That's What I Like about the South
Trip Start Feb 15, 2013
8Trip End Feb 25, 2013
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We got a fairly early start from Greg's house and went north on Highway 49 toward Bentonia, MS, in search of Dad's churches in the Bentonia and Satartia area. My family moved to Satartia from Natchez in June of 1965, the year I turned 9, and we stayed there for one year. I can remember coming home from school many afternoons to find Mother and Daddy sitting at the kitchen table drinking coffee and talking. I found out later it was the roughest year in their marriage and in my father's career. They pulled through it and decided to go to Atlanta the next year where my dad enrolled for a masters degree in sociology and religion.
My dad served three churches, each with a distinct personality. The first of these was Mt. Olivet in Bentonia
Our hosts were George and Carolyn Butler, two of the nicest people you ever want to meet. They told us all about their experiences serving the churches in the 1980's and confirmed my memory that Mt. Olivet was the largest and warmest of the three churches, Satartia was rather formal and somewhat stand-offish, and Wesley Chapel was tiny and barely staying open
The word on Mt. Olivet was that they had torn down the church I knew and built a new one on the same site within the past year. George gave us directions to get there and from there to Wesley Chapel ("Turn left when you get to the dumpsters!") and Satartia Methodist Church. After telling us all sorts of other intriguing details about life and people in rural Mississippi and taking us on a tour of the house, George and Carolyn posed for a photo which we promised to send to them once back home. Since we first stepped into the house we had been feeling like we had jumped back 50 years through a time warp, and then Carolyn snapped us back to the present by telling us we could send the picture file to her via e-mail or Facebook!
We finally hugged the Butlers goodbye and headed off to Mt. Olivet, a sweet simple little church. The building was new to me but I remembered the trees
We drove on to Wesley Chapel, driving for what felt like a very long way and thinking we must have missed it until we spotted it perched on a hilltop. There was a church member inside cleaning in preparation for a meeting. When I introduced myself and told her about my father, she immediately remembered him! She said that the church was about to close, since the old members were dying out and the young people in the community had nothing to keep them there and were leaving as soon as they were old enough. She added that they were hoping to keep the sanctuary as a chapel for the old cemetery right next to it. This is a common story all over the country--in another couple of decades that way of life may be history.
Going to Bentonia was one of those occasions when I got a glimpse inside the real world of where I was visiting and not just a tourists-eye view
Rebecca's Story Continues
We took a short drive down to Highway 3 and made our way to Satartia. Sadly, the old historic school building I attended in 4th grade had been torn down. It was already ancient when I went there, so I suppose it was inevitable that it would go once the small number of remaining students were transferred to the consolidated school. The church and parsonage next door looked just the same, however
Once we had taken 10 minutes to see all of Satartia, we drove back out to Highway 3 and headed west on Route 149 to Route 61-N. We quickly found ourselves in the Mississippi Delta, passing mile after mile of flat fields of dark wet soil punctuated by tiny houses and trailers. I had made the drive many times in my childhood on the way to visit family in Greenville and the land looked familiar but I was struck by the obvious extreme poverty of the region, which I had never noticed as a child. We arrived at a Hampton Inn on Highway 1 in Greenville and called my first cousin once removed, Jessica Brent. She had contacted all of the Greenville branch of the Brent family and invited them to drop by to visit me at her father Howard's house. Howard was the youngest son of my father's brother Jesse Brent, who owned a river towing business, Brent Towing Company. My dad told lots of stories about summers spent with Howard running around the woods, swimming in the local swimming hole, and generally having one of those childhoods nostalgic books are written about
I was a little anxious about all the family dropping by, but I shouldn't have been. It was lovely seeing people I hadn't seen in years, hearing stories about my dad, and being surrounded in the wonderful embrace of family. The whole gathering was so warm and felt so comfortable, I really hated to see it end. But end it did and we headed out to Doe's Eat Place, the site of many family gatherings over the years that looks like a hole in the wall and serves food that gets written about in national magazines and won a James Beard Award a few years ago. If you check out the website (<http://www.doeseatplace.com/index.html>) you can read the history of the place and have a peek at the menu. We ate with Howard and two of his children, Lincoln and Jessica (my contemporaries), and Betty Jo and Bob Boyd. Howard and Betty Jo are both children of my Uncle Jesse. The meal was fantastic and the company was even better!
Greenville was just as memorable as Bentonia. I had met one or two people in this branch of the Brent family before and had heard enough about the others to know that if Bentonia was the Deep South, this was going to be the Deep South on steroids
I particularly enjoyed meeting Howard’s children. His son Lincoln, who was the first one to talk with me, was super-friendly and kept checking in with me all evening to make sure I was doing all righthttp://www.jessicabrent.com/Mainframeset.htm — click on the link to "Listen"). Eden is for my money the best contemporary blues singer-pianist in the U.S., which is to say, in the world. If you listen to any of her songs onYouTube, like the one at (www.youtube.com/watch?v=gf2CFs1JHMU), which she wrote, it won’t surprise you to find out that she’s classically trained on piano. (Better play that particular song when the younger kids aren’t listening.) Other pianists I know in the non-classical world who can play like that are Oscar Peterson, Chick Corea, and Billy Joel, and I’d have to strain to come up with more. Talking to her about music in her father’s kitchen is something I won’t forget in a hurry.
I was struck by how different this gathering was from anything in my experience, and I don’t know how much of it was cultural and how much was this particular family. As many of you reading this blog know, my family parties are enjoyable but subdued affairs, with small groups of people quietly chatting about physics and politics and music and sipping wine and sometimes playing trivia games or Scattergories, with people occasionally sneaking off for chess or bridge