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Coming Home to Mississippi

Charline R. McCord

Publication Year: 2013

In this collection, essayists examine their lives, their memories of Mississippi, the reasons they left the state, and what drew them back. They talk about how life differs and wears on you in the far-flung parts of our nation, and the qualities that make Mississippi unique.

The writers from all corners of the state are as diverse as the regions from which they come. They are of different races, different life experiences, different talents, and different temperaments. Yet in acceding to the magical lure of Mississippi they are in many ways alike. Their roots are deep in the rich soil of this state, and they come from strong families that valued education and promoted an indomitable optimism. Successes stem from a passion, usually emerging early in life, that burns within them. But that passion is tempered, disciplined, encouraged, and influenced by the people around them, as well as the landscape and the history of their times.

These essays give us a glimpse of the people and places that nurtured the young lives of the essayists and offered the values that directed them as they sought their dreams elsewhere. Often they found that opportunity was within their grasp in their home state and came back to realize their full potential. They came back, in some cases, to retire to a familiar place of pleasant memories, to family and to friends. They all have a love and respect for Mississippi and continue, back home, to use their talents to help make the state an even better place to live.

Published by: University Press of Mississippi


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pp. 1-5


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pp. 5-7

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pp. 9-14

Coming Home to Mississippi is the companion to our earlier collection Growing Up in Mississippi. Growing Up aspires to tell the reader what makes a Mississippian, to somehow explain the influences within the state that propel our citizens of the world to accomplish so much. Coming Home examines Mississippians’ comings and goings—why ...

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William Dunlap

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pp. 15-18

We expatriate Mississippians carry with us a burden of history and memory that would be far harder to bear were there not so many of us out there that the mathematical probability of our running into one another, anywhere on the planet, remains extremely high. In 1996 I was in Hanoi working...

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Morgan Freeman

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pp. 19-24

I grew up in a segregated society, but I never gave it much thought until I was older. That was just the way life was for us at the time. Most of my friends and family were never concerned about why we had to sit in the balcony of the Paramount Theater; we simply wanted to see the movies. It was obvious blacks attended separate schools, but our parents were just as concerned...

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Norma Watkins

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pp. 25-32

For me, coming home to Mississippi was never easy. “You were notorious,” my cousin Thomas Naylor said. If you flee the place where you were born, leaving a husband and four children behind, you are notorious, no matter how good your reasons for going might be. I left to escape bigotry and to go to graduate school, but I drove off with a civil rights lawyer and my departure was...

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William Jeanes

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pp. 33-40

You should know that I am living in Mississippi because of a series of accidents and happenstance. My entire life has been guided by accidents and happenstance, so this does not feel unusual to me. But it’s only fair to say that I am not here altogether by choice. Beginning in 1960, I left Mississippi three times and came back three times. Whether that makes me fortunate or qualifies me as a slow learner, I’m not sure. But I’m...

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Willie Morris

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pp. 41-46

My people settled and founded Mississippi—warriors and politicians and editors—and I was born and raised into it, growing up in a town, half delta and half hills, before the television culture and the new Dixie suburbia, absorbing mindlessly the brooding physical beauty of the land, going straight through all of school with the same white boys and girls. We were...

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Cynthia Walker

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pp. 47-54

This is the first line of a poem I wrote in 1979 as my flight to New York ascended into the autumn sky over New Orleans. The poem goes on to talk about the pets buried in Mamaw’s backyard on 8th Avenue in Laurel, Mississippi, and how I can still remember...

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Michael Farris Smith

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pp. 55-60

A couple of weeks ago I was preparing to travel to Paris for about a week. As I walked into our living room my wife was sitting on the love seat. Spread across her lap and falling to the floor was our favorite family blanket. Like many things put to good use, the blanket has come unraveled over time, the patchwork splitting and small white bits of padding hanging out of...

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Wyatt Cooper

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pp. 61-66

...We recognize the truth of it because each of us has at one time or another undertaken that almost mythical journey back to the familiar landscape that used to be home, to confront, instead, a land that is foreign and unfamiliar. That this is so is, of course, not the fault of the place. A place, after all...

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Judy H. Tucker

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pp. 67-70

When I told my father I was getting married, he said to me, “Well, if you marry an engineer, you’ll always be moving. They follow the work.” Daddy was right. I relished the idea of new places but I wasn’t giving up my home. From the earliest days of our state when the Choctaws were resettled to the Oklahoma Territory, my father’s family has lived on the same...

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Scott Stricklin

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pp. 71-76

Like many Mississippians, I was born with a love of sports. Neither of my parents was passionate about sports, though my mother displayed a passing interest. But my older brother and I were always playing, watching, or talking about games. Neighborhood football games often took place in our wide front yard. Since most of the players were closer to my brother’s age—he is five years older—the games...

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Carolyn Haines

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pp. 77-82

Home is such a powerful concept, especially for a writer. In a world where many people have come to view their “homes” as investments— a thing to be sold for a profit, some temporary place like a Motel 6—I am a homebody. My home is my refuge and my castle, though it is most ordinary to the gaze of others. Most of my days...

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David Sheffield

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pp. 83-90

It was Africa hot in Jones County, Mississippi, the day the moving van rolled in from Los Angeles. Heat shimmered above the blacktop road, coaxing up little tar bubbles that crackled and popped under the wheels of the truck. The driver, who had packed up our house in the Hollywood Hills, climbed down from the cab, took a look around at the weedy yard and rusting tin roof of our temporary...

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Ronnie Riggs

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pp. 91-98

Early morning Mississippi sun sparkled down through branches covering the road ahead and I drove slowly, struggling to find a cemetery where there appeared to be none. I’d driven a thousand miles from my home in Maryland down to Mississippi, my birthplace, hoping to uncover a significant new layer of my family history. It seems no matter how far we roam...

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Charline R. McCord

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pp. 99-106

I was tricked into leaving Mississippi, and it was a very clever trick that no twelve-year-old would’ve ever seen coming. I owned a town at the time and the trick took that town away from me, or me from it. I had never had the first thought of leaving home, unlike my older brother, the trickster, who once ran away from home with a friend and spent a whole night sleeping...

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Barry Hannah

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pp. 107-110

Barry Hannah was born in Meridian and grew up in Clinton. He earned a bachelor of arts from Mississippi College and a master of arts and master of fine arts in creative writing from the University of Arkansas. Hannah taught creative writing at numerous colleges and universities and was writer-in-residence at the University of Mississippi at the time ...

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Jesmyn Ward

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pp. 111-114

When my parents were young adults, they decided to return to Mississippi, where they were both from, with their two young children: my brother and me. They decided that a life in Mississippi was what they wanted, and they wanted to raise their children in the South. I was actually born in Berkeley, California, and when we moved home, I was three....

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Dolphus Weary

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pp. 115-122

Dolphus Weary, August 7, 1946. The midwife couldn’t spell very well, and she never was sure of the date. But she did a fine job helping my mother bring me into the world. I was born in a run-down house somewhere near the one-store hamlet of Sandy Hook, Mississippi, not far from the Louisiana border. When I was two, our family moved back to my mother’s birthplace near D’Lo about thirty miles...

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Alice Jackson

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pp. 123-128

Katrina, a nasty divorce, and the need for a job pushed me out of Mississippi years after I adopted it as my home. The divorce, like the marriage, isn’t worth discussing. I survived it. Enough said. Still, I do wish the divorce hadn’t occurred during the same time I lost my beachfront home...

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Kevin Bullard

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pp. 129-134

It was 1983. I had just finished my first semester at the University of Southern Mississippi and was trying to figure out how to pay for my second. Though I didn’t know anybody in the National Guard, when I drove past the armory in Magee, my hometown at the time, the idea struck me that they could somehow help me pay for school. Nowhere in my eighteen...

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Curtis Wilkie

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pp. 135-142

Home is not just where the heart is; it’s the place where we feel most comfortable. In a lifetime filled with many moves and much upheaval, I spent years in four different cities that I loved: Washington, Boston, Jerusalem, and New Orleans. Though I called each place “home,” at one time or another, I had a nagging sense that I never quite fit in any of them. I lacked childhood memories...

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Tricia Walker

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pp. 143-148

As I write this, I am riding north on the City of New Orleans train headed back to the Mississippi Delta. The gentle rhythm of the rails as we move along evokes an early comfortable memory of traveling which foreshadowed much of my professional life. And now, it seems, the roads I’ve traveled have come full circle to bring me home to Mississippi. I was raised in Jefferson County, just north of the county seat of Fayette, in an antebellum...

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Sela Ward

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pp. 149-154

They say that once you marry and start a family, you start to return to your own childhood, consciously or not. And that’s what happened for me, in a big way. Our wedding was in May, and by December we’d already begun digging our toes back into the southern soil. That first summer as husband and wife, Howard and I were still living la vida loca, traveling...

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Russell Knight

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pp. 155-160

I left Mississippi in a hurry and I didn’t look back—for almost thirty years, that is. I grew up in Jackson, and had a strong family at home. My mother was head nurse of the emergency room at University Hospital and my dad worked for Allstate Insurance. He was an awesome piano player and had his own band. I was taught at the early age of eleven how to work for...

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Marco St. John

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pp. 161-166

My mother was a Mississippi girl born and bred in the small coastal town of Ocean Springs. My dad came to New Orleans from Guatemala. They met over in Ocean Springs and moved to New Orleans shortly after they married. When they divorced some fourteen years later, Mom came back to Ocean Springs while my dad went to New York City. The coast was...

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J. Dale Thorn

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pp. 167-174

Life’s mystique takes us down transformative trails, with memories that leave us to wonder. In my teens, although I loved Louisiana, I learned to be thankful for my native Mississippi and the redemption it offered an ancestor. My great-grandfather Jesse’s relocation to Mississippi was the stuff of legend. His nineteenth-century ride from Smith County, Texas, to...

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Jo McDivitt

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pp. 175-180

I returned to the gardens of my childhood after leaving footprints all over the world for over thirty-seven years. I lived in New York City while roaming Marrakech, Paris, Rome, Bangkok, Florence, Lisbon, and other ports, looking hither and yon for the brass ring, a silver platter, a perfect sunset, and the indescribable balm that gives a free spirit a sense...

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Sam Haskell

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pp. 181-186

When Judy Garland’s character, Dorothy Gale, exclaimed, “There’s no place like home!” in the classic MGM feature film The Wizard of Oz, it made adults and children alike think of home and count their blessings from coast to coast, and eventually throughout the entire world. The year was 1939, and in a year some claim to be the finest year in motion picture...

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Johnnie Mae Maberry

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pp. 187-192

Deddy’s (we never said Daddy) favorite saying was, “We will cross that bridge when we come to it.” My deddy, Major Maberry, crossed the bridge into restful sleep at the youthful age of fifty-seven. During Deddy’s short illness, I was living in Joliet, Illinois, which had been my home away from my Mississippi home for nearly twelve years. The year was 1983 and twelve years...

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Keith Thibodeaux

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pp. 193-198

My earliest memories involve listening to music and keeping time by beating on pots and pans with sticks, knives, and forks. I liked to strike up a beat on the garbage cans outside the kitchen door of our house in Lafayette, Louisiana. With the sounds of Benny Goodman, Count Basie, and Duke Ellington filling our house, I quickly developed a sense of rhythm...

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Maureen Ryan

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pp. 199-204

Lucinda Williams and Amos Lee toured together in the summer of 2011. Gravelly voiced folk-rock-blues singer Lucinda Williams, a true southern girl who has lived in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee, has been kicking around a while, singing blues and betrayal and bayous. But the very talented Amos Lee is a relative newcomer, a Philadelphia native who...

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Mary Donnelly Haskell

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pp. 205-208

When people ask me where I’m from, I usually answer: “I was born and raised in Beaumont, Texas, but my mother’s people are from Alabama, so I spent a great deal of time there growing up—but I’m from Mississippi.” In 1976, following in the steps of my older sister, Pride (who was at Ole Miss in the late sixties...

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Bob Allan Dunaway

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pp. 209-214

When I was eleven years old, I became unhappy over something and decided I would leave home. I packed a small cardboard suitcase with a few clothes and comic books and hitchhiked about forty miles to my daddy’s home. I felt sure he and my stepmother would take me in and solve all my problems. There I had no supervision and could do...

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Jerry W. Ward, Jr.

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pp. 215-220

I am an outsider/insider Mississippian, the subject of other people’s observations and the object of my reflections. Born in Washington, D.C., in 1943, I was repatriated in the late fall of 1949 to Moss Point, my father’s hometown. My six-year-old self changed rapidly from being happy, carefree, and urban to being town-trapped, sullen, and confused. I could not understand...

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Mary Ann Mobley

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pp. 221-227

I just can’t do it—Lord knows I’ve tried! I’ve tried so many times and it just never seems to come out right no matter how hard I try or how long I anguish over it! I simply can’t seem to put my feelings of home and Mississippi to paper. When you feel something so intensely, you want to write it down—if anguish to stanch the bleeding, if love or happiness to prolong the...

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pp. 228-229

The editors are deeply indebted to each of the writers represented in this collection who responded promptly to our various requests for memories, bios, and photographs. We understand all too well that they had to make time in their packed schedules to pause and reflect, pull and reassemble the past, shape into words and share on paper their ...

Copyright Acknowledgments

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pp. 229-230

Photography Credits

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pp. 231-232

E-ISBN-13: 9781621039372
E-ISBN-10: 1621039374
Print-ISBN-13: 9781617037665

Page Count: 160
Publication Year: 2013