Last Friday, July 25th, we set out just before 5:00 a.m., heading to Mississippi. I couldn’t wait to get there. My current work in progress is set in Lafayette County, MS and I wanted to reacquaint myself to this state in whatever way I could. Maybe I’d uncover some additional descriptions of the landscape, or discover some odd detail I hadn’t noticed on an old tobacco shed, or come up with some new way of describing the sound of a rusty, swinging gate at an old abandoned farm. I planned to be on the lookout for anything and nothing in particular. I just wanted to enhance the setting, or spice up the dialogue with some local use of words. I wanted to soak it all in.
We headed south, down I-95, passing South Of The Border about 75 miles from our house. We jumped onto I-2o, turning west around Florence, South Carolina. As I stared out the window in SC, all I could think of was BASTARD OUT OF CAROLINA, Dorothy Allison’s tale of Ruth Anne Boatwright, or, “Bone.” I thought of this story because the stretch through South Carolina was, as my husband put it, “desolate.” And by that I mean, although we traveled along an interstate, for miles and miles around, and for miles and miles ahead, we saw only road – and trees. And more trees, and by then, I came to fully appreciate Dorothy Allison’s ability to tug us into that rural setting.
Personally, I loved it. This is a bit of a different route than we normally take, and it not only knocked off about two hours of our time, it was what I’d call easy driving. Just make sure you have a full tank for certain stretches, because civilization seemed rather far away.
That is, until we got to Atlanta. Hello five lanes and eighty miles per hour. The next town worth mentioning is Birmingham, AL. I could talk about the race riots, but how about if I mention another book, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. Harper Lee lives in Monroeville AL, which is about three hours away from Birmingham. She grew up in the thirties, so you can imagine how the situation in the early 60’s in Birmingham held such a strong influence over her writing. I almost wanted to divert our route, if only to pass through her little town, just to say I’d been there.
Finally, after about 12 hours, we arrived in Holly Springs, MS – which is actually in Marshall County. Lafayette is right next door. And it wasn’t long before I was soaking up that deep south exposure, from the fried pickles (to die for) and the catfish, (swoon) , to the fresh garden tomatoes and an enormous watermelon a neighbor plopped onto my in laws front porch, the fruit still warm from the sun. There were the ever present coyotes howling at night. The frogs croaking so loud in the pond at dusk we had to raise our voices just a notch to be heard. The massive amounts of lightning bugs flickering in “the bottom,” and a view of the stars above, shining ever so bright because the farm is so far out in the country.
My father in law had a buddy drop by, “Bobby Mac,” and they got to talking about all of their antics during Field Trials, the types of saddles that were good, the hunts they used to have and the good old bird dog, Misty Morn, my father in law (Nathan Cottrell) used to work with. They told stories about old friends, one gentleman who went by the name of Flick Ash – or “Flicky Ash,” as he was sometimes called. There has to be a story with a name like that. And there is, right here. It wasn’t long before they mentioned “Hotdog,” and told crazy stories about what all he’d done in the past.
We were gone a week, but in that time, I came away, once again, with an awareness of just how much I love the Deep South, it’s ever present sense of history, the fine people who inhabit quaint little towns, the traditions, the soft southern dialect that is slightly different – even to my ears, “honey, pass me them cucumbers, would you?” The easy, breezy lifestyle where you go down a country road, and if encountering another vehicle, you always, always receive a wave.
It goes without saying that all of my stories are set in the south, not only because I’m from here, but because I couldn’t imagine it any other way.
What places have influenced your writing?