Birney Imes: Whad’Ya Know, a Christmas parade

December 12, 2009 10:20:00 PM

Birney Imes - birney@cdispatch.com

 

The evening may have been wet and the crowds sparse, but there was little evidence of dampened spirits at Monday night''s Christmas parade. Float riders (who may have outnumbered onlookers) waved and shouted, and the crowd waved back. Good cheer all around. 

 

This year''s grand marshal, Frances Jutman, asked me and our grandson, Benjamin, to escort her. Frances, who has been a quiet, behind-the-scenes force in so many good causes, was a fitting honoree. We rode in a horse-drawn carriage driven by Carl Wood of Steens. Only problem was we followed the CVB''s double-decker bus. Carl''s horse, Lady, didn''t much like breathing exhaust fumes, nor did we. 

 

How could one not love all the floats, the little girls dressed in white sitting in cotton puffs and the shepherds in bed sheets swaying next to plywood mangers. And the P.T. Cruisers, the horses and the high school bands. 

 

Smith Landscaping''s lawnmower and wheelbarrow drill team should get a special creativity award. Susan Smith said when her husband Alan began landscaping in Amory many years ago, he and his two employees walked in that town''s Christmas parade with wheelbarrows. 

 

"He''s been talking about doing it in the Columbus parade since we''ve been married," she said. 

 

Smith''s employees conducted weaving maneuvers on riding movers and wheelbarrows containing small Christmas trees. 

 

I have it from a good source that at least one of the wheelbarrow pushers was not enthusiastic about his role. Crowd response changed his attitude, and by the parade''s end he was consumed with the Christmas spirit. 

 

Someone should give David Sanders a bouquet of roses (or make him grand marshal of next year''s Christmas parade) for his persistence in lobbying the CVB to bring the radio show "Whad''Ya Know?" to Columbus. After weeks of national and statewide publicity, the date finally arrived and Saturday''s show from Rent Auditorium on the MUW campus went beautifully. An estimated 1.1 million people listen to the program, which has become a Public Radio staple in its almost 25 years of existence. 

 

Whad''Ya Know? is as much a celebration of place as it is a vehicle for host and producer Michael Feldman''s lightning-quick humor. For Saturday''s show Feldman mined a rich mother lode of material from Columbus and the Golden Triangle. 

 

In his opening monologue, Feldman did a riff on possible names for Mississippi University for Women: Mississippi University for Whatever? Mississippi University for Mostly Women? Mississippi University for All Y''all? The University of the Four-County Electricity Power Association? Mississippi University of (your gender here)? Mississippi University for the Hitching Lot Holiday Market? 

 

To play the "Whad''Ya Know?" quiz, callers had to answer the following question: "In Japan they have the love hotels for rent by the hour. What is the Amzi Love Home Concept?" After three or four calls from all over the country, a caller identified it as the antebellum home of Sid Caradine. 

 

Another caller, a sign maker named Joe (perhaps Dillon?) correctly defined a "Tombigbee honey hole" as a secret fishing spot in the river of that name.  

 

Feldman and Rufus Ward took a trek through local history beginning with dinosaurs and prehistoric sharks fossils from the banks of Tibbee Creek, through DeSoto in the 1500s, to the tavern keeper Spirus Roach whose nose reminded the Choctaw of a possum (It could have been Roach Town instead of Possum Town, Feldman quipped.) and through "the War of Northern Aggression," as Feldman called it. 

 

The ever gracious Helen Karriem came on with food including samples of her famous but too rarely available oxtail soup. Helen talked about her culinary heritage -- the sixth of 11 children, she''s been cooking since she was 8 -- and plugged her just-published cookbook. By the time that interview ended, everyone on the stage was feasting on bounty from Helen''s Kitchen. Afterward Feldman shared leftovers with the audience.  

 

I had been asked to be the first guest and I waited backstage for the show to begin full of butterflies. Finally 10 a.m. rolled around and Feldman yelled to the audience, "Whad''Ya Know?" The audience yelled back, "Not much, you?" Instantly John Thulin and the Whad''Ya Know? band hit the familiar theme song, and I sat back, smiled, and as the butterflies fluttered away, thought to myself, this is going to be fun. 

 

It was. Michael is a good interviewer. And a sympathetic one. We talked about the quirks and delights of Columbus and the Golden Triangle. "What''s Golden about the Triangle?" Feldman asked.  

 

I don''t remember exactly what I said. I hope I mentioned the warmth of our people, our beautiful and varied landscape and the abundance of eccentrics, both famous and unknown. 

 

The show seemed to come off well, portraying Columbus, Starkville and West Point in a good light. I tried to imagine what a listener in Pennsylvania might make of it all. Feldman and his crew were patient, approachable and accommodating. Afterwards Feldman talked with audience members, signed autographs and posed for pictures. 

 

People came from Florida, Louisiana and from around the state to see the show. And, to use a phrase favored by a long-ago society columnist from this newspaper, "A good time was had by all." 

 

Birney Imes III is the Editor and Publisher of The Dispatch.