Birney Imes: While waiting in line

February 7, 2009

Birney Imes - [email protected]


The things you can learn, the people you can meet while standing in line. The English call it a queue. A bunch of folks were queued for Margaret Ann Borland''s fried catfish Friday night when Barbara Yarborough announced, "When I was growing up, I would have never dreamed I''d be standing in line for catfish on Catfish Alley." 


But there she was, along with a lot of others enjoying Catfish in the Alley, sponsored by the Columbus Convention and Visitors Bureau. The crowd -- and it was a crowd -- devoured the 250 allotted dinners of catfish filets, homemade potato chips and slaw. Margaret Ann, her brother Marty Wages and their partner Mark Goodyear brought extra fish so they kept cooking and another 100 happily settled for catfish on white bread. For alert diners there was banana pudding. 


In its heyday, in the late 19th and through the mid-20th century, the block-long alley was a profusion of taverns, cafes and professional offices for the African American community. Then, as was the case Friday night, the smell of frying fish filled the air and thus the name. For more on Columbus'' African American heritage, see the excellent CVB brochure on the subject. 


The smooth sounds of Simeon Weatherby''s ensemble provided music while diners laughed, visited and met new friends under and around a big tent erected in the middle of the street. 


I happened to be in line with Thomas and Carolyn Collins, recently of Southfield, Mich., a Detroit suburb. Nine months ago Thomas moved here with Aramark, the food service provider for Columbus city schools.  


When asked how she liked Columbus, Carolyn replied, "It''s different." 


About then Learnard Dickerson showed up and began to do a selling job. Learnard moved here 12 years ago from New Orleans; his wife, Johnice, is from Detroit. 


"You''ll love it here," Learnard said as his pal and preacher, Tony Montgomery appeared. As I drifted toward the catfish, Learnard, Tony and the Collinses were busy bonding. 


William and Kate Roberts missed out on the catfish tickets. Not sure how we got on the subject of hot tamales, but William waxed poetic about a place in the Delta called Bourbon Mall, a Taylor Grocery-type place south of Leland that sells tamales. "Check out their Web site," William said. A tamale joint with a Web site? 


While I was chatting with Edwina Williams, who was not in Mother Goose mode, two Asian women joined the line. Myungja M.J. Hall and her niece DaEun Jung are from South Korea. M.J.''s husband has been at CAFB for three years; her second-grade daughter knows and no doubt loves Mother Goose. When asked if she''s ever had catfish, M.J. answered, "I love it."  


What a sweet and well attended event it was. Good food, music and fellowship on a starry night. At least one grandparent got to split his catfish dinner with his 2-year-old grandson. The two of them sat on the pavement next to one of the outdoor fireplaces taking it all in.  


Larry Clemmons told a funny story while standing in another line at an estate on Southside Saturday morning. 


Larry runs an establishment that falls somewhere between a junk shop and an antique store on Yorkville Road in New Hope. Call it nostalgia; I think Larry calls it ABC Antiques. His wife, Phyllis, is a retired school teacher, who taught health at New Hope. 


Each morning Larry and Phyllis have their morning coffee while sitting next to one another in recliners. 


One morning Phyllis said something to Larry, to which he replied. "I really wish you would." 


"What do you think I said?" Phillis asked. 


Larry replied, "I thought you said you were going to see the Morgans today." 


"No," said Phyllis, "I said I''d hate to get married again." 


Larry didn''t report what happened after that, but did say he and Phyllis still have their morning coffee in adjacent recliners. 


A small hand churn at the estate sale evoked boyhood memories for Olen Brock of Caledonia, whose morning ritual in those days was far from sipping coffee in a recliner. Brock''s preschool obligations included milking 14 cows with his brother, Robert. Their other brother, Frank, drove a school bus and thus missed out on the bovine ablutions. 


Needless to say, Brock was not interested in the churn. He found an enameled pot he intends using to boil clock parts. In recent years, the brick mason has started tinkering with antique time pieces. 


Daughter Tanner scored big at the estate sale. She came home with a box of book matches from the old Gilmer Hotel. Local historian Carolyn Burns told her they have fetched as much as $9 apiece on eBay. 


Write or phone Birney Imes at The Commercial Dispatch, 516 Main St., Columbus, MS 39701, 328-2424, or e-mail him at [email protected] 






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