With all the attention on cities of every size, I wanted to see what the coronavirus pandemic looked like in the American countryside. You can probably imagine what I found: The countryside looked the same as it always has looked.
I made one of those jaunts the other day. I hardly saw a soul and the ones I did see didn’t appear to know about any pandemic.
I had mowed the yard twice that week and scalped the pasture worse than the haircut I had gotten a few days before. I had painted a bench. I had planted more tomatoes. I had watched network news over and over again. I fertilized, watered and mowed again.
I then decided a sojourn was needed to gain another perspective. This drive took me north, then west from Cuthbert, Ga., toward Alabama and Mississippi along U.S. 82 — the route that begins on the other end at the foot of the new Mississippi River Bridge at Greenville and meanders through the Mississippi Delta before entering Alabama at Reform and nodding at Tuscaloosa as Georgia beckons on down the road.
U.S. Highway 82 was opened on July 1, 1931 as a course across central Mississippi and southern Arkansas, eventually becoming a 1,625-mile route extending from the White Sands of New Mexico to Georgia’s Atlantic coast near Brunswick.
Here’s how it is best described: Rural America. Anyone residing in the environs just described lives in Rural America, period.
One might believe that a ride through the countryside of these deep Southern states offers little more than a fresh set of pine trees and oaks to view. Instead, it delivers a cornucopia of riveting sights:
Expensive irrigation systems resembling giant locusts; stand-alone chimneys and silos wrapped in lush kudzu; bountiful, already-made corn crops stretching clear to the horizon, awaiting harvest; forlorn abandoned house trailers and stately but weathered homes; vintage tractors and rusted automobiles; shuttered textile plants, motels and country stores fatigued from the vicissitudes of time and nature; derelict ball fields weeping for a game; thriving farms adjacent to others bearing a posture of failure and shattered dreams; and the occasional, now retired flag of the Old South, fluttering next to a ragged, old, but still proud, banner of America the Beautiful.
As for the dreaded virus, I defy you to visit almost any place of business in Eufaula, Ala., where I ended up on this trip, to find more than a few people wearing a mask to keep themselves and others from being infected. This may have changed when Gov. Kay Ivey threatened a statewide mask mandate. I doubt it, however.
I don’t mean to pick on Eufaula, a southeast Alabama city of about 13,000 people and one of the prettiest towns anywhere in America. There are enough homes listed on the National Register of Historic Places to make Washington, D.C., ashamed. Its spring pilgrimage rivals the eminence of Natchez.
Eufaula also claims to be the “Big Bass Capital of the World,” thanks to two off-Chattahoochee River lakes. The Corps of Engineers-controlled Lake Walker F. George’s 46,000 acres (compared to the 33,000-acre Ross Barnett Reservoir) are banked in two states. Some of the South’s most acclaimed bass, catfish and “crap-pee” (Georgians’ pronunciation) emerge from those lakes.
Eufaula is 100 miles southwest of Montgomery, a place slammed by the virus lately. Eufaula has been lucky, with a very low infection rate.
The story is much different when you enter Georgia across the huge lake. The rate of mask-wearing is vastly lower than Alabama’s, and that’s saying something.
That’s the way it is this morning in headstrong Rural America.
Mac Gordon is a part-time resident of McComb. He is a retired newspaperman. He can be reached at macmarygordon @gmail.com.