Even if you haven’t seen that 1960′s comedy “If it’s Tuesday, this must be Belgium,” the film’s premise is obvious: too much travel over too few days. On our Deep-South road trip, Sara, Anna, and I lived that experience. By late Wednesday, two and a half days after leaving Richmond, The Tisdale Three had driven east-to-west across Virginia, north-to-south across Tennessee, and down Alabama to Birmingham. Then it was west to Tuscaloosa (and the first Starbucks sighting since Richmond despite several SIRI-instigated exits) and into Mississippi to Starkville, and then Nowheresville (actual name, Prairie) where we unloaded Anna’s cargo at her country home for the next three months, and Sara said hello to Anna’s next-door neighbor: a bull. En route north to Oxford, we’d driven through Okolona, motto: The Little Town That Does Big Things Not Much in Evidence. (I added the not-much part.) And we’d seen Oxford, Ole Miss, and Faulkner’s home and grave.
Now we were bearing down on our final destination, Memphis, and … hold on, I didn’t tell you about our visit to Faulkner’s grave, did I? There’s a reason why (that didn’t just occur to me, honest): How to explain the strange event we witnessed there.
(Have your interest now, don’t I? What I just did is a writer’s trick called “the hook.” We think of you, the reader, as a fish to reel in. To play along, pick a species of fish to be.)
After driving in circles in the older part of the cemetery searching for the grave, we asked a groundskeeper who consulted another groundskeeper who said, “See those two big trees yonder? Below them, on the opposite side.” We found the entrance, turned in, and there on the rising slope behind those trees was Faulkner’s grave – and supine atop it, a young woman in shorts, T-shirt and athletic shoes.
“Look at that woman lying on his grave,” I said, because I often like to say the obvious out loud (a harmless trait except in a darkened, crowded movie theatre where it draws comment). I turned in and slowed to a stop. The woman stood and walked away. Or did she float? No, hah-ha, she walked. She did. I have floaters (laser retina surgery, both eyes, won’t bore you) and one of those floating blobs in just the right light becomes the very figure of a women. And in running attire, too, which is strange, I’ll admit.
Anna didn’t think the woman had been on Faulkner’s grave, but lying beside it. All I can say is I saw what I saw (through my repaired eyeballs). And if I had to guess (and may be about to), that young woman was communing with the spirit of The Great Writer himself, not a runner taking five.
There was one other possibility besides a solo seance: the mysterious woman was low on cash. Scattered coins adorned the marble slab of Faulkner’s grave. I wanted to read some significance into this, but just as many coins were on his wife’s slab as well as the ground. I tossed a penny – and just like that the explanation for the scattered coins came to me. A good number of them had been tossed by inept throwers like me also trying to land theirs on Faulkner’s slab. (There’s a reason I’ve never won a stuffed animal at the fair.) As for why the coins were left in the first place, we never found out.
Where was I? (By the way, if you’re a reader who might engage me for a writing project, please know that I can stay on topic when paid to do so.) Right, entering downtown Memphis and driving by the city’s shining landmark, the Pyramid Arena. Vacant. Considered a white elephant. But imposing, very imposing. (Advice to Memphis city planners: Do what Richmond did with “The 6th Street Marketplace” on Broad Street: Tear the thing down and move on.) Speaking of plans, ours were to see the Memphis Zoo, take in Beale Street the home of the Blues, do a guiltless drive-by of Elvis’s home, Graceland, and a guilt-enducing drive-by of the National Civil Rights Museum. And all of these activities we did do thanks to our chauffeur, retired Fedex pilot and college classmate Rich Lykins. To impose on Rich for your Memphis trip, shoot me an email.
Some highlights worth sharing? In the zoo’s tropical birdhouse, a Laughing Kookaburra told us his opinion of our presence. Wolves slumbered in their enclosure next to Elks in theirs, the former no doubt dreaming about how to gain entry into the latter’s enclosure. A swimming polar bear did a head-bobbing dance for us. (The “Good lord!” in the audio is your humble correspondent.) And in Corky’s BBQ, voted the best barbecue joint in Memphis, the nicest waitress in the world cajoled me into a combination platter, then a dessert of banana pudding I had no room for half a rack of ribs ago. Corky’s ships worldwide. I could eat those ribs again in a heartbeat.