Walls of Memories
The sign reads Jackson Gallery open 10--6 Tues.—Sat. I climb the stairs rather curious about this Mississippian’s collection of photographs concerning Delta Juke Joints. These Juke Joints conveyed memories of the Honkey Tonks where I danced during college—the 45 Club, Silver Spur, Dew Drop Inn. No way was I prepared for the pictures of dives in the Delta—a side of life that I had never experienced.Wonderful tin signs with mottos to live by were nailed on poles by the pool tables, vivid art work was painted on the cement walls by the patrons, beer signs, smoky haze, blank stares—the Delta for these people was not only the vast flatness of the land, but a flatness of life and spirit mirrored in their eyes. I hear a lone juke box wailing the blues—telling the tired old story of worn out love, the need for a good woman. Swigs of beer—a pull at a cigarette—long stares into nowhere—the pain assuaged for a moment. forgotten is the story of no money, food stamps, too many children, no future, sameness of life. Thank God for the Juke Joints.
I pass the Juke Joints and see the walls lined with photographs to my past. Memories swirl when I eye the caption underneath the first picture—“Front porch near Saunders Carson‘s home Crawfordsville.” I am pulled into the space of my college years in Columbus when Saunders was Johnny Reb personified. He was soft spoken, charming with his heavy drawl—just the kind of man that thrills your Mama but ten years too old to be testing out the new crop of freshmen girls year after year at the “W.”
The wild eyes of a young black boy grab me. Labeled “A Baptism at Crawfordsville,” his eyes could attest to finding the Lord or scared to death of being dunked in the river. Who knows? Next comes the Sisters(I call them the Vestal Virgins). lovely, tall young black women in long, flowing white cotton dresses with white bathing caps clinging to their skulls marching down to their Baptism. Then pictures made around Artesia come into view—porch scenes—one of a black woman and her dog—the other of four coke bottles and a box of matches. I remember the Artesia of years ago and Sunday dinner at my boy friend’s house. Back then there were about 500 people in the town, lots of hay grown in the area and harness races some weekends. The Artesia that I saw last year during my college reunion was a dead end—turn to the right there was the Artesia Café hand lettered in sharp contrast to the new post office across the street. Turn left and the Artesia Hardware Store looms in hand letters. Houses are in disrepair—a lone soul on the street—a deserted hamlet in that rich Black Prairie Belt.
The show ends—a wonderful collection of old memories captured by this apt photographer—Birney Imes. A thanks to him for reminding me that a part of Mississippi will always be etched on my heart.
Jane Robbins Kerr