June 8, 2023

‘Poor’ Mississippi is ‘rich’ with quotable personalities


            We all have our favorite places.

            Most of mine have no walls.

I love being outside.

            But if you are going to hem me up for very long, inside walls, please make it a place with wall-to-wall books.

            I’ve been there a few times. But I could go back a few hundred more times, if it wasn’t a few hundred miles from where I’m sitting right now.

            Yep, I’d be happy to get lost—over and over—in Oxford, Mississippi’s Square Books.

            It’s my kind of place. Friends know that.

Some days, I’m lucky. I’ll open my mailbox, and there will be a package from Square Books.

            Saturday, I was lucky.

            Larry Walker had been to Oxford.

            Ripping open the envelope, I pulled out The Mississippi Book of Quotations. Pithy quotes are another of my favorites. Here’s how David Crews introduces his compilation: “Mississippi, a fiercely complex land, is both mesmerizing and baffling. Our country’s most impoverished state is undeniably our richest when it comes to writing, lyrics and stories.”

            Just to name a few, consider this all-star cast of writers, singers and storytellers: Eudora Welty, Oprah Winfrey, B.B. King, Greg Iles, William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, Elvis Presley, Morgan Freeman, Dizzy Dean, Muddy Waters, Shelby Foote, Willie Morris, Larry Brown, Jerry Clower and John Grisham.

            As if the paperback was a bag of hot boiled green peanuts, I dug in.

            Here’s some of what I pulled out:

            “A man’s biggest enemy is his mouth.”

            Greg Iles, Natchez Burning

            “Growing up, I was taught that a man has to defend his family. When the wolf is trying to get in, you gotta stand in the doorway.”

            B.B. King

            “A willful, obstinate, unsavory, obnoxious, pusillanimous, pestilential, pernicious, and perversable liar.”

            Mississippi politician’s description of an opponent at the Neshoba County fair

            “I will never lie again. It’s too much trouble. It’s too much like trying to prop a feather upright in a saucer of sand. There’s never any end to it. You never get any rest. You’re never finished.”

            William Faulkner, The Reivers

            “If knowledge were a prerequisite for speech, there would be a lot of silence in the Mississippi State Senate.”

            Sen. Ellis Bodron

            “If you’re so smart, why ain’t you rich?”

            Eudora Welty

            “I have no use for bodyguards, but I have very specific use for two highly trained certified public accountants.”

            Elvis Presley

            “With so much to say, the three said nothing.”

            John Grisham, The Firm

            “Through storytelling, the South reveals its soul.”

      Bill Ferris

            “Newgene Ledbetter was a full-blooded, registered, pedigreed liar.”

            Jerry Clower

            “The gentleman from Alabama expressly contradicted what I have stated. He was in error, and I am right.”

            Congressman “Private” John Allen

            “Go ahead. Fall down. The world looks different from the ground.”

            Oprah Winfrey

            “The dog of your boyhood teaches you a great deal about friendship, and love, and death: old Skip was my brother. They had buried him under our elm tree … yet this wasn’t totally true. For he really lay buried in my heart.”

            Willie Morris

            “You can do anything for two weeks. Heck, you can stack greased BBs for two weeks.”

            Ackerman High School football coach, on two-a-way practices in the August heat

            “Sometimes you gotta mess up a little bit to wake up.”

            Archie Manning

            “Faulkner’s as popular as a dead skunk in a sleeping bag.”

            Oxford resident

            Dead skunk?

No, thanks.

Ditto for a live one, too.

And Faulkner is not my favorite, either.

            But Larry knows that I would step over a dozen dead skunks to step inside Square Books.