The live oaks on Highway 90 are covered in moss. When heading east, you’ll see them. They are enough to make you dizzy.
This is the Panhandle.
In my short life, I’ve seen Trustee’s Garden in Savannah, I’ve eaten fifty-dollar shrimp in Charleston, I’ve touched the Cadillac Hank Williams died in.
But Highway 90 is as Old South as it comes.
These mossy trees carry chiggers that will eat a man alive. But they are magnificent—the trees, not the chiggers.
Off 90, there’s an uneven road that leads to a dirt arena. The Circle D Rodeo Arena sits in the middle of the sticks.
Once, I saw a rodeo here. The place was crawling with Wranglers, Ariats, and Skoal rings.
I watched a kid take a fall that should’ve broken his legs. He shook it off and pranced away like Mary Lou Retton.
Later that night, I saw him limping so bad he could hardly walk. Two men held him upright.
Downtown Marianna is a treat. They have stores, old churches, a stunning post office. A Winn Dixie.
There are mansions with columns. The historic houses aren’t flashy—just inviting. Folks on porches watch traffic.
One little girl is walking a Labrador on the sidewalk. She doesn’t have an adult with her.
You don’t see that in big cities.
A century ago, a Civil War battle was fought on these streets she walks on.
“Battle of Marianna lasted thirty minutes,” an old man tells me. “An attack on our hometown, Yankees killed and wounded a quarter of our men.”
Confederate Park has a white monument that stands tall. It’s not here to honor war. It’s here to remember farmers, shopkeepers, and anyone who died defending their home.
That’s enough history for one day.
Still, you should know, people here haven’t changed altogether. They will still protect their own with stiff faces.
Just yesterday, there was an incident. A man broke into a local home. He was armed and dangerous.
Jackson County deputies canvassed the area with hounds. They followed his scent through the mossy trees like they were on a coonhunt.
Marianna schools were on lockdown.
One teacher says, “Told my kids, ‘I don’t care if you pee your pants or tee-tee in a tin can, you ain’t leaving this classroom.”
Teachers said silent prayers and kissed foreheads all day. A braver lot of public servants, you will not find.
Deputies didn’t find the man. They think he hopped the train out of town.
He better have.
This area isn’t a place the evening-news reporters like to show you. It’s too sleepy for good ratings. It’s a place where men wear boots to booster club dinners. Where funerals are multi-county events. Where rural grannies still dip snuff.
A place where teachers are two steps away from comic-book heroes. Where average people once died in their streets because these mossy trees were home.
Where old times are not forgotten.
A fella could get used to Jackson County.