16 August 2014

Story Paul Ruffin

Howdy, Columbus and Lowndes County. I grew up outside Columbus in relative poverty on aptly named Sand Road — no running water in the house until I was in junior high, no TV until I was in high school and a six-family party-line phone.

I’ve been a writer for many years now, and I still draw heavily from those Sand Road days, working into my fiction and poetry bits and pieces of my childhood as they seem to fit the literary occasion. I was essentially a loner most of my young life, spending most of my time down on the Luxapalila playing imaginary games, which usually included shootouts with Indians or enemy soldiers.

I suspect that my imagination got a jumpstart during those long stretches along the river, and for that I owe a debt of gratitude to my self-imposed exile from the rest of the world.

I am further grateful to the Waterworks Assembly of God church, where on Wednesday evenings and most of every Sunday I was trapped in a world that I would not have chosen, had I a choice. I didn’t.

During those interminable sermons, boredom would settle on me like a heavy black cloud, and I’d have to extricate myself the best way I could. I’d daydream madly, imagining all sorts of things, like what some girl I had a crush on looked like without her clothes on. Eventually daydreaming wore thin, and I turned to other enterprises not likely to get me into trouble with Daddy, who generally watched me with keen eyes. If I got caught “cutting up” in church, it was the belt when we got home.

For a time I diagrammed sentences from the Old Testament — some long, convoluted sentences there. Another diversion that worked for me was memorizing the lyrics in the Broadman Hymnal. I could rattle off a poem in the hymn beat about anything in a matter of minutes, if not seconds, a talent that earned me a lot of chocolate milk and lunch money from kids with poems assigned for English. Yep: I was a professional poet at 12.

My first fiction writing began in that church as well. I got so weary of hearing the same old Bible stories told the same old way year after year that I started rewriting them in my head, taking considerable liberties with those venerable characters in the Good Book. The Noah story was one of my favorites. Last year I actually wrote out that story as I imagined it in church. Noah’s ark is highjacked by rednecks who end up eating most of the male animals before the voyage is over. It will be in my newest book of stories, Stories of the Gulf Coast and The Time the Waters Rose (University of South Carolina Press), due out later this year or early next.

Sooooo, thank you, dear old Waterworks Assembly of God, for your contribution to my literary career and the broadening of my imagination in general. Sorry if this offends anyone — it’s just the way it was.

I’ve been trying to wrap up a memoir called Growing Up in Mississippi Poor and White But Not Quite Trash, but the problem with memoirs is that the deeper you mine your psyche, the more layers you discover. One memory can awaken another, something you’d completely forgotten about, and that newly aroused memory might lead to another. And on and on… . In short, it’s hard to know when you have to stop. But at some point I’ll have to draw the line.

Columbus and Lowndes County, I will be forever grateful for your contributions to my writing career.