Thursday, May 1, 2008

The Homecoming

The Mississippi home of my ancestors is also my home. I cross the same lazy muddy Tombigbee River that my ancestors have crossed for the past 172 years. I plant the same soil my ancestors planted. I fish the same creeks my ancestors fished. At night I hear nature’s symphony consisting of croaking frogs and chirping crickets springing forth from Bigby Swamp – the same symphony that has soothed the ears of my ancestors for generations. I see the same glorious sun rising above the rugged hills of eastern Itawamba County and witness the same majestic colorful sunsets beyond the cotton fields “across the river” as my ancestors saw. I visit the same old family graveyards on memorial days and walk through the doors of the same courthouse as the generations before me have done.

I’ve often wondered what it would be like to come home again – yet I have never been away. During 1929 the 55 year old Bryan Yancey Cummings came home to the beautiful hills of Itawamba County after a forty-year absence. During the 1800’s he had spent his childhood in Fulton with his siblings, as an orphan child, living in the old mansion Sunny Dell, home of his great uncle, Malachai Crawford Cummings. Below is a small portion of his feelings he wrote in a letter to a cousin about his long journey from Wichita Falls, Texas to a homecoming in Itawamba County – his beloved childhood home:

On Tuesday night we entered Fulton there to rest for the coming of the morning…John, Paul, J.B. and I went to Eugene Gaither’s house to sleep. You know the sacred spot. A bed as fine as angels ever sought for rest was there. I did not want to rest. I was not tired. I was happy. All went to bed, and when they did I walked out into the night in few garments clad. I saw the moon-beams and the starlight break once more above the hills…

There is no language that I have learned that could describe that Wednesday on the court house lawn…everybody fell into everybody’s arms and felt that they loved everybody. Love was at large…

I promised you to pick out the things that impressed me most at this meeting. That was a foolish promise. You cannot sift where things are overwhelming and you are swept by a tide. But gathering myself together as best I can, I name it thus, ONE-TWO-THREE.

One: Memory of the Sainted Dead Whose Ashes
Rest Beneath the Soil of Mississippi

How fine is life’s great adventure. I stood with you at the grave-site of our beloved dead. We could not speak the things we thought. Hearts are made to feel – not tongues to talk – in such circumstances. But tears relieve. We read the carvings on the stones in Fulton. They’ve gone yonder Paul. Hatch and I went Wednesday night with Earl and Lillian to Columbus, a memory now and forever, and next morning with uncovered head stood at the tomb of cousin Newman and cousin Fannie – sainted now…

Two: Manifestations of Affection
For All We Knew a Long Time Ago

Forty years is a long span of life, of youngsters like you and me. When we found last week, that love’s river was flowing on, in spite of years and distance, I said, “To me, love is eternal.” Young John had not “seen nothin’ but some huggin’ and some kissin’ and some laughin’ and some cryin.’”

Three: How Dear to my Heart
are the Scenes of My Childhood

Early Wednesday morning I saw an Itawamba dawn. I saw a bursting ball of glory rise above the eastern hills. I looked toward the grave of Don, a dog where Dew and I had mourned his death and wrapped him in a shroud of wagon sheets…Don was too good a dog to lie un-clad beneath the sod…I saw the remnant of “Aeolian Grove” and the wreck and ruins of “Sunny Dell.” At evening I saw the sunset’s golden glow across the river, and then I saw each twinkling star, the milky way, and all the firmament, and something said, “Thou art God….”

Photograph of the Eastern Hills of Itawamba by Bob Franks

Cummings letter abstract from Itawamba Settlers, Volume VII, Number 3, Pages 121-122


Anonymous said...

This gave me goose bumps. It is the best yet. You are a wonderful writer. Rita

Terry Thornton said...

Beautiful. Thanks for sharing "homecoming."

Janice said...

What a lovely story. Home is where our hearts are certainly.


wendy said...

Bob, that was wonderful! What a beautiful picture! Thanks so much for sharing.