A Deputy Observer — a rabid fan of the blues — sends this dispatch from north Mississippi, where she recently traveled for a music festival. While there, she visited the grave of the late bluesman Junior Kimbrough:
When I saw the hills, I got goosebumps. Kudzu, gorgeous and parasitic, grew over everything, smothering the roadside trees it would eventually kill with a lush, exotic blanket.
Holly Springs looks like many of the small, poor cities in Mississippi, where there’s not too much to do except play cards, make love or make music. I didn’t do my research on Junior Kimbrough’s gravesite beforehand and just sorta asked around. Eventually, I was sent to a record store in an alley. From there, I was sent to a restaurant down the street where a well-togged gentleman was walking out. Lo and behold, he was the funeral director in town and was the one who buried Junior. He gave us exact directions. Funny how that happened. Or maybe not.
At Kimbrough’s Chapel in Hudsonville, there were many paupers’ graves — some of the markers just pieces of tile. The cemetery was small enough that a quick glance around brought me to the end of my pilgrim’s trail: a shiny headstone engraved with the name David “Junior” Kimbrough. People from places more distant than I had visited before, and they had left offerings. A potted cactus decorated with a Maple Leaf flag stood in the shadow of the stone. A wasp hovered around my ankles. Clouds rumbled overhead, breaking the glare but not the heat of the midday sun.
Somewhere, it seemed, I heard music.
Somewhere — possibly in a secret factory run by Halliburton — they’re growing giant mattresses.
We know this because the other day, The Observer’s cousin — moving and downsizing — gave us the practically new mattress from her guest room. Believe us when we say it was an act of mercy. For the past decade, The Observer has been sleeping on a chiropractor’s nightmare — a double-bed-sized raft about twice as thick as the phone book, founded on a pair of squeaking, pre-war (Civil War, possibly) springs and a spray-painted iron bedstead.
By contrast, the new mattress — though still a double — is an extra-smushy, pillowtopped and quilted model; a foot thick, with a box spring that might have been a surplus training mat for the U.S. women’s gymnastics team.
It is obvious that there has been some kind of thickness arms race in the mattress-making industry over the years. Situated on our old iron bed frame, the result was like something out of “The Princess and the Pea” — three feet (we measured) from floor to pillow top, high enough that The Observer’s 5-foot-4-inch spouse had to make a mighty, graceless leap to mount and dismount. For a moment, we considered the indignity of those doggy steps you see on TV.
We lived with it for a week, not wanting to let go of our freebies. Finally, we decided that the anxiety was just too much. Lying flat on our backs, the ceiling fan seemed to graze the tips of our noses, and falling out of bed became a matter of life and death. With that, Home Depot supplied a sheet of plywood, which replaced the box springs (anybody need a set?), and The Observer came gratefully back down to earth. Half a freebie, we figured, is better than none.
In the newspaper recently, we read the harrowing tale of a young woman who tried to commit suicide by jumping from the I-430 bridge. According to the report, she had called her parents to say good-bye, and then jumped seven stories into the churning, flood-swollen Arkansas River. That night, storms rolled over the state, and the search for what everyone no doubt assumed would be her body had to be called off. The next morning, however, she was discovered — broken, but alive — clinging to a tree branch just upstream from the Big Dam Bridge. Her rescuer spotted her, the story said, when she weakly raised her hand and waved.
The Observer is prone to dark moods at times — all writers are depressives, haven’t you heard? And while we’ve never gone so far as to seriously consider ending it all, for a moment reading that story, we felt the pain of everyone who ever has.
At the same time, we thought, there could be no greater parable about why no one should go through with it: A long night of despair on the turbulent river, the sky full of dark thunderheads. But with the dawn — a boat, and two hands outstretched for one another.