Interstate 55 Is My Memory Lane
Of blues and brotherhood
I return to I-55 at least twice a year. It takes me to memories of my childhood. The trail stretches from Chicago to LaPlace, Louisiana. A person can literally travel from the frozen North to the steamy South in less than a day. When I cross into Mississippi, strong memories and emotions flood my spirit. I experience my spiritual center of gravity every time my car points down I-55 South.
I begin to feel the blues creep into my body as I drive further. I hear shouts of the sharecroppers and slaves who created the blues, music that narrates stories of freedom and lost love. Music that created millionaires of former sharecroppers who still had the mud of the fields on their guitar-picking fingers.
Slaves hollered from overflowing throats, wanting freedom from the whip and the harshness of the Southern sun. Rhythm and blues music was the soundtrack to the civil rights movement of the ’60s. Who can forget James Brown screaming, “I’m black and I’m proud,” Marvin Gaye talking about “What’s Going On,” or Sam Cooke’s classic, “A Change is Gonna Come”? These were the protest songs my late mother raised me on.
She fed me a steady diet of the blues. A huge stereo sat in our living room, blasting music against the wall like a fist. When the bass pounded into the atmosphere, pictures fell onto the floor.
I’d sit for hours listening to the blues with my mom. We’d have conversations about life, and her marriage, as blues maestros provided the soundtrack. Sometimes a tear would escape her eye as she told me what it was like trying to raise me as an ill child. I’d listen to her dreams and regrets as “The Thrill is Gone” by B.B. King spilled out of the speakers.
I speed down I-55 and collide with other memories: summer mud pies and races through cornfields. My cousins and I used to play from early morning until the blazing sun set behind green pines. Filth covered us from head to toe. By the end of the day, we resembled mud people.
Our mothers looked at us with fake scowls — as much as they tried to hide it, they loved to see us play. Going to town was an adventure. We’d pile into our grandpappy’s old car and speed down the road to the store. He was the fastest grandpappy in Mississippi…