The young man in the picture, taken a few years after the event in this story, wasn’t Papaw yet, just Erskine Hannah from a North Mississippi farm. In New Orleans seeking his fortune, he knew he wanted to take in the Mardi Gras parade he’d been hearing about, but he had a problem common in our family. He was short. Not to be deterred, he climbed a telephone pole and enjoyed the parade. It all worked out well until he decided to come down. The crowd had closed in below him, and he was stuck!
I don’t think the lengthy time on the pole was responsible, but Erskine got homesick. He missed the land in Oktibbeha County and perhaps his family. He didn’t stay long in Louisiana. By the time I knew him, he seldom traveled far from his dogtrot house on the farm. He found pleasure standing with his pitchfork atop a mound of hay, tasting the sweetness of strawberries from his garden, or watching a new calf struggling up on wobbly legs.
When I visited him after his eightieth birthday, his main topic of conversation involved a new variety of tomatoes, recommended by the extension department, that he was planting that year. Soon afterwards, he bought a new roto-tiller although his diminished eyesight meant he often plowed up vegetables along with the weeds. Like the country mouse in Aesop’s fable, he’d had his taste of the city and returned to the land that he truly loved.
Just the same, when Mardi Gras comes around, I picture Papaw as a young man watching the parade, unable to get down off the telephone pole.