The brother asks for another slice of pie. The father, obliquely speaks of the chores that need to be done tomorrow.
But, no storied lullaby can end so easily…
…The brother recalls that while he was with his friends Tom and Billie Joe, they had put a frog down the narrator’s back at the Carroll County Picture Show, and that he had seen her and Billie Joe together last Sunday speaking after church. Late in the song, Mama questions the narrator’s complete change of mood (“Child, what’s happened to your appetite? I been cookin’ all mornin’ and you haven’t touched a single bite”) and then recalls a visit earlier that morning by Brother Taylor, the local preacher, who mentioned that he had seen Billie Joe and a girl who looked very much like the narrator herself and they were “throwin’ somethin’ off the Tallahatchie Bridge.”
And, in final verse,
a year has passed, during which the narrator’s brother has married Becky Thompson, and moved away (“bought a store in Tupelo”). Also, her father died from a viral infection, which has left her mother despondent. (“And now mama doesn’t seem to wanna do much of anything”.) The narrator herself now visits Choctaw Ridge often, picking flowers there to drop from the Tallahatchie Bridge into the murky waters flowing beneath.
The question to this day, for some,
What did Billie Joe throw off the bridge?
An inspiring artist to the savage side of life? Would always want to query the following:
Why, oh, why, did Billie Joe commit suicide?
My Tallahassee Bridge
Don’t know why Billie Joe and the Tallahatchie bridge meant so much to me
Hadn’t I been just a lonely girl?
With sad thoughts easier to tame…
between the doubt and shame.
With easy acquaintances hidden behind the drawn lines.
Whiling away at slumbered parties, eyes wide open…
I could never stake my claim.
The loss of loves I had yet to meet.
The fiction of desperation’s childish ways.
And, the begging of yearnings away.
Isn’t it funny how adult fears make a mockery of child’s play?
If I had the courage,
would I have taken Billie Joe’s hand in mine?
Kindred souls, blackened by what is not nature’s way
Companions in emotions final stand.
Under a cool river’s pressure.
Immoral dreamers, hiding behind words we dare not say.
Distant musical hints
and, incidents of being different.
My own Tallahassee bridge…
among the suburbs where I lived.
Stolen traces of stoned faces.
Gathered around me like,
empty crowded places.
For a short while, after the song’s release, Bobbie Gentry, received minimal fame. However, in the end, she faded off into obscurity…not to be heard from for the past 35 years.
And, the bridge?
Soon after the song’s chart success, the Tallahatchie Bridge saw an increase in those willing to jump off of it. Since the bridge height is only 20 feet (6 m), death or injury was unlikely. To curb the trend, the Leflore County Board enacted a law fining jumpers $100.
EARL'S PLACE: "AN OPEN & RESPECTFUL ONLINE SPACE TO DEBATE OPPORTUNITIES & CHALLENGES FACING THE GLOBE," CURATED BY AWARD-WINNING COLUMNIST, EARL PLANTE, AN UNFLINCHING ADVOCATE FOR SOCIAL & ECONOMIC JUSTICE