This past weekend, the Colonel's adopted hometown, the not-so thriving community of Abbeville, Mississippi (Population: 419), held its annual Autumnfest. The weather obliged with blessedly cooler temperatures worth festing and a good time was had by all.
Abbeville's Autumnfest has something for everyone. Arts and crafts vendors, food booths selling southern staples from homemade peach ice cream to funnel cakes, bouncy houses for the kiddies, and an after-dark street dance to live music--all packed into space at town center so compact that one can stand anywhere and watch all of the action everywhere.
Yet, after witnessing a handful of Abbeville Autumnfests firsthand, the Colonel has begun to detect the unmistakable texture and taste of a stale cracker. There is no identity beyond the name of the town, and a palpable sense of going through the motions.
Abbeville is no Mayberry. It once was. But "progress" by-passed the town thirty years ago and although residents remain in mostly well-maintained homes, town center is now a hollow shell.
The Colonel knows full well that the town's leadership will take great umbrage at his descriptions. They have worked hard to revive Abbeville. It has thus far failed to respond to resuscitation, despite efforts to refurbish the few remaining buildings that formerly housed businesses.
One could easily say that the poor economy is mostly to blame for Abbeville's plight. But the truth is Oxford (cultural center of the southern universe and home of Ole Miss), with a plethora of businesses easily serving a relatively prosperous population of permanent residents and university students, is only a fifteen-minute drive down the road which, straightened three decades ago, bypassed Abbeville and left her to dry up like a shallow oxbow cut off from a river's course. Progress is an unsympathetic beast.
There are some, the Colonel among them, who believe that Abbeville's fires of relevance can be rekindled. The trick will be to use just enough of the town's history as tinder without burning down all of the traditions and sense of community upon which the present citizens (many of whom have lived in Abbeville their entire, long and short, lives) rest their senses of self.
The problem is that, as with any town, large or small, politics of the personal-power-preservation persuasion all too often displace positive leadership.
The Colonel doesn't pretend to know the weave of even the first thread of the political tapestry here at the shallow northern end of deep southern nowhere. There is way too much history, even for this history buff, to understand. But, he is enough a student of leadership to recognize a people in political paralysis.
No personal indictments intended by the Colonel. He knows, loves, and respects many of the actors in the play. They are good people.
But the play has no script, no discernible plan for subsequent acts.
In this, the Colonel's beloved town is no different than most, he guesses.
And certainly no different than his beloved Republic.
If Abbeville wants to survive it must have a plan to expand.
So must our Republic.