It has been a wild and wonderful past few weeks at the Lafayette County & Oxford Public Library. Our Literary Landmark reception and dedication for Larry Brown was incredible, in many aspects. It meant so much to the library, Oxford, and Lafayette County. I want to share what it meant to me personally. While I am no writer, I spent the last couple of days in my own head and need to share some thoughts.
Growing up, I knew the name Larry Brown. He grew up with my mom’s side of the family. I spent every Sunday as a child in Tula having lunch after church at my grandparent’s house. It often involved fried Spam, but included home-grown vegetables and produce. I loved it. My family lived in the “city” but I felt so free out in the county. I learned how to drive on the road just past the Yocona Community Center that went through Delay (pronounced DEE-lay), where no traffic and very little curves were there to scare me even more. I was the first grandchild and when asked to say “Grandmomma” named my sweet grandmother “GoMama”. I cherish memories of those Sundays. I have thought about them so much recently. Walking and riding my bike to the tiny store in Tula where you could get a soda in a glass bottle. You had to drink it there so you could return it promptly. Cars drove slowly for the roving bands of children. I have a scar on my knee that I am proud of, due to the fact that I thought it would be a great idea to encourage my sister and cousins to jump off GoMama’s porch and land in the Tula clay; a bit too high for me at that age perhaps, but the piece of wood I landed on left a mark and now I couldn’t be happier about it.
Larry and Uncle Danny Hipp worked for the Oxford Fire Department together. I vaguely remember when Larry’s first book was published, but I was a teenager and wrapped up in the angst that goes with that tumultuous time in life. Larry and I did not actually “meet” until I was in college at Ole Miss. I saw him out and about one night and introduced myself as part “Hipp.” He knew exactly who I was and was curious about what I was studying. I told him that I was looking at getting an English degree simply because I loved to read. At that point, I had only read his novel Joe. I was honest with him about that and it did not phase him at all. We had many great talks over the years and he was a huge help to me during a time when I needed that desperately. I have learned over the years that Larry was as generous to me about literature as he was to countless others. Literature was a gift he proudly and selflessly shared, and he touched many lives. On Monday, author Jonny Miles related the story of being a 21 year old aspiring writer invited to dine at City Grocery by a generous Larry and Mary Annie Brown. Jonny wondered openly, since he is the same age now as Larry was then, if he would do the same. That speaks volumes about Larry Brown.
I remember Larry Brown with pride. He came from where my family is from and proved that hard work pays off. After I graduated with my English degree, I was lost. I did not want to teach nor did I want to continue school and get a Masters degree. When I got the job at the LCOPL, by a fluke, I was so grateful to have the chance to work with books day in and out. After he gave the speech at the 1997 dedication of the library’s building addition, I was sold. I remember him asking me after I had been at the library for a few years if we had any books on building solar panels into a house. When I told him that we did, he came in soon and checked them out. That was magical to me. That gave my job purpose. Over the years I learned that Larry utilized the library as a resource for countless projects and endeavours.
Spending time with his family this past weekend and Monday evening meant so much to me. The Browns are a fantastic group of people–warm hearted, genuine, fun, and so proud, as they should be. So many people I know relate stories of the impact this family has had on them. If you are fortunate to become their friend, you are accepted without exception and made to feel and understand that you are part of the family and significant; that they would do anything for you, and they had your back. What an incredible lesson. I want the library to fill that role in the community. I am proud of our great staff here in Oxford, and our resources are unlimited. Larry Brown’s legacy has driven that point home again in the last few days. I am so proud to work in the library that he supported, used, and is now landmarked in his name.
-Laura Beth Walker