Today Billy Joe MacAllister jumped off the
November 1, 2007
My October 31, 2007 – Wednesday Westminster Eagle column is up on the Westminster Eagle web site and it pertains to one of my favorite forms of literature, Southern Gothic storytelling and one of my favorite songs from my teenage years, “Ode to Billie Joe” by Bobbie Gentry.
I lost most the following paragraphs to my word limit…
Ms. Gentry was born Roberta Streeter in nearby Chickasaw County, Mississippi, on July 27, 1944, where she grew up in severe poverty on her grandparents’ farm. Her grandmother facilitated her exploration of writing and music when she traded a family cow for a piano. At the age of seven, Ms. Streeter – Gentry wrote her first song, “My Dog Sergeant Is a Good Dog.”
When Ms. Gentry first released the song, it was the “B” side of a debut “forty-five” which featured a song, “
The narrator of the story is not identified in Ms. Gentry’s haunting and mysterious tale of a young man who commits suicide. The song comes to mind as Halloween is upon us and thoughts wonder to trick or treating or the community Halloween Parade - and ghost stories.
The column started out as an “evergreen,” an obligatory column for a particular seasonal event in the year.
Many of my colleagues who write for newspapers abhor “evergreens,” however I have always seen them as a challenge to come up with a different angle on a perennial topic, in this case, a piece on Halloween.
The piece started out very differently as when I neared deadline I jettisoned the customary tome on ghost stories in
I got off on a tangent with a variation on the old “
As with many of our customs, observances and holidays, Halloween evolved over many centuries as a combination of several non-Christian ancient harvest celebrations and rituals combined with religious celebrations. The roots of Halloween go back as far as the 5th century BC in Celtic
For the economic historian, it is widely accepted that Halloween came to
Halloween is upon and thoughts wonder to trick or treating or the community Halloween Parade.
And ghost stories.
Do you believe in ghosts?
Among some of the old favorites in Carroll County are the Ghost of Furnace Hills; the Civil War soldier that roams around in Cockey’s Tavern; the ghost of the old Rebecca at the old jail, which now houses Junction, a drug abuse treatment center; and the headless apparition of Marshall Buell at the old Odd Fellows Hall in Westminster.
October 31, 2007 by
It was forty years ago in the late summer of 1967 that we first learned from “Mama” that the nice young preacher, Brother Taylor “said he saw a girl that looked a lot like you up on Choctaw Ridge. And she and Billy Joe was throwing somethin' off the
I first heard the song, “Ode to Billy Joe,” by Bobbie Gentry that summer on WCAO on the AM dial of the car radio. It was also in this time period that I became firmly hooked on the existential - “Southern Gothic” genre of storytelling.
To refresh your memory, the song can be found on the web at www.youtube.com/watch?v=CZt5Q-u4crc.
Other examples of authors of the Southern gothic genre of writing include William Faulkner, Carson McCullers, Eudora Welty, Truman Capote, and Harper Lee. Tennessee Williams once described the genre as stories that reflect “an intuition of an underlying dreadfulness in modern experience.”
Who can forget: It was the third of June, another sleepy, dusty Delta day… And mama hollered at the back door "y'all remember to wipe your feet." And then she said she got some news this mornin' from Choctaw Ridge. Today Billy Joe MacAllister jumped off the
Of course another intriguing feature of the story is that it takes place in
Ms. Gentry has to this day remained circumspect about the haunting and mysterious tale of Mr. MacAllister, but one thing we do know is that the “
The song comes to mind as Halloween is upon us and thoughts wonder to ghost stories.
Halloween ghost stories are fascinating as often they involve aspects of unexplained historical events, enigmatic dialogue, and inexplicable characters. However, over the years, I have become much more enamored with Southern gothic storytelling, which is frequently more creative – and often more disturbing in the manner it which it peels away the layers of a community or society; yet does not tell a reader ‘what to think,’ but nevertheless causes the reader ‘to think.’
Just like Halloween stories, the song’s plot makes known several themes. The first of which is obvious in that just like many popular Carroll County Halloween stories, it reveals a snapshot of life in a particular period in history.
But it is the other prominent theme that is particularly disturbing as it peels away the layers of indifference that contemporary society shows towards our fellow human beings – or in the case of “Ode to Billy Joe,” the loss of life.
In present day
In the song the family of the narrator nonchalantly mentions the gentleman’s death: “Billy Joe never had a lick of sense/ pass the biscuits, please.” Of course the narrator of the story cares: “Mama said to me "Child, what's happened to your appetite? I've been cookin' all morning and you haven't touched a single bite.” Other than that, they may as well been having a dinner conversation about the weather.
Happy Halloween. By all means, please enjoy some of the old favorites in Carroll County like the Ghost of Furnace Hills; the Civil War soldier that roams around in Cockey’s Tavern; the ghost of the old Rebecca at the old jail, and the headless apparition of Marshall Buell at the old Odd Fellows Hall in Westminster.
Better yet, the next chance you get, go to the Carroll County Public Library and re-read Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” or Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood.”
Or, of course, you can attend a good ole’
E-mail him at: kdayhoff AT carr AT org