Bill Darnell will tell you he loves Caledonia and everything about it. He’s a native of the close-knit Lowndes County town and, making good on a promise to himself and others, he’s achieved a longtime goal — getting “the adventures” down in writing.
“One Light City” — named for Caledonia’s single traffic light — is a collection of memories, stories of life from when Darnell and his friends, now many in their 60s, were young adults. It was a time when the Confederate Cafe downtown was often central base, with the eatery on one side and pool tables and games on the other. It was an era of drag races, late-night Rook, high-spirited shenanigans, Big Mark, fireworks and cooling off in the Buttahatchee.
“A few of the names have been changed, but the adventures are real,” said Darnell, who has served on the Caledonia Board of Alderman a total of 40 years.
These are stories of a group of young men in a small Southern town coming up together, sharing joy, sorrow, disappointment and achievement, Darnell said.
” … Growing up in a small Southern city is a gift from God. Everyone knows everyone. There is respect for our elders, respect for the law and reverence to God,” he writes in the forward. “Not to say some laws aren’t stretched, but when they are stretched by the good ole boys, a great deal of respect and reverence are always in the back of your mind.”
The book has been on Darnell’s mind for a long time.
“When we’d get together and talk about these things, somebody’d say ‘Somebody’s got to write it down before it’s forgotten,'” he recalled. So, back around 2002, Darnell actually penned the first several chapters, and those who knew about that kept after him.
Now complete with 17 chapters ranging from “Give Big Mark a Beer” and “The Fight” to “The Christmas Miracle,” the self-published book compiles some of the past’s colorful tales of life in Caledonia.
“I love old Caledonia, and I just wanted to do that,” Darnell said. “A lot of the people have passed away, and I figured it was time to get the stories down and finished.”
Darnell’s wife, Betty, said, “These are stories he lived and does not want to be forgotten. It was a pure labor of love for him.”
While all the memories in “One Light City” are meaningful — like the year Darnell and the rest of a newly-formed Civitan Club pulled together a Caledonia Christmas Parade in short order — one that truly stands out is a cold day in November 1980. Some of the good ole boys had traveled to Jackson for the Mississippi State v. Alabama game. The Bulldogs bested Bama that day. And then, there was the little matter of the tailgate grill causing a fire in the back of Darnell’s El Camino, and even a thwarted robbery back home at the same time. The curious can find the rest of the story in “One Light City.”
Darnell will hold a book signing Thursday from 9-11 a.m. and again from 3-6 p.m. at Caledonia United Methodist Church, North Wolfe Road entrance. Refreshments will be served.
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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