From McComb to London: Book chronicles an incredible life's journey

Our best writers follow a script that rarely fails them: They write of territory they know.

Carla Heffner-Carlisle’s stories in her latest book, “Another Country,” detail her life’s journey from McComb to a 1,000-acre estate in England on land once occupied by the Romans.

She’s well-versed to write from both sides of the pond separating these nations and has packed a lot of Mississippi and British life into this compendium, the third volume of “Writings from Country Life,” a magazine equivalent to America’s best of the type, dubbed “the quintessential English magazine … (which) comments in depth on a wide variety of subjects … architecture, property, the arts, gardens and gardening, the countryside, schools and wildlife.”

And politics, I add.

Mac Gordon
Mac Gordon

Her family’s story began at Shellmound Plantation in Leflore County, where her father, Albert W. “Red” Heffner, was raised. He eventually led his wife, Malva Cooper Heffner, a Forest native, and their two daughters, Jan Nave Barnes, now of Maryland, and Heffner-Carlisle to McComb where he opened an insurance business. Carla was among my McComb High classmates who would graduate in 1965, if only.

Barnes, a student at then-Mississippi State College for Women, was selected in 1963 as Miss Mississippi. Before the next year ended, the Heffners had been thoroughly exiled from McComb and the state for trying to mediate that city’s turbulent civil rights troubles during Freedom Summer of 1964.

They moved to Washington, D.C., where Heffner-Carlisle attended Episcopal High School for Girls with Luci Baines Johnson, daughter of President Lyndon Johnson. After college at Sarah Lawrence College, she wrote and rebelled against the Vietnam War before moving to England where she married Kenneth Carlisle, then a Member of Parliament, in 1986.

Today, Heffner-Carlisle operates a Michelin-rated restaurant on the property 90 miles from London at Suffolk, near the mid-seventh century town of Bury St. Edmunds and the hamlet of Bardwell; and a farm where grapes are grown for production of award-winning wines and which bears vigorous stands of beets, wheat, barley and potatoes. Her restaurant’s homegrown lamb is regarded as the most delectable in the region.

Some other enterprises and an eminent manor house dating from the 16th Century, Wyken Hall, also occupy the historic space.

Heffner-Carlisle’s not-so-shy views of Mississippi and America are what we want to know in this collection, “Another Country,” rather than those with a cultivated British accent.

These are among the anthology’s best lines.

“I was born in that hot, dusty Delta and our fields rolled down to the Tallahatchie — Choctaw Indian word for ‘rock of waters.’ When the song came out it felt as if Bobbie Gentry had put our moonscape of cotton and soybeans on the map.”

“The South is a land of readers and writers. I may be wrong, but I suspect the Southerners who read Yeats don’t tend to own semi-automatic rifles.”

“Here in the wheat fields of East Anglia, I watch a new Prime Minister who is intelligent and sane. There are deep divisions … but we can celebrate the luxury of a leader with principles, dignity and good hair.”

“On the table is a shooting script of Gone With the Wind … left to me by (McComb’s) Will Price, the voice coach. It’s inscribed: ‘For Will Price who literally shoved the South down our throats. With good wishes always, David Selznick,’” who produced the movie.

“This (election of 2020) is not a battle between two political parties, an ideological contest or a culture war. It’s like a religious war, with no forgiveness in sight.”

“Good old Google, life raft of the baby boomers with fading memories.”

Mac Gordon, a native of McComb, is a retired newspaperman. He can be reached at macmarygordon@gmail.com.

This article originally appeared on Mississippi Clarion Ledger: Book chronicles an incredible life's journey from McComb MS to London

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