Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Abandon the Delta?

As I am beginning a new life in the Mississippi Delta, I was reminded of how insulted I was when a columnist in the Commercial Appeal suggested it was just time to give up on the Delta and "move the people to a place where they could be helped". There are so many things wrong with this statement..moving people..helping them (as if we want to be moved or need "their" help) that I could not even bring myself to deal with them all, but I had to voice my support for the Delta even back in 2009. I am not sure opinion has changed much since then, so those of us that care, need to still be vigilant and make the case for why the Delta matters! Here is my letter to the editor from November 22, 2009.

"In your Nov. 8, 2009 Viewpoint article "Bluer blues / Grim figures tell of region on the ropes," economist David Ciscel said, "It's probably time to recognize that economic development in many rural counties is hopeless. Yes, we should care about the Delta, but we should not try to improve it any longer. It is time to move the people to a place where they can be helped."

I guess that means we just turn out the lights, lock the gates and wave goodbye on our way out of town. After all, to an economist, it is "irrational" for people to be living in the Delta anyway. Since they are "irrational," we have to step up and help them. It is our duty. This is what Ciscel seems to be saying, and I find it totally unacceptable.

First, I can't imagine that the lights would be out for long. Someone would design a way to make the Delta productive; its land and resources are too valuable to leave fallow. But the people who had sweated for generations over it would be gone and it would be new investors who would profit. Maybe that's the plan.

Perhaps the problem is that we have been looking to 20th century solutions for the Delta. Little to no new manufacturing is being developed anywhere in the U.S., so why do we think it is the solution in the Delta?

What about micro-loans for new small businesses? What about continued efforts to bring needed 21st century infrastructure, such as Internet, cable and wireless communications, so new business models could work in the Delta? What about creating a spoke-and-hub system, capitalizing on areas that can become regional centers of growth and opportunity to feed the Delta's more remote rural areas?

My Delta grandfather always told me that our land in Louise, Miss., was holding the world together. If it weren't there, our world would fall apart. My child's mind could so easily picture that; it made perfect sense to me then and does to this day. The Delta is indeed important, and to suggest we just walk away from it is not an alternative.

Cristie Upshaw Travis

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Taking Time

I took my time on my last trip down into the Delta. A lot of time. For the first time, I spent 3 nights and had 2 full days at my little cottage. With so much time came new experiences and perspectives.

One of my goals in having my own place in the Delta was to really live there. I know that is not totally possible as my home is still in Memphis and, at least for awhile, I will be a visitor, although perhaps a frequent one. But living somewhere does require a commitment that just being a visitor does not require. For example:

When you live somewhere, you get to know your neighbors. My new next door neighbor dropped by one afternoon just to introduce herself. I was on a business call and could not spend time with her, but I thought about the hospitality she showed me, a total stranger, even though I wouldn't be there full time. I knocked on her door the morning I left, hoping to return her kindness, but she was not at home. I must be sure and reach out to her next time I am there.

Mont Helena goes dark during "A Dream Revisited"
When you live somewhere, you support local events. As luck would have it, a new friend of mine had an extra ticket to "Mont Helena: A Dream Revisited" and asked me to go with her, her husband and her mother. It was a wonderful, very professional performance in the very house where the main characters had lived, loved and died. There is no better way to bring a house to life than to know the family that made it a home. An added benefit of attending was meeting so many people! My hostess graciously introduced me to literally everyone and they were all so welcoming. I hope they will forgive me if I don't remember all their names!

When you live somewhere, you become involved. I already feel myself being drawn into the community. It started with a joke (well, at least I think it was a joke since it was followed by LOL) about volunteering at "A Dream Revisited" next year. I started to think about it and decided to take the offer up and suggest that perhaps there was a way to get involved at the fall festival. That's all it took, someone invited me and I said yes, and the opportunities are flowing in, including one to meet the hospital administrator in town to explore how I may be supportive.

My Great-Grandfather, the first of 5 Jefferson Davis Upshaws
When you live somewhere, you take the time to explore. I found myself half-way to Yazoo City one day so decided, what the heck, just go all the way there. I had not been to see Daddy since January and thought a trip to Glenwood Cemetery on a sky blue day would be a nice outing. Once there I did my usual thing, but because I had time, I noticed things I had never paid attention to before. I noticed that my great-grandfather, the first Jefferson Davis Upshaw, was born in May, 1861. That was just one month after the beginning of The Civil War (or The War, as we call it around here). I cannot even imagine what his parents were feeling with his birth -- the joy of new life and the fear of war and death.

A mass grave of 700-800 Confederate soldiers in Glenwood Cemetery
I also noticed a small American flag planted in the ground near a group of graves. I strolled to the spot and was surprised to find a mass grave of 700-800 unknown Confederate soldiers who fought to protect Yazoo City at the Battle of Benton Road.  What a loss it was for them, their families, their community. Every life is precious and losing so many at one time reminds us how bloody that war was for our country. As we recognize the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War this very month, we should remember that nothing has compared to it since in U.S. history.

When you live somewhere, you take what comes. Finally, I rode out my first tornado weather on this last trip to the Delta. Thank God I had so many enjoyable experiences on this trip because I needed them to make up for the rain, wind, hail and tornadoes! It was definitely un-nerving and perhaps scary, but my little cottage and I made it through unscathed. So, I have my first weather battle scar. I hope it is the only one I get, but I doubt that will be true.

I am so glad I took the time to get to know some of the people and places of the Delta. It is, I realize now, a journey I will be on all year. But the more time I take, the deeper into the fabric of the area I will go, and I think that is what having a place there was all about any way.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Figuring It Out

I've never had a second home. Many of my friends have lake houses; some have beach houses or condos; a few have hunting camps; one has a house in east Memphis and a condo in downtown Memphis.

These are the traditional second homes --- well, maybe not the condo in downtown Memphis. I have had to explain many times why I have a second home in the Delta. It's not traditional; it's not usual. My home is not on a lake filled with canoes, boats, skiers, sun worshipers. It is not a hunting lodge where you end a long day of solitude, cold, and wet with a hearty meal shared with fellow hunters. It is not a cool refuge offering a cold drink after a hot day on the beach,. So what is it?

Given this is my first weekend, I don't know yet. I am still trying to figure it out.

There are some things that are easy:
  • Now I know that the grocery stores are closed on Sundays. Note to self, be sure you have everything for Sunday supper by Saturday night!
  • I learned last night (Saturday) that the Delta stays up really late! And, they love to party! It seems that Friday was pay day and with money in their pockets, they rocked until the wee hours of the morning.
  • I was reminded this weekend, that everyone pretty much knows where you are and what you are doing in the Delta. No hiding. No sneaking through town on a back road hoping no one will know you were there. Having a red car doesn't help me in that regard either!
But I am beginning to figure out some of the other stuff too:
  • I learned that although small, the congregation at Louise Methodist Church is dedicated and steadfast -- with a prayer list that is 5 times the number that attend regularly and loving volunteers that keep the church and its grounds spotless and beautiful. No paid staff here!
  •  I experienced a church service where there was a real conversation between the preacher and congregation and the congregation with each other. There were announcements and celebrations of victorious baseball tournaments: people were  added to or taken off the prayer list. It was a congregation that knew each other and used worship time to be there for each other. I sat in my Pa's place on the second pew on the left..I could almost feel his presence.
  • I figured out that there is a great divide between HWY 61 and HWY 49. In my summers in Louise, on HWY 49, we never oriented west toward 61..we always went east to Yazoo City and south to Jackson. I know that my family is disappointed that I am not in Louise, I am disappointed too. But the opportunity was here in Rolling Fork and I took it. So, now I get to explore and appreciate HWY 61. But it will never be HWY 49! That will always be home to me.

Delta egret near my 5-Mile Farm, Louise, MS
Finally, I am beginning to explore the cypress swamps and creeks of my own backyard and they are just as beautiful as the ones I have already found in other parts of the Delta. I continue to be amazed that the Delta is filled with beautiful land and beautiful people. But, I knew that already. I didn't have to figure that out!