Miss The Mississippi
My song of the day on FaceBook is “Miss The Mississippi and You.” It’s an old Jimmy Rogers tune. I esp like Doc Watson’ version.
One day a few years back I was gonna play a round of golf with my son here in North Carolina. He had to go to work, and I didn’t have a game, so I asked the pro to pair me up with someone. It didn’t matter who; I liked people and could work out a game with anyone.
He put me in with a fellow named Smitty who was on vacation. We shook hands on the first tee. You know how it goes in the south. “Hey, my name is Tommy Bibey. Welcome to North Carolina,” I said.
Smitty noticed my hat. It read, “The Country Gentlemen.”
“Are you a bluegrass man?” he asked.
“Sure. I’m a mandolin player.”
“Really? Me too. Hey, the Gentlemen were in Mississippi a while back. That kid who plays the mandolin with Charlie is from North Carolina; you know him?”
“Yeah, man. That’s Darin Aldridge. I’ve learned a bunch from him. He’s a player.”
“No kidding. That boy is a hoss.”
We found out we shared common interests in literature and Mississippi folks like Jerry Clower and Marty Stuart, as well as N.C. music people like Earl Scruggs and Doc Watson. I guess the folks we were paired with thought they’d stumbled into a family reunion. They watched all this for a couple of holes then asked, “You fellows known each other a long time?”
“No, we just met,” I said.
They were incredulous. “How can this be?”
I shrugged my shoulders. “It’s the bluegrass way, I guess.”
Or as my friend Dr. Temple would say, “It’s the International language of music.”
Smitty was a fine player and a true bluegrass gentleman who was also a coach and school principal in Saltillo, Mississippi, just outside of Tupelo. By the sixteenth hole he invited me to come down to Mississippi to play golf, eat his mama’s fried chicken, and pick music with his friends at their church. He didn’t have to ask twice.
At that time I was early on in development of “The Mandolin Case.” I promised to keep him posted.
I got home and told my Marfar all this and she asked, “So hon, when are we going to Mississippi?” (She has long since learned to never to discount her crazy physician bluegrass fiction writer husband’s dreams; they seem to always come true, starting with her)
On a whim, I sent Smitty a short story I was working on called “The Rasslin’ Rangatang.” (It is in my blog archives) He shared it with a Ms. T, a gifted BreadLoaf English teacher at the school, and she assigned it as project for her students. I soon became pen pals with the kids. I still keep up with some of them like Miss Carrie, who is now a pharmacy student at Ole Miss.
The kids took right to the pen pal gig. I was astounded by their insight and maturity. (I guess part of it was I ain’t nothing but a big kid myself) We traded some ideas back and forth, and I enjoyed the exchange. I recall one child wrote to say, “I can’t believe a famous writer would write us little school kids in Saltillo, Mississippi and care what we had to say.”
I called my Lit agent (I had just signed with him) and said, “Boss, we gotta straighten this out. I’m not a famous writer.”
He said “You are now. Any time you touch people with your written words, people far away who you’ve never met, then you by definition are a famous writer.”
Man I was hooked. I think that was the day I decided for sure I had to keep being a writer. I was just getting started, but I was having way too much fun to quit. (As we say in bluegrass, “We ain’t having any fun at this, but at least we’re making a bunch of money.”)
I miss the Mississippi, but I’ll be back down there Saturday. I’m gonna dedicate my blog this week to tell you more about how I fell in love with Mississippi, how I came to become an honorary Mississippian, and also the rest of the story, ie “The Return of Dr. Tommy Bibey.”
For now, though, the Harvey County doc gig awaits, so I gotta go find my stethoscope. Stay tuned.
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