My favorite July memory will never be about the 4th when fireworks quickly burst against the night sky and trickle to earth like so many colored raindrops. No. It will always be about a July Sunday afternoon and evening that began in Alabama and ended in Mississippi 11 years ago today.
I’ve written about it several times and no doubt will do so again. And now seems as good a time as any.
Pickens County, AL borders Mississippi near Columbus. It’s where the Tombigbee River meanders into Alabama on its slow ride to the Gulf of Mexico. Like so much of west Alabama where cotton was once king, these days it is mostly pine trees and poverty.
And 11 years ago today, it was home to Willie Earl King, a guitar playing bluesman who remembered cotton rows that stretched forever waiting for him to gather their fruit.
My dear friends Connie and Kathy Marine have spent their lives in Pickens County, two of the three daughters of Clyde and Bea Marine. For about as long as anyone can remember, Clyde has pitched a party on the 4th with food, fireworks, fellowship and hauling grand kids in an ancient fire truck.
This celebration was on my schedule in 2006. Which is why I got he call from Connie and Kathy a few days before with an invitation I could not turn down. They told me that Willie would be playing on Sunday afternoon at the grand opening of a convenience store in Pickensville and I should come join them.
Being the Grand Champion of wandering country roads that I am, I immediately accepted. So at 3 p.m. that July afternoon we set up our law chairs on a bare spit of ground with nary a cloud or shade in sight. I don’t know how hot it was officially. But I do know I was sweating profusely and in need of liquids.
But instead of Gatorade, all I had was a couple of jugs of Long Island Tea that I proceeded to drink as if it was water. Needless to say, it didn’t take long for the party to get going. About 6 p.m. Willie packed up his guitar and headed across the Tombigbee to his regular Sunday night session at Betty’s Place. A genuine, real live “juke” down a dirt road.
And thanks to the miracle of YouTube, you can click here and find Willie and his guitar at Betty’s Place with local patrons enjoying it all.
Truth is, I don’t remember that much about my visit that night as by the time we got there the Long Island Tea had kicked in big time. But I know we got there and that we got home and apparently a grand time was had by all while we were there.
Now Willie is gone (I went to his funeral in Aliceville) and Betty’s Place is a crumbling pile of boards. But the memory of that night will be with me forever.
A few years after this adventure, Kathy said to me, “I wish we could go back just one more time.” So do I.