“Mississippi, My Mississippi”
T. Bubba Bechtol
As a boy growing up in southern Mississippi, people on both sides of me in Alabama and Louisiana always said, …“Thank God for Mississippi”…meaning that no matter how low they might rank nationally in education, per-capita income or standard of living, Mississippi would surely be lower! While it was true that I grew up in extreme poverty, in a dysfunctional family, I was happy. Much of what shaped my youth…indeed, shaped American culture in the 20th century, came from Mississippi.
Mississippi statistically could shame most other states with its minimal per-capita crime, its cultural maturity and its distinguished alumni. It was there that doctors performed the first lung transplant in 1963, the first heart transplant in 1964, and the most widely used medical textbook in the world was authored by Dr. Arthur Guyton of “Ole Miss.” And the John Stennis Space Center is my home town, today tests the launch components that take NASA into outer space!
I know that the Natchez Trace is the second most traveled parkway in the nation and that one only has to visit the state to “feel its history!”
Mississippi’s music is only one of its many gifts. From the King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley’s birthplace in Tupelo, to the Father of Country Music, Jimmy Rodger’s home in Meridian, music washes over us. Just to know that Jimmy Buffett, Tammy Wynette, B.B. King, Bo Diddley, Conway Twitty, Faith Hill, Ike Turner, Marty Stuart, Johnny Russell, Muddy Waters, Skip Jones, Britney Spears, Hayley Williams, Sam Cooke, LeAnn Rhimes, Robert Johnson, Jerry Reid and the first black Opera diva in America, Leontyne Price , are all Mississippians…makes me want to sing!
Just pick up a book by William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, Eudora Welty, Richard Wright, Walker Percy, Ellen Douglas, Willie Morris, Margaret Walker Alexander, or John Grisham and know that they are all “pure Mississippi.” This warm feeling makes up for the slander of the 60’s that was so wrong it made me feel inferior as a teenager.
Mention just one sport, football. The greatest runner in the history of the NFL, Walter Payton, the greatest receiver in the game today, Jerry Rice, the likes of Archie Manning, “Chunking” Charlie Connerly, Steve McNair, the great Dunnaways, Legendary Lineman all, Bret Favre and Jim Weatherly all learned to play the game on the green grass of Mississippi. Baseball’s Dizzy and Daffy Dean, and others…oh, there is not time to mention all the Olympic champions and heroes of other sports!!
Beauty and Grace were exemplified with the nation’s first back to back Miss America’s: Linda Lee Mead and Mary Ann Mobley. Greenville’s Jim Henson made the world smile with his Muppets, Actress Stella Stevens, Sela Ward, and Diane Ladd came from the same home town, Meridian! Actor Morgan Freeman, has moved back to Mississippi as did the great James Earl Jones, and I went to high school with Gerald McRaney of T.V. Fame. Oprah Winfrey grew up in the Delta and proved that it doesn’t matter where you come from, only where you are going!
All of these and many more came from the “most illiterate 47,639 square miles in America.” I know, however that Coca Cola was invented there, that Jefferson Davis’ home still stands on the Gulf Coast to remind of the “Old South” and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue runs through Jackson’s downtown representing the “New South!” It was in Vicksburg that the killing of the Civil War ended, because two Generals, one from the North and one from the South, sat down and talked. From the White shores of Gulfport-Biloxi to the Muddy Mississippi just below Memphis, it is to America what the poet Michael Swindle said it was, “The Ireland of America”…Mississippi is to America what Ireland was to the British Empire: woefully behind in the norm in virtually everything held by civilized standards, yet producing more genius per-capita than Athens did under Pericles”….I agree!
As a comedian-humorist, it makes me proud to know that Mississippi produced the founder of the National Speakers Association, Cavett Robert, and some of America’s greatest storytellers and announcers in Red Barber, Howard K. Smith, and comedian Jerry Clower, and may I humbly add to the list, J. Terryl “T. Bubba” Bechtol, yours truly!
Long may she continue to produce the “stuff” that America is made of! Yes, “Mississippi is Burning”, but today she is on fire for America…My Beautiful Mother Mississippi !!!
J. Terryl “T. Bubba” Bechtol
Born in Biloxi, Educated in Long Beach, Perkinston and Hattisburg, Married in Wiggins,… I am a True Son of the South and I am proud of Mississippi.