Birney Imes: Back roads and small towns


Birney Imes



At the beginning of a workshop on small newspapers last week, everyone was asked to stand, introduce themselves, say where they were born, where they are now and what would be the job of their dreams, if not newspapering. 


The answers were somewhat predictable: a short fellow said he had always wanted to a basketball player, another dreamed of the big leagues, someone wanted to be a high school coach, a publisher from Louisiana hoped to be an artist and there were a couple who had wanted to be pilots.  


I remembered the comment a friend made years ago, that he would like to be paid "to ride around and look at stuff." When it came my turn, I plagiarized my friend. The audience erupted in what seemed to be a questioning laughter, no doubt thinking all the while, "Is this guy all right?" Or maybe they were thinking, "Yea, that sounds pretty good." 


Ah, to spend days on the road breathing in all the variety this land has to offer. Back roads, the blue highways, that''s where you can find yourself in the showroom of a seventh-generation chair maker in Spruce Pine, N.C. or enjoying a bowl of borscht in a restaurant/bakery in the Arkansas Ozarks in a house ordered from Sears, Roebuck.  


At one time you could order a house from Sears, Roebuck. Those wonderful catalogs -- dream books for a small-town boy who spent hours gazing at fishing reels and Ted Williams autographed baseball gloves.  


Remember the towns you would go through on the way to Memphis before the four-lanes: Myrtle, Hickory Flat, Potts Camp (where you can still stop for homemade fried pies and sweet tea at "Flick" Ash''s gas station) and Byhalia.  


Prompted by a friend''s recommendation, Beth and I a few weeks ago late on a Tuesday afternoon set out for a Mediterranean restaurant in Amory. Even though the website said they were open evenings, I suggested calling beforehand. When we got no answer, Beth assured me the folks at the restaurant were so busy they couldn''t get the phone. Besides it was the outing, not so much the destination that was important. 


Sure enough the place was closed. As we explored streets lined with stately homes shaded by broad oaks, Beth called Alan Smith, a former Amory resident, for a fallback recommendation. We seized upon the Friendship House outside of Aberdeen, which Alan said was about six miles away as the crow flies and about 10 by road. Not being crows, we went west on 278 out of Amory -- after stopping to peer into a window of a maker of cedar furniture -- crossed the waterway and, as per Alan''s direction, turned left on a road that would T into Coontail Road. 


Had we missed our turn, we could have ended up on Little Coontail Road, which, come to think of it, might justify another trip to Monroe. 


We made the correct turns and found the Friendship House, which, despite having a packed house, still had catfish and hushpuppies. 


Another presenter at the newspaper workshop boasted of having 2,000 local names and faces a week in his newspaper. While that''s an improbable figure for a community such as ours, we certainly could do more. 


To that end on Monday we''re going to begin two new features, Local Folks and Sore Spot. 


Local Folks will feature a page 1 picture of someone in the area with their name, hometown and occupation. Friday afternoon I spent a therapeutic two hours photographing people for this feature. Only one person out of about two dozen, a harried patron of the Palmer Home Thrift Store, refused. 


To keep the Sore Spot feature going we''re going to need your help. We plan to use that space to draw attention to things that need to be fixed.  


Know of an unsightly spot that needs attention? E-mail us at [email protected] 


The other day I noticed the Welcome-to-Mississippi sign east of town on Highway 82 features a new slogan: "Welcome to Mississippi, Birthplace of America''s music." 


That''s a bold claim for any state to make, but with Elvis, Jimmie Rogers and Robert Johnson, plus legions of others, it''s not at all farfetched. 



Birney Imes III is the immediate past publisher of The Dispatch.


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