By Coulter Fussell
I’ve been writing this column for a few months now and slowly I’ve tried to settle in to what I’ve heard writers call their “voice.” Betty has hers established so well that I can almost predict her next sentence. In fact, I’ll go ahead and predict that Betty mentions a sandwich this week.
Every week I try to write funny things about Water Valley. I do this for a couple of reasons. For one, Water Valley is funny. Secondly, I show love through laughter. For me, the biggest task is figuring out how to present these two notions in a way that is consistent and is light-hearted enough to loosen us all up a little. But I had a Eureka moment, as they say, last week when a Letter to the Editor described my humor column as a “sophomoric diatribe.” My voice! Finally, a phrase to give me direction each Monday morning when I sit down to write this column. I might argue that “diatribe” is not exactly what I’m going for, but when someone who quotes Damon Wayans and uses money symbols in place of S’s describes your column as a sophomoric diatribe then, by all means, don’t argue. Defer to the expert.
I went to my first Water Valley Chamber of Commerce banquet last week. It was the first time I’ve ever been in First Baptist Church! Appropriately, it was through the back door and the closest I got to the pulpit was the Fellowship Hall bathroom. But it was still exciting. I’ve always wondered what it was like in there. The First Baptist Church is such a big character in town, having its own mystique, personality, and political opinions. Was glad to finally meet it. Even though it gives me the side-eye every time I drive past it.
Walking in for the first time was like entering Emerald City. No multi-colored horses but there were big lovely arrangements of dogwoods, magnolias, and azaleas; the holy trifecta of southern flora. Long tables with a hundred or so of us Munchkins sat eating pork chops served by cheerleaders. The salad dressing was in a little plastic cup with a little plastic spoon stuck in it. The band played, people spoke. The Mayor thanked the banquet for “bearing with us through the winter months while we worked on our sewer project.” There were tears. There was also a fake cake and then, after that, a real cake.
The star of the show was supposed to be Malcolm White, director of Mississippi Tourism, but I really think it was this mysterious Connor character working the slide projector in the back. He was referred to directly, indirectly, questioned and thanked no less than 50 times. Yet we never saw him. He sat behind a curtain. I could barely make out his feet in the darkness. Conner, the Wizard.
I wasn’t sure if the banquet at First Baptist Church was B.Y.O.B. or cash bar so I played it safe like everybody else and waited until I got to Snookie Williams’ after party. Everyone was friendly despite it being a trying week for our town. Lee McMinn kindly advised me not to stand huddled with Mickey Howley and Kagan Coughlin again outside of the Blu-Buck buildings like we had been earlier in the day for fear that someone might get in a covey shot. It’s exactly this type of neighborly concern that keeps me here.
Earlier in the evening, Rayford Edgar won a lifetime achievement award from the The Chamber. He executed the greatest acceptance speech I have ever heard and in my occasionally tumultuous relationship with our town, I couldn’t have heard it at a better time. I know that it will be something I come back to again: “I love Water Valley. And I love Water Valley because I love you. Thank you.”