Wel­come to ‘The Club'

Starkville Daily News - - FORUM -

Mis­sis­sippi is the fourth most ru­ral state in Amer­ica. Only Maine, West Vir­ginia and Ver­mont are more so.

In ad­di­tion, Mis­sis­sippi ranks fifth in the na­tion in terms of homegrown pop­u­la­tion with 72 per­cent of its pop­u­la­tion hav­ing been born in Mis­sis­sippi. Only Louisiana, Michi­gan, Wis­con­sin and Penn­syl­va­nia have more na­tives.

That makes Mis­sis­sippi the most ru­ral, na­tive-born state in the coun­try.

Right now, be­ing ru­ral is a dis­ad­van­tage. Al­most all the growth in the United States is com­ing from the mega ur­ban ar­eas.

We re­ally have two dis­tinct cul­tures in our coun­try. One is a cor­po­rate ca­reer cul­ture where you move wher­ever is nec­es­sary to fur­ther your ca­reer. The other cul­ture is one of home­town and deep roots. Your home is your home and you find the best job you can in the place you call home.

Cer­tainly higher pay has its mon­e­tary re­wards. But there are also re­wards for stay­ing in one place and grow­ing roots.

As au­thor Wil­lie Mor­ris wrote, “Mis­sis­sippi is not a state, it's a club.” Hav­ing been born in Mis­sis­sippi and lived nearly 40 years here, I'm re­ally be­gin­ning to re­late to Wil­lie's words.

This re­ally struck home this week when I read of the deaths of Paul Ott Car­ruth and Brad Dye.

Not only was I friends with both men, I am friends of their sons as well. That's some pretty deep roots.

My fa­ther knew Brad Dye well. When my fa­ther died leav­ing me the head of his Mis­sis­sippi news­pa­per com­pany, Lt. Gov. Dye went out of his way to make me feel ac­cepted.

As it turns out, decades later his son Rick and I be­came friends and ten­nis bud­dies. I re­mem­ber when Rick in­vited me over to watch the Ole Miss-Alabama game a few years ago. Ole Miss won and he de­cided I was good luck and pro­ceeded to al­ways in­vite me over again to watch the big games (un­til I lost my charm).

Last week I told Rick I would love to have been a fly on the win­dow when Rick's dad was a young driver for Sen. Jim East­land.

Rick pro­ceeded to tell me a funny story about how Big Jim would tell his young driver to come in­ter­rupt his brief cam­paign stops within 10 min­utes.

Brad du­ti­fully fol­lowed his or­ders at which point Sen. East­land would up­braid the young Dye. “I can't be­lieve you would try to in­ter­rupt me while talk­ing to these fine im­por­tant cit­i­zens.” Then back at the car, the sen­a­tor would say, “That was per­fect, son.”

I re­mem­ber meet­ing Sen. East­land when I rep­re­sented Mis­sis­sippi in the Se­nate Youth Pro­gram at age 17. He was chomp­ing on a big sto­gie and smil­ing, “So you're Oliver's boy,” he said re­peat­edly, re­fer­ring to my grand­fa­ther, his good friend.

I met Paul Ott Car­ruth decades ago when I played ten­nis tour­na­ments. There was some­thing charis­matic about his per­son­al­ity and we soon be­came friends. His ten­nis claim to fame was his abil­ity to hit fore­hands with ei­ther arm.

In one tour­na­ment, this abil­ity com­pletely vexed one of his op­po­nents. Dur­ing a sweaty changeover, Paul's op­po­nent said, “I been watch­ing you. You're the fastest white man I ever seen. No mat­ter what I do I can't hit it to your back­hand.”

Years later when I in­jured my right shoul­der, I em­u­lated Paul and learned to play left­handed. To this day, I can play ei­ther way.

Paul's son, Bert, moved to Jack­son in the '90s and we be­came reg­u­lar ten­nis bud­dies grind­ing out three-hour matches that inevitably came down to tiebreak­ers. Back in the day we were a cou­ple of the top 4.5 sin­gles tour­na­ment play­ers. It was a sad day when he moved to Birm­ing­ham.

Paul Ott had a TV show and one day he played a video of Bert at age eight or so singing a Lit­tle Drum­mer Boy solo. No doubt, this was hugely em­bar­rass­ing to Bert.

So one day dur­ing an epic match with a third set tiebreaker, we were sit­ting sweat­ing dur­ing a changeover. He had two match points. I was des­per­ate. So I started hum­ming Lit­tle Drum­mer Boy. I won the next four points and the match.

At Gov. Dye's fu­neral I ran into Con­nie Cos­sar, a life­long friend of my wife Ginny, and her fa­ther Bill (aka “Geezer.”) Bill and Brad grew up in Charleston where many of my Buntin an­ces­tors are buried. Ginny, Con­nie, Brad and Bill would meet for drinks at Cristo's in the build­ing that now houses Fe­nian's.

I men­tioned my Charleston roots to Bill. Turns out his farm in Charleston is bordered by Buntin Creek, named af­ter my fam­ily.

I was the last to leave the fu­neral talk­ing to state sen­a­tor Hob Bryan about how the Repub­li­can lead­er­ship has gut­ted the com­mit­tee sys­tem in the leg­is­la­ture. Hob didn't think much of my pol­i­tics back in the Fordice days, but we both now agree the Repub­li­cans have made some se­ri­ous mis­steps.

I looked up to see for­mer state au­di­tor Pete John­son from Clarks­dale. “Hey Wy­att, I can't get my Uber to work. Can you give me a ride to the air­port?”

He was in for a treat. My 1965 Mus­tang was run­ning well.

“When did you buy this,” Pete asked. “Oh about 45 years ago,” I said. “I've driven it to ev­ery end of the con­ti­nent.”

We chat­ted about air­planes and pol­i­tics of yes­ter­year un­til we pulled up next to his plane at the Madi­son air­port. I took a photo of him in front of his Cessna 340. He took a photo of me in front of my '65 Mus­tang.

The next night, the Knights and the Em­merichs con­vened at Bravo to cel­e­brate my mother-in-law Dot­tie Cole's 70th birthday. I re­mem­ber 25 years ago when my friend and neigh­bor Jeff Good started Bravo, rais­ing money from lo­cal in­vestors, in­clud­ing a tiny sum from me.

We looked up and saw Bob and Kaye Archer, our dear friends, who just hap­pened to walk in. Next to us was Bob Potesky and Ann Somers who had just mar­ried. Ann bought our old house on 1606 Pinevale Dr.

Our waiter at Bravo was Matthew Nooe, the son of my good friend Grant. I watched Matthew grow up.

Matthew's mother, Mar­ian, played at our wed­ding. Turns out she taught Melissa Archer gui­tar un­til Melissa came to her les­son with­out her in­stru­ment be­cause she had lost it, at which point Mar­ian sug­gested maybe gui­tar play­ing was not in her fu­ture. “Your mother saved us hun­dreds of dol­lars in use­less gui­tar lessons,” Bob Archer laughed.

We sat down and within no time had struck up a con­ver­sa­tion with Arthur Clark and his wife at the ad­ja­cent ta­ble. They're from In­di­anola and long­time sub­scribers to the En­ter­prise-Toc­sin which I pub­lish. He said he had read my col­umn for years.

They prac­ti­cally joined our party un­til his wife got wor­ried that they were tak­ing over our fam­ily din­ner. That made us laugh.

The Bravo spe­cial was red­fish with re­moulade sauce on fried green to­ma­toes. Divine. As al­ways, the ser­vice was the friendli­est in town. Other restau­rants close early, leav­ing cus­tomers in the lurch. Bravo stays open un­til the last minute and wel­comes late-night cus­tomers with a smile.

I texted Jeff late that night com­pli­ment­ing his restau­rant and ask­ing if he could join the reg­u­lar

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