guest column

17 Jun

My dad gave this address to the Greenwood High School class of 1961 last weekend.  I enjoyed it and thought you might like to read some thoughts from someone besides me for a change.  Especially since I am so angst-y lately.  I doubt I am very much fun.  I noticed that he is referring to a novel he may never have read.  I don’t know if I learned that trait from him or if he has seen me do it here so many times that he now thinks it permissible.  So without further ado:

I believe that the gist of Thomas Wolfe’s novel, “You Can’t Go Home Again,” is that the home(town) you remember simply is no longer the same as your memory of it.  After any significant time, many things have changed, including things about the town itself; many of your old mates have moved other places, and the ones who are still in town have changed in many ways, and substantially; and you yourself have changed in big ways (I can’t vouch for this being the theme of the novel, but I always have assumed it is; if I actually have read this book, it’s been a long time).

Two comments, which we heard shortly before moving with our little family (back home) to Greenwood in 1977 were these:

1.  An anonymous (to me) Airman in the USAF said, when pressed to respond to the question, “What is it like in Greenwood MS?”, finally said, “Well, if you like it flat, and you like it hot, you’d probably like Greenwood very well.”

      2.  A friend, who was a fairly recent MSU graduate, off to a good start to a successful farming career in Greenwood at the time, when asked earnestly, “What is it like, living in Greenwood?”, reflected a minute and replied, “Well, it probably will be the most INTERESTING place you’ve ever lived.”
And it HAS been interesting, in myriad ways, just as I’d imagined were developed in the novel.  Many of our old friends, whom we all would picture when remembering our home town, have moved on to other places and are pursuing their fortunes in surprising fields and enterprises.  We ourselves and our old friends who ARE here have changed, in significant ways; we’ve all become adults, we’ve gotten our own families, we’ve developed new and different interests, business pursuits, etc.  Our political thoughts and attitudes have developed, and in some cases diverged.
 
Mississippi, as well as the country, has changed.  Our governor, Haley Barbour whom I consider to be one of the most talented and accomplished US political figures in our time, who many, including myself, thought was a credible candidate for the Republican nomination for President, stumbled a few months ago, when asked about the civil rights movement in the 1960’s, responding honestly and accurately that he was just a teenager during those years and essentially was not particularly concerned about the civil rights movement contemporaneously.  I myself was not in Greenwood for a long stretch, after 1961, and the political scenario had changed fundamentally when we returned home in 1977.  Reflecting at this point, I simply am amazed at how fogbound/oblivious my friends and I were, as adolescents, growing up in Greenwood in the 1950’s.  And our parents simply were products of the “status quo”, as well–not the creators of the “system”, but just living their lives in the system they’d been presented with.  It didn’t even seem strange, but simply was the way things were.  The entire country, not only Mississippi and not only the South, moved into a new day in the 1960’s, and the entire country is still learning, and getting used to racial changes.
 
I have long thought that, like Ireland, Mississippi’s greatest export is its people, and the GHS class of 1961 has produced its share of outstanding contributors in the country; our reunion yearbook recounts accomplishments of several of our classmates, many of the reports overly modest and seriously understated in their self descriptions.  Others have pursued their careers back here at home, several families producing children who thankfully also have chosen to carry on here in the community.
 
Greenwood continues to be an attractive small town, with much to recommend it as a very fine place to live.  Among other features, Viking Range continues its almost incredible success story, attracting many new young people with great career opportunities.  The town boasts a number of very fine hotel accommodations, including the Alluvian, the favorite hotel of many patrons far and wide.  And someone recently remarked, accurately I believe, that Greenwood is home to more great places to eat out, per capita, than New York City.
 
Thanks to everyone who came to this reunion.  Come back home to visit often; or come back and stay

 

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