With the upcoming Hill Fire production in rehearsals, I am proud to say that I am a member of the cast. Of course, I have to credit Mrs. Nell Middleton for my premiering role. When I attended the first reading of the play, I had hoped to cover the event for the newspaper, but
Mrs. Nell would not let me leave without a part in the play.
The premise behind Hill Fire is so interesting to me – performing original plays about local characters from the past. I am probably intrigued because I come from a family of storytellers.
I grew up in a house where we would sit for hours laughing over “you ‘member whens.” And rightly so, compared to us, the Griswolds weren’t as colorful or full of bad luck.
As a sophomore at Ole Miss, I learned all the “you ‘member whens” was actually a Southern art form, and those at the Center for Southern Studies were actively trying to keep this art from fading into the history books. Under the tutelage of Dr. William Farris, I was taught Oral History, and he not only made me appreciate the craft, he made me want to write all of my “you ‘member whens” down.
I went to work, and wrote my first story for Oral History. I was the only underclassman in the class – most being seniors and graduate students. Doubting my first silly little story, I turned it in, and received good reviews from Dr. Farris. Of course, I had only grazed the surface. I had enough material for four classes.
I delved into the world of the Mississippi Delta and my Momma’s family. These people were a treasure trove of good stuff. Not even Faulkner could make up characters like these. I think Momma’s people drank too much of that brown delta water because they were real looloos – endearing and God-fearing, but looloos.
When I was a kid, Momma would take us kids down there for a couple of weeks to spend time with the family. I loved it. They had critters – tons of them – from wild boar to baby deer to Chinese chickens. I always wondered how or why someone would want a wild boar for a pet, but my Uncle B-Boy (his real name was Breland) was kind of like Noah – two of each.
Once I tried to smuggle a pigmy goat home in the back seat of the car. I wasn’t discovered for at least 40 miles, and I am sure I don’t have to describe Daddy’s reaction. We had to turn around and “get that stinky thing out of my new car.”
As I got older, the appeal was lost because there was nothing to do that did not include getting dirty – and Delta dirt doesn’t wash off. I did love their stories, and they could tell them better than anyone.
My favorite story was about my Uncle Burnell winning a pink Cadillac and a goat in a poker game at some juke joint over on the river. For some reason, he thought it was a good idea to put the goat in the back seat of the car – of course, that could have been because he had drinking pretty much all night.
Well, Uncle Burnell was driving his prizes home early Sunday morning when he fell asleep. He ended up crashing his car into the First Missionary Baptist Church during revival services. Can you even imagine being touched by the spirit, and then being attacked by an enormous pink Cadillac? Those poor people thought Jesus had returned.
Thankfully, no one was hurt – except the goat. It didn’t make it through the accident.
I never met Uncle Burnell, but I feel like I have known him all along through the endless stories I’ve been told about him.
Hill Fire is really on to something. In a hundred years, when we are all dead and buried, we will be remembered by those we left behind – for what is up to you.