By Jim Dees
Good ole T.S. “Big Bubba” Eliot wrote that “April is the cruelest month,” the inference being that spring gives us hope only to be dashed by winter. One could make the same case for September and October. We have survived the roaring furnace of summer with humidity that is in fact a human rights abuse, and are rewarded by cooler temps and the crisp aura of October light.
Then, funky winter rolls in and it gets dark at lunchtime and the sky slates gray until spring break.
Some of the more optimistic among us take the early days of football season to dream of trophies and possible playoffs only to have reality rear up when we lose to Vanderbilt and wind up in the Whatever Bowl.
Indeed, most any change can be as cruel as Eliot’s April.
All of this was on my mind when I saw a headline that the Lafayette County Board of Supervisors accepted a bid to demolish the old Thacker Mountain fire tower located some five miles south of Oxford near Taylor, MS. The tower, long out of use, had become a safety liability, in the view of the board.
As a former 20-year resident of Taylor back in the 1980s-90s, I have a warm spot for the tower and what it represented, which was a certain, shall we say, late night abandon. More than once back in those years, my pals and I, fortified by, well, fire water, scaled the tower ladder to reach the top and enjoy what little we could see in the dark.
Daytime visits revealed pine trees as far as the eye could see.
It’s quaintly heroic to think about forest rangers sitting up there alone, keeping a quiet vigil over their fellow citizens. In the days before cell phones and the dreaded texting, these men were on the front lines between life and catastrophe, between us and the cruel change a rampaging fire can bring.
For me personally, the fire tower took on even more resonance when I joined the crew of the Thacker Mountain Radio Hour, Oxford’s weekly literature and music show, named for the tower by Square Books owner Richard Howorth.
Soon the tower will go the way of other local touchstones such as the Hoka Theatre (where Harrison’s 1810 is now) or Smitty’s (in limbo), the actual Ice House (now iceless) or Willie Wallace’s Local Color (where an out-of-place something will be built).
In the case of Local Color and the Hoka, they weren’t just torn down but the slab was scraped up leaving nary a trace of the gonzo glee that transpired within their walls. Hoka proprietor, the late Ronzo Shapiro, quoted Tom Robbins: “I feel like someone is following me around with an eraser.”
I’m not one of these old farts who resists all change; just an old fart. It seems to me, if you experience change, count your blessings. It means you’re among the living. Even if that change takes the form of ear hair, a bulging belly or the noticeable lack of energy to scale a fire tower, with one free hand, in the dead of night.
Anyone who has lived in Oxford for say, five years or more, will likely experience some favorite entity closing up or being torn down.
I recently faced the mortality of my father’s beloved 1993 Toyota truck which I bought for ten dollars from my step-mom upon his death.
“I can’t look at it,” she had told me then.
I drove it for 13 years with minimal trouble before the old parts began giving out one by one. Finally, like a doctor delivering a grim diagnosis, my mechanic pronounced that he had “done all we can do.” It almost felt like an appendage being amputated, and I twitch to drive it in my dreams.
Likewise, I’ve had beloved dogs pass away and, in my case, haven’t been able to bring myself to re-dog. So far, it is the same way with getting a new ride. Personal transportation is a necessary evil of course but my appetite is wanting. We shall see.
In the meantime, there is the fall to enjoy; the constancy of changing leaves. The aforementioned cooler temps, the gorgeous golden light, the electricity in the air when you hear the marching band practicing for that upcoming Friday night, or Saturday in the Vaught.
I accept change as I’m sure ole T.S. Eliot did. He even picked up a Nobel Prize for his trouble.
Like recovering alcoholics, we have to develop the serenity to accept what we can’t control.
But I still miss Local Color and the Hoka.