Thursday, April 25, 2013

Down South

Memphis is a gas, even though most of the town is quite depressed. The tourist areas are in danger of being Disneyfied, but there’s still a blues band playing in every bar on Beale Street, and those bars serve the best barbecue you’ll ever eat.  There’s a statue of WC Handy on Beale Street and the saying goes, if you rub his shoes, some of his mojo will wear off on you.  Laugh if you like, but I’ll say this: I started playing with the Serenaders shortly after the first time rubbed WC’s shoes. One of the first songs we learned was the St Louis Blues. Coincidence?

Northeastern Arkansas is another story. There are very good reasons why my mother got on a Greyhound bus in 1956 and never looked back.

I miss the South of my childhood. I remember the dark, dirty country stores selling everything from “chaw” to chicken feed. Their counters were always crowded with mysterious jars of pickled eggs, pickled pigs feet and pickled I don’t even want to imagine.  I remember reaching deep into a standing chest cooler to pull a frosty bottle of RC Cola out of the melted ice. I remember my grandpa wearing overalls so worn they were almost white, with a tissue-thin undershirt that showed his bony ribs. He was a mean old bastard but he knew everything there was to know about doctoring horses and driving a team. I remember the menfolk disappearing out behind the barn to pass around a bottle and tell lies. The women sat around the kitchen table smoking cigarettes and trading malicious gossip. Those gals could calculate the amount of time between a wedding and a birth down to the hour.  

Of course, that’s not the whole story.  Rumor has it that some of my male relatives used to actively harass anyone who was not white (and when I say “harass” I’m  referring to the head-busting-for-the-fun-of-it variety.)  They’re family and I love ‘em, but I have no illusions about their politics or attitudes.

Despite the poverty and pain and pure cussedness, I miss those dusty, sleepy southern towns with their ‘five and dime’ and feed stores. Now it’s all Walmart and Arby’s; sad.