Leesha Faulkner


These days quarantined can try patience, even those of us who do not homeschool children. Music has proven one of the ways to alleviate the angst here at the house. After all, as William Congreve wrote in his play “The Mourning Bride,” “Music has charms to soothe a savage breast. Music has the power to enchant even the roughest of people.”

Sometimes, music provides us with mysteries. Yes, I know it’s not the 3rd of June and we are in the hills of Mississippi, not the dusty Delta. But this morning while listening to Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode to Billy Joe,” I started wondering. I really don’t care what Billy Joe McAllister dropped off the Tallahatchie Bridge, but here’s the question …

Where was the dadgum store that Brother, who married Becky Thompson, located in Tupelo, Mississippi?

I always imagined the store being a small business, probably dry goods or a dollar store, right smack downtown.

Years ago, Leslie Criss and I took off on a day trip to Chickasaw County in search of some answers. Among those were who Billy Joe might have been and why he tossed something off the bridge. What could have driven him to suicide? What store? What happened to the narrator? We know about the movie directed by Max Baer, Jr. And, yes, Bobbie Gentry is listed as one of the screen writers, but I deny the movie’s premise, which, by the way, received only 20 percent from Rotten Tomatoes.

Loads of questions.

Leslie and I had a great day. We visited on the back porch of the childhood home of Bobbie Gentry (actually, Roberta Streeter was her name) with an aunt and cousin. The aunt took us on a tour of the house, even showed us the bed where the songwriter was born.

We probed but got nowhere. Leslie even wrote a letter that the aunt delivered to Gentry, but the message came back: She was retired and just didn’t want the publicity. Leslie and I never wrote the story. We didn’t have any answers.

This morning when I listened to the song again for the umpteenth time in my life, I mused over where that store could have been in Tupelo, which led me to an enlightening phone call with Debbie Brangenberg, director of Downtown Tupelo Main Street Association. If anyone would know, it would be Debbie.

Back about the time “Ode to Billy Joe” burst through to the Billboard Top 100 – 1967 – downtown Tupelo thrived as the center of commerce in the city, explained Debbie. The Tupelo Mall on South Gloster Street and the Downtown Mall about where the BancorpSouth Area is weren’t established until 1970, according to old newspaper reports.

So, you come up with your best explanation for the store. I like the idea of downtown.

Stay safe. Listen to music. Wash your hands.

LEESHA FAULKNER is curator of the Oren Dunn City Museum. You may reach her at leesha.faulkner@tupeloms.gov.

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