I Ain’t Even Looking at that Sign

I Ain’t Even Looking at that Sign

By FAT CLYDE

 

Claremont, Mississippi road sign

Photo by Fat Clyde

Clarksvegas – a moniker by which the Mississippi Delta town of Clarksdale is known, indicating its strong propensity for gambling.

Of the many vices for which the Delta is known (relative to our more pious neighbors in the hills to the east), gambling ranks the highest. We love our games of chance, and they take many forms: commodity markets, Ole Miss football, golf, cards, farming, dog tracks, horses, and casinos. Easy come, easy go – it works that way in agriculture due to the fickle nature of the weather, why not in everything else? One huge corollary to gambling is superstition.

The Scots are notoriously superstitious, and since southern agricultural history is influenced heavily by the Ulster Scot migration to the South and West in the 18th century, it is no wonder that superstition came along with the Scotch-Irish settlers to our Delta environs. One of the most infamous and terrifying of local superstitions is the tale of the Hoppergrass.

The story goes that one spring a farmer goes into town after having obtained a perfect stand of cotton, and he brags to his neighbors in the coffee shop that he is going to make at least two bales to the acre this year. Almost as soon as the words escape his mouth, the rain clouds form, and it rains for 40 days and 40 nights. The fields are so wet that the farmer cannot get back in them to plow, and the grass “hops” up and chokes out his crop. The Hoppergrass was born.

People here know better than to tempt the Hopper. The Hopper never fails; the Hopper never grows tired; the Hopper waits. Somewhere in Alabama during the 2010 Iron Bowl between Alabama and Auburn,  when Alabama was winning 21-0, a Crimson Tide fan made the critical mistake of stating, “We’re about to kick their ass.”  No no no no NO! You do not tempt the Hopper. Alabamians just don’t understand….and you see what happened: Auburn 28 – Alabama 27.

My friend, Mr January, and I were playing a game of eight-ball pool late one night during college against another pair of late-night reprobates. Both teams were down to shooting at the eight ball, and it was my shot. The only shot I had was to bank the cue ball off the far wall and try to get the eight ball into the near side pocket. I am a terrible pool player, so our chances did not look good. Somehow; however, my cue ball took a lucky line, banked, hit the eight ball, and sent it straight toward the side pocket to apparent victory. As it neared the hole I lifted my arms like I had conquered all of Gaul in triumph – but – all of a sudden from the low-hanging ceiling light, a moth lit on the table right in front of the eight ball. As the ball struck the bug, it took a right turn and missed the pocket. You may not believe it, but Leon Lett does.

So terrifying is the Hoppergrass superstition to the local populace that one will seldom predict a positive outcome on any game of chance. At least until Carb.

Carb was a golfer and a gambler- he knew about the Hopper; he had experienced its wrath; he had bled from it even – he should have known better. But this time he was on the final green with the money nearly in his pocket. His ball lay only 3’ from the hole, a mere layup for his able putter. Like Prometheus shaking his fist at the gods he addressed the Hopper and exclaimed, “I DECLARE to the Hopper that he can’t stop me now.” Saying it is one thing, but declaring it is altogether different; the mood around the green turned somber and quiet. Carb lined up, pulled his putter back, and yanked the ball left of the hole just as pretty as you please. Word of the declaration spread like wildfire, and the people were filled with terror.

So terrified were local aficionados of games of chance that the word “declare” was unofficially eradicated from local vernacular. To this day Clarksdale gamblers who witnessed the frightening declaration on the golf course will not even glance at the “Claremont” sign marking the small community by that name south of Clarksdale. Even glancing at the sign is an affront to the Hoppergrass and means certain disaster later on.

One witness of the golf course declaration was so terrified that one day as he traveled by the Claremont sign on the school bus with the high school basketball team, he made the whole team lie down in the bus lest they be tempted to look. Silly this all may seem to you, but I ask you in all seriousness, are you willing to tempt the Hopper yourself?? I invite you – the next time you are traveling south of Clarksdale on U.S. 49 and you see the sign, I dare you to look.

I invite your comments and personal experiences with the Hopper so as to educate those who do not believe……


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Comments

  1. Hey Swamp Rat,
    Did you happen to put any of that Hopper crap in my bag when I was down there? I’ve been having a serious bout of some bad juju, and have been trying to figure out why? If it turns out to be that Hopper junk, then you and I are going toe-to-toe ’til one of us knocks that snot bubble you wrote about out of the other’s nose.
    In the meantime, if you ever figure out how to get rid of it let me know.

  2. LD, had you not headed back north of the Mason-Dixon the hopper might have left yo Yankee Ass alone; he likes Yankees who should have been born in the Deep South but chose to stay among the unwashed Philistines! Just sayin’!

  3. Hahahaha. You may be on to something. Hoping to remedy that in about a year and a half, and make my way down to North Carolina. Those were the plans. And that hopper better not screw ’em up.

    But what’s that old saying? We plan and God laughs.

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