She said, “I don’t think I’m doing too badly for 56.” To which I replied, “Aunt Gloria, I’m over 60, so…….” She laughed and mused for a minute, then exclaimed, “Then I must be 86! But I don’t remember being 86! These days I do good to remember my own name.”
And that’s why I had to take a little side trip to South Carolina, to the Hilton Head area, to see her.
And it went on like that with my visit to see cousins in the Atlanta area; they are aged 91, 85, 76 and 74. The 74-year-old is taking care of the 91-year-old (with help).
While everybody in this grouping all knew who they were, where they were and what time it was, they were losing so many of their physical abilities. All were leaning – one on the other. It’s just a matter of time. But it was another one of several great side trips from Miami to Dallas, one I could not take in a straight line as I made my way to my new home in Texas. Remember I mentioned that a few weeks ago?
As I drove along the way, every shade of green imaginable was on display. I don’t know individual trees but I was moved by the natural beauty of the countryside: the dips and sway of the land which follows natural rivers and valleys that man could not alter as they were paved over. I loved seeing all that nature through my windshield, close enough for me to like it without being in it.
The next side trip was to Tuscaloosa, Ala., to visit a cousin of my driving companion. This time I had to find Stillman College, a very small but lively historically black school. Yes, there were oak trees, rolling lawns, and smiling students. The college is on a main street that carries three names, so typical of the routes I was about to discover as I headed north and west.
Then it was on to Clarksdale, Miss., to visit the home of the Delta Blues and the Ground Zero Blues Club owned by actor Morgan Freeman. Getting there was half the fun. I entered the area after dark and while my “trip tic” from AAA was perfect, the small country roads were not always visible. I had to make a few U-turns before I finally arrived at the intersection of the Alley and Delta Street at the railroad tracks.
Little did I know when I planned the itinerary for the road trip that I would arrive in Clarksdale on the eve of the annual Juke Joint Festival.
There were characters galore in the club and the jam had only just begun. Folks from all over the country were arriving for what has become a yearly ritual. Several people who had purchased homes in the area just to have a place to stay during this festival were among the attendees.
As luck would have it, I was able to secure a room on the floor above the club, in a building that was originally designed for grading cotton.
There was a small contingent from the Deep Cuts band. The early arrivals included “Razor Blade” – actually a legend whose photo is hanging in the Blues Museum across the street from the club – and “Nail File,” a tenor saxophone player from Boston who was mixing with the local band of the night.
Missing from the scene were “Butcher Knife,” “Pocket Knife” and “Switch Blade.”
I assumed they would all show up before the weekend was over to jam as one very deep cutting band.
At breakfast the next morning, “Johnny be Good” happily explained that blues musicians use fictitious names – sometimes more than one – so that no one can easily find them.
Needless to say, I plan to return to the area for some down-home blues. The Sunflower Blues Festival, named for the Sunflower River that flows past town, takes place every August, so it’s a toss-up.
The remainder of the drive took me to places I had only heard of over the years. To say that the Mississippi Delta tributaries are widespread and fertile is an understatement; the dirt was actually black!
I passed by Little Rock and skirted Hot Springs, Ark., and then I drove through Texarkana-Arkansas/Texas.
So I’ve arrived in the big “D,” six days after starting out from Miami and I have been warmly welcomed by a contingent of “new” friends whom I had made before I even left Miami. Thank you to all who helped me with the hook ups. You’d better believe that I will continue to network my way through Dallas and return to Miami with many more tales.
Meanwhile, are you following the stories about educators cheating in Atlanta, the progress, or lack thereof, on gun legislation, brain mapping, et al? Stay tuned. There is so much more to come.
Antonia Williams-Gary may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org