I’m writing about a restaurant named Lusco’s from memory, and what I always remember first is the color of the light, the way it glows there, gold and filtered and fading. Located in a brick storefront in downtown Greenwood, Lusco’s remains the spiritual home of the Mississippi Delta. Most of the blues aficionados, foreign tourists, and Ivy League social justice warriors don’t really understand where they’re going when they drop down out of the Memphis bluffs on Highway 61. To me, the only way to really see the Delta is to ignore the quixotic attempts at rebirth and look instead for a place that should be dead and yet survives.
An Italian American family has run Lusco’s for five generations, first arriving in this country at the turn of the last century, part of a huge migration of Sicilians fleeing the unification of Italy. They came chasing work. The Delta’s entire reason for being—the promise that first brought the Lusco family here—no longer really exists, with cotton prices so low that some old-line cotton farmers don’t even plant the stuff. The descendants of those who worked for free as the enslaved, and then nearly for free as sharecroppers, remain, almost as if they’ve been shipwrecked. The landowners are shipwrecked, too, in a much more comfortable way, their inheritance impossible to move. Everyone who can leave has left. It’s the natural order of things. People come to a new place for work, and those who stay when the work leaves end up stagnant and forgotten and lost. Every problem plaguing the Delta was born from either that work or the disappearance of it.
When we wanted to celebrate as a family when I was growing up, we’d often end up at Lusco’s. I think about those evenings every time I go there, sometimes wanting to order the pompano instead of a steak because it’s what my dad liked to eat. It remains a place where every meal is shared by generations of people who’ve sat in those private booths. My father is always there, and his friends, and the laughter and voices of ghosts I never knew. I’m writing about Lusco’s from memory, which makes sense. As long as it continues to exist, then those ghosts have a home, and when it finally disappears, one or two or three generations from now, as all things in the Delta inevitably do, then memory will be all that remains. luscos.net