How Columbus, Mississippi, Wound up in a Children’s Book Set in Texas

I’ve started thinking that the job of writers is to take pieces from real life, put them in one of those silver cocktail cup thingies, and shake shake shake and see what emerges. At least, that is apparently what I do.

When I was a teenager, I spent a lot of time—as much as possible, in fact—hanging out with my cousin and our friends in Columbus, Mississippi. I loved it there, probably because I had such a cool cousin and friends, but also because it’s just a pretty neat place. Columbus was and is a charming small town, and if you were underage like I was, there was pretty much only one place to go on the weekends: a little joint called Bob’s. I’m told they served food there, but I think I went inside only once. Most of the time we just hung out in the parking lot, which doesn’t sound like much fun and excitement, but trust me when I tell you it was the best. (The owners must have been overjoyed by our failure to support the local economy, but they kindly tolerated us anyway.)

Bob’s was torn down some years ago (I hope not because we didn’t do our part to spend more money there), and the old bridge to get to it was condemned or at least blocked off. (It’s still there but I’m not sure if you can drive on it now.) On a visit several years ago to visit my cousin, we drove past the old bridge and were swept away by nostalgia. I said to my cousin, “Doesn’t it seem that, if we could just get across that bridge, that it would still be 1980-something on the other side?”

Nearly twenty years later, that bridge has become a vehicle for time travel. Sort of.

In the Aleca Zamm series, when Aleca stops time, her friend Ford describes an old bridge that only he can see. Even though the Aleca books are set in Texas, the bridge in my mind was the old bridge in Columbus.

And speaking of Columbus showing up in my fictional Texas town…

One night my family in Columbus suggested we all go have dinner at a restaurant just up the road called Proffitt’s Porch. I heard “Prophet’s Porch” and immediately fell in love with the name. It sounded so Faulknerian: an odd but somehow right mixture of mysticism and Southern culture. I pictured a prophet in overalls, in a rocking chair on a porch, explaining the mysteries of the universe over the sound of cicadas. I soon learned that the word Proffitt was the proprietor’s last name, but I still loved my misinterpretation. Thus, Aleca’s small town became Prophet’s Porch, Texas.

I was just in Columbus for the Fourth of July, and although I am well past my teen years and Bob’s is gone, the town still has a great deal of charm to offer. If you ever get the chance, go and get the red beans and rice at Proffitt’s Porch. And try to see the Waverly mansion, which is an architectural phenomenon you’ll never forget.

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