Longleaf Stories

full circle in the hundred acre wood


“Bein’ too much of oneself needs no forgiveness.”

Minton Sparks, from “Mississippi Moonshine”  – Middlin Sisters CD


Two events collided to cause the works of spoken word artist Minton Sparks to reach my ear. Honestly, sometimes I hardly know where I have been.

My dentist is Mickey Parker. His office has the usual collection of magazines, ranging from news digests and fishing to lifestyle periodicals. When I was there a few months to have an ancient filling that’s been in my mouth since the last century replaced, I scanned the reading material while I was waiting, and saw a magazine I had never seen before.

Garden and Gun. No kidding. I laughed out loud when I saw the cover. I laughed some more when I flipped through the glossy pages, past images of young women in designer gowns holding expensive limited edition rifles at some fancy country estate surrounded by gorgeous horses and high bred hunting dogs. About that time, one of Mickey’s assistants opened the door to the back shop. “Hey, Beth, come on back, how you doin’ today?” she said.

I kept the magazine and settled into the cool dental chair. When Mickey came in, I kidded him about Garden and Gun mazagine. Chuckling, I waved the magazine and said, “Hey, Mickey, what is this? Some kind of spoof?”

Mickey’s genial countenance got serious. “No. Hell, no. It’s the best magazine I know. It’s great. In fact, I just got a new one in today and it’s got a terrific story on the resurgence of longleaf pines. Stay here. I’ll go get it out of my car.”

There’s something about Mickey you should know. He’s a fine dentist, but one of his true loves is a side-line to his medical practice. Mickey represents a longleaf pine nursery in central Florida and sells strong, container-grown seedlings. We have bought a beaucoup of them over the years. Most of them are higher than my sixty four inches of height today. So he knew I would be interested in a story on how longleaf pines are returning to the South. Soon, he returned with the magazine. “Here, take it home with you. Now, open your mouth and let me have a look.”

Later that day, I read Jack Hitt’s story, “The Longleaf Pine Rebuilding the fire forest of the Old South.” Fascinating story, with terrific accompanying photographs by Andrew Kornylak. There was a whole lot of good writing in this lovely magazine. It’s a pretty thoroughbred, true, but it’s also Tabasco spiced and smells of ribs, smoked low and slow. There was a terrific insider’s tour of Oxford, Mississippi in this issue, led by author Lisa Neumann Howorth, also known as the Night Mayor of Oxford, a profile of painter C. Ford Riley by author Padgett Powell and a plethora of other really good stuff.

I became a subscriber that day.

Then, last week, when our friends, Jim and Betty, were visiting from Charlotte, NC, Betty was telling me about a song she wanted me to listen to on her iPOD. You won’t believe this (early adopter of technology that I like to think of myself), but I had never actuallly held an iPOD in my hand, and really didn’t understand how they worked. Sure, I’ve seen young kids wandering around with earpieces in their ear. Grandson twelve year old Alex occasionally holds an earpiece from his iPOD up to my ear so I can hear “the hardest rocking love song ever written,” but I had never focused on the slim rectangle as a tool for pleasure and creativity for my own self.

When Betty showed me how it worked, and how I could download Podcasts from National Public Radio or fiction from The New Yorker, in addition to music, it was just a matter of time (seconds, actually) until I decided I had to have one. Buck deserves some credit for the idea, too. He has been suggesting to me, every Christmas and birthday for several years, that I might enjoy some kind of good quality music machine.

My sleek black iPOD arrived earlier this week and my oh my I am sleeping less and enjoying it more.

And then I had a chance to read the May/June edition of Garden and Gun. Singer/songwriter/author Marshall Chapman wrote a terrific piece called “Minton Sparks Catches Fire The love child of Flannery O’Connor and Hank Williams lights up the stage.” Somehow, I’ve just missed the rich world of spoken word artists.

I went to iTunes, bought and downloaded Sparks’ 2005 CD, “Middlin Sisters.” When Buck and I turned out the lights last night, I lay in bed and listened to Sparks speak her Southern Gothic story poem vignettes (mostly about her childhood in Tennessee) to the accompaniment of the picking of singer/songwriter/musician Darrell Scott. I just ordered her latest selection of stories called “Open Casket.”

I talked to my sister who lives out in Arizona yesterday. She is older than me by ten years and is by far the better repository of family memories. She told me some stories about when she was little, and when our mother married my father and took her and our oldest sister away from the old homeplace in Mississippi down to the tip end of the mainland of Florida, to Miami. We talked alot about family stories, the perspective of children at different ages, the perspective that time and the river sometimes brings, and why we live where we live as adults; how sometimes it has everything to do with love.

Minton Sparks’ accoustic voice and sharp truth-telling style that would have offended my mother sounded just right to my ears last night, and are leading me to some old memory albums of family history: acid-etched, time burnished and strangely sweet.

0 thoughts on “Listening To Minton Sparks

  1. Dave says:

    Garden and gun are closely associated in the mind of this Yankee, too. Back when we had big vegetable gardens, I used to shoot a lot of groundhogs.
    I still don’t have an iPod, despite the fact that I assist in the making of spoken-word MP3s at qarrtsiluni. I do have good external speakers for my computer, though.


  2. Dave — I don’t use anything with external speakers because of Buck’s hearing problem. I fear that if I immerse myself in sound during the daytime, I might not hear something that we both need for me to hear (including him!). Mostly I am listening to the iPOD early in the morning or at night, but even in the day when we are working near one another, I can have one earbug in my left ear and still have my right ear available for hearing and listening.


  3. m. heart says:

    this is beautiful post. since we seem to have similar taste in posdcasts (i love listening to npr’s “radio lab” and “the moth” programs as well as new yorker fiction on the commute to and from work) i will be curious about what else you discover on itunes. you might want to check out the metropolitan museum of art’s special exhibition podcasts, especially the first of the series, which is kevin bacon reading excerpts from the letters of vincent van gogh.


  4. Denny says:

    “…leading me to some old memory albums of family history: acid-etched, time burnished and strangely sweet.” Sounds like the stuff stories are made of.


  5. Marie says:

    Thanks. I’m gonna check out old Milton’s for myself. As for Garden & Gun, I’m a believer in the relatively new magazine. They’ve purchased several of my photos to include within their pages;)


  6. Congratulations, Marie — can you point me to your photos (which issues, etc.)?


  7. Dave says:

    You’ve given me a new idea: I’m pondering whether it would be worth the effort to compile a bi-monthly podcast at qarrtsiluni, with the entire text of each issue. What do you think? Would anyone be able to listen to so much (mostly) poetry all at once?


  8. Beth here says:

    Dave — I would love to experience qarrtsiluni as a podcast. The inflections of the spoken word are riveting to me and get me out of my own head in a way that reading words on a page doesn’t always do. It’s a completely different way to experience the same words. (But it does sound like a lot of work for you.)


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