Thirteen months later, the lesson of a late-night encounter

It was on that dark stretch of rural road, hemmed in between stands of towering oaks and deserted railroad cars between Clarksdale and Lyon where I came upon him one recent Tuesday evening.

Driving home near midnight I was the lone vehicle along that stretch of road when I noticed a faint figure ahead of the beam of my headlights. Downshifting, I slowed my pickup until I came to a dead stop and shifted forward in my seat, hands and chin on my steering wheel, staring straight ahead.

He didn’t budge from the center of the roadway. Not a flick of a muscle.

Caught there in the glare of my beams he stared right back into my eyes. I clicked my lights, thinking that might scare him off.

No chance. It was as if we were in a stand-off.

I couldn’t tell if he was, quite literally, caught like a deer in headlights. Or rather, he was in some indirect manner telling me this was his turf and I was the intruder.

He was a rather scrawny fox. Kind of beat-up around the edges. Looked a bit older and it’d been a while since he’d had a decent meal.

We continued our staredown for a few more seconds until he glanced around and slowly strolled off to the side. I put my truck in gear and resumed my drive home.

I’ve thought often about that fox over the past few weeks. And in some ways, he’s sort of become symbolic of life now.

Earlier this month, me and my wife were faced with one of life’s decisions. An opportunity to return to the Carolinas, closer to family, beckoned. But it wasn’t an easy decision as we had made several new friends in our 13 months here and we believed good work was being done at The Clarksdale Press Register.

Yet, in the end, the lure of home won out as this is my final column as the publisher/editor of The Clarksdale Press Register. Just as my nocturnal neighbor was faced with that decision to stay or flee, we too opted to turn for home.

And, in my opinion, that fox caught in the headlights is also symbolic of current-day Clarksdale and Coahoma County.

It seems as if this community is torn right now on which direction to head in regard to so many heady issues it faces.

There are some ready to jump ahead and embrace all new things. Yet, there are others who are proud of the traditions and success of yesteryear and have a reluctance to deviate from what’s worked in the past. And, unfortunately, there are a good number of folks who really don’t care either way.

Oftentimes, when sides are pulling from opposite ends, you are left with a stalemate. You end up with inaction — that deer-in-the-headlights look as the future steadily bears down upon you.

And Clarksdale and Coahoma County cannot afford to stay frozen in place. To do so would be a failure.

Tough questions need to be asked about education in this county. Why are the three public school systems in the county failing? Are these schools meant to educate or rather provide employment? Can consolidation happen?

Crime continues to be at the forefront. It’s almost as if being broken into or having some of your property taken from your car or shed is as acceptable and as much a part of life here as having blues music 365 days a year. That needs to change.

There’s a shortage of available middle-class housing. As renters, we moved four times in the 13 months we were here. To find a good home where you don’t worry about being broken into or being flooded is a real challenge. And as this community continues to bring in new industry – and with it middle-class renters – there should be a concerted effort to make that a priority.

Take these challenges to heart, but also know there are so many good memories that fill my mind when I look back at the past 13 months. Things I will truly miss.

The taste of the honey-hot sauce on Pete’s Wings. The drawl and timbre of Charles Langford’s voice. The smile of Rena Butler. The smooth as silk delivery of a Valmadge Towner speech. Hartley Kittle’s comical comparisons. The awesome view of cypress trees rising into a clear blue sky on a Moon Lake pontoon guided by John Mohead.

I’ll miss Ed Seals’ monthly plea for city crews to plug those potholes in his ward. And I still crave to have a bourbon in hand as I sit and listen to Hank Burdine and Wright Thompson read their words. I’ll cherish hearing the sounds of the Coahoma Community College choir and a Sunday afternoon in a Mound Bayou church. I’ll miss Big A and Lucious and LaLa.

I’ll never forget the sight of John Ruskey pedaling down Yazoo, that hair and hat flapping in the wind. The weekly emails of encouragement and that living wall of musical history that is all Panny Mayfield.

Who couldn’t help but smile as they watched a gassed Clarksdale mayor Chuck Espy pull along a 180-pound dummy, only to collapse at the finish?

And who couldn’t help but to be overcome with dread and helplessness, watching as coaches pounded on the chest of a high school football player on a Friday night sideline, trying to ensure life was not lost.

It’s the candor of Bo Plunk. The diplomacy of Jon Levingston. The desire to do good by Christine McDaniel. And the friendship of Jerry Gardner and Travis Haggan. It’s the honesty of Paul Pearson. And the helpfulness of Demetria Jackson.

It’s life here in Clarksdale and Coahoma County.

On several occasions this year, I heard Mayor Espy quote actor Morgan Freeman from the movie “Shawshank Redemption”  when saying:  “It’s time to get busy living or get busy dying. And I choose to get busy living.”

Do that, Clarksdale and Coahoma County.

Get busy living.

(This article first appeared in the April 23, 2019, edition of The Clarksdale Press Register.)

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