The Bolivar Commercial, Cleveland, Mississippi
uses hometown for inspiration
For some living in Cleveland may seem like living on the edge of the nowhere, but for accomplished writer Kathy Hardy Rhodes, it turned into living on the brink of somewhere fantastic.
Like many young adults who grew up in Cleveland, moving away is the common thread, but somehow, the Mississippi Delta never quite leaves the spirit.
Rhodes took her experiences of growing up in the small town, and used them to write numerous, homespun stories and essays.
"I graduated from Cleveland High School in 1967, and from Delta State University - it was College back then - in 1970," the writer said. "I majored in English and did my practice teaching at Margaret Green Junior High."
Rhodes said Cleveland was her whole world back then.
"It was a small town, and school and church were big influences," she explained. "I remember high cotton fields and the sound of the blues sung by workers "choppin" in the fields, I remember the hiss and bang of the compress on Memorial Drive, and I remember the stinging smell of the land in spring and fall. Life was simple and slow and safe, yet it was a time of change. I was in ninth grade, in Coach Stevens' class at Margaret Green when President Kennedy was shot.
Rhodes she remembers from her teenage years the Ellis Theater and Bob's Drive-In out on the highway, where they got real cherry Cokes and lemon vanilla Dr. Peppers. She added she and her friends would just "ride around," as that was all there was to do.
"I remember parties at the old National Guard armory at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Highway 8, Cotillions, football games, pep squad, and sock hops," she said.
Rhodes said she has always been interested in storytelling. When she was little, she made up stories with her dolls, and her sister Judi was her willing audience.
"She was a great listener and encourager, and I never shut up!" Rhodes said. "I started writing seriously when my two sons left the nest. Before that, I was a Mom, busy with basketball and swim meets.
Her son Ellison and his wife Nicole live in Flowood, and her other child Corey just graduated from Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina.
"Oftentimes, I write about them - anything embarrassing I can drag up and many tender moments, as well," she added. "Ellison and I have written a few stories together. 'The Scout' can be found on Beth Jacks' USA DeepSouth, www.usadeepsouth.com.
"I write creative nonfiction - personal essays," Rhodes said. "I think it's important to record our memories, our true and personal stories. Mississippi has a wonderful sense of place, and those of us who lived there in the latter half of the 1900s should record what it was like.
Rhodes said her voice comes from my growing up years in the Mississippi Delta and from the Kemper County hills of Mississippi where her grandparents lived on a farm. She said she now owns part of that farm that has been in her family since 1850.
"I am fifth-generation Mississippi-born," she added.
Rhodes currently lives in Franklin, Tennessee, just outside Nashville, where she has been for 18 years.
Her book, Pink Butterbeans, Stories from the Heart of a Southern Woman, is a collection of 50 personal essays. Several are set in Cleveland. "The Delta tells about the ride down that last hill into the flatland, down Highway 61 to her hometown. "Angels, Scattered" is about her thirtieth class reunion at Cleveland High School and was printed in The Bolivar Commercial in 1997.
"The Big Woods" is about playing in the patch of woods that used to be behind Wylie Hilburn's service station at the southern end of Fifth Avenue. "When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder" is about Training Union in the basement of the First Baptist Church. "Party Line" reveals an untold secret that happened in Cleveland in the mid-1960s.
"You have to buy the book to find out what it was," she said.
Besides working part time for her husband who owns a computer networking and service business, Rhodes writes and involves herself in writing activities. She is a member of the Tennessee Writers Alliance and an executive member of the Williamson County Council for the Written Word, an organization dedicated to encouraging, educating, and empowering writers, through which she coordinates an annual workshop.
"I help edit and compile Williamson County Celebrates the Written Word, an alphabetized index of every person who has ever lived in Williamson County and published a book, which contains a biography of each of the more than 300 local authors, as well as a list of their published works," she said.
If that wasn't enough, the writer also teaches workshop sessions on creative nonfiction. She is also founder and editor of the e-zine Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal, a Place for Emerging and Established Writers to Publish Their Works," www.asouthernjournal.com. In its first year, MLASJ published the works of 70 writers in 20 states, including all the states of the Deep South.
"Mississippi has produced the best writers in the world, and I don't claim to be one of them," Rhodes said. "But I do claim to have something in common with Eudora Welty. She was a morning person. She got up early and wrote all morning in her nightgown. That's what I like to do."