The Local Voice

The Great Magnolia Vagabond – No. 3


Is Memphis the westernmost city in Tennessee?

Or, with all respect to the suburb of Southaven, is Bluff City the northernmost town in Mississippi?

In March of 2009, I set a Memphis rendezvous with the woman who was my sweetheart at the time; now, as bluesmen like T-Bone Walker have sung, “my-old-time-used-to-be.”

Just before my plane took off from Tinseltown, Evangeline called to say that her mother had died. I spent the weekend alone, walking the streets of Memphis, talking to strangers for a travel story commissioned by a German magazine.

And met a man named Joe Yates (then 72) at a downtown sandwich shop (now closed) named for his murdered son, Napoleon.

Claiming to have known both the young Elvis and Martin Luther King, Jr., Yates daily made the 35 mile drive south on I-55 to his birthplace in Coldwater, just north of Senatobia. He went to visit his mother, Clora.

“I go down there every night to look in on her,” said Yates, still living in Memphis. “We don’t want to put her in a home.”

Clora Dee Yates passed on May 4, 2014 in Coldwater at the age of 94. 

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