Memphis in May. What does it mean to you? Mud-encrusted shoes from Music Fest? The thick, sweet pall of barbecue smoke that hangs over downtown on the month's third weekend? Fireworks at the Sunset Symphony as the finale of "The 1812 Overture"? All of the above?
My first trip to Memphis was in May 1992. I was in town for a job interview, and I came in a day early to take the measure of this mysterious (to me, anyway) Southern place. I drove all over town, and I was dazzled by the azaleas, the lush greenery, the towering canopy of massive oaks stretching across the Midtown streets.
Downtown was not impressive then, but I'm a nature boy at heart, so that didn't bother me much. I cruised around, checking out the green areas on my map, which led me to Shelby Forest and to Shelby Farms, where I walked along the Wolf River. It's not exaggerating to say that Memphis' green spaces helped swing my decision to move here.
That evening, I visited a friend who lived in the Cooper-Young neighborhood. As we sat on his porch, a mockingbird sang ceaselessly, the loudest sound I could hear. There was no traffic noise, just the occasional rumble of a FedEx plane.
"I like this town," I said. "I like the way it feels."
I've learned since, of course, that May doesn't last all year, that it's followed by heat and humidity that will melt your socks. (But then there's a gorgeous autumn that stretches for months.) And I know, of course, that climate and green spaces and access to nature are only part of the story. This city has problems, as most cities do. But that's another column.
I want to write about what I call the "perfect day." It happens every May. I can't tell you when, precisely, but I know it when I feel it. It's the day when every single tree and bush is fully leafed, before the predations of bugs, heat, and drought have had a chance to do their damage. It's the day I step outside, and the morning air is cool, the sky a clarion blue. The joggers are smiling, and they don't know why.
It came this week. The trees were as green as the first green. The irises were in bloom. A mockingbird was scat-singing from a magnolia's crown. A fat white cat lay sunning on the bricks.
The perfect day. The real Memphis in May. I took a breath and said to myself, "I like this town. I like the way it feels."
I'm writing this from the restroom facility at Big Hill Pond State Park in southern McNairy County. On Monday, I commandeered the building, which contains the men's and women's restrooms, some racks of pamphlets, and two vending machines. There's no one here right now, but I plan to stay as long as necessary to protest the fact that the state of Tennessee is run by oppressive know-nothings who wouldn't know small government — or freedom, for that matter — if it bit them on their considerable backsides ...
What's the matter with Missouri? How did my home state — and my alma mater, the University of Missouri — seemingly become this year's Mississippi, the preeminent battleground for the civil rights movement in this country? ...
Time moves in one direction, memory in another. — William Gibson
This week, an old friend sent me a photo of myself, circa 1978. In the picture, I was thin, long-haired, and standing barefoot on the porch of an old farmhouse where we lived, just outside of Columbia, Missouri. It was a shock to see it. I don't remember my friends and I taking many photographs, and I didn't remember this moment ...