There really is such a place, but when you leave to live the rest of your life in the tangle of a city, it sometimes seems like a dream. Lafayette Springs is located there, just a few miles out of the way, one of those quiet little places where you once could find a gristmill and a general store.
“The Springs”, before the start of WWII, was a collection of simple frame houses built on a red clay hill almost a mile north of Mississippi Highway 6 and a few miles from the Yocona River. It was the quietest place under the sun. Sometimes in the still noonday you could hear Malone Joslin chopping wood at his house above the post office, or you could hear the men laughing and talking around the store for half a mile. The townsfolk could detect to the instant when a car turned off the highway to come through The Springs, and if it was a local car, they knew immediately whose it was.
It was such an insignificant village it hardly existed, but it was a place where a person knew everyone else in the community. Mr. Clinton, who had some land in the valley, would let the kids ride his tractor. Mr. Howard, who had the general store, was always smiling; ready to play a joke, but everybody said he drove a hard bargain. He never minded, though, how long the men sat around the store, smelling the sweet fragrance of the pipe tobacco, or the new blue jeans, or the feed; he was a man among men, then. He would let the kids play around the store for a while, and then the men had to be careful what they said. When Mr. Howard got tired of the store, he would close it and go fishing. If anybody needed anything, he would either have to hunt for Mr. Howard or walk down to the house and get Miss Josie to open the store.
There was beauty around The Springs, too, and if you knew where to look, you didn’t have to go far to find it. Down the road from the stores was a creek where the boys and girls tried to catch crawfish with safety pins on a string. It was a sprawling, shallow creek, with clay bottoms and bare banks coming right up to the edge of the pastures. The four graveled roads branched out from the stores and were bordered by growths where the small animals peered over the road edge, curious to that last instant before they scuttled out of sight with a wild chittering or a silent rustle as a car went by. Down the hill in the “Spring Lot” were all the mineral springs that once had made the place famous in the state and perhaps even in the South. The quaint little Japanese-style tea houses around the mineral springs in the peaceful pastures, the little creeks running through the midst of them, the mulberry trees in full foliage—all are so easily remembered.
Lafayette Springs did not have a public park, a movie, or a recreation center, but it had a schoolhouse and a church. For recreation, there was always a program at the schoolhouse or a gathering at someone’s home, and then there were the cakewalks…. Most of the time, though, The Springs was quiet, and the only really big event of the year was at Christmas time. Then all the unmarried kids would stock up on skyrockets and firecrackers, pinwheels, and Roman candles, and, as soon as it was dark, they would serenade the whole neighborhood, stopping along the way at some of the kids’ homes to stuff themselves with Christmas eats.
That was Lafayette Springs years ago. Maybe it was a simple place to look at, but it was beautiful to live in. It was a place of peace and small happenings—a place where you could sit by the light of a kerosene lamp and look at the riches of the world in a mail-order catalog—a place where baby chicks arrived in the post office inside cardboard boxes cut like Swiss cheese, with little beaks and fuzzy heads sticking out the holes and filling the post office with little cheepings—a place where a boy could climb to the top of the schoolhouse and look down on everyone he knew.
Lafayette Springs has changed much over the years. It now has an even smaller population. The old school house was the victim of a fire, the post office, the general store, and all the original houses are long gone. The entire area is almost a barren landscape, even though a few people have built modern homes in the area. The road grader doesn’t come before the rains anymore because the roads are now paved. Strangers seldom drive through the place, and those who do hardly notice it. There is not much to distinguish it from a hundred other villages that once flourished in the hill country of North Mississippi, but you can leave your heart in a place like that forever and not regret it.
Bettye Galloway was born, reared, and educated in Lafayette County, MS; she is retired from Mississippi state service (primarily from the University of Mississippi), and later as executive vice president of an analytical laboratory. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.