CATEGORY: COL Columns (Journal)

AUTHOR: MORRIS

HED:M. Scott Morris: This was the Mississippi River - sunrise and all

The Mississippi River casts a powerful glamour in the dawn's light.

Do yourself a favor and contrive some reason to see the black sky turn gray and then blue as Old Man River does what he's always done.

Maybe you'll see dark clouds reflected in the water as high-altitude winds drive them toward the east and out of your field of view. It's been known to happen.

After getting off work sometime around midnight, Pete O'Connell was in the mood to shoot pool and drink a few beers at the Pearl Street Cellar, the premier drinking establishment in Natchez. He invited me along.

The Cellar was crowded when we arrived, but people thinned out pretty soon. Gary the barkeep wasn't making much money and closed shop.

It was about 3 a.m. and neither of us was interested in sleep, so we headed for the Under-the-Hill Saloon, another highly-recommended distributor of libations.

It must have also been a slow night for the Saloon, because J.D., the official mayor of Natchez Under-the-Hill, had closed the place before we arrived.

Lady Luck Casino was the only place open, but Pete was the gaming reporter and had grown tired of dealing with casino people. Besides, we'd given the place enough of our hard-earned cash for a while.

So we sat on a bench and watched the Mississippi River roll by. The night had a slight chill, but nothing we couldn't handle. I had a Mexican pullover, and Pete wore his obligatory blue jeans jacket.

Get a bee in Pete's bonnet and he'll rant and rail with the best of them. He despises injustice and people who think they're better than the rest of us slobs.

He also enjoys silence, which made it a night of fitful conversation. During the quiet times, we watched reflected lights flicker in the dark river as it eased along its course.

"Can you believe it?" he asked out of nowhere.

"What?"

"This," he said, looking at me like I was a fool for not understanding. "This is the Mississippi River. The (expletive deleted) Mississippi River."

"Yeah, yeah. Mark Twain. Old Man River. All that," I replied.

"(Expletive deleted) Mark Twain. It's the Mississippi River," he said while standing and swinging his arms, trying to get me to understand.

We got quiet again, and I pondered Pete's mood. Who knows what he pondered?

As my wife can attest, it's next to impossible to get me out of bed before the sun has started along its daily path. Most of the sunrises I've seen have been the result of not going to bed the previous night.

Maybe that's why I was so fascinated by the sky's slow transition from dark to light. I was wide awake for the beginning of a new day.

Glancing from the clouds to the river to the Natchez bluffs, I soaked it all in and forgot about whatever Pete had tried to explain. I didn't do much thinking.

Like all out-of-the-ordinary life events, this one passed. The streets began to fill with people going to work, so we decided to call it a night.

It was several months before Pete's words finally sank into my thick skull. It happened during a break from a hectic afternoon of work when I walked to a spot overlooking the river.

As the sun slowly set, I understood Pete's words, but I can't describe the experience any better than he did - This is the Mississippi River.

It was supposed to have been a 15-minute break from a hefty pile of work, but I stretched it for nearly 45 minutes. I didn't feel a second's worth of guilt.

Do yourself a favor. Figure out a way to watch the sun rise over the Mississippi River. If that doesn't work, catch the sun on the way down. Sooner or later, you'll understand. Trust me.

M. Scott Morris is a Daily Journal feature writer.

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