Riding Rural Roads

Posted on May 28, 2012 by Dr. Jerry Rankin in Down Home in Mississippi

I am often reminded by friends who are NOT down home in Mississippi that our beautiful southern state has the distinction of being the most religious of the 50 states as well as having the highest rate of obesity. So, why would one whose life has been devoted to missions retire in the the most evangelized, well-churched area of the nation–and perhaps in the whole world? Besides the fact it is home, it is a great base for mission trips and mobilizing churches.

With regard to the second distinction, it did not acquire such a enigmatic status with my move to the state, and I am working out diligently to reduce any alleged contribution to the problem. However, there is no denying the unquestionable rural nature of the state.

It is often said that New Orleans and Memphis (each located just across the state line) are the two largest Mississippi cities!

I was being introduced somewhere out-of-state soon after retiring, and it was mentioned that whenever you met someone from Mississippi and asked where they were from they would usually reply with the name of a county. The implication is that there are so few towns, and most of them rather small, so one’s identity is associated with a county.

I began to notice that was true. It has been almost 60 years since I studied Mississippi history and have been away from the state for 45 years. I wondered how many of the 82 counties I could identify off the top of my head. I was pleasantly surprised as we were driving from nowhere to somewhere that I was able to name 45 with Bobbye checking me by the map. I could think of others but could not remember where they were.

Okay, so most of them I recalled were stretched along the well-traveled interstate 55 spanning the state from north to south, and I-20 and I-10 east to west. A few others were known by a prominent city (by our standards): Lee County (Tupelo), Forrest County (Hattiesburg), Lauderdale County (Meridian), Leflore County (Greenwood), Adams (Natchez). I even remembered Issaquena though it has a population of less than 1,000 and shares a courthouse with Sharkey County.

We have enjoyed having the margin for leisure travel to church engagements and visiting friends and relatives, avoiding the interstate and traveling the rural highways.

We have been through Hot Coffee, MS but didn’t stop for coffee (spoiled by Starbucks), nor did we drink any cold water in Cold Water, MS. We found that Soso, Ms was, well, so so.

The proclivity to Indian names reminds us of our heritage, having spent the first few years of life in Itawamba County with relatives in Tishomingo and Oktibbeha. I like to tell people that Rankin County had something to do with my family, but the prominent judge for which it was named at the time of statehood did not come from our clan.

An enjoyable feature of riding the rural roads is to take a quick diversion off the highway bypass to see the iconic courthouse (accompanying photos) in every county-seat town. It doesn’t take long as there is no downtown traffic congestion and the town center is not hard to find; these courthouses reflect a historical legacy and proud, though provincial identity of those who are down home in Mississippi.


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