I grew up in Splunge, Mississippi, population 90. If you search for Splunge anywhere, chances are you’ll find nothing. Splunge is almost a fictional place. It barely exists.
I do not know the meaning of the word “splunge,” its history, or who chose to name our community after it–though I have been asked all of these things. No one in Splunge knows from where or how the community came to be. No records of its creation or founding exist. It is as if Splunge came to be overnight as the people were sleeping…as if they had collectively dreamed a rural paradise into existence. No one bothers to ask. No one seems to care. There is nowhere else on Earth they would rather be.
Splunge is not a city, nor is it a town or village. According to the state of Mississippi, Splunge is an “unincorporated community,” meaning that it has no municipal government. It exists, but it almost doesn’t. Living in Splunge requires a certain degree of imagination. There are no boundaries, no borders, no city limits to Splunge. In fact, being sure of where Splunge begins and where it ends is impossible to know. On a map, Splunge is no more than a dot.
Though, the few people that do live there have staked their claim to Splunge for decades. They are proud Splungites. To mark their stead, many years ago, one proud Splungite painted a metal sign and staked it between two large pine trees halfway down the road. Its handwritten message still reads, “Welcome to Splunge Community.” It’s hardly official.
Splunge has no stoplight, no main street, no mayor, and no zip code. All Splungites have a Greenwood Springs mailing address, though Greenwood Springs is itself just a larger unincorporated community. But at least it has the clout of having its own post office. Before then, the post office was located inside the postmaster’s house. The last time I went inside the Greenwood Springs Post Office, I noticed a piece of faded, yellow paper tacked to the wall. It read, “MISSISSIPPI CONGRESSIONAL CONTACTS: SENATOR THAD COCHRAN, SENATOR TRENT LOTT….” Trent Lott hadn’t been a senator in fourteen years. Thad Cochran was dead. I felt lost, like I was no longer breathing 21st century air.
Back in the 1970s when the garment plant was running, my grandmother, Brenda Louise Price, thought of incorporating Splunge and running for mayor. But incorporating the community meant an increase in taxes and, well, that idea lasted about as long as John did in the army (as my Southern grandmother would say). In the early 1990s, the garment factory closed and headed for Mexico as the jobs and profits dried up.
Now, the building is an auction house where adults gather at the first of the month to sit in jaded church pews and bid their government checks on overstock steaks. The children run around barefoot and dirty; the babies cry from the lack of air conditioning and the intensity of the wet heat. A few sweaty young men in sleeveless, cut-off shirts and worn baseball caps showcase the items at the front in a weird reversal of gendered expectations. I went once and thought to take pictures, but I refrained from doing so out of fear I might be seen as odd.
Few things are believed in Splunge. But the few things that are believed are, to Splungites, universal truths. They absolutely believe in God. There are five church buildings in Splunge. Only two remain active. The others either closed their doors because the congregation died or due to scandal. Piety is principle. No decent person would be seen cutting grass on the Sabbath, supporting a liberal for public office, or drinking the slightest drop of liquor. Splunge is a dry community, meaning that alcohol in its very existence is illegal. They don’t believe in it.
As previously stated, government supervision is not a necessity for the people of Splunge; in fact, to many, it’s a nuisance. They would rather fend for themselves. Splungites tend to be good people. Most of them pay all their taxes. Only some of them are running from the law. In Splunge, they govern themselves like contemporary frontiers people. If not for the lone state trooper that lives there, complete anarchy would be possible. Local legends claim that the last duel in the state happened there on the banks of the Buttahatchee River between two brothers. They both killed each other and died without resolve. But, their problems ceased to exist.
The way of life in Splunge is like this. Answers are always optional. Fact and fiction blur. The people are real, the place hardly. They live like migrating swallows resting between the lands of winter and summer, at rest in some strange place that somehow feels enough like home, my home.