Riding the back roads in Wesson
By Bob Arnold
When you're growing up in a small town, there's not always a lot to do. But "there's always another back road to ride in Wesson," says Haleigh Chinn in reflecting on growing up here.
Chinn, a single mother, left for the Jackson area briefly, but came back to Wesson with her one-year old son, Hatcher Atticus (named after Atticus Finch, the attorney in To Kill a Mockingbird), to go down those roads, as she has done to equip her for life. "You ride them, get lost with seemingly no way to get help and find your way back home," she says. Over 23 years in Wesson since her family settled here in 1996, Chinn's back roads have encompassed elementary and high school at Wesson Attendance Center (WAC), earning a degree in psychology at Co-Lin, play and social life and the joys and sorrows of living.
She recalls testing the limits as she grew up, flirting with trouble with friends, driving a car in high school that "could tell you some good stories" about that time in her life. She remembers riding four-wheelers up and down Highway 51 past the police station, riding horses down Sylvarena Road, team penning and, "perhaps most enjoyably," playing in the creek near school.
In the springs and summers, Chinn played ball in the tradition of many Wesson young people on the Hiram C. Newman Memorial Fields on Grove Street, starting as a toddler in tee ball and moving onto softball, competing on local all star teams throughout Mississippi, before playing softball at WAC.
"Going to Co-Lin was a blast," she says. "It really is 'the place to be' for a lot more than just studying."
There were some difficult roads during Chinn's high school years. "Over one three-month period, my friends and I had to cope with six deaths of classmates in car wrecks, four-wheeler accidents and a suicide," she says. "Those were uncharted waters. We had experienced deaths of older relatives and friends of the family, but not peers. The experiences brought us closer together as we found solace without judgment with each other in navigating them. No one wanted to be alone."
Going down those roads successfully was somehow more possible in Wesson. Chinn recalls her parents and those of her friends opening their homes anytime day or night so their sons and daughters could find the comfort and support they needed.
"Wesson is close-knit, stable and safe," Chinn observes. "Little has changed here over the years. A couple of new stores. You can buy beer and lottery tickets today. But that's about it. For years, people here are the same and do the same things. For years, you could depend on Kenny Furr meeting over coffee with his friends in front of his service station on Highway 51. Bill McGuire and Philip Knight were the high school biology and math teachers year in and year out. I've settled with my son in Wesson to give him the support he can only get here -- an aunt, uncle, grandmother and community."
Chinn has largely worked out of town -- currently as a waitress/bartender at Magnolia Blues Barbeque in Brookhaven after stops at a tattoo parlor and bar in McComb, and Piggly-Wiggly and Georgia Blues in Brookhaven, but she always returns to Wesson at the end of the day, where another back road awaits!
What are your hobbies? I am a reader. I enjoy being with my kid -- my favorite person and best friend. I like to cook. Believe it or not, I also enjoy grocery shopping. Walmart, Sullivan's, anywhere. I love animals. I have a dog and two cats. I have had a bull, pigs and a brought a deer home -- we called him Lucky Buck -- after hitting him with a car. He stayed with us several months before running off back into the woods. Laundry, however, is not a friend of mine.
What do you read? Everything. I am currently reading Game of Thrones.
Do you enjoy movies or theater? I am a Tim Burton fan -- his dark, gothic, and eccentric horror and fantasy films and blockbusters. I also watch Law and Order SVU on television and, recently, have been following Net Flex's Don't F with Cats.
How about music? I am into 90s country and alternative music. Not rap. I like George Strait and the rock bands Alice in Chains and Stone Temple Pilots. I also enjoy the local music scene -- Betsy Berryhill, Sullivan's Hollow, Cody Dunaway. There's so much talent in the area.
How would you spend your lottery winnings if you were so lucky.
I would buy all the books on my reading list -- really far too man y to read -- and build a personal library with a coffee corner. Of course, I would share my wealth with family as well.
How would you change the world?
The world needs more peace. I am not sure how I would bring that about.