CHAPTER 6 -"White Girl"
STARKVILLE. The name says it all. That’s exactly what my thirteen-year-old eyes saw upon arriving in Mississippi for the first time in 1992: it was bleak, primitive, and, well, stark. Back then the only grocery store was the Piggly Wiggly and all the high school kids hung out at “The Slab” for fun on the weekends, The Slab being the empty parking lot between Subway and where the old jewelry store used to be. There was no mall, nowhere even to shop, really. You had to drive three hours to either Memphis or Birmingham if you wanted to find decent clothes. Also the only movie theater in town showed six-month old releases, and the floors were so sticky from years of spilled soda and candy that sometimes your shoes would literally get stuck to the ground while you were watching a movie. In other words, it was the kind of small town where kids who have nothing better to do end up getting in lots of trouble, because frankly, that’s the only thing there was to do in Starkville...
Before I ever saw Starkville, I fantasized that we were moving to a quaint village in the Deep South. I imagined the “Ville” was indicative of magnolia-lined streets and a picturesque downtown area where ladies still strolled with parasols; I couldn’t have been more wrong. I had neglected to take into consideration the “Stark.” The town was doomed from it’s inception to be boring, and was originally named Boardtown for the mill southeast of the area that provided clapboards to settlers (although “Boredtown” would have also been appropriate.) A few years later, the townsfolk would officially change it’s name to “Starkville” in honor of Revolutionary War hero General John Stark, but this is also somewhat misleading. One would assume that a town named after a war hero would have something far more grand to offer. But there again, perhaps the founders of Starkville also failed to consider the various meanings of the word “stark” before they painted it on the town sign. One hundred and sixty years later, the name seemed to have become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
I didn’t know anything about Mississippi, or football for that matter, although that was the reason we were moving there. My mother was engaged to be married to one of college football’s most controversial coaches, Jackie Sherrill, who had recently accepted the job as head coach of the Mississippi State Bulldawgs. This was Starkville’s most redeeming quality; MSU was home to more than 15,000 students and more importantly, Scott Field, the football stadium around which all our lives would revolve for the next fourteen years. In fact, the whole town of Starkville and much of the state of Mississippi revolved around the outcome of the Bulldawg football season, but we didn’t know any of this at the time.
And by “we” I mean me, Mom, and my older sister Kellie; we didn’t understand a lot of things at the time. I was only 12 and it was the summer between my sixth and seventh grade year. Kellie was 17 and she was leaving all her friends behind to begin her senior year in a new school. All we knew was that we weren’t too thrilled about the prospect of having to start our lives over, much less in a town like Starkville and with our soon-to-be-new-stepdad who I’d barely heard say two words that didn’t have something to do with football.
The four of us were on our first official visit to what was to be our new home – Mom, Jackie, me, and my older sister Kellie. As we rolled through town that hot summer afternoon, I stared out the window fighting back tears. Like I said, there was nothing quaint or beautiful about Starkville; there was one main strip through town and it was an uninspiring one. Hardee’s, Krystal Burger, Po’s BBQ and Liquor Store, and a Holiday Inn that had seen better days pretty much summed up Starkville’s cultural scene. Oh, and of course The Slab was in there too, as well as McDonald’s, Long John Silver’s, Harvey’s “Fine Dining” Restaurant, and the Sno-Cone stand where Mom and I would later stop every day after school. At the time, Harvey’s was actually considered to be the nicest restaurant in the Golden Triangle. (That was the name given to the area of North Mississippi where Starkville was located, also misleading.) This restaurant is where I was introduced to my new favorite food group: chicken wings. My family ate them all the time back then because everyone was on the Adkins craze; we thought as long as you didn’t eat carbs you wouldn’t get fat. No matter the cups of fatty blue cheese dressing and buttery red hot sauce the wings were dripping in. In a world where Harvey’s was considered fine dining, suddenly eating chicken wings seemed like a perfectly reasonable diet plan.
Harvey’s was also the palce I discovered just how famous Jackie was. The first night we went to dinner there, people kept coming up to our table to shake Jackie’s hand and pat him on the back, tell him how thankful they were that he was moving to Starkville. We couldn’t get through a bite of food without hearing, “Coach I don’t wanna bother you, but I just wanted to say how much we appreciate all you’re doin’ for our Bulldogs….” People treated him like he was some kind of savior, and I guess in a way he was. The Bulldogs hadn’t had a winning season in a decade, and they’d been the notorious whipping boys of their archrivals, Ole Miss, for even longer. And as we would soon find out at the end of the season, the Egg Bowl was all that really mattered.
To be continued...