I’m a visual person… always have been. You can ask my mom and other family members. Images hold a huge amount of importance in my life. And while images can frequently be experience based, music creates a lot of images for me and it’s never far from me. The images created by a few songs come to mind on certain days too. And with the third of June, comes the images I’ve had since childhood as I heard the first few lines of the son “Ode to Billie Joe.” Somehow the “sleepy, dusty Delta day” and images of working on the farm grabbed me even way back then. Those images had an inherent romanticism to me but as the song went on, the images of family and small town life had a much sadder appearance.
Growing up, I never imagined I would spend more than a decade in the place of those sleepy, dusty images. I can’t imagine how many sleepy, dusty Delta days I dragged through or the times I crossed a bridge over the Tallahatchie River. And while I never had to chop cotton or bale hay, I sure knew folks who were to be found in the field doing just those kinds of things. And I’d frequently grab a camera and head down a turnrow to see what was happening.
Small town stories like the one relayed in the song were certainly passed around quickly, especially if they involved tragedy. I lived in a town of just 600 people for quite a few years and that small town and others in the Delta, had their share of tragedy, just like big cities. The tragedies that have stuck with me the most were the car accidents out on a deserted road somewhere, or some sort of crash with a four-wheeler or jet ski. All too frequently it involved teenagers or someone else just getting their start in life, like the parabled Billy Joe and Bobby Lee.
Despite the reality that there was a decent amount of sadness during my decade in the Delta, I rarely think about the things that brought me to tears while I was there. Instead, images of wandering down the turnrow to a cotton or soybean field, the way the river rushed past, practical jokes and those dinners with friends come to mind. The kind of dinner with the sort of friends where it’s fine to admit it’s been a sleepy day. Those are the images I have of the Delta… even if the soundtrack is a bit sadder.
I hope you enjoy the third of June, whether it’s sleepy or dusty. I know a few folks who still have hay to bale and there are likely some weeds in a cotton field somewhere need a bit of attention too. Even if there is a lot of work to be done, I hope you have some relaxed images in your rearview mirror.