The post office is gone. The school is gone. City Hall is gone. Most of the churches are gone. Nearly every building in Smithville, Mississippi is gone — or so heavily damaged they will have to be demolished. The devastation from last week’s F5 tornado is so widespread, so absolute, that it’s easier to tally what remains: The telephone company. Coker’s Han-D-Mart. And an unshakeable sense of faith.
In the end, Magnolia Springs did not need BP or Mr. Obama or the governor in Montgomery. It needed the grit and determination of the people themselves – people like Hinton, who says he will stand chest-deep in the waters of the bay, linked arm in arm with his neighbors, if that’s what it takes to stop the encroaching oil from despoiling the sublime latticework of bogs and bayous that he calls home.
Mink wrote to eight schools, knowing it was the longest shot he’d ever taken. Weeks passed. No one replied, not even to say, “You’ve got to be kidding.” Then coach Randy Nesbit called from a small college in Harriman, Tenn., 35 miles away. Mr. Nesbit was willing to give Mink a chance. Most of all, Nesbit was intrigued: He wanted to know if Mink was serious.
Liberty Grove, established in 1835, is the type of church typically associated with Sacred Harp. The church interior is unadorned. Bare pine walls. Plain metal fans and naked bulbs dotting the pine ceiling. Worshippers scattered among straight pine pews in uneven clusters, their hands rising and falling in 4/4 rhythm, down on the first beat, up on the third. Feet keep time as well.
Motorcycles clog the sidewalk outside, engines idling. Children play tag while burly, tattooed men sit on the front porch, trading stories. If you poke your head inside and peer into the dark recesses, you may still be confused. Chinese lanterns strung from the ceiling cast a soft glow on card tables below. Mothers dole Cheerios to chubby-fisted toddlers. Adults buy soft drinks from “Moose,” a man with Samson biceps. But looks can be deceiving, and stereotypes don’t fly too well at the Hope Fellowship Church, anyway.
Tall reeds line the banks of the Alabama River, swaying lazily in the dark water’s eddies as the wild tenor of crickets and cicadas dips and soars through the October stillness. Fat water moccasins sun themselves on cracked red clay as long-legged egrets snatch greedily from a school of water beetles skimming the surface. A fish jumps once, then twice. A man laughs once, then again as he joins a handful of people boarding the ferry. All God’s creatures are free in Gee’s Bend.