The Ornamental Story of a Small Town
The story of my hometown comes alive every year with the arrival of a new ornament for the tree that I refer to as “The Star Tree.” I don’t call it that because it is decorated with stars, though it is. No, it is because my hometown of Star, Mississippi, has a rich history for a small town. Unless you happen to know someone who has lived in Star for many years or have visited the birdhouse manufacturer in Star and talked about Star’s history with the Glass brothers, though, you have likely missed out on this small town’s past. History books tend to favor the Great Chicago Fire over the Great Fire of Star. (A small town just can’t catch a break, even with its defining disaster.)
Seven years ago, the Star Woman’s Club launched a project to preserve the story of our small town. Every year since 2010, they have commissioned a new Christmas ornament that featured a building from Star’s past. My mom has brought me a new ornament every year, and I anxiously await each year’s selection. As one who puts off thoughts of Christmas until after Thanksgiving, I was not yet thinking yuletide thoughts when my parents arrived last week to celebrate that holiday with us. The ornament (and its unique bonus) came as a surprise. The Star tree is now up in my home office now with all seven years’ worth of Star ornaments adorning it.
The Story of a Small Town: Its Churches
The story of a small town, especially one in the South, is incomplete without the story of its churches.
Two of the ornaments that tell the story of Star are two of its main churches: Wesleyanna United Methodist Church and Star Baptist Church (pictured left to right). Wesleyanna is pictured in 1958; Star Baptist’s building that housed its church from 1906-1959 adorns its ornament.
As a kid growing up in the Methodist church, one of my favorite memories of growing up was of sharing a community Thanksgiving service with the Baptist church. That is also where I learned that we Ainsworths…well, we couldn’t sing. (If you have a copy of my book Lines in the Gravel, that story is Chapter 33: “The Howling Kid at the Baptist Church.”)
The Story of a Small Town: Its Schools
Another essential part of any town’s history is its educational institutions. Star is no different.
McLaurin Attendance Center (top) once housed the all-black school before integration in the early ’70’s. When I began attending McLaurin as a seventh grader, it was a feeder school for Florence High School. However, my sophomore year was also McLaurin’s first year as a K-12 school. I am still discovering today that my high school experience was perfect for who the Lord was shaping me to be and long before I knew it myself.
The other school, which was located in what Dad and I call “Star Proper” from 1924-2006, was Rankin Academy for all of my memories. However, my dad and others in the community attended public school–some even for an extra year–in that same building.
The Story of a Small Town: Its Unique Buildings
The story of Star through the ornaments on my tree fittingly began with the old railroad depot. Pictured circa 1901-1903, I only know the depot through stories that I have been told. I remember how odd it seemed to me that Star once had a hotel and even a hat shop–that was validation to my Granny that Star was once a happening place (not her exact words, I’m sure). My dad sometimes talks about multiple grocery stores and a picture show. Those were the days of the depot. The Great Fire of Star–the one you didn’t learn about in school–finished off what the automobile had already begun, and Star became just a tiny dot on Highway 49.
Mangum’s Store, shown circa 1958, stuck around for another couple of decades. I remember this general store as the place where we kids spent our allowance every week, the place I went to collect the mini helmet of every Major League Baseball team by drinking a whole lotta Slush Puppies, and where the nice ladies at the register didn’t charge us sales tax.
The Story of a Small Town: This Year’s Addition
I was ten years old when the Star Volunteer Fire Department was formed. Located just over the hill from where Mangum’s Store was once located and a stone’s throw from where the depot once stood (oh, the irony), the fire department has become a pillar of the community and a significant part of the story of our town. There is still a weekend every year when the fire department raises funds through its annual barbeque. I remember those when they were in their first years out at old Falcon Field.
I even did a few training exercises with the fire department, although I never did find that baby doll in the smoke house. Nevertheless, I sure gained some respect for first responders through the experience. This year’s ornament also came with a slip of paper that contained the names of the charter members of the Star Volunteer Fire Department, some men whose initiative continues to write the story of a small town. Some of those men have passed away now, and most of them have turned over their leadership in the fire department to the next generation. Thank you all for the difference that you have made and are making in the Star community.
And thank you once again to the ladies of the Star Woman’s Club for continuing to tell the story of Star.
Al Ainsworth is the author of seven books: