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Shannon Bardwell: Progress in the Prairie


Shannon Bardwell



She said she thought I''d understand as she shoved the folded paper in my hand.  


"I think they ought to know the other side. I thought you might tell them." She turned, gripped her walker and slowly moved away. I opened the paper; the message was handwritten on notebook paper. 


On May 29, 1964, a young man boarded a Trailways bus from Columbus to Jackson. His destination was the Army Induction Center. Passing by Highway 45, he looked out the window and dreamed he''d return and have a small farm in the Prairie. He made a promise to himself that if he made it back, somehow he''d buy that land. 


Jim was born into a dairy business, raised with strong values and hard work. He loved God, his country and his family. When his country called, he went. His parents instilled a desire for education. As a soldier he excelled in his studies and strengthened his character. He became a Green Beret in the 7th Special Forces. He traveled much, but never lost his dream of living in the Prairie. He made it home and married a Columbus girl. 


For a while Jim and Doris farmed in Warren County, where they raised their two sons. They taught the boys to respect the land and care for the animals. Later Jim took work with a construction company; that job enabled him to buy 100 acres alongside Highway 45, his dreamland. 


Over the years Jim''s job took him to 17 states, but annually he returned to the Prairie. He walked the land and he planned; imagining their home site. He put beef cattle on the land for his son to tend. He promised his wife they''d settle down soon; they''d retire and she''d have that dream home. It was all coming true until the letter arrived. 


It was April 2010; Jim was working in Texas. The letter said to appear in a Lowndes County Court, so Jim and Doris returned. As they crossed Highway 45 at Gerhart Bottom, they were devastated. The land was torn apart. Shortly after, in court, more than half their land was taken for the new four-lane highway. Reality set in.  


There wasn''t enough left for the dream. Sure, they had been compensated fairly, but it wasn''t enough to buy equal farmland and build a home. Even if they could make it work, it couldn''t be in the Prairie. So Jim decided he''d continue to work, they''d look for land elsewhere and make a new dream. The Prairie land would go to their son and granddaughter.  


Doris watched as Jim, his hair now silver, stood at the Highway 45 bridge and remembered that day in 1964, the day he promised if he made it back ... he''d have a farm in the Prairie. 


"I just wanted them to know that generations of families lost their dreams; it was "progress," they said."


Shannon Rule Bardwell is a Southern writer living quietly in the Prairie.


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