Twenty Miles South of Where?

I live 20 miles south of Fayette, Mississippi. No one who’s not from the area has ever heard of Fayette. It’s presence on the most major highway passing by it consists of less than a dozen buildings, some of those are private homes. There are 3 signs, with arrows, pointing out the towns existence to any interested passer-by. But most of them aren’t that interested. It’s most historically notable resident, Charles Evers, most ofter appears in footnotes. He was Medgar Evers’ brother, and was elected mayor of Fayette in 1969. Fayette feels like a footnote. It is the sort of place you pass through on your way to somewhere more important.
Even my use of Fayette is as an enablement. If I say, “I live 20 miles south of Fayette.” whoever I’m talking to will say, “What? 20miles south of where?” and I will have an opening to talk. I can talk about where I live, right behind Jefferson College, which was a military college before the civil war and a boys military school afterward, with the boys getting progressively younger until it closed in the early 20th century. It is now open as a historical site and has beautiful old live oaks and magnolias. If I have an opening eventually I can drag the conversation around to the sorts of things that interest me, such as where the person I’m speaking to is from and what parts of their story they think are important. They may tell me about the abandoned gloveworks around the corner from their house in Iowa, or the way the prairie grass springs to life after it rains in Kansas in July. And how they went to the old jail in Council Grove, KS, the one that used to be the only jail for 100’s of miles, the main Jail at the beginning of the Sante Fe trail, and noticed that there were 2 cells and a marshall’s office in a building that measured about 10×6 and smelled of burnt dust. Or even, once, about the old fisherman they saw everyday on a beach in Maryland, and how he just stared out to sea and how they wondered what he thought about, and what he said when they finally asked him. However, if I tell these same people that I live 3 or 4 miles north of Natchez, MS, the conversation kind of grinds to a halt. An awful lot of people have some kind of an idea where Natchez is and have heard things about it. If I say I am from there, they ask touristy questions about the town and maybe tell me important historical facts about where they’re from. And I learn nothing.
I’m really feeling a bit guilty about the way I’m treating Fayette. I’m going to have to go down there and find someplace there that I can tell people about. Someone with a story to tell. In the mean time, however, I live 20 miles south of Fayette. Where are you from?


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