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  • Writer's pictureW.M. Tarrant

Going Down to Rosedale

Traveling on Route One between Clarksdale and Rosedale, Mississippi, I tried to imagine what it was like when cotton fields filled the flat land. Though few cars were on the two-lane highway, still it was a modern road. Most side roads were surfaced also. What was it like when dirt roads led off the highway, the dust an inch deep in the summertime? My mind went to William Faulkner and his images of slow moving, horse-drawn wagons, the horses’ hooves kicking up small puffs of dust in the Delta heat as they plodded wearily. I imagined the field workers singing to help relieve the burden of back-breaking work beneath the burning sun. This singing evolved into the blues. Entertainment now, functional in those days.

My wife and I were on a trip to the Mississippi Delta region, the flat expanse of river flood plain that lies between the Mississippi and Yazoo Rivers in the state of Mississippi. This land for years has had me intrigued and finally I was there.

As I drove toward the town of Rosedale, the song “Crossroads” by the 1960s band Cream ran through my head. The band, composed of Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce, and Ginger Baker, created the song by combing lyrics of two of Robert Johnson’s songs, “Cross Road Blues” and “Traveling Riverside Blues,” both written in the 1930s. Robert Johnson was the bluesman who, according to legend, sold his soul to the devil in exchange for musical ability. This exchange took place at a Delta crossroads. The exact crossroads is still open for debate with more than one community laying claim to the famous spot. Anyway, the line from Cream’s cover, “Going down to Rosedale, take my rider by my side,” played through my mind as we traveled Highway One.

Then there it was: Rosedale.

Now to locate the reason we came here. Joe Pope’s White Front Café

Unassuming may be an understatement. We went by the café once without seeing it. On the second pass through the tiny town, we found it. After Joe’s passing, his sister Barbara took over producing beef tamales that are cooked and seasoned to perfection, arguably the best in the Delta if not beyond. My wife had never had a tamale and was a bit hesitant. See, she’s not an adventurous diner and all this café serves are tamales. She had no choice. Eat them or go hungry. Well, we ended up ordering a second round of tamales. Barbara had some time to spare so she sat and visited with us. We learned the history of the café, Barbara’s history, and some of the history of the region.

In addition to the visit to Rosedale, we toured the B. B. King Museum in Indianola, spent time in the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale, and listened to a great band on Saturday night at the Ground Zero Blues Club. But the high point was the time visiting with Barbara Pope while enjoying her homemade tamales.

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