Train in France, drive through Natchez suggest garden club

FISHTRAP HOLLOW – The fast train from Bordeaux was crawling into Paris. …..The train that usually runs at blur speed had been slowed by an invisible (to me) medical emergency that forced an unscheduled stop. Then, a sudden loss of electrical power – it might have had something to do with an ongoing transit strike – left us sitting again, this time in the dark.
I felt sorry for the stranger in a distant car with a medical problem, but otherwise I didn’t mind the delay. Our snake of a train could have slithered and slid through the French countryside for three days instead of the usual three hours, and I would not have minded much. Being bogged down in rural beauty is never much of a chore.
And France was beautiful, in its simplicity and cleanliness. There were ancient barns and stone houses and neat yards embroidered into a lush landscape. There were cars that looked like toys. There were pruned grapevines and fallow but promising December fields. Mostly, it was what was missing from the scene that impressed. There were no falling-in mobile homes, no cars on blocks, no dwellings that looked, at best, temporary. There were no blue tarps over junk heaps. It wasn’t all mansions, for sure, but both the small and large houses had been built to last. Every residence had a garden.
It was then I thought of my Mississippi hollow, this beloved spot which, during the past two decades, has felt more like home than anywhere else, even when I am far away. I thought of the ravine just up the hill that routinely fills with old televisions and raggedy sofas and plastic bags of refuse and catfish guts. No matter how many times it’s cleaned up, the ditch becomes a landfill again.
I thought of the ugly entrances to our beautiful little town, eyesore establishments that make no effort to hide their heavy equipment and collections of twisted metal and unseemly seams. I thought of dead animals left for the buzzards along the roadside, and of hungry puppies dumped by lowlifes by the litter.
While daydreaming on a French train, I decided I should start a garden club. A garden club could be totally devoted to improving the looks of our county.
That’s the kind of thought you have while bound to Paris, a city that washes its streets several times each day, puts monumental thought into how best to light every building and tree and whose street people are, for the most part, sitting beside an art easel or book stall.
Garden clubs, after all, are responsible for the good looks of one of Mississippi’s most beguiling and historic towns. Natchez is famously ruled by several competing clubs.
Last Christmas, traveling from north Mississippi to Louisiana, I passed through downtown Natchez where the town’s Christmas tree rose, in all its glory, smack in the center of a main thoroughfare. To get through town you had to detour around the tree, roundabout-style.
It was glorious – the very idea as well as that actual, presumptuous tree – and had all the markings of a civilization run by women and garden clubs. By sensitive souls who prize aesthetics.
Once home, I lost enthusiasm for the idea. A club surely would evolve into a social competition between members and their chicken salads. I could see myself transformed into a matronly scold, wearing Barbara Bush pearls and closed-toed pumps and forever knocking heads with wooden-headed city fathers. There already are plenty of civic clubs. Those are just some of the excuses I gave myself to avoid the work of starting a club from scratch.
Once again at home, I simply police my entrances and exits, avoiding ugly the way my cats avoid my dogs. I squint a lot. And the memory of that train ride from Bordeaux is fading like blue coveralls on a makeshift clothesline, forgotten and flapping in the breeze.

Rheta Grimsley Johnson is a syndicated columnist. She lives in the Iuka vicinity. Contact her at Iuka, MS 38852.

Joe Rutherford