When I was a kid, I HATED country music. Nonetheless, every morning before dawn, my dad would blast country music from the kitchen radio. I despised country music, and I hated waking up to it. I could almost say that I hated my dad for invading my morning tranquility with his cacophonous musical preference. Oddly, life has brought me almost full circle now, and it has softened me and enlightened me and changed me. I rather like country music now, and I love the fact that I grew up in the rural South, which is the place out of which Country Music is extracted. I’d give anything to be awakened by my dad’s blasting Mother Maybelle Carter from my kitchen once more, and I absolutely LOVE Iris DeMent’s version of Will the Circle be Unbroken? I like the tune now. I like the singing, the musicians, and the message. I like everything about this song. It is a music that resonates within my bones now. This song is home now, and I appreciate the fact that I have begun to reap the harvest of the seeds that God planted in the mud of my childhood, which is the same soil from which country music is distilled. And I am thankful that I have been granted the peace of understanding that the memories and the relationships of our youths are the experiences that become the framework for who we become.
When I was 18, I left my childhood home in the Bootheel of Southeast Missouri, and since that time, I have only visited the area a few times.
When I was 18, I moved to Mississippi, and I lived there for almost four decades. I attended college at Ole Miss, and I was in the sorority Kappa Kappa Gamma. Life has changed since 1968, but when I was at the University of Mississippi, Ole Miss truly was the heart of Dixie. When I hear the Hastings Choir sing Dixie, I weep. I do wish that I was still in the land of the cotton of Ole Miss in 1968, but that Dixie is gone now.
When I was at Ole Miss, I lived in the Kappa Kappa Gamma House with a host of other girls. It was like living at Tara. We had a large dining room in our house, and a staff of cooks prepared our meals, which were served on China. We ate with silver. Our meals were served by House Boys. That was another time. Life was soft and genteel then.
My freshman year, I went to the OIe Miss- Memphis State game with a Phi Delt, and we stayed at the Sheraton Peabody Hotel. Before the game, there was a pep rally in the foyer of the hotel, and Ole Miss Rebels were hanging off of the balconies and chanting. After the pep rally, I got on the elevator with my date and about 500 other Phi Delts. All of the Phi Delts were singing and chanting their fraternity song. Every time that they stomped the floor, the elevator skipped a floor or two. I was the only person sober in Memphis that day. I had come from a country home and had not learned to drink yet. I believe that I am the only person on the elevator who knew that it was about to snap its cord, and I was scared to death. Life has always scared me. At the very least, it has always taken my breath, but I have survived, and because God gave me the gift of feeling, I have fully experienced everything that has happened to me. I remember. My Phi Delt friend and I shared stories, and he told me that his father was a planter. My jaw dropped. He came from the Mississippi River Delta of the state of Mississippi. I came from the Mississippi River Delta of Southeast Missouri–a couple of hundred miles North and still a million miles away. In Missouri, there are no planters. Farmers grow the cotton there, and that is only the tip of the iceberg which distinguishes Missouri from Mississippi. But I am part of all that I have met, and both Missouri and Mississippi are home to me now.
While I was living in the Kappa House, I played guitar and sang with a little group that we called the Kappa pickers. It was a fun time–a special time. This past weekend, my sorority sister and roommate from the Kappa House visited me. We had not seen each other for 47 years. Neither of us is still 18, but half a century later, we partied hard and made up for the years of friendship that we have deprived ourselves of. We spent a night in Atlantic City and ended the weekend at the Rittenhouse Hotel in Philadelphia. My friend flew over 1,000 miles to visit me. We have followed different paths since 1972, but time cannot erase the commonality of the lives that we shared as youths in college. At one point, my friend leaned over and sang a bar of an old Kappa song: Remember the Kappa Gamma. This morning, I tried to find that song on Youtube, but I don’t think that Kappas sing that song anymore. They didn’t know the Kappa Gamma of 1968-1972. They never knew the Mississippi of that time either. It hurts me that in our rushes to try to “fix” the inequities and the racism of the Old South, statues are being torn down, and life as it once was is being eradicated. As I watch the statues fall, part of my soul falls with them.
I live in the Northeast now, and I try to explain how it hurts me that people are whittling away at my Old South. In many ways, I am a liberal or I would not live in the North. But it hurts me to watch people as they try to destroy centuries of history–simply because one interest group or another is offended. Where does that campaign end? Some people simply love to be offended. They love having an ax to grind, and I believe that after we the offenders have given away our souls, we will realize that we did it for nothing. The offended will find something else that causes them offense–or some other reason to play the victim. Some people enjoy playing the victim, and that will never change.
One of my friends from back home put a comic on Facebook that captures the ludicrousness of trying to end bigotry by erasing and eradicating any allusions to the past. I am not a bigot, but I don’t want my Southern heritage destroyed. The destruction will not fix anyone’s feelings of inadequacy. It will only destroy my home.
Today. I find myself singing old songs. Please, let the Circles be Unbroken. Cherish the friendships of your youth. They speak volumes about who you will always be. Cherish your homeland. I respect other peoples’ rights to love and remember their homelands, and I only ask that others allow me that same privilege. As we grow older and older, we need to be able to recall our pasts. Our past is the soft feather bed where we rest our souls.
Ode to Grandma’s Feather Bed by Jacki Kellum
Ode to Grandma’s Feather Bed
by Jacki Kellum
Like Great Aunt Edith’s too-long grip-
Too soft, too close, too tight,
You took me on a feather trip,
That lasted through the night.
Rollercoaster up and down,
Hot and sweaty through the down,
Carried me to slumber town,
And rocked me there,
©Jacki Kellum October 8, 2015
©Jacki Kellum October 23, 2017