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Where in Mississippi is... Bethlehem?

"Mississippi has a Bethlehem? Are you sure?" These were the cries from our coworkers, friends, and family members as Lori Brechtel, art director, and I told our destination for this issue's Small-town Spotlight. We checked several maps just to make sure, and Bethlehem appeared on each one, centered in the Holly Springs National Forest, in southern Marshall county. Off we went, keeping our eyes peeled for a bright star, a stable, or a very full inn.

The trip began with a scenic drive down Highway 4, kudzu dripping from every tree and covering every hill, forming billowing waves and overflowing pools in its sea. As we traveled, the waves seemed to gather steam, engulfing the landscape that lay ahead, so that eventually we might top a hill and be overtaken by these consuming vines. Houses and an occasional church dotted the very green path we traversed, and small fields of wildflowers sometimes interrupted the flow of the kudzu sea.

This portion of our journey led us to the tree-lined Highway 78, evidence that we had entered the Holly Springs National Forest. We followed the sign beside Potts Camp Baptist Church, directing us to Bethlehem. The road began winding up, down, and around the stands and stands of trees until we arrived at a sign labeling the stretch of highway as our destination. Deciding to drive on through the town to see what there was to see, we passed a couple of stables and two churches, but no inns. We came to a house with a lady outside working in her yard and stopped to ask her about her town. Imagine our surprise when she said we had passed Bethlehem already; now we were in Cornersville! Guiding us back in the right direction, she smiled and waved as we drove out of her driveway.

Not taking any chances this time, we stopped at the Bethlehem Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ. We knew we must be in the right place, but unfortunately no one was there. Across the street, a well-dressed gentleman, who turned out to be the church pastor, walked down his driveway to get the paper and found himself face to face with a couple of strangers. He chatted with us for a few minutes, but said he had moved to Bethlehem only in the last several years and was unsure of its history He directed us down the road to the home of some congregation members, Joe and Irene Pipkin, assuring us they would be able to help. We found Mrs. Pipkin at home, and she graciously asked us in, promising to do her best to answer our questions. Mrs. Pipkin and her husband have raised their family here: three children, eight grandchildren, and eight great grandchildren. The community is very close, according to Mrs. Pipkin, "When they have problems, we have problems."

Some people are farmers--primarily soybeans and corn--while others work in factories in the surrounding towns. Christmas is very beautiful in this small town says Mrs. Pipkin, "Everybody decorates!" On her property, just beyond a white fence that keeps the horses in, a lighted star and angel preside over a small pond. They stay there all year long, but only at Christmas time does she light them.

Mrs. Pipkin was unable to help us with how her town got its name, as was everyone else we have asked. At press rime, we still were unable to find out how the name of the town where Jesus Christ was born made it to Mississippi. But thanks to Mrs. Pipkin, we did find a star, along with a community alive and well with the Christmas spirit, which probably should have been our goal all along. Merry Christmas, Bethlehem!
COPYRIGHT 2001 Downhome Publications, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2001, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:WEST, JENNIFER ELLIS
Publication:Mississippi Magazine
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2001
Words:620
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