WILSON: Wandurlust 2020 tour part seven: Birthplace of a King
Published 8:00 am Saturday, August 8, 2020
On the morning of the third day of the Tour, I bid Miss Monetta’s Cottage a fond farewell and resumed my travels. I had only covered 90 of the 444-mile length of the Natchez Trace National Parkway and was eager to put a few more miles on my odometer. The morning air was cool, the sun was breaking through the trees as the haze started to lift, and I pointed my pretty red truck down the winding two-lane strip of asphalt. Sipping my coffee from a travel mug, I set my cruise control at the strictly enforced 50 mph, and contemplated about what the day might bring.
The previous afternoon, I had enjoyed the grandeur of a couple of waterfalls, admired the beauty of undisturbed forested valleys from atop scenic overlooks and touched moments in the past as I hiked along remaining portions of the actual path worn deep into the soil by the footsteps of the returning “Kaintucks.”
Leaving Tennessee, the Trace continued for another 40 miles, clipping the northwest corner of Alabama. By far, the most spectacular sight on this short leg of the journey was the majestic view of the 8-mile long John Coffee Bridge as it stretched across the wide expanse of the Tennessee River. Even the bridges and overpasses along the Trace are objects of engineered art, designed to either blend in with or draw from the natural beauty of the surroundings.
When the Trace was first blazed through what was then considered to be the “western frontier,” many river and stream crossings were mere fording points across shallow stretches of water (best attempted only during the dryer seasons). Sometimes, it was necessary to construct a simple wooden bridge, albeit destined for just a few short years of service and barely capable of carrying the weight of a wagonload of provisions. However, at much more formidable stretches of water, such as this point along the Tennessee River, industrious entrepreneurs set up ferry services. It was at this crossing that one very wily Chickasaw Chief, by the name of George Colbert, ran an inn (known as a “stand”) and a ferry. He charged then General Andrew Jackson $75,000 to transport his Tennessee Army across the river as they marched to confront the British at the Battle of New Orleans — a tidy sum for those days, but well worth the price.
As I rolled into Mississippi, the views, terrain and “feel” of the Trace changed. Wooded hills and the winding roadway gave way to cotton fields and a more modern thoroughfare texture. To be honest, it started to get boring. The bloom was off the rose, and I was no longer traveling back in time along a scenic trail of history. I started to take note of mile markers, rather than historical markers. By this point in the journey, my curious nature felt satisfied, my need to know seemed fulfilled, and I was just heading to Natchez.
However, as the Trace cleaved its way diagonally through the heart of Tupelo, I decided to make a stop. Tupelo, Mississippi is the birthplace of Elvis Aaron Presley and even though I am not a huge fan of his body of work, I felt a need to see his birth home. I have been to Memphis a couple of times, but never had a burning desire to visit Graceland. If it wasn’t for Ursula Andress, Ann-Margret or Shelley Fabares, I doubt that I would have ever been so bored as to watch any of his movies. However, I also doubted I would ever have a reason to return to Tupelo and never again have the opportunity to see the birthplace of a national icon. More importantly, I needed to stop, stretch my legs and find a restroom that had not been shuttered by the Never-Ending-Plague of 2020.
I saw Elvis’ home, the church in which a young Elvis sang and a replica of the car his deadbeat dad piled his family into as he snuck them out of town in the dead of night. I even saw the hardware store where Elvis’ mother bought his first guitar — although he really wanted a BB-gun. Having seen all of this I saw little reason to see more of Tupelo. The trace continued on — and so did I.
Larry Wilson is a mostly lifelong resident of Niles. His essays stem from experiences, compilations and recollections from friends and family. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.