I grew up in the Mississippi Delta in a large family with some of the most artistic people in Humphreys County. Some could paint; others received riches of literary talent; all could spin a tale. Mamaw Outlaw's youngest, Uncle Richard, was a hairdresser like me, and for several years handed out business cards that said "Your hair looks like sh*t." I spent countless hours with this colorful group, gleaning our history and embracing my God-given place in a long line of far-from-Broadway performers with great comedic timing.
When I hear of a high-school kid interning in some big city for the summer, I wonder how I might have turned out if given that opportunity. What could I have picked up from more cosmopolitan folks had we vacationed in New York City or Los Angeles instead of the Ozarks?
As it was, I spent hours plowing though issues of Metropolitan Home during study hall. I'll never forget the first time I saw a loft apartment in glossy print. I looked around our two blocks of "downtown" and wondered if I could do the same thing. Secretly, I began to squirrel away pages of materials and furnishings from Mother's Spiegel and Sears catalogues. Anyone with half a brain would have urged me toward interior design or architecture, but how in the world is a 17-year-old supposed to know which way to go if nobody has shown him the options?
Mrs. Mortimer, my high-school English teacher and wife of the local mortician, wins the award for trying. She survived two heart attacks, and the rumor was she'd been re-animated like the bride of Frankenstein with less hair and makeup. Almost all the students were afraid of her.
One day she asked me to come to her classroom. I quickly scanned the day's events for something I'd done wrong. Finding nothing, I followed obediently, shoulders slouched, brow furrowed into a knot. As I entered the room, the door shut behind me. "If she sucks the life out of me now, I'll never know who shot J.R.," I thought.
She sat down, opened a drawer and pushed a book in my direction. "Show this to your parents. Tell them I said this is the place for you," she said, with an accent devoid of the typical Delta drawl, and sent me on my way.
Later that day, I bounded off the bus.
"Look, Momma!" I yelled excitedly. "Mrs. Mortimer thinks I should be an artist!" I handed her the catalogue, and Mother flipped through the book. "New York? Paris? Has she lost her mind?" she asked.
"But Mother, it's Par-sons!" I replied. (I had no clue what Parsons was, and knew even less about New York.)
She handed it back to me and said: "Son, you're going to be the first in this family to finish college. And that college is Mississippi College." She then gave me her patented Bonnie nod. That nod was like ending a statement with "or I'll whip you 'til your butt won't hold shucks."
I never gave myself permission to refer to myself as "a creative" until I moved into the Fondren Corner building. There, I found myself neck deep in a community serious about its art. Hell, if one of our graffiti artists worked over my car, I'd consider myself lucky.
I once spent an afternoon watching William Goodman put the finishing touches on a collection and then deftly turning and whitewashing a wall with the same reverence. From time to time, Ginger Williams would show up at my door with a story about teaching classes to inner-city kids at the Mississippi Museum of Art.
Back before we lost Josh Hailey to his dreams in Los Angeles, he often burst into the salon to say "hey" and ask an opinion about his outfit. Remember the Borat bikini? Not my idea.
Over the next few years, I met several creatives and befriended quite a few. What I discovered by watching them is that creativity grows by the act of creating. Their works are a result of countless hours of practicing the act of being artistic. Ginger Williams once debuted a mini retrospective in my salon during Arts, Eats and Beats, covering every wall with works that she produced during her life's highs and lows. Every piece spoke to me on some level.
Inspired by Goodman and others, I picked up the brush again. I thought back to time I'd spent with Mamaw Outlaw. One afternoon, we hopped into her maroon Oldsmobile and rode to Yazoo City. As we made our way down the aisles of the local Rite Aid, she stopped at the craft section and selected an oil paint set. Her bright blue eyes lit up as she whispered "How would you like me to teach you to paint?"
I felt something take hold, and it's something I've never forgotten. If someone is willing to show me how, I'm more than willing to take it up. It's no wonder that every single time I smell linseed oil I think of her. Thankfully, living in Fondren ensures I never forget.
Eddie Outlaw is co-owner of the William Wallace Salon in Fondren, a downtown resident of the King Edward, and spends most of his time trying not to embarrass his sweet Delta mother on http://www.eddieoutlaw.com.