Ginny and I drove to Rolling Fork for Ray Mosby’s visitation at the Methodist Church there.
Ray was editor, publisher and owner of the Deer Creek Pilot, one of the smallest weekly newspapers in Mississippi. From that platform, he won the state’s top editorial writing award, named after my grandfather, three times, including this most recent year.
Ray Mosby was the classic hard-charging, rabble-rousing, fire breathing small-town crusading editor. He was also a helluva nice guy. I always looked forward to seeing him at the press association meetings. We print the Deer Creek Pilot on our printing press in Greenwood.
Many of the remaining stalwarts of Mississippi journalism were at the visitation. Sid Salter was there, smiling, charismatic, charming, funny as usual. You can count on him for being there when any prominent journalist dies in Mississippi. (Sid, you sure better be at MY funeral!)
Charlie Mitchell, long-time editor of the Vicksburg Post was there, along with the Post’s former owner, Pat Cashman. The Post was in the Cashman family for four generations until it sold recently to Boone Newspapers.
Charlie is now a journalism professor at Ole Miss. Will Norton, who just recently retired as the Ole Miss dean of journalism, was there as well.
I was surprised and pleased to learn that the Deer Creek Pilot will carry on.
We consoled Ray’s daughter Logan and his recent partner Cheryl. I met Ray’s sisters and told them how much I was going to miss Ray’s presence at the Mississippi Press Association meetings.
Then Ginny and I headed off to Oxford for the Ole Miss - Texas A&M game. The only route was a two and a half our trek across the Delta on two-lane roads.
It was a beautiful Mississippi November day, balmy weather, sunny skies and beautiful fall colors. I was surprised to see so much cotton. It was everywhere, reminding me of my high school days in Greenwood.
About 15 years ago or so, many Delta acres converted from cotton to corn. Cheap China cotton was hard to compete against and federal ethanol subsidies increased the demand for corn.
Back then, there was much worry that once the cotton infrastructure deteriorated — mainly cotton gins — there would be no turning back and cotton would disappear forever. I was happy to see it didn’t turn out that way.
Later at our Ole Miss tent an Arkansas farmer with an operation in Yazoo County, John Newcomb, explained it to me. There are one-third fewer gins, but the remaining gins are three times more productive.
“We can plant anything, it’s the harvesting that’s specialized,” he told me. But if cotton prices are high enough, you can contract out your harvesting.
It used to be the cotton bales were stacked into rectangular modules, now they are circular. They come right off the cotton picker. Each circular bale is worth about $5,000. I saw some fields with hundreds of thousands of dollars of cotton bales sitting in the fields.
“Do they ever get stolen?” I asked a farmer once. He laughed and said no. “Where would you sell them?”
As we drove through the endless miles of Delta, the pancake-flat terrain created expansive vistas, a beautiful aspect of Delta flatness that people do not sufficiently appreciate.
As usual, there were countless abandoned buildings and shacks, rusting and decaying back into a state of nature, some barely visible through the kudzu, a vestige of the time when cotton planting required multitudes of low-cost laborers.
Those days are long gone. Instead, I saw million-dollar machines automatically programmed by computers and guided by GPS. Cotton farming is now a mixture of dirt, sweat and technical savvy, probably a very interesting and challenging profession.
As we approached Oxford, the shacks disappeared and everything began to look vibrant and more affluent. The prosperity of growth was obvious. The flatness gave way to hill country.
Driving up the two-lane Highway 7 at night was blinding, thanks to new high-powered LED headlights. These headlights are great when you are behind them, but a hazard when they shine in your eyes. It’s made night driving on two-lane roads much more dangerous than in the past.
As we drove three miles past Coffeeville, there on the right in a field is the Buntin family cemetery. My mother’s maiden name was Buntin. They settled that land before Mississippi was a state. Years ago my son John and I found the old tombstones within a circle of oak trees.
We made a late night dinner at the Taylor Grocery. The place was packed, like the entire city on game weekend. It reeked of Mississippi atmosphere, which we shared with Stewart and Kim Speed, J.P. Milam and Regan Wallace.
Ginny and I hit the Oxford jackpot with the Dunagins who have a beautiful big retirement home right off the square. Charlie and Virgi are like family. He worked with my grandfather, my father and then me. With daughter Ruth now an Ole Miss freshman, renewing that relationship has been a blessing, just one of the thousands of blessings I am thankful for this Thanksgiving.
Before the game, on TV, I watched State make their greatest comeback, then watched the nail-biting Ole Miss victory from the 12th row on the 50 yard line, thanks again to Charlie. It’s gonna be a great Egg Bowl!
The next day we drove to Greenwood to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the Greenwood Commonwealth. Tim Kalich, the Commonwealth’s editor and publisher made a short speech and I added some comments.
Tim noted that less than half of one percent of businesses last 100 years. This great achievement is the result of a lot of hard work and dedication by hundreds of people over 125 years. My father John produced a great newspaper for 23 years and his protege, Tim Kalich, has continued his excellence.
Tim wryly noted that it is unlikely that he or I will see the 150th anniversary, but he has no doubt it will occur.
We had delicious food and drinks and it was great to see so many Greenwood friends and Commonwealth colleagues.
On the way out, Dorothy Robertson grabbed me and introduced herself. She had just attended the 55th training conference for the Mississippi Action for Progress, which has a $55 million budget and runs Head Start programs all over Mississippi.
She opened up the program to a page titled, “Founding Fathers” and pointed to the name J. Oliver Emmerich. “Is he related to you?” she asked. “Yes, that’s my grandfather.” I glanced at some of the other names: Lawrence Owen Cooper from Yazoo City, Leroy Percy and Hodding Carter from Greenville, Aaron Henry from Clarksdale, Reverend R.L.T. Smith and Dr. William Penn Davis from Jackson.
This was a bit of family history of which I had no idea. Driving back to Jackson, my mind dwelled on what a blessing it is to have roots and to have those roots in Mississippi.