A Mississippi Whisper: Prologue

I remember the fire; and the hidden grave, and the shock at what turned up. I remember bobcats. I remember a Negro baseball player.

It’s funny how we remember things a long time ago better than things right now. Somebody told me once when we are younger our minds are more fertile and better able to absorb; how fruitful soil husbands seeds better than dry, windswept, old and hardened ground that rejects new life. I remember when I became ten-years old. It was almost as if it were a book I had read a hundred times.

News about the Supreme Court and a judgment changing schools around the country.

Everyone seemed to talk about Ethel and Julius Rosenberg.

And General Eisenhower becoming president; and Stalin, the big leader of the Communists in Russia, dying. Everybody seemed pretty happy about him dying. My daddy said Stalin was a murdering screwball. But it made me wonder why a murdering screwball was on our side in WWII. I figured I didn’t know why, because of my age.

The Korean War ended in 1953 before school had started, but I never understood the reason for a war there. Daddy and my grandfather, Big Daddy, and lots of other men said it would have ended a lot sooner if we had listened to General MacArthur instead of those knuckleheads in Washington. Big Daddy said MacArthur’s talent stood next to Robert E. Lee’s or Stonewall Jackson’s, and nobody could ask more. He had low regard for Truman, even if he was a Baptist. He said if he had been a Methodist they probably would have impeached him. My grandmother said they should have impeached him for being a Methodist if he had been one. She didn’t realize I was in the room until after she had said it, so I think she regretted saying it. She had a lot of Methodist friends who she taught piano to and played bridge with. I didn’t ask what “impeached” meant, but it didn’t sound like it was something you wanted done to you—like being impaled while picking blackberries.

We all dreaded one thing the most. We lived in terror of it. It seemed to be talked about more, and feared more, than spies and wars and communists, and anything else. It didn’t break bodies alone, it broke hearts and souls and families too, my mother said: poliomyelitia—infantile paralysis—polio.

There seemed to be a lot of other things people would end up talking about, like the Yankees winning the pennant in the American League and the usual thing of the Dodgers winning the National League pennant, which meant a Dodger-Yankee World Series. They would play in October and everybody who had a transistor radio tried to sneak it into school; or tried to come up with some strange ailment so he could stay home and listen. Or, for a few lucky ones, to watch on TV, something brand new.

In 1953, some guy named Hugh Heffner came out with a magazine called Playboy. And it would be in some of the stores. My brother, Henry, said it would be a magazine with some pictures of naked girls. I wondered where he heard about it, but I assumed it was true because my mother said if she weren’t a lady she would write Mr. Hefner a letter and tell him where he could put his magazine.

But things in my home in Jackson were important because they were right there so close you could almost touch them. And you knew most everybody and who they belonged to.

My daddy’s name was Randolph McCoy, but most everybody called him Randy. My grandfather, also named Randolph, though he had a different middle name. But everyone called him Mr. Randy except Henry and me. We called him Big Daddy. My mother’s maiden name was Linda Everette. She had become a McCoy before my daddy sailed to Burma in WWII. Her mother, who we called Minnie, wrote verse and song, and played and taught the piano; and though she played many selections and requests, her soothing, gentle, efforts of Moonlight Sonata were etched on my childhood soul. Her husband, my other grandfather, Charles Everette, my namesake, had died in the great influenza epidemic of 1919 shortly after my mother’s birth.

I remember my mother had an expression she used about almost any excitable situation. We called it her Mississippi statement: “In a Mississippi Minute”; or “You’re making a Mississippi Mess”; or “You’re as filthy as Mississippi Mud.” She usually directed them at Henry or me.

My sister, Katy Jean was twenty. She struggled. These are things I remember, and an old colored man named Joe Washington who had played baseball in the Negro Leagues, who had a build more like a boxer than a ballplayer.

With will and memory I often go back to a time, to a place. And like an eddy drawing events to it, often it is the fire and the ashes drawing my mind to the memories.

A Mississippi Whisper is due for release in December of 2014.

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