By Rheta Grimsley Johnson
FISHTRAP HOLLOW – It’s a long seven hours up to the hills from the Mississippi Gulf Coast, no matter if you stop to walk the dogs and grab a bite or ignore all urges and detours and simply hell-for-leather on.
Seven hours, give or take a few minutes or centuries.
You pass the Gnat Line, the open prairies, towns with musical Indian names like Shuqualak and Pachuta, a singsong chant of a drive. Then, almost suddenly, the land begins to undulate, and there are bona fide hills.
You eventually cross north into my county, my home base for the past 25 years.
Something was dramatically different about my latest homecoming, however, and I still have to pinch myself to believe it. I was returning to a county no longer “dry” but “wet,” and by that I don’t mean the amount of annual rainfall.
If you look at the map, Tishomingo County, my county, is the corner of the state where Mississippi, Tennessee and Alabama meet, shake hands, share a boundary. Until now, if you wanted a beer, or a drink, you trucked a few miles either to the Alabama line, the Tennessee line or the neighboring Mississippi County of Alcorn. It wasn’t impossible, just inconvenient.
For decades, the bootleggers and the preachers and the state-line interests had conspired to keep the hardest-drinking place I know of “dry.” And I’ve lived parttime in Louisiana.
There are more beer cans on the side of Tishomingo county roads than there are wildflowers. There’s a huge recreational lake with boaters and campsites and campfires around which people sit and toast the sunset. Like every other place in the free world, we get our share of alcoholics, DUIs and obnoxious drunks; we just don’t get the tax revenue.
The “dry” status hurt business, especially restaurants and convenience stores. While the owner of a service station and beer store on the Tennessee line became a millionaire, the carcasses of similar businesses flanked the road that led there.
There’s an unlikely, grammatically challenged hero in this story. One man, a fellow named Tubby Aldridge, persisted in collecting enough signatures to float the first wet-dry vote in this county in decades. He apparently wasn’t intimidated, bought off, saved by the saints or discouraged by the slow process or the rest of us local hypocrites who bump into one another every Friday night on the line.
I hope he’s grand marshal of the Christmas parade.
The stories, some of them probably apocryphal, abound about the “dry” days so recently ended. I’ll miss those.
Depending on the vehemence of those in charge, there have been arrests of holiday revelers in possession of near-beer, and once, it’s said, the detaining of a Budweiser truck passing through. Or so the endless legends go.
I knew I would be on the Mississippi Coast for the historic vote, so I cast my “YES” by absentee ballot before I left. While I was gone, I got a letter warning me that such a vote would result in more “firearm injuries, sexual assault, domestic violence, increased family problems, broken relationships and broken homes.”
None of that has ever happened here before, of course, possibly because we sinners were kept busy weaving to the state line.
Contact syndicated columnist RHETA GRIMSLEY JOHNSON at Iuka, MS 38852. To find out more about Rheta Grimsley Johnson and her books, visit www.rhetagrimsleyjohnsonbooks.com.