Jimmy C. And Me
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While touring William Faulkner’s Home in Oxford, Mississippi, one of my students, who grew up in California and moved here with her parents, asked, “Does the fact that Mississippi is much-maligned put its youth at a disadvantage when competing with peers from other states? In other words, is there a stigma attached to being raised in Mississippi?” Considering the financial shambles her home state wallows in, I bit my tongue to avoid a vituperative riposte.
Instead, I dismissed her insult to my deep, abiding affection for the state I thank God is my home, and answered, “Mississippi’s contributions to society are more numerous than her past mistakes. Historically, Mississippians — women and men, black and white — have successfully represented their state in virtually every field of human endeavor, and continue doing so.
“However, I must admit the stigma you refer to does surface occasionally. Once, in San Francisco, a woman read I LOVE MISSISSIPPI on my T-shirt, and asked, ‘Why are you wearing shoes? I thought folks from that ignorant, backwoods state went barefooted.’”
“Oh, we do, Madam,” I said, “but only when treading Mississippi’s hallowed ground. When out of what we ignorant, backwoods people call God’s Country, we wear shoes to avoid contamination.” The class laughed, and the tour continued.
That exchange reminded me of an incident years ago, when I met my Army roommate in our overseas barracks. The tiny room contained two bunks, two footlockers, and little else. The name on one locker read, “PFC Jimmy C. Jones”; on the other, “PFC Jimmy C. Reed.”
Extending his hand, an African-American said, “Jones, my man, The Bronx, Noo Yok. Where ya from?”
“Mississippi,” I drawled.
“Mississippi!” he exclaimed. “Geez — Mom will faint when I write and tell her where my roommate is from. You’re not a Klan member are you … not one of those nightriders I’ve read about?”
First impressions notwithstanding, Jimmy and I soon became pals, even though he couldn’t resist nicknaming me Nightrider, or mimicking my accent.
We were the same size, and not wanting to be seen with a guy in my wardrobe’s dull duds, he shared his fashionable clothing when we got weekend passes and enjoyed the city’s nightlife together. As time went by, we evolved from being pals, to best friends, to soul mates.
When our overseas tours ended, Jimmy reenlisted; I opted for civilian life. Sadly, we chatted, as our last hour together drew to a close. We exchanged photos of each other, but that wasn’t enough. He had a special shoulder patch, and knew how badly I wanted it. Reading my mind, he said, “I’ll give you the patch, but you must swap something that will always remind me of you.”
“What could that possibly be?” I asked. “Your wallet,” he answered. I handed over the wallet with the state of Mississippi on one side and the Confederate Flag on the other.
Back home, I framed the patch. To this day, it brings back cherished memories of Jimmy C. and me.