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It really is a small world

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gordon cotton small world
Image by stokpic from Pixabay

“It’s a small world” is an oft-used term to describe an unusual happening. I want to share some small world stories, events that happened to me, that really prove the truth of the expression.

The young man who came to tour the Old Court House Museum many years ago when I was director seemed a bit dazed, a bit upset. He was British -easy to tell by his accent and I eventually asked him if something was bothering him.

He had quite a story. He was a college student in England, and he with his parents were touring the South in a rented car when they had a terrible accident in the Utica area. He was not hurt but his mother and father were very seriously injured. They were in a local hospital, and he was at rather loose ends, not knowing what to do.

After hearing his story, I asked him to stay with me in my home. I had two vehicles, so I loaned him one. Eventually his parents got much better but were still hospitalized. I wanted him to meet some people his age, so I invited some friends to supper. Included were a young Texas couple who had recent1y moved here.

Everyone was gathered in my library one evening while I was putting supper on the table when I heard, “I can’t believe it!” The young man from England, Thomas, and the girl from Texas, were the children of people who had been in the diplomatic corps in their respective countries. The two had gone to school together when they were children at the American school in Calcutta, India.

My long-time friend Charlie Moore Gholson (we met when she was a college student at All Saints) was a Texan who often visited Vicksburg eventually moving here. On one of her visits – probably 30 years ago or more I had supper for her and some other friends. Another friend of mine had a visitor from California named Mark. I knew something of his background, and I knew he and Charlie had something in common, though they didn’t know it.
At supper I said, “Mark, Charlie is a descendant of Sam Houston. Charlie, Mark is a descendant of Santa Anna.” They both stopped eating and stared at one another in silence for a moment, then Mark started laughing and said, “I guess this is the first time our families have met since the Battle of San Jacinto.”

John Allen is a friend of mine from Minnesota, Minnesota (translated into English from Indian that means Badwater, Goodwater). He’s somewhat of a vagabond (that’s how we met). His comment on the chandeliers in the Presbyterian Church in Port Gibson (they came from the steamboat Robert E. Lee and in the center of each is a statue of Lee on his horse) anyway, Allen said “I knew you Rebels worshiped Robert E. Lee but I didn’t know you had graven images of him in your churches.” And his description of winter in his hometown was “as cold as a witch’s teet in a brass brazier lying face down in the snow.”

One of his jobs was driving the tour bus at Mt. McKinley in Alaska. He usually asked the visitors where they were from, and one day he was told “We’re from a little town in Mississippi you ‘ve probably never heard of – Port Gibson.”

Allen’s reply was, “Do you know Hobbs Freeman at Fayette and Gordon Cotton at Yokena?”

It was a Sunday morning and services had already started at Shiloh Primitive Baptist Church on Warriors’ Trail when a very attractive young lady entered and took a seat near the back, She was a total stranger.

I took her a hymnal and showed her what we were singing. When the last amen was said she made a quick exit, but I went out the side door and stopped her, introduced myself. and asked her to stay for dinner. Her name was Amy, she was from Washington, DC. She had married a
Mississippian, they had come to his home state to visit and for her to meet his relatives.

A long story short: he got sick, had a brain tumor which messed up his mind, he divorced her, then he died. Here she was in a strange state with no friends. That Sunday morning she felt a need to go to church. She was driving rather aimlessly, saw Shiloh, stopped and came in. She was not a Primitive Baptist -in fact had never heard of us, but felt the need to cal1 upon the Lord.

Amy stayed in my home for a few weeks until she could take care of business here and then go back north. When things got better, I had some friends for supper. One of my friends had come here to work at WES. He had lived in DC where his father was in Nixon’s administration. After supper I heard him exclaim to Amy, “You are the one who got sick at the Christmas party and had to go to the hospital:” Once more, it was a small world.

Amy soon moved back north and we corresponded for a while but eventually lost touch.

It was a miserable day, weather-wise, and the Museum had very few visitors. One was a man who stayed most of the day because of his love of history. We had several conversations, and at closing time, I said, “Wolf, 1et me take you to supper at my favorite restaurant.” When he started to get into my car, I had to move a CD from the seat. It was by The Leatherwoods, my friends from Mountain View.

“Where did you get that?” he asked.

I explained that it was an Arkansas band named for the mountains in part of the 0zarks where my friends lived.

“I had an ancestor who wrote a book, Life In The Leatherwoods,” he said, and I said “I’ve got the book, by John Quincy Wolf.”

John Wolf lives in New Jersey but his ancestry is from North Arkansas. He has been back to Vicksburg several times, and we always go to Arkansas where he has met relatives, visited the family cemetery and even his ancestral home, the Wolf house, the oldest house in Arkansas, and has heard The leatherwoods music, all because of a CD on the car seat.

In the late 1950s I lived in Anchorage, Alaska for a year. While getting ready to go to work one morning I heard the DJ on the radio say, “Well, it’s snowing in Rolling Fork.” He has to be from
down home, I though, so I called him, told him where I was from. He was from somewhere in the Delta. He was shocked that anyone listening would be acquainted with that saying. I’m probably the only listener he had who knew what he was talking about.

In Anchorage I worked weekends at the desk in the Armed Forces USO-YMCA. A phone call one night was for Bill Culpepper. I paged him, he came to the phone, and I could tell by his accent he was from the South.

When he hung up the phone I asked, “Culpepper, where are you from?” and he answered “Eufala, Alabama.” Did he know Miss Gussie Culpepper in Troy? She was his cousin.  She was also mine.

One night a young airman walked up to the desk. We both stared at each other for a moment. He was Howard Schaffets, and we had gone to Jett High School together.

Another serviceman who came to the Y one night was also from Vicksburg where we had known each other. He was Carl Westcott.

Kelly Buell Franco and I worked together at the 0ld Court House, and one day a visitor was asking her about a 1ocal couple. Kelly told him they were getting a divorce, adding “I heard there is another man.”

“There is,” the visitor said. “I’m the other man.”

Kelly didn’t miss a beat.

“Small world, isn’t it?” she said, adding “Too small right now,” and the man laughed heartily.


Gordon Cotton is the curator emeritus of the Old Court House Museum. He is the author of several books and is a renowned historian.

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Vicksburg Daily News