Another joke. (Rim shot.) Seriously, she told me that the name is pronounced “BAW-guh CHIT-ta.” Which, you have to admit, isn’t exactly the way you’d think they’d say it.
But you know what the really nutty thing is? There’s another Bogue Chitto in Mississippi, over east of Jackson, in Neshoba County. Two Bogue Chittos, no waiting.
A roadside phenomenon of southern Mississippi I’ve failed to mention thus far is the ant hills. Every twenty feet or so on the grassy shoulder there’s an ant hill about a foot in diameter and from three to six inches high. I think they might be fire ant hills. The ants are hunkered down somewhere for the winter, no doubt, but I would hate to step on one of these in the swelter of summer. I’ve been beset by a bunch of fire ants before and still bear the scars. So I have a healthy respect for the little suckers.
Next I enter Norfield, which is even smaller than Bogue Chitto, and that wasn’t much. It did have a gas station and a water tower, though, which Norfield does not. In that gas station I saw an old guy sitting there with the majority of his lower face gone, probably from cancer from dipping snuff. He had a little round open mouth, about the size of a half dollar, and looked like a modified version of the Edvard Munch painting, “The Scream.” It was hard to look, but hard not to look, if you know what I mean.
About an hour ago it began to rain and has been ever since. In the forecast they said there was a 60% chance of rain, and this rain is coming down at about 60% of the intensity of regular rain, so that’s about right.
Once in a while I see something on the roadside that sort of makes my day. This time it is a discarded whoopee cushion. It’s not the kind I’m used to seeing—the rubber inflatable ones with the old cartoon picture of the fat matron sitting on a chair and looking shocked as the word “pooooo” comes out of the cushion. This one is a foam-filled, “self-inflating” whoopee cushion. It’s torn and taped, and doesn’t work, but it’s otherwise more or less intact. On this model, the bit of onomatopoeia used to designate the sound that comes from the cushion is “FLARP!” What a choice word. It makes you wonder why that combination of letters isn't already being used for something.