The year was 1968. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, Jackson City Hall had separate drinking fountains for "colored" people and "white" people, and Union University and Lane College were still neighbors downtown.It was a crisp fall night in the middle of basketball season. Camille Long was one of only four African-Americans in the bleachers of the Union University gym, including the fellow Lane College student she'd dragged with her.
It’s the Wednesday after Labor Day, and Jerry Mercer, senior director of Mercer Brothers Funeral Home, assures me his desk doesn’t always look like this. “But getting ready for the appreciation [day]…” he says, shuffling through the stacks of papers and documents in manila file folders and opened envelopes on his desk. The fax machine emits a whiny cry that reminds me of time spent in the 1990s waiting on dial up Internet, and the office phone rings continuously.
We’ve all seen our fair share of family-focused reality TV. Men, women, and children sign up to put their lives on display for all to see. So what does that look like in Jackson, Tennessee? The recently launched web series, Loving My 6. Now happily married for over ten years, John and Timond Williams are the parents of six children under the age of ten.
The Wizard of Oz. That’s my earliest memory of the power of a tornado. From the time I saw that witch riding a bicycle in the air with that house spinning out of control, the power of a tornado had me under its thumb. As a five-year-old, I had no idea how close I would come to that dominance that struck so much fear in me as a child. West Tennessee, and Jackson in particular, is no stranger to tornadoes. As much as we think tornadoes are an indiscriminate act of nature, they’re not.
As a lover of clothing with a longing to become a fashion designer, nothing could have deterred me from introducing myself to a group of women whose sewing flourishes with creativity and design. Most of you may know these women as none other than the Wilbourn sisters. These talented women have been a household name for the past thirty years, not only in the surrounding counties of West Tennessee but all over the globe.
While most of us are prone to toss out old things and run to the new, others are gifted with the vision to make something out of what the rest of us leave behind. Ellen Bennett, the creator of “The Restored Attic,” creates home decor and furniture pieces by repurposing found and thrifted materials. From childhood trips to yard sales with her father, she learned that she didn’t have to pay full price for anything. As she grew up, it evolved into trying to search for furniture and other pieces to decorate her home.
“For Sale” signs and broken windows adorn a large portion of buildings within Jackson’s city limits. Right next to thriving businesses can be found abandoned restaurants or forgotten startups. In the northern part of the city, the lack of uninhabited buildings is less obvious, but take a ride down 45 and it will become more apparent. It is a very sobering sight for those who call Jackson home.
Ordinary guys don’t spend too much time thinking about the best escape route out of a restaurant or a home or out of town. And while most people I know aren’t worried about the trackability of their IP addresses or burner phones or whether or not they’ve been recorded on too many security cameras in public, that’s not the case for Lee Wilson. But then again, Lee isn’t exactly having an ordinary moment.
In 1998, one of the most respected scholars in the world made a profound decision. It was a decision that seemed at odds with much of what had previously happened in his life. Jaroslav Pelikan was born in Akron, Ohio, in 1923 to devout Lutheran parents. His father was a Lutheran pastor and his grandfather a bishop in the Lutheran Church. By the age of twenty-two he had completed both a seminary degree from Concordia Lutheran Seminary and a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago.
"You want to do what?” was the phrase that passed through Shayne Crowe’s mind as his daughter Lauren, a high school student who was studying Spanish, told him she wanted to go to Italy for a year-long exchange. This announcement started a long process with the Rotary study abroad program. The family learned that the program encouraged them to take an exchange student into their home as part of their participation. “It’s actually a really good program,” said Shayne.
Yoga. The word creates images of handstands and people twisting their bodies into pretzels. I always thought that in order to be considered a true “yogi” I needed to be able to contort my body in painful, unnatural ways. Despite that, yoga was intriguing to me. I watched videos online and became more familiar with the terminology, slowly understanding what makes millions of people practice everyday. I even started to notice a shift in how I carried myself.
Ross Priddy is the man behind Douglass Gray. He is also my older brother. We grew up under the same roof with the same traditions, which formed many of the same memories. His childhood— I was there for that. Which, I assume, is why I was asked to tell the story of Douglass Gray—because that really is where it started . . . in his childhood. My brother was an imaginative kid. He took everything to the next level. If he was playing army, there was ketchup blood and little sisters on sleeping bag stretchers.
A twenty-minute drive away from the busy hub of I-40 and the noise of the road, the work day of a farrier begins unceremoniously. A trailer full of equipment is backed into a horse barn, equipment is unloaded, and work is immediately undertaken. Father-son duo Donnie and Chris Taylor begin their day beneath the hum of rain on the barn’s tin roof with intensity, focus, and a careful and determined pace that could only be settled into after years of practicing their craft.
A few years back, I chose to embark on one of my favorite childhood hobbies: collecting comic books. I researched and discovered the closest one to me to be Comics Universe. Filled with excitement and unsure of what to expect, I called the store to get a schedule, so I could make sure attend on a slow day. I wanted to take my time to skim over the entire store and converse with an employee just in case I wanted this special place to be my new safe haven.
After you crank your car down from the sixty-five miles-per-hour speed limit, you’ll make a turn onto a shaded, gravel road, and if you are lucky you’ll catch your first glimpse of the exotic: radiant peacocks, enormous camels, ancient buffalo, and vibrant zebras. In a way, you will feel that you have just stepped into a new world filled with wonder and excitement. And you’ve only just pulled in. Tennessee’s only drive-through safari park is truly a captivating place.
As I pulled up to Alamo Pride Cut & Sew Factory in March of 2014, I had to focus on the bold colors associated with spring that had taken hold across the Mid-South. The air was clean, and the morning dew blanketed fresh azalea and dogwood blossoms. I needed to focus on the beauty around me to keep from crying and mourning the life in Hong Kong I had left behind. “This is what the South is,” I said to myself as we drove past farmlands and well-manicured lawns heading into town.
On the hillside of a Humboldt vineyard, in what was once a barn in the land’s historic farm days, is the Companion Gallery, where local ceramicist Eric Botbyl has his studio as well as a gallery shop featuring work by fellow potters from around the country. It’s a quiet place where the doors are left open to catch the breeze on spring days like today and is kept warm by a wood-burning stove in the winter. It’s surrounded by twenty-two acres of grapevines and neighbors the Crown Winery’s Tuscan-style villa.
￼￼￼￼We started packing shoeboxes when “He-who-is-now-taller-than-I” could fit his chunky-monkey baby legs through the slots in the front seat of the grocery cart, likely with one of those hypoallergenic seat covers. We would fill our box with necessities: toothbrush, toothpaste, comb, and such. Maybe some nifty socks or a hat. Of course, you had to have a coloring book, crayons, and some candy. Oh, and those Little Debbie Swiss Cake rolls. Oh, stink, they will melt in transit. Hmm. . . .
We gathered in a living room of earthen walls painted mint green with a dirt floor covered by tarp. Our hostess sat aside from the group on a bench lining one of the walls so that we could all have a seat in a circle of sunk-in couches and ottomans. Alemaz Bola is a mother of five and an entrepreneur. She wore a head wrap striped with the green, yellow, and red of the Ethiopian flag and sat meekly aside as if to stay out of the way, despite the fact that we came to hear her story.
Eggs. Flour. Milk. Sugar. Your basic ingredients for a cupcake. But so much more than that goes into the cupcakes at HaliHannigan’s Café & Cakery. Five years ago a cozy little space in the Columns bedecked in pink and black opened its doors—and its heart—to the Jackson community. Neill and Christi Bartlett, the husband and wife team that co-own HaliHannigan’s (whose name is derived from various parts of the names of their three daughters), were ready for a change.
“Your destination is on your right,” said my iPhone, notifying me that I had reached 1683 South Highland Avenue. I turned my head and saw nothing. Where was the food truck? I pulled into Popeye’s, put the car in “Park,” and stepped outside into the slightly muggy end-of-September-in-West-Tennessee weather. Scanning the landscape, my eyes fell onto a neon green trailer in the middle of a parking lot. I began my approach and saw “KC Finn’s” printed on its exterior, accented by several four leaf clovers.
“Crows are family.” This wasn’t precisely the first utterance from Denton Parkins, but it was certainly the most arresting. He’d already gone through a list of remedies for crows and mice, his major competitors in the pumpkin and strawberry market. Crows, it seems, are wily creatures and sociable; he proposes to me that, “the crows scope us out.” I sense that he and the crows, from long dwelling together, have become familiar with one another’s faces.
Some of my favorite things about Jackson’s many weekend entertainment options are the gambling, exotic dancers, and running from the cops. Of course, I am a sucker for the more romantic selections as well, including salsa dancing and island-inspired drinks, all of which can cause a woman’s inhibitions to wave bye-bye at the door. All of these are what make Jackson what it is—a lively city teeming with less-than-honest citizens looking for even less honest entertainment.
One of the most perplexing and discouraging realities the modern world confronts us with is a disconnection from our past and the past in general. We are separated from the first European settlers of West Tennessee by just less than 200 years, but we have less in common with those ancestors than they themselves would have had with the Ancient Greeks or Romans. Time is a relative construction in this sense, just like it is in physics.
When the white-tailed deer show up in my backyard, it’s like witnessing a direct link to an age almost forgotten. I freeze in my tracks, and I can’t help but think about their unbroken chain of ancestors going back into the ancient past. These animals were here long before any settlers arrived from Europe. They were the hunted long before rifles replaced bows and arrows. They knew these lands when the waters were still clean and the air was still fresh. They knew these lands when there were no cars and no railroads.
“We help any person with any disability realize their potential.” Star Center President Dave Bratcher’s summary of the non-profit is simple, but a tour of the facility will quickly show just how far it reaches into the community. Since their start in 1988, they have grown into a thriving center serving a wide range of clientele by listening to the needs of the community.
I still remember the conversation I had with my mother after I got my first tattoo. It went a little something like this: Me: So, I need to tell you something. Mom: What happened? Me: Nothing happened. I got a tattoo. Mom: WHAT?! Me: I said, I— Mom: WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT?!! Me: I just wan— Mom: THAT’S JUST STUPID! You know those things never come off! Me: Yes. I know, but— Mom: So, now you drink beer AND have a tattoo?! Well, you’re just white trash!
To call Jackson home sometimes feels like a betrayal of the place that taught me the meaning of that word. Two hours east on I-40, home is a small white farmhouse on top of a hill with a porch swing and a bed of roses that welcome you to the front door. At home, the sound of that swing’s rusty metal creaking still steadies me like I imagine the ticking of a metronome does for a novice musician. There are days when I ache for the rhythm of home, just as we gasp for air when deprived of breath.
Paul Latham’s Meat Company, commonly known as Latham’s, is a name familiar to almost everyone in the Jackson area. Since 1991, Paul himself has been providing our city with a variety of quality meat and a high level of service. The friendly atmosphere of his current location on North Highland Avenue is felt immediately upon entering the combination butcher shop, barbecue stand, and cafeteria.
Entrepreneurs are sometimes the kind of people who come up with an idea and ruthlessly execute it. Others stumble into businesses ownership when their hobbies or passions lead them down a winding path of challenges and unexpected joys. Walt and Michelle James, the new owners of the Downtown Tavern, fall into the latter category. They are a pair of charitable entrepreneurs who were flung into the revitalization of downtown Jackson.