“Find the good and rent it”: Air Force veteran appreciates Natchez Bluff – Mississippi’s Best Community Newspaper
NATCHEZ – Sitting from a bench on the Natchez Bluff, Gulfport native and Roxie resident Sherman Purnell watched the river, tugboats, passers-by and cars rolling down Silver Street near where The Dart landed on Tuesday .
He wore an Air Force veteran’s blue hat, a testament to the 24 years he served before retiring in 1998. He doesn’t like to go into detail about what he saw during his service, but his time in Turkey gave him the ability to appreciate what America has to offer. He lives his life in six words a Navy chaplain once said to him.
“Find the good and rent it,” the chaplain had said.
The Natchez cliff is good as a place for relaxation, rest and reflection. It’s open and full of diverse people walking around. Some of them are musicians, a retired Walmart employee or a teacher. Once he was playing his harmonica at the foot of an oak tree in a section near Rosalie. Some people working on a documentary about people living along the Mississippi River asked to tape, he said.
“The bluff has its occasional surprises. Sometimes you meet people who face different challenges. It’s a place where something will pique your interest,” Purnell said. “For me, it’s the history, the people, the outdoor setting, the trees. I tip my hat to whoever planted them.
Three to four days a week he will come out of the cliff and observe the tugs going up and down the river. He carries a keyboard in his car, a Yamaha 300 and a power supply to plug it in. At a picnic table, he’ll face the river and just play music, losing himself in the moment.
In his pocket he carries a blue harmonica. Its solitary sounds aren’t as inviting as the keyboard. Its keyboard attracts people’s attention.
When he plays music, he doesn’t pay attention to what’s going on around him. While people sometimes ask him to play specific songs, he mostly plays for himself. Although once a 60-year-old couple asked him to play You are my sunshine on a harmonica. They started singing from memory, he said.
“I enjoyed seeing them being able to sing a song without practice,” Purnell said.
His grandson Christopher, who is now at Mississippi State, has been playing drums since he was little. This is how he reconnects with music.
“I started playing again to motivate him. He had no one to play with. I started playing music with him,” Purnell said. “One summer, we played every Friday. He’s an only child, so I was the only way for him to play with someone else.
To make friends
He moved to Roxie in 2013 and started coming to the bluff in 2016. From his perch above the river, he wrote a song about a tug that has the beat of its humming engines. His friend Lizzie Davis, who has lived in Natchez for 74 years, met him while he was playing music on the bluff.
She likes to walk with her wooden cane and had walked to Rosalie’s house at the beginning of June when a black bear had wandered there.
“I patted him on the back and told him we saw the bear here,” Davis said. “I didn’t want him to get attacked by the bear. We have since become friends. He didn’t care about anything but his music.
Although he may be concentrating on his keyboard or working on a new song, he also finds pleasure in meeting new people. If a person walks up and says hello, they’re not afraid to tell them about anything.
With glasses and a gray stubble, wisdom flows from his mouth. He can talk about everything from how young people should approach careers, to how people should consider their choices and appreciate the beauty in front of them.
He watches the sun set behind grain elevators on the Vidalia side of the Mississippi River, south of the bridge. He concluded another day by flying around the sun. Once a granddaughter told him she was afraid to fly, but she didn’t see life the way he did.
“I told him on your headstone that they put the day you started flying and the day you finished flying. Even then, you’re still flying,” Purnell said. “Find the good and rent it. You can always find the positive. This bluff is a prime example.