10 Things I've Learned From My Father, Willie Morris

June 17, 2016

1. There is nothing more important than reading good books.

 

2. To love Mississippi. My father left Mississippi when he was 17 and remained in self-imposed exile for almost 30 years. He once referred to Mississippi as the “albatross of race.” But he never stopped loving Mississippi or his hometown of Yazoo City.

 

3. Never, as Mark Twain once said, let the facts get in the way of a good story. Well, let’s just say my father liked to tell stories. I’m not going to be the one to prove him wrong? Are you?

 

4. Lie, gossip, innuendo and persiflage. His favorite pastime at family gatherings was to write elaborate menus announcing the guests, the activities, the entertainment, the conversations and the dishes, along with such snack food items as “Nuts Whitfield.”

 

5. The importance of having a good editor. When I was 13 my father put together an ambiguous independent study project requiring me to go to Washington D.C. and interview various congressman, senators and journalists about Watergate and campaign finance reform. Back home, I began to put together my notes and wrote several pedestrian versions before he took it and re-wrote it for me. I got an A.

 

6. How to drive a stick shift. My father had a succession of cars in the 60s and 70s that all had manual transmissions and as I become old enough to sit behind the wheel, he would often let me maneuver the car up his long driveway on the Eastern End of Long Island. Forty-five years later, I am still driving a stick shift.

 

7. The value of a good prank. Willie’s favorite weapon was the telephone, and he was constantly calling friends and putting on a fake voice to fool people.

 

8. How to tie a tie. I resisted learning to tie one well into my early 20s. When I moved to Mississippi in 1983 and went to work for Sid Salter at the Scott County Times, I finally had to give in. Appropriately enough, I let my father teach me.

 

9. The importance of dogs, and, much later, cats. I grew up hearing tales from my father’s childhood about hunting dogs, bird dogs, and, of course Skip. My parents bought me my first dog when I was seven. I named her Harper. When she was run over he tried to shield me from the loss. Years later, when my second dog, Ichabod H. Crane, who he had tried to claim as his own, was run over, I tried, for better or worse to shield him. Then, of course there was Pete, and after Pete died, my father swore he would “get a wife” before he got another dog. In the end, he married JoAnne Prichard, and became a cat man.

 

10. The Infield Fly Rule. The official rule book of Major League Baseball states that it is a “fair fly ball (not including a line drive nor an attempted bunt) which can be caught by an infielder with ordinary effort, when first and second, or first, second and third bases are occupied, before two are out.” In such a scenario, the umpire will invoke the Infield Fly Rule and the batter is automatically out.

 

David Rae Morris is a photographer and filmmaker. In 1999, Morris collaborated with his father on My Mississippi, a collection of essays and photographs about the state of Mississippi and her people. His photographs are in many private and public collections. He began working in film in 2011 when he and Susan Allen Liles produced Drawing on a Dream on Ruleville musician Duff Dorrough. His 2012 film Integrating Ole Miss: James Meredith and Beyond was broadcast on Mississippi Public Broadcasting. His third film, Yazoo Revisited: Integration and Segregation in a Deep Southern Town, examines race relations and the 1970 integration of the public schools in his father’s hometown of Yazoo City. He is currently raising funds to acquire the broadcast rights to the archival footage.

 

 

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