If you find yourself in downtown Delta don’t go looking for the river because it’s not close by. No cotton, no corn, no rich alluvial farms that stretch out so far and flat that heat shimmers upward in waves in summer and a good shade tree and a cold drink of water might be worth a thousand bucks if you had it to spend. No history of callused black hands picking cotton on the plantation, or of poor white tenants buying supplies on the promise of cotton prices that never seemed to pay-out at harvest time. No dynasties in this Delta, be they Duck or otherwise. You might find the Blues down at the crossroads, but don’t go expecting to make any deals with the devil for your guitar licks. The Book says that even he has limited time, so he likely shops up the road in Anniston.
On the west side of Highway 9 you’ll find the post office and general store. Not much on the shelves in store, and I wonder if a couple of thousand dollars might buy the entire inventory. It does offer “Hunt Brothers Pizza!” and “Wing Bites!” — but you won’t find much to wash them down. The coolers aren’t full and the selection of soft drinks is limited. You won’t find a beer because Clay County is “dry,” one of few counties in Alabama still under prohibition. Again, if you’re looking for a little sin head on up to Anniston.
Next door is the “Delta Mall,” an old-style brick and glass-front facade building that is empty but for a few items that look like they might pass for antiques. A handmade sign near the door near reads “Come Buy Honey!”
I wonder where Honey lives, but there is no one to ask.
Across the highway is “G & S Auto Sales” which has no autos to sell. Next to that is “Morrison Feed and Meat” which I assume has got a man covered from calf to freezer.
I head west of the crossroads and find the Clay County public lake, which offers fishing for three dollars a day. Business is good for a weekday, and a man with a heavy stringer of bream looks to be getting his money’s worth.
Headed back I notice my friend The Land Man has a nice old farm for sale. Sturdy country house with a big front porch. I let my mind wander for a second and see the picture postcard potential. A little sweat and diesel fuel would put that land back as it should be. Add a porch swing and a dog or two and contentment is served at sunset every day.
Back at the crossroads I take a second look and notice that everything in Delta is neat as a pin. Prosperity may have moved on down the road (if she ever lived here to begin with), but nothing looks run-down or neglected. Mostly it looks lonesome, like some stray lyric in an old Hank Williams song.
Lonesome suited Hank in a convoluted way, and sometimes it suits me too. I reckon we both believe that the best way to view it is in the rear view mirror as you head back out on the road.
*This piece originally appeared here in 2014. According to the analytics on this site, it was read by more people than anything I have ever written — several thousand in one day. Unfortunately, most of these readers carried torches and pitchforks because they felt I had been disrespectful to the community and the county. I had no intentions of that whatsoever.
I have tried to be more careful with metaphors since.