An excerpt from the previous piece in this series, THE RUN OF THE PLACE, Part XII
Turning to go, postponing the comfort of riding the Square, the energy of my mind and legs both long for an easier riding remembrance. Backpedaling and coasting by the Ice House, Billy Ross Brown and Ben Pettis shake hands on the dock, as James Barr chips away. Picking up speed with a hard-leaning left, I see the back of the Hoka and hear the sounds of those Oxford glory years.
No forced opening necessary, the theater’s moans of mischief mingle with the giggles of Ole Miss guys and gals. Ron “Ronzo” Shapiro smiles the smile of an outsider who tasted, and created, a southern hospitality, and dishes, that bore him to local iconship and the trappings of a living southern legend.
THE RUN OF THE PLACE, Part XIII
With Ron came an out-of-town vibe that we soon learned to wear well. And down in the gulley off South Lamar; the Gin, the Hoka, and the Warehouse, up the gulley slope, taught the in-towners that the 70’s kids were taking Oxford into a new era that would be star studded with Ronzo’s buddies, and so many more. Willie and Pete Morris were regulars. And that Hollywood quality face and body that flowed by, say hey to Lauren Hutton. Barry Hannah, noted author and fellow Ronzo road warrior of adventurous fame, hung around like so many others, relaxed in this new aura of Oxford’s. With this triad of our nightlife there was always music to be played, and remembered.
With Poo Nanny on rhythm, with heavy hearts for light nights spent dancing on the tables in the moonlight of our well spent Ole Miss youth, Duff Dorrough will forever rock our souls. And, oh, where have you gone L. W.? The recounting of those days is easy on the mind but the remembering in painful for the spirit. The flames of ’86, rekindled in ’97, scarred more than our earthen gulley. So leaving it there and departing for the center of a world once thought small but now all grown up, I peddle back to University Avenue and giving it all I’ve got, make it to the Sonic before surrendering. No shame in pushing my old Flyer the last few yards, for now I stand at the intersection of everything we were brought up on.
My back to our childhood’s Everest, my eyes on the paths to what Lafayette County is, I have the best view in the town. North Toward Home is Courthouse Square. The muddy Square a three-greats-ago Grandfather galloped his horse onto. The Square the Yankees burned to the ground. The Square that was being first paved the year Grandpop Cofield and my one year old daddy first saw it. Faulkner’s Jefferson’s Square. The occupied Square of 18 and 1962. The Square our Nobel Laureate circled for his last time going to Saint Peter’s. That National Historic District Square of ours.
Where now recorded in the memories of a great dwindling generation, those circus-like days around the courthouse. Back when the bond between town and county was weekly affirmed. The Square about which Granddaddy Cofield wrote, “Saturday was the busiest day of the week. The Square attracted some ‘blaring’ sermons from traveling evangelists. The courthouse lawn was a place where one could meet friends, pass the time of day, or even transact business. Spring, summer, and fall, farmers set up rough stalls to sell their produce. Watermelons came into season in mid-July and the price of a large melon in the 1940’s was about ten cents.”
The Square where a generation later, just before sun up, double pots of coffee at Grundy’s and Smitty’s steamed the wake up call down South Lamar’s sidewalk. Just after sun up, hardware merchants hustled in their back doors, in a race to be the first on the Square to open their front doors, and wipe the sleep out of Oxford’s business eyes. The early bird got the sneering rights. Newspaper-toting coffee clubbers made themselves known; on foot, coming down North Lamar and up South. John Leslie’s crew, back of the drug store. The Square’s standard bearers, Ed Morgan and Howard Duvall. Louise Smith laughing with her close friends and customers, all one in the same. For everyone one of us to ever know the name Oxford, the hub that Faulkner wrote about was easiest seen from a local’s eyes, for the eyes who built it.
John Cofield is a HottyToddy.com writer and one of Oxford’s leading folk historians. He is the son of renowned university photographer Jack Cofield. His grandfather, J. R “Colonel” Cofield, was William Faulkner’s personal photographer and for decades was The Ole Miss yearbook photographer. Cofield attended Ole Miss as well. Contact John at firstname.lastname@example.org.