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Movies On Main at The Claude Gentry

The Claude Gentry Theatre, located in the heart of Baldwyn’s historic district at 110 West Main Street, is hosting a series of family-friendly movies this summer beginning Saturday night, June 2, at 6:30 pm. The movies are sponsored by Six Shooter Studios, an emerging film and entertainment company also located on Baldwyn’s Main Street, and by Farmers and Merchants Bank, the theater’s season sponsor.

Disney Pixar’s The Incredibles will play first, this coming Saturday, and admission is free to all — thanks to the sponsors.  Children 12 and under must be accompanied by an adult, and limited concessions of popcorn and bottled water will be available,according to organizers.

This current movie series — entitled “Saturday Summer Spectacular” — is the 2nd collaboration between Six Shooter Studios and Baldwyn’s community theater.  The two businesses previously worked together on the County Line Music Video Competition in April.

Six Shooters announced its reasoning for the joint endeavor last week.

“We thought this would be a great way to do something positive for the kids in the community.  It’s a nice fit as a project for us to be a part of.  And with summer being a down time for community theater activity, The Claude Gentry Theatre was available. Obviously, it’s a perfect spot to host a summer set of movies.”

The series of films to be shown are all Disney Pixar classics.  Following the June screening of The Incredibles (which is nicely set for the week prior to Disney’s national release of The Incredibles 2) comes Toy Story, Finding Nemo and Frozen in July, August and September, respectively.

According to Six Shooter Studios, they wanted to show movies that were high quality and would interest both kids and adults, with appeal for both boys and girls.

“We think we’ve picked four good ones for this summer, and we hope that this will be something families can really enjoy together.”

The films were licensed for public viewing through Swank Motion Pictures Inc.

Baldwyn’s Main Street has a long history of movie-going, with silent films being shown in the same spot The Claude Gentry Theatre now holds. The Princess Theater, The Opera House, The Lyric, The Baldwyn Theater and The Ritz Theater have all existed and have entertained Baldwyn with Hollywood’s big screen offerings since the very start of the industry at the turn of the twentieth century. Now with Saturday Summer Spectacular at The Claude Gentry — and thanks to Six Shooter Studios and Farmers and Merchants Bank — kids of all ages in Baldwyn and the surrounding communities will get a new chance to enjoy an old pleasure, a night out at the movies.

Six Shooters Studios said they wanted to close out the series with the Disney mega-hit Frozen in September so that they could end this initial film series with a “sing-along.”

Sounds like fun.

Smiling kids singing along to Disney songs on a quaint, historic Main Street in the heart of America — that sounds like a movie.

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America the Beautiful

I’ve driven across twelve of our fifty states during the past two weeks, covering between three and four thousand miles.  Frankly, I lost track of the mileage number where my odometer started, but I do know that hard-driving miles were logged in Georgia, Kansas, Texas, Colorado, Tennessee, Florida, Missouri, Alabama, Oklahoma, Arkansas, New Mexico and Mississippi — unique and interesting places, every last one.

D1B4995E-4712-4B06-BAB9-3FB0F194C805Wheeling along in my Dodge Charger — a vehicle made for such an excursion, by the way — I’ve had countless hours to ponder the mysteries of the universe.  I offer a few observations.

It’s a free country. That’s not just some tag-on phrase to use to emphasize a preceding statement. A man, if he is of a mind to and has the gas money, can go from Bangor, Maine, to San Diego, California, and stop along the way to look at every concrete dinosaur and every college football stadium he might ever want to see. That’s freedom.

588D58AB-DED8-46E3-82AA-1232AC256216Kansas is a sea of grass, a vast ocean. One afternoon near Salina, I wondered if my outlook on life would be the same if I’d grown up out here at this portal to Oz, looking at 360-degrees of endless, grassy horizon day after day instead of the dark, engulfing woods of North Mississippi. Would I be more fearful and cautious if I were raised where the distance to the nearest help from any accident was so great?  Or would I be more conscientious and prepared having always been able to see approaching storms or animals for miles before they reached me, with time to strategize?  It’s hard to say.

People can adapt to almost any environment. Without doubt, that can be said.

North of about Dyersburg, Tennessee, people stop being like me/us. Whether that’s good or bad is a matter of personal perspective.

B04AF927-83F8-4E50-9542-85410A2B90F1I think people in South Georgia are closest in kind to those in Northeast Mississippi. They’re hospitable and friendly in ways we recognize as hospitable and friendly. The late southern humorist Lewis Grizzard, a favorite of mine, was from there — born in Fort Benning, moved to Atlanta. That figures. I see life a lot like he wrote it.

When I was in Texas, I remembered — from mountains of past genealogical research —  that many Mississippians and other southerners flooded to the Lonestar State following the Civil War, escaping reconstruction.  In fact, a host of famous western gunmen came straight out of the South.   Natural selection left Mississippi with the stubborn crowd, I’d say, while the more adventurous (or the more proud or the more wanted or the more violent) “got the heck out of Dodge.”  Well, actually they got into Dodge, the real one in Kansas.  And they made that little cattle town a rough and tumble place for a spell, along with Abilene and Amarillo and Tombstone.

There’s still a tough, hard brand of human being, of common ancestry, scattered across those western states.   But while we may share the same great-great granddaddy, the western folk seem a bit more edgy to me. I guess that’s a feeling that could fall into the category of “paranoia derived from unfamiliar surroundings,” but I’m not entirely certain of that.  I am certain that I felt a little skittish at more than a couple of gas stations along the way over the last couple weeks.

FC3AC8BB-CDC4-4DFB-B769-CA8E5542A00BI thought about a favorite movie of mine — Lonesome Dove — as I traversed between Ogallah, Kansas, and Limon, Colorado.  I considered what true pioneers the people that inspired Larry McMurtry’s characters must have been. On my trip — by air-conditioned car on paved interstate highways — I worried a bit when my gas gauge got down to around 75 miles to “E.”  The stretches between signs of civilization were very long across those open plains. Yet amazingly, amazing Americans did drive cattle across there, two thousand miles on foot and horseback, from Texas to Montana. And they did it without a cell phone or internet access. Not some fictional character, but real life men — men of vision.  I’m envious of those pioneers … and I sincerely admire them at the same time.

The last part of my two-week expedition involved me and my youngest son Maddux helping my second-oldest Gabe return home from Fort Carson, Colorado.  Gabe served four years in the U.S. Army and received his honorable discharge.  I’m very proud of him, proud that he served his country.

Long drives offer time to think, time to consider where we are and what we are, as individuals and as a nation.

A final observation:  America’s a fine country, full of awe and wonder.

Go out and see it sometime.

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Yes, You’re On

“Is this on?”

He/she tapped on the mic and looked quizzically over the crowd/congregation/audience/student assembly.

“Is this on?”  It’s a universal question delivered by almost every public speaker or singer who’s ever gotten up and addressed a microphone.  I’ve noticed it, time and again – along with a vast array of other quirky and insecure human behaviors.  I love to watch people. And to listen to them.

Tap – tap – blow.  “Do y’all hear me all right?”

Please, for the love of heaven, just start talking/singing/speaking in tongues and let the sound guys work it out.

I’m sure I’ve done it, too.  I know I have. I’ve tapped on mics, shuffled papers, shuffled my feet, stared at my feet, stared at the words of a song on a piece of paper, said “uh,” “um,” and cleared my throat ad infinitum … a million times.  I try not to. I try to be smooth.

But frankly, we human beings just aren’t naturally smooth.  In fact, I am certain that I’ve told a story, the same one, to the same guy dozens of times. In my defense, however, if there’s a story that particularly connects me to someone, and I have limited other encounters with said person, the tale which we have in common between us just hovers between my frontal lobe and the back of my eyes, flashing like a neon sign, until I am compelled to tell it again — out loud.   Sure, he knows he’s heard it before.  I know I’ve told it before. That’s just the way it is. We smile and pat each other on the back nonetheless, as though we have spontaneously originated some new thought. We chuckle. We smile. It’s the same old repeated dance — we clearly know we’ve walked this path before, beyond any doubt whatsoever — but it’s our dance. And we like it, so we keep on doing it.

When we human beings go to a restaurant and someone comes in that we know — after we’ve been seated, after we’ve ordered — we might say something in this vein:  “Boy, I’m sure glad to see you.  I was needing somebody to come in who had some money so they could get mine.”

Ever heard that or a near version of it?  If not, listen closer. I hear it every single day.  It’s generally answered with “I was just thinking the same thing about you.”  And the participating parties smile and chuckle and pat each other on the back.

People are just quirky and insecure and predictable.  They seek inclusion and acceptance with small-talk rituals. People need people or at least they sure think they do. Bless their hearts.

And what else do we do?

Well, we rarely lead with what we truly mean to say.

Most things we do we do out of a sense of obligation.

We consistently drive over the speed limit … as though it’s merely a suggestion.

We’re timid when we should be bold, and we’re bold when we should be timid.

We talk about ballgames and the weather and long-lost cousins at funerals to mask our grief or to cover our lack of anything meaningful to say to the grieving.

We give to the needy to feel better about ourselves.

But we will occasionally stop what we are doing — something we might call “important” — to help a kid we don’t know put a chain back on a bicycle.

As bad as we don’t want to, we’ll go talk to a friend at a time of their trouble. When we’d rather run and hide and excuse ourselves by feigning busy-ness.

We recognize beauty in nature and in human creation, and we appreciate it.

We like kind people.

We’re not all bad. Sometimes we reach out and up.  We strive and achieve and live altruistically for brief moments, even when our animal natures would have us do the opposite.  I thank God that He gave us just a little spark of divine, a reflection, a flicker, somewhere in that whole created-in-His-image thing to help us do that. Quirky, insecure, predictable human beings that we are.

Tap – tap – blow.

Yes, we hear you fine.  Go ahead.

You’re on.

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Peter Walked On The Water

My preacher said on Sunday that people tend to focus on the negative. They are drawn to it, he said.

I’m surely more cynical than I used to be and something of a know-it-all anyway, but every now and then a preacher will still deliver an idea that I’m willing to take home and think about.

Our interim pastor there at the First Baptist Church — Pastor Chuck Hampton, a Shannon native —  continued his message with a rhetorical question that he believed accentuated his point. He asked us — his congregation — what was the first thing we thought of when we thought of the Apostle Peter. The rhetorical answer Pastor Chuck thought would be a “given” was that Peter denied Jesus Christ three times outside the Sanhedrin Council, before the cock crowed. And I think he was about 90% correct with his expectation. Most of us did think of just that moment.  We went straight to the negative, without passing GO, just as our preacher predicted we would.

In fact, I thought very specifically of James Farentino‘s portrayal of Peter in “Jesus of Nazareth,” the 1977 television miniseries, which was a pretty good depiction of the gospel story.  Being an impressionable 12 year old when I originally saw that classic made-for-TV extravaganza, it’s still Farentino’s image that illustrates Peter’s denial moment in my mind.

But Pastor Chuck pivoted in his message saying that Peter, despite our knee-jerk thoughts about him, was “the most courageous disciple.”  He pointed out that it was Peter who drew his sword in the Garden of Gesthemene against the Roman soldiers who were there to arrest Jesus.  Peter was clearly willing to die for Jesus.  He continued along that line for the balance of the sermon.  I think the larger message Pastor Chuck was trying to bring home was that we need to be on our guard so as not to always focus on the negative.

That’s certainly a good message to take from a church service any Sunday.  But it’s not exactly the one I left with.

Pastor Chuck got me thinking about Peter, the man. The disciple that Jesus himself nicknamed “The Rock” did fail, and he did so over and over. But he succeeded far more, and he did that over and over, too.

Peter denied Christ, without question.  But he had the opportunity to do so because he was there. Other “disciples” weren’t there.

I remembered that Peter and John ran to the tomb on that first Easter morning. That’s always stuck out to me.  A grown man. He took off and ran when he heard the women’s tale of the empty tomb — in excitement, in crazy hope, probably in dread of what he might find, too. John, in his gospel, says he beat Peter there, out-raced him.  They were real human beings, like us. Peter, in particular, was a man of action. I like that a lot.

Peter walked on the water one stormy night, before he sank. We all remember that he sank. But just think, he stepped out of the boat and did something miraculous. Peter was bold and courageous and faithful. Yep, he got scared and sank.  But Peter walked on the water. He actually did that. Just let that sink in. No pun intended.

“That’s the real deal right there,” Pastor Chuck might say.

Believe. Try. Keep going. Keep doing. Like ol’ Peter did.

That’s a message worth taking home.

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Nice, Neat Packages

I’ve been told that I like to wrap things up in nice, neat packages.

In fact, this observation, made by a friend of mine, went farther than “like.” I was told that, invariably, I am internally compelled to tie the endings of my stories to their beginnings.

That I can not under any circumstance leave a loose end, even when I might want to.

That, whether it is my conscious intent or not, I will always put my ideas into boxes, rows and columns of a metaphorical spreadsheet, and eventually sum them up, on the bottom row, right-hand box.

That I might be considered “creative” but that my brand of creativity has concrete boundaries from which my psyche simply will not let me break free.

That my mental quirk — absolutely requiring summation and resolution — extends beyond my writing, also manifesting itself in my other endeavors and activities.

I was finally insulted with the ultimate insult that any creative person can receive — I was called “analytical.”

I paused and carefully considered this defamation … as I am a very introspective person.

And yes, I do know that there are four incomplete sentences in this story already. But they sound the way I want them to sound when you read them out loud, so I want to keep them like they are. I do admit it bothers me though — greatly.

I think my friend could be right.

While eating at a Waffle House the other day, I caught myself picking up the straw wrappers of others at my table and carefully rolling them up. I then inserted the tiny paper balls into a used coffee creamer mini-cup and folded the little foil lid back in place. I stacked up the empty creamer cups, nesting them inside one another, and moved them to the edge of the table in hopes that the next time the server passed by she would remove them. Maybe that’s not normal.

Waffle House servers have this routine when you are first seated where they lay out a single napkin on the table and then place your knife and fork on that napkin. I admit that I intently watch this process take place each time I eat there. I admit that I don’t want my knife or fork to touch the table. I don’t want either of them to get off the square of paper. Is that wrong?

Sometimes little ideas of mine get big. I’ll want to do something, to create something, but immediately I see all the holes. Undeterred, I keep going, stretching out in multiple directions until I address the shortcomings, those loose ends, and I usually end up finding some system or procedure or sentence that makes the gadgets and schemes and stories I’ve come up with run smoothly.

I’m an engineer by trade. I try not to leave any issue unaddressed. I admit that gets exhausting sometimes.

I guess I crave order. I want to fix everything. I want to make things work out. Make them right.

Everything.

Rationally, I realize that’s impossible.

So … the question at hand is this: can Clark Richey, the analytical writer of this column and the roller-up of other people’s straw paper at Waffle Houses across the south — me — leave a column with an open ending? Without resolution? Without a moral to the story neatly typed out? Can he make himself do that?

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Critical Care

I’ve been in ICU for a week.

Actually, that’s not true. My father has been in the Critical Care Unit at the North Mississippi Medical Center in Tupelo for a week. I’ve been around, in and out.

They don’t call it ICU anymore.

All walks of life pass through the doors here. Men, women, young and old, rich and poor, every race, every religion — inevitably they will all sit in these patchwork blue, possibly-vinyl recliners that line the walls of the large second floor CCU waiting area, just to the right when you come off the elevators.

The observable differences between human beings are striking.  Physically, of course, they vary greatly. If it’s not politically incorrect to say — a lot of them are fat. I hear it said on CNN that that fact may be at its worst in our beloved Mississippi. We do like food.

My mother poignantly chimed in as I sat with her awaiting our next visit with my father.

“We’re first in the nation in that. We’re number one in fatness.”

She began googling, “I wonder who’s second. I bet it’s Arkansas.”

It was Alabama.

Still, some people are like frail little birds, even in Mississippi.  I am entranced by these small people. Their very existence is foreign to me.  I imagine that they could almost be swallowed up, or flattened in a hallway accident, by the big‘uns, like most of my family.  Our bunch consistently falls into the large category, including me.  It’s just a matter of how many X’s will accompany the L in the label of our sweat pants.

People are loud and abrasive.

My mother says, “A lot of people just aren’t aware of other people.”

I guess that could be it. But I’d say, less tactfully than my mother, that a lot of people just don’t care about other people. That could be it, too.

Many people — most — do care, however. That’s crystal clear to anyone willing to open their eyes in the CCU break room.  In there, people who wouldn’t normally even sit together drink coffee and pray and talk, side by side.

After a time, a relatively short one, they share, and they watch out for each other. They give their Chick-Fil-A gift cards to each other. They stack up food on a counter for everyone, every neighbor. Maybe Mississippians are fat because we are the most compassionate state. Maybe we’re first in compassion.

When someone dies, almost everyone cries.

At some point in life, we all come here, exactly here to the CCU in Tupelo or some place like it somewhere else. We’re in the back or we’re in the blue chairs because someone we love is in the back.

People are different. But they are more the same than different. They have love in them, for someone. Even the fat ones. Even the loud ones.

“Come on, let’s go down to the food court,” my mama said.

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Treasure Hunt

You can view life in a lot of different ways.

Over the course of mine, I’ve imagined it variously as a puzzle to be solved, a race to be run, and a competition to be won.  Sometimes when the weight of the world presses down, life can seem like a sentence to be served.  But, as is the case with most things, there’s the counterpoint.  On occasional rare and care-free times, life can also seem like a party to be enjoyed.  Jerry Seinfeld called that “Even Steven,” I believe.

Lately, my paradigm of life has been this: “Life is a treasure hunt.”

Perhaps, it’s because I’m getting older – I’ve got four grandsons these days – but I’m finding more and more pleasure in uncovering some bit of knowledge or lost artifact that links the tangible goings-on of today with fading memories of yesterdays from long ago.  It’s darn near time travel if you ask me.

My mother pulled out a small, brown cannister the other day and handed it to me.

“You might want that,” she said.  “That was Mama Gardner’s snuff tin.”

Immediately, my mind went back to sometime in the mid-1970’s when my grandfather Mort Gardner and I would eat lunch with his mother, Lois Gardner, at her home on East Main just east of where I now live.  We’d break from our day of pumping gas and fixing truck flats at his Sinclair Service Station on the southeast corner of Water Street and Highway 45 and enjoy home-cooked vegetables and cornbread mid-day with “Mama Gardner” and my Papa’s siblings.  They all spoke of my great-grandmother’s snuff-dipping in hushed tones, somewhat masking their mischievous glee at telling a secret and the nervous embarrassment that their own mama still unrepentantly dipped snuff … whenever she wanted.  I immediately remembered that.

“Your Mimi poked those holes in the bottom,” my mother said.  “Mimi” was Delia Mae Gardner, my grandmother.  I flipped the tin over and sure enough there were holes pierced inward through the bottom of the snuff tin.

“She used it to cut out biscuits,” my mother added.

I’ll need a separate story someday to discuss my grandmother’s cooking.  It was 90% of her existence for the duration of time that I knew her, about four decades.  It was the way she showed her family that she loved them.  And she loved them a lot.

“I’ve cut out biscuits with it, too, but mostly I just kept it as a keepsake, because it was Mimi’s,” my mother said and slid the tin over to me.

“You should take it.  Now you know what it is.”

Lately, I’ve been digging around in the historical collections of Simon Spight and Claude Gentry, which we house in the Tom’s Drug Store building on Main Street in preparation for future presentation.  And in that effort, friends of mine and I have uncovered and rediscovered snuff tin after snuff tin – well, no tins literally, not yet.  But I wouldn’t bet that more of those little metal cylinders themselves won’t ultimately be unearthed from the mountainous walls of papers, pictures, pots and presently unidentifiable items we’ve been crawling through.

From the Simon Spight Historic Collection We’ve found some western books and posters that we’ve have put on display at Six Shooter Studios just down the street – some from Gentry, some from Spight.  We’ve pulled out Simon’s scale model of Baldwyn’s downtown, circa 1935, and we are going to restore it very soon.  It’s an impressive four-foot by eight-foot model, handcrafted and painted by Spight himself.  It needs to be seen.

We even found an old 1943 Baldwyn football schedule. My friend Simon had written on it “For Clark.”  I smiled at that discovery, and I heard him speak the written words, in his unforgettable deep voice, in my mind.

So much stuff.  I’ll tell you more about it in future weeks.

I left Mama Gardner’s snuff tin with my mother.  Yes, I know what it is now, but I also know my time with that little treasure can come later.  It’s got a good home for now.

Yep, life is a treasure hunt these days.  Life is good.

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