Mississippi, my ode to thee...


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Photos by my cousin Kevin Waller Sr.

I sat at a park in Jackson. I'm told the name was 100 Black Men. How fittin' I think. I wanna taste, see, smell and experience it all. Notebook in hand, my Paw Paw is next to me unamused. All he really wants is shade and BBQ. Bein' the eldest in attendance it's as if i'm in front of royalty. Known' I may never get the chance I begin. I ask of his 80+ years on earth. He stays quiet. A man of few words, I've never known my Paw Paw to say much. I  guess it's the quiet Southern spirit in him. I pause then know where to go. Mississippi I think. "Paw Paw, I say. He's exasperated but indulges. "I wanna know more about your younger years. Were you born in Greenville?" It's as if a light clicks. Success I whisper to myself. And the conversation flows. For someone who speaks low and slow I struggle to keep up. There's a ,"born of a midwife, sold ice in rural northern Mississippi here, plowed a mule and tractor at 9 there. 18 drove tractors for Daddy here, finished 12th grade then went to work in jewelry there. Farmin', yes farmin' was in our blood. But I knew this. I needed more. Siblings are mentioned. So many are mentioned I loose count around ten. How did I not know this? Wait, I did but never cared. I mentally slap myself and struggle to refocus while he rambles on about a 64 Chevy he built. Now I really don't care but pretend I do.  Army... Now we're gettin' to the good stuff I think. Aww, Basic Training was in Arkansas. Well, that's no fun. I knew we had Miilitary background. I paid attention to that long slide show of the family history night one while the sister cracked jokes.  I want more my mind screams. I want the information he's never spoke of. Just sit patient I tell myself. I can't. I interrupt and ask about Greenville. I'd heard stories of how my Momma and her sisters were the first to integrate the elementary school in Greenville. I must know more. How does this even come about in the mid 60's? Paw Paw pauses for a good moment. He starts ramblin' on about the men who attacked him one day after work and how nothin' was done to them cause he was black. Ohh, this I knew. And then he veers. He tells of marchin' in the Mississippi Civil Rights. The things he saw. The love/hate he felt. Walkin' Washington Avenue with a white professor from Tugaloo College and the hate that brave man got. The attack and how he never saw that man again. He talks of planin' to walk into the courthouse protection in hand. He never makes it. He has good enough sense to go home. The next day a younger white gentleman named Kerry Stern walks on his yard as he mows the lawn. His wife in the Kitchen, his kids in the house. "We have a brief- yes sir, no sir chat", he finishes. Then the guy says he knows my reputation around town. He knows I'll fight for my kids. He has a proposition. He wants my kids to go to school.. before he can finish My Uncle Robert is brother becomes intrigued and looks over. "Got 'em", I tell myself . I guess he's never heard this part of the story. By now the spades games has stopped. The little rugrats rollin' on the floor about to catch a whoopin' have ceased and all eyes are on my Paw Paw. Those not listenin' are either playin' basketball, swimmin' or settin' up lunch. He continues...  of how a simple conversation lead to a monumental moment in Mississippi history. I'm silent. All my life I'd imagine some grand elaborate moment, some monumental happenstance. When really it was two men forgin' a friendship over their love of tractors. I can't help but smile at the man I call my favorite person. My Paw Paw. And it it's then I realize why he's lived in the same two bedroom house 40+ years. Why he's never left. Why he loves Mississipi so much. 

So, Mississippi, I marvel at your beauty, your gracious bounty.Your summer heat and gentle wind. Your kind spirit and Southern ways. 

Mississippi, here's to you.  54 years ago you gave to thee. 

Happay Birfday, Momma. 
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25 comments

  1. Family is wonderful. Great pictures of yours, and such a sweet story from your Paw Paw. :)

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  2. Beautiful story and photos :) I've heard such great things about Mississippi, definitely want to go there one day!

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  3. So beautiful! Family is everything. This reminds me of my Grandfather. He was born and raised in Louisiana--and even though he lives in upstate new york now, I think his heart will always be in Louisiana

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    1. I'm sure it wouldn't be anywhere else

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  4. Happy Birthday to your mama! Your images are beautiful!

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  5. What a great family photos to have. Happy Birthday to your mom.

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  6. You took some great photos! There's nothing better than spending time with family. Happy birthday to your mom!

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  7. Wow. Cherish these stories, and dig for more and more memories. I have lost my maternal Grandmother this year, my paternal Grandmother is not long off and my husband lost his only Grandfather two years ago. You only have a short time to soak them up once you are old enough to really appreciate them! I love that you called him Paw Paw and Happy Birthday to your Momma!

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  8. Happy Birthday to your Momma. Family history is so fun to learn!

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  9. These are some amazing photos! I don't think I could get my entire family to sit still long enough to take a shot! Happy Birthday to your Mom!

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  10. this is so beautiful! i wish I was able to talk to my grandma like this before her alzheimers set in.. now I don't know what's real and what's not. Happy Bday to your mom!

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  11. Wow. One of my hobbies is family genealogy, and I wish so much I'd been able to document these experiences my grandparents have. They both died too young--bravo to you for making sure to listen to the stories and to love the time you have with them. :)

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  12. What a great story! I love your pictures too. What a great way to capture the memories.

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  13. Love this!! I need to get my family together for some photos like this soon!

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  14. Beautiful family photos girl! I love getting together with family! Happy birthday to your mom!

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  15. Spending time with family is the best, especially the older generations who always have so much to say if you just listen.

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  16. Wow. Awesome photos and story of your Paw Paw. Military, civil rights, friendships... such a rich story, that I'm sure you could write an entire book about. Thank you for sharing!

    xo,
    lauriel
    EyeForElegance.com

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  17. Great photos of you all. Thanks for sharing your story.

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  18. Wonderful post. Beuatifull expressed. The photos are amazing. I love history nad learning from our elders.

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  19. What a sweet post. Glad you have all of this recorded, it's so important to document these things for future generations.

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  20. So great. Love your pictures, Love your family!

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  21. This is great! I lost my Pop- POP years ago. It broke my heart cause he was my favorite person. I would do this with him though. we even became pen pals! this was a great read. Ienjoy your writing!

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  22. Beautiful post! Love your pictures. Beautiful family!

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