When I finally slither out mewling, I've already given
Mama hard labor, because she's been cussing and screaming seventeen
hours. Then there's a calm until she sees me. Then she starts howling
worse. And even though I come by the customary channel, and she feels me
struggling out for sure, and we're tied by an umbilical, still she
swears I'm not her child and she's not my mother, and what in God's name
is going to become of us? On account of my crazy, scary looks, because I
just don't present to the eye like a black baby should.
spreads round the homestead. Folks gather in huddles, whispering about
the strange deliverance. Some say fetch the doctor, and some say the
veterinarian's cheaper, but in the end my uncle Nat rouses the Reverend
Eugene Spinks for some theology because this baby ain't so much a
medical issue as a rude package of life delivered in error to the wrong
address, an ugly curse or strange blessing-a secret code written in
skin. Besides, doctor is white and charges travel and labor, while the
reverend is black and free and always comes willing and wordy whether
he's needed or not, with Christ's answer for anything. After he inspects
me all round, top and tail, and lets me suck on his finger, Reverend
Spinks confers with my mama. He keeps his questions brisk, blunt, and
worldly. He leaves no mattress unturned, he asks plenty personal, and he
doesn't spare her modesty. Then he hears enough and he turns on his
"Healthy, normal boy," he booms, bounding down the sprung
porch steps beaming. "Eight pounds odd. Sound specimen. Praise the
"How about his looks?" folks ask.
"Happens. As we
sow, so shall we reap"-the Reverend smiles-"and Salmon begat Booz of
Rachab; and Booz begat Obed of Ruth; and Obed begat Jesse. This child
comes to answer some purpose. Almighty always got his reasons."
"What's this child come to show us?"
speak for the Lord exactly," concedes the Reverend Spinks. "But never
forget He's got himself an Almighty sense of humor."
Mississippi, where I got raised, is God's Own Place to grow cotton and
stubborn, hardy trees. Clement Creek cradles the tallest cedars in the
state. The nearby town of Briar prides itself as the pine capital of the
The folk are knotty and resinous too. They sink deep
roots. They can handle heat, dust, and drought. Needles fare better than
Nowadays there's a Eureka community website. The
History page says Eureka has no available history. The Community
Information page announces The community has no information to share.
The Links page has no links. The Contact Us page gives a box number in
Hannibal, Missouri. The Welcome link leads nowhere.
Eureka folk. They keep things buttoned up, close to their chests. They
can handle progress if it doesn't change things. They welcome any
strangers who belong. If you come asking questions, they'll tell as much
as they need you to know.
Highway 28 crosses the tracks. To the
north are Clement Street and Front Street. They started to build
Franklin Boulevard, but it ran out of tarmac and self-belief after
thirty yards. To the south is South Clement Street and Back Street. They
got most things most people need-a grocery store, three churches (black
Baptist, white Baptist, and never-mind-your-color-pass-the-snakes), two
diners, a gas station, a sheriff. And if you find yourself in need of a
newspaper, tractor tire, haircut, high school, or hospital, you can
drive to nearby Briar in less than twenty minutes.
You can see
the heat shimmer off the tarmac, hear the rattle of teal, the whining
blades at the sawmill, and a bad-transmission Studebaker pickup. You can
smell pine resin, sawdust, and hog pens. But the blue sky and cotton
horizon look hazy-clear.
Of course they got plenty history-far
more than they care to remember or use. Most of it centers round cattle,
cotton, and cars. We had some levitations too. Maybe we lie on some
fault line of gravity, because we got problems keeping things tidy on
the horizon, splitting the ground from the sky. Things sometimes fall
upward, and things come down that got no business being up to start.
You'll likely think it sounds fanciful. Take it or leave it. You got to
experience it firsthand.
But it's the small personal events that
stick in the mind. Like the time Lou Carey shoots his Chevy Apache 427
CU automatic outside the Magnolia Diner, once through each headlight,
twice through the radiator, and three times through the windshield, and
then leaves the corpse to rust and rot by the curbside as a public
warning to bad-attitude trucks, which sounds a mean and cranky thing to
do, but Eureka folk always got sound reasons, and that's the trouble
with history, serving it up cold and stale on the plate, when it needs
to be savored fresh and hot.
One month in '57, farmers found
their cows gutted or headless in the morning. There'd been buzzing
sounds and neon flashes in the night sky. They were awful dazzling
lights, of color folks never seen before. Some blamed aliens and some
blamed the military. And it was God's own task to recover the loss from
the Yankee insurers, who sent down an Italian investigator with an
attaché case, homburg hat, horn-rimmed glasses, and a stammer to try get
to the bottom of it. But something spooked him into leaving early,
after only seven twitchy hours.
There was Elliot Holly, a black
kid out of Detroit, who came to stay with kin in Eureka in the summer of
'59, but got his neck broke for making repeated personal suggestions to
a white girl serving in the grocery store, not knowing the difference
between city and small-town manners, black and white.
hard to look at any of the telephone poles down Highway 28 without
wondering who's dangled there, besides that boozed-up kid out of
Vicksburg who got tossed out of his V-8 Mustang convertible (cherry red,
auto, discs, and power hood with pony trim) onto the telephone wires
when he drove himself straight into the post of the EUREKA WELCOMES
CAREFUL DRIVERS sign at eighty miles an hour.
themselves famous sons too-Red McKee, who played tight end for the
Dolphins, season '61 through to '63, and Larry Whitters, who played
session music in Nashville, backing Patsy Cline, Hank Williams, and
sundry other immortals from the Hall of Fame.
And they never
forget their famous daughter, Angelina Clement, who just happened to be a
close, personal childhood friend of mine.