They say “you can’t go home again.” Always wondered who “they” are. And while I do agree that “home” is wherever Steve is, in my heart, home has many parts. The concept is actually pretty complex.
Home as I first knew it was Wiggins, Mississippi. We moved there when I was just a week old. I have told folks for years I was born in Georgia but got to Mississippi as quickly as I could. My Dad was coming home after finishing his general medical residency in Macon, Georgia, to practice medicine at Wiggins Clinic. My Mom, a Claiborne County native, with new baby in tow, set up housekeeping in a small apartment actually on Pine Hill. From there we moved to Third Street and later built a house out on East College Avenue. When I “left home” to go to Ole Miss, I technically left Wiggins not to return again for any extended period.
Home, of course since then, has been in Oxford (4 years), Jackson (26 years), and now Madison (almost 10 years). And then, of course, there were the summers I spent camping (as a camper and employee) in the pine forests of Camp Iti Kana. Lots of memories and lots of pieces to fill in places in my heart, but I digress.
When I “go back home”, I am going to Wiggins. I still have a number of friends there – folks I grew up are still there. Some even left and came back. It is good to sit and visit with those who shared with you those easy, carefree days of playing ball, climbing trees, swinging on the rope swing, swimming at Perk and in Red Creek, and doing all the things we did (school, dance classes, outdoor basketball practice) that we did at the old Wiggins School, and attending Vacation Bible School every summer at the Baptist, Methodist, and Presbyterian Churches. I share with them memories of Friday nights at the old Pickle Field or at Perk stadium watching the Tomcats play football and making the rush trip to the Frosty Mug for a chili dog and cherry coke before the last hour of band practice. It was a great place to grow up and a great group of mentors and heroes for a girl like me.
Wiggins, like the rest of the world is more complex now. People moved on. Katrina changed its demographics. “Big city” crime and drug problems moved in. Still, the sense of community is strong and generation after generation pitches in and gets done whatever needs doing.
Embedded in folks there, is a desire to learn from their history. That certainly appeals to me since I my family had an impact on the history of what is now Stone County. These folks established, such as, Pine Hill Festival, to showcase the town. They turned the old Wiggins School property into an outstanding park for the community, a park that literally has something for everyone. They turned that old Pickle Field into a state of the art athletic park.
They had folks who invested in preservation efforts. Kathryn Lewis is one of these as co-founder and director of the Telling Trees Project – a project to research, document, and present our past through oral histories and the arts. Her efforts led to the recording of many oral histories and using art to depict the history of the area. Of these projects, the two I am most familiar with are the “Moon Trees” and the “Murals of Stone County”.
“Moon Trees” involved my Uncle Bill a.k.a William S. Mauldin. Uncle Bill worked for the US Forest Service at the Harrison Station and involved in the planting of the seeds that Astronaut Stuart Rosa carried with him on Apollo 14. Against all odds most of the seeds that made the trip, germinated and there are now first and second generation trees around the world. Stone County is home to two of these: (1) the grounds of the George Austin McHenry House where Bill Mauldin lived for over 50 years; (2) on the grounds of the Perkinston Campus of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College where he served on the Board of Trustees.
The “Murals of Stone County” are the twenty plus ceramic and painted murals found throughout the county. Pictured above are two of these. The murals depict the history of Wiggins and Stone County in beautiful artistic form. These murals represent the “P’s” of Wiggins – Pine, Pickles, Paper, and People as well as depict historic sites and buildings such as the Old Depot and Red Creek. One mural pays tribute to baseball legend Dizzy Dean, located appropriately in the Welcome Center on Highway 49 named for him. They are found in schools and in Blaylock Park. The murals made such an impression that in 2012, the Mississippi Legislature named Stone County “The Mural County of Mississippi”. Ms. Lewis and Telling Trees were/are heavily involved in this as well. Pretty good sense of purpose and history for a county that evolved from part of Jackson County to part of Harrison County to become Stone County (the 81st of the ultimate total of 82) in 1916.
Another major push to preserve the history of Stone County is through the Old Firehouse Museum. This truly was a childhood dream of Ruth Ellen Campbell Ford and Mike Annis Cain. Those two with several other retired teachers and the backing of the City of Wiggins and private donors, brought this to life. The museum was officially dedicated March 22, 2013 and is pictured in the gallery above. The museum artifacts more than fill the their space but that is fine with the Board and volunteers. Part of their mission is education and they plan rotating exhibits in Stone County schools and businesses.
By the way, the museum is literally located in the “old firehouse” where Fire Engine No. 3 could be found when I was a kid. The entire complex (and that is a stretch to call it that) on the corner of 1st Street and College Avenue) housed, when I was a child, the City Hall, the Wiggins Police Department (WPD), AND the Wiggins Fire Department (WFD). These days the City Hall is still there but other city offices are located elsewhere. The WPD now occupies the old Wiggins Clinic building (where my Dad practiced medicine for over 40 years) and the WFD has a large, relatively new facility on Magnolia Drive. I guess all that comes under the heading of “Progress”!
So, at times, it is a good thing to go back and revisit a place in your heart. I finally made it to the Pine Hill Festival. I am honored to have had a small part with the Old Firehouse Museum. I am proud to be a direct descendant of George Austin McHenry. And I am proud to call Wiggins “home”.