Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Toccopola, Mississippi

Toccopola is a village. Toccopola is a bunch of railroad huts. Toccopola is the intersection of Church St and Route 334. Toccopola is the rural Mississippi archetype. Toccopola is the black heart of America.

Toccopola is miles from anywhere. "Anywhere" is Dogtown, Mississippi. Dogtown is to the west. Dogtown is miles from anywhere. "Anywhere" is Tupelo. Tupelo is to the east. Tupelo is somewhere.

Last time they bothered to count, the people of Toccopola numbered 189. One hundred and eighty-nine stubborn souls, spread amongst the same few clapboard sheds that lined the 334 when it was put there.

At one end of the main street stands a stark wooden building. It bears a sign. The sign is rusting. It wheezes and groans. It says “DANCE”. At the other end of the street stands the church. The church is American Gothic. The church is burned out. This church is a silhouette. The church, too, bears a sign. The sign is rusting. It wheezes and groans. It says “SALVATION”.

It’s been a good while since folks living in between felt the need for either.

Jed came from Detroit. He had a pretty girl. It was 1929. All seemed good.

Jed built Fords. Jed was not alone. Jed had sixty thousand co-workers. All seemed good. But in 1930, sales tanked. Production cut in half. In 1931, sales tanked some more. Production cut in half again. All seemed bad. Old man Ford cut them loose. All of them. Jed was not alone. Old man Ford cut them all loose. There was unrest in the city. The workers marched. Jed packed up. The workers marched by the thousand. Jed sold up. The workers threw rocks. The cops opened fire.  Jed left town. Jed set out for California. Jed took his girl. Check it: Jed headed south.

Roll forward eighty years. Toccopola gives little cause to stop.  That hasn't changed since Jed and Harriet pulled off the 334 one summer night in 1931. They needed gas. They needed to eat. They needed a room. They filled the Terraplane at Lenny Decatur’s bowser. They got food at Manny’s Hotel & Guesthouse and a bed there too.  They took a look around the next day. They went no further.

Jed found some work. Jed rented a shack by the railway line. Harriet made it homely. They bust their backs. They bust them twelve hours a day. They worked the cotton fields. Jed fixed engines in Lenny Decatur's auto workshop. They made do. They got by.

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