My name is Melody Alice Sharbrough, I was born in Clinton at the Women's Hospital but raised in Sharbrough's Landing. A small country town of fifteen hundred souls, nestled in the heartland of the Southern Mississippi Delta. The town or settlement if you will is located on the tall bluff that overlooks a bend in the Sunflower River, a tributary to the Yazoo River. I'm one of the dozen living members of the Sharbrough family, one of the original families who first settled this area in eighteen seventy-seven. A brief history of the township and the surrounding area. The area named Sharbrough's Landing was like I said before settled in eighteen seventy-seven when two brothers by the name of Franklin Wilson Sharbrough and John Walker Sharbrough arrived at her with all their belongings and tools Smith County.
It was those two brothers who spearheaded the building of the first roads, bridges, and levees in this part of the Delta. The town they helped to found was at first nothing but a small collection of wooden cottages. Most of those early houses have been torn down and replaced with modern housing. Most of those houses and wooden stores were located on a high bluff that overlooked a sharp bend S shape turn in the Sunflower River. Here in the middle of the bend, river pilots would dock their paddlewheel boats and pause to pick up cotton. The cotton would be exchanged for goods such as sugar, coffee, nails, tools and the like. And on those rare times cash.
Most of the cotton that was harvested early in the town history would then be floated down Vicksburg or New Orleans where the rich bankers and crop brokers would sell it off to ships waiting to carry it up north to Boston, New York or in some rare cases Liverpool or Cork. But that all changed with the coming of the Railroad in nineteen O' six. The coming of the Yazoo & Mississippi Valley railroad meant the town for the first time was directly connected to larger cities of Yazoo City and Benton. As the railroad expanded Vicksburg, Jackson, and Greenville, often touted as the Queen City of the Delta and even far away Memphis seemed within reach of the once isolated delta farmers. Cotton was no longer sold to rich merchants of New Orleans, but to the sharp-eyed merchants of Vicksburg. Chief among them was the Bell Mercantile Firm. And further away to Memphis who was rising like a phoenix from the plague-ridden ashes.
The coming of the Yazoo & Mississippi Valley railroad set a chain of changes to the town. A train station was built, an ice house was built. A dozen general stores sprung up. For the first time in the town's history, a bank was needed. A post office followed the bank with Marcia M. Sharbrough being selected as the first postmaster. A telephone cable was laid that connected at first Hegman Store to the icehouse, then connected Hegman store to Yazoo City and finally, a dozen or so private cables were laid that allowed people to phone in orders to Hegman Store. Yes, the small town was undergoing a big transformation. Finally sometimes after all this, an Episcopalian Parish was formed when a dozen or so farmers pooled their resources together and brought a small plot of land in the area that was quickly becoming downtown. A simple wooden chapel was constructed and adorned with stain glass. The building of that church, besides providing for the spiritual welfare for the surrounding farmers, also set a social standard. One that endures to this day. Since the original members of that congregation were farmers and shopkeepers, in essence, the ones who held sway and controlled local politics through there power and wealth. The Episcopal Church thus has been seen as the church of the towns elite, the bourgeoisie if you will of the landing. And the second church, the United First Baptist Church, the church of the poor field-hands and sharecroppers. The two don't mix.
Now, leaving politics and religion aside for now. The people of Sharbrough's Landing are by and large wedded if you will to the ebb and flow of the seasons and by tradition. One shining example I can think of concerns the platting and harvesting of the chief crop cotton. One must already have there field's plowed and ready for planting by Good Friday, And one must always plant their cotton on the day Monday following Easter Sunday. Cotton is the chief crop of this region of the delta. The coffee-colored soil, enriched by the yearly overflow of the river in years past. Renders it ideal for the crowing and harvesting of such crops. Also Cotton produces the most bang for the bucket the market. As I said before Cotton is planted shortly after Easter, its matures through the Summer and around the first breath of Autumn's harvest.
Now Cotton is sold by the bale, a bale of cotton weighs around five hundred pounds. And in the harvest season of nineteen ninety-five, the farmers in this area produced a crop of some quarter-million bales. That crop broke the record and that record still stands today. Now at the end of every harvest, the town becomes flushed with money. The field-hands collect their bonus and can finally pay off the ongoing taps at the general stores. The farmers are in a good mood because another crop been made and harvested, and traveling bands of carnival works started to visit the town and set up a two day only funfair.
As a tradition, a small celebration was to be held to mark the end of the harvest. The town's board of selectmen decided that the first weekend of October would be the date for a two-day celebration and thanksgiving. Now, toward the far side of town, past the urban areas of Queen Anna Street and Mound Road, down a row of red brick building that housed most of the shops of the town. One would find a large empty field, the field was located right behind the towns volunteer fire department and was flanked to the north by the raised railroad bed belong to the Yazoo & Mississippi Valley Railroad. The railroad runs through the center of town it stops once at the small request stop, a small enclosed shed with a wooden bench inside to sit on while you wait for the train and three weather-beaten walls around you to keep out the elements. From there it goes to pick up cotton and grain from Paymaster Grain Company LLC. Also, the biggest employer in the Landing next to the varies farms. Then it crosses the Sunflower River on an old wooden bridge before zooming on to Spanish settlement a tiny village some forty miles away.
And to the west, one would find the old concrete road called Old Highway Sixteen. To the East the large, brick building that housed the towns only school. A combined Junior High School, Middle School and Elementary school all rolled into one. Beside that was another large brick building that housed something called the 'Regional Vocational Development Center' A big fancy name for a small scale trade school if you ask me.
Now in this field, one would find a free-standing structure called the Dunking Booth. Unlike the dunking booths, you see at local Yazoo County State Fair and the larger Jackson State Fair. This one was built to stay. A wooden drop seat suspended a person over a concrete thank that could hold up to six hundred gallons of water. In order to get to the seat, one had to climb a ladder set on the edge of the tank. From there one could then climb over and reach for an old brass handle.
Then do a little bit of fancy footwork one could go from the ladder to the drop seat. The drop from the seat to the water below was a good four feet I'll say. And once you were seated, there was really no way down beside getting dropped. Needless to say, this was not for the faint of heart.
Now the day the celebration took place was one of those rare autumn days in the delta where everything was perfect. I found myself standing before the concrete tank, my mother a fine southern belle by the name of Virginia DeMarce had volunteered me the first and last thirty-minute shift in the booth. The meadow was filled with people too, news of the record-breaking crop and the celebration had drawn people into the landing like bears to honey pots. Half of the landing seemed to be there as well as people from nearby farming settlements. Dozens of people gathered around a wooden table. Dozens of coolers filled to the brim with a mixture of ice and water dotted the ground between the tables that were heavy laden with big platters of home-style fried chicken, potato salad, deviled eggs, mounted of grilled chicken thighs, glazed with a rich, savory sauce. Dozens of conversations filled the air as people visited with friends and family scarcely seen since New Years.
"Melody, there you are a girl, I've been looking all over for you!" Shouted a voice from the gathered mass of people. I turned around and there stood my mother, Mrs. Virginia DeMarce Sharbrough herself, dressed in her finest dress, wearing her best jewelry and holding in her hand a small red plastic cup that was no doubt filled with spiked, fruity punched. Spiked with of course the local favorite Jim Beam Sour Mash.
My mom wasted no time in wrapping one arm around me and pulling me close to her breast. The sweet, flowery scent of her perfume filled my nose as she hugged me tight with her one arm. "Good to see you near the tank. Where about to open the thing. Just gotta find the other girls. While I round them up, I need you to change into your bathing suit for me, please sweetie."
I felt my face flush with blood as I peered toward my momma, now you see momma was the social queen of our little township. She was involved with all the major civic groups. Including the town's chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star and Lioness the later being the female branch of the Lions Club. She chartered the local Garden Club, and also was in charge of the altar guild of our local Episcopal Church. The whole opening up the dunk tank had been her idea, she had volunteered me. This has been followed by a lot of mothers also volunteering their daughters and so, by conscription they filled the rooster for the duration of the two day period.
Not that I minded being conscripted into helping. After all, there were a lot of cute boys milling around the field, most if not all of them were dressed in denim, wrangler style jeans. Heavy boots and button-down, long-sleeve work shirts with the sleeves rolled up to the elbows. A simple kind of style I like to call Country Boy Causal. Most of them short too. The women and girls by and large all wore light cotton sundresses in flora print or pastel colors and plastic flip-flops.
My cheeks flushed again as these thoughts rushed through my head. My mom increased her hold on me and pulled me tighter into her breast. Her one arm was now wrapped tighter than a boa constrictor around my petite frame. Finally, she eased off her grip and peered into my eyes.
"And don't you worry, you're going to be the star of this show. Forty-five minutes, a little longer than the agreed thirty minutes but Alice Little came down with the sniffles. Thankfully her younger sister Marci has agreed to take her place. But Marci and her mom are just now leaving, had to settle Alice down. But then darling we can get you down. A few of the other girls from church. Have agreed to take turns too, good for them, shows that fighting spirit Landing girls are known for." She paused and then took a drink from her cup. "And yes the other church too. They have agreed to volunteer some of their youth too." by 'The Other Church' she was, of course, referring to local Southern Baptist church. It was a well-known fact that the two different sects mistrusted each other to the hilt. Say what you will, the fact reminds that the number of Baptist have always dwarfed the number of Episcopalians in the region. Only the Methodist came close to touching them. As for the Presbyterians, they were more scarce than hen's teeth. Roman Catholics, they often drove to Yazoo City or Rolling Fork to hear Mass.
"Remember girl, our family was the first to settle this area. We were among the first ones to sow crops and the first one to harvest and sell. We've always been the first to do anything. By heavens, your going to be the first one to go in! We have the family honor to uphold."
I nodded my head and slipped off. Letting my momma rant and rave a little. She was like a boulder being rolled down a steep hill. Once she got going, it would take God, and all of his angels and all his saints to get her to stop. And everyone in town knew it all too well. So as my mom spouted off her little speech to the crowd that gathers of them intended on a listing I guess, the other half intended to await my return. I feel those who waited on me were growing restless with each passing second. The booth should have been open a good five minutes ago. Hell, even the train runs late at times, another five minutes never hurt anyone. I also felt it was wise enough to go find a place to change. Now a hundred or so yards from the booth, there sat a row of four evergreen porta potty. Thankfully, I had the foresight to wear my swimwear a bright one-piece under my dress. So all I needed to do was pull my sundress over my head and folded it up. I took a deep breath as I folded the dress and stuffed it into the gym bag I had with me.
My heart was racing, I'd always been a little body shy, well to be honest, I've always been shy in general. Quite as a church mouse, my great grandmother would say before she passed away at the ripe old age of a hundred and eight. She was one hell of a woman, saw three generations of Landing men off to war. But anyway, my heart was beating loudly in my chest as I turned over the fact that in just a few minutes, I'll at the center of everyone's attention. Not that I mind this time, there were some really cute boys out there, dare I say, even handsome? And we'll at that point in time I was hoping that after my little turn in the tank, one of those boys would talk me into the hayloft of a nearby barn for some tussling. Fighting down the urge to blush again, I reached down and picked up my gym bag by the straps and slung it over my shoulder.
Once the bag was on my shoulder, I slipped on a pair of cheap, plastic flip-flops, brought that morning from the Landings newest business and only big chain store, a Dollar General, for those not from the south, I can only say Dollar General discount stores are more numerals than honkytonks. But anyway, country girl that I am, only a real dingbat fool would walk across that field barefooted. Not that I'm overly paranoid mind you, but there was no telling what dangers might lay waiting out there. Anything from rusted nails to broken shards of glass. You know from either abounded redneck projects or old discarded coke-cola or whiskey bottom that had long been broken and lay resting upon there backs, there razor-sharp edges peering up at the sky, waiting for any tender, naked foot to step on them. And hell's bells and little puppy dogs tails, having the misfortune of stepping on either a rusted nail or discard screw was one sure-fire way of coming down with tetanus. And coming down with lockjaw was one sure fire way of insuring a nice long stay at one of the major regional hospitals located in far away Jackson.
If a gal was lucky enough, she might get a handsome doctor and nurse to nurse back to good health. And if she was unlucky, hell, she'll either be burning down in the lakes of fires with all the sinners. Or flying high above with a new pair of wings with all the saints. So faced with those two choices, I'll say one ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Plus, it was we'll know and documented fact that there were dozens of big molds of fire ant colonies scattered about the field. Step into one of those, and you'll wish the reaper would hurry up and come collect your mortal soul.
And so slipping on my plastic pink flip-flops I pushed the door open and started to walk across. I tell you something, I felt like one of those models you see in those fashion shows on the CBC. All the eyes turned toward me, I could not help but stop and giggle. Country boys dressed in their flannels shirts and jeans stopped what they were doing and watched me walk, their jaws dropped wide open. They were catching flies as my maw-maw would say. The girls they looked at me with pure hate and venom in their eyes, I swear I saw them bristling like cats. And what can I say, all those long summer mornings working in the family vegetable garden and those long, lazy afternoons spent fishing on the muddy banks of the Sunflower River had really given me a nice, golden tan. No fake, spray on beauty salon treatment here, keep that for those toffee-nosed city girls in Yazoo City, Greenville, Jackson, and Vicksburg. This tan was one hundred percent natural.
But soon I reached the concrete tank. Taking a deep breath I started to climb up the ladder. Reaching out and taking hold of the brass handle and slipping my foot into the footrest I pulled myself across and eased my bottom down upon the chair. I then took a deep breath, folded my hand and placed them in my lap and brought my knees together and smiled. There was no turning back now.
End Part I