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Birney Imes: A midsummer night's walk


Birney Imes



At 2 a.m. the cats are perched on the backyard grass like proud lions waiting to be photographed. When the dew begins to form, they will drift over to the pine mulch of the flower beds and lie on their backs among the black-eyed Susans. If you reach for a weed, the gray cat will rub against your hand until you tend to his desires. The less needful Miss Prissy will climb to the top of the bois d''arc stump and exercise her claws. The frogs, if they are smart, will lie low and stay quiet. 


Unable to sleep, I''ve put on walking shoes, slipped a small flashlight in my pocket and eased out the back door. The night air is warm and unmoving, and I feel as though I am entering a moist cocoon. In recent days, I''ve walked across blistering parking lots and wondered how and why we live in this heat -- as if we had a choice. In the daytime, the plants wrap themselves in their leaves and droop, conserving energy and moisture. We run our air conditioners.  


The bees are outside their hives escaping the heat; "front porching," beekeepers call it. If it gets too hot, they wet their wings, stand at the entrance of the hive and fan -- a legion of tiny swamp coolers. At close range, you can smell the warm beeswax and honey. It''s a sensual combination, the warm night air, the smell of the hives and the soft chirping of crickets. August in Mississippi. 


No one is on the streets. A disinterested cat in the parking lot on Catfish Alley sits on her hind quarters and pays little attention to the signs of failed political campaigns overhead. A disheartening task, I suppose, taking those signs down. Failures are often stepping stones to success, though. 


The day before I''d been in a conversation about the heyday of across-the-river honky tonks and had gone out looking for evidence of those storied institutions. Not much remains, no Bob''s Place ... or Southernaire -- the sign, at least, is preserved in a local, private museum. The old Coffee Cup building remains, as does a painted-over sign that once advertised the Snow White. 


Someone the other day questioned my use of the term "tourist court." She knew what a motor court was. Same thing, I suppose. We have two of them on the Island. There I turned around and headed back to town. The stories out here -- and there are many of them -- exist only in the memories of people who lived those times. Pictures are few. 


In a day when everyone has a camera phone in his pocket, it''s hard to understand why pictures of that time are so few. Who wouldn''t like to see more pictures of Bob''s place, the hangout for so many of us? I''ve seen a Polaroid of three unnamed boys standing in front of Bob''s sign and another of the place being demolished. Surely there are more. 


Big Ben Atkins recently sent us some shots taken of him and the Nomads performing at the ''Aire. Everybody is wearing button-down shirts and looks very preppy. These images don''t match my memories of a rough-and-tumble place where on Saturday nights you could count on seeing a fight in the parking lot. 


Walking back across the bridge, I hear voices underneath. It''s 3 o''clock in the morning, and two young couples are gathered around a bench talking. I can''t hear what they''re saying, but I stop to watch. One of the boys takes a long swallow from a bottle of water. I wonder about their lives: Do they have jobs? Education? Do they have dreams, a passion for something?  


As I''m pulling River Hill, a perfect orange and green station wagon glides across the parking lot. The word "Hurricane" is printed across the top of the windshield. The rotating hubcaps make it seem like the wheels aren''t turning. I stop to admire and watch as the car moves down the hill and disappears.


Birney Imes III is the immediate past publisher of The Dispatch.


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