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Episode 125 Road Trip Part
Two of my favorite writers
lived in Mississippi:
William Faulkner and Eudora Welty. After visiting Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee
it was impossible to not turn south and visit the home of each. Faulkner’s home
is in Oxford which is also the home of the University of Mississippi, or Ol’ Miss as it is more
commonly known. We had to stay in Batesville, a small town 25 miles east of Oxford, because all the
motels were full. Oxford
is a small place – 20,000 residence plus 15,000 college students.
This is Retirement Talk. I’m
Mississippi is a comfortable; charming little place. We found a
coffee shop/bakery called the Bottle Tree
that was jammed with patrons. We waited for a table and found it well worth the
wait. The place was crowded and when I made a comment about a picture of a new
stamp on the front page of the paper Brenda was reading the folks at the
adjoining table must have heard me. I heard them say” “That won’t be a picture
I’ll be hangin’ on my livin’ room wall”. The picture was of three blacks
including Medgar Evers. The table next to us was occupied by two whites –
We browsed the streets around
the town square and had a great conversation with two friendly owners of a
local art gallery. They gave us a short geography lesson concerning the Delta
area of Mississippi.
That’s a real poor area where cotton farming use to be big, and so were the
swamps. I guess the swamps are still big. They told us that much of the cotton
farming has disappeared to foreign countries; seems like there is nothing that
can’t be outsourced.
We walked down a narrow
street for a few blocks and came to Rowan Oak. That’s the name of Faulkner’s
house. By the way, there is not a Rowan Oak tree. There is a Rowan tree, it
grows in Ireland,
and of course there is an Oak tree. Faulkner combined the two for the name of
There is a narrow curved drive
that leads up between two rows of cedar trees to his house. There were no cars and
it appeared empty. A small sign gave the days and hours of its’ opening for
visitors. It was suppose to be open. Though looking closed, we tried the front
door. It opened and two young college girls greeted us. One was from Michigan and the other
was a senior major in Southern Studies and Communications, Amy. She was black. We enjoyed a long conversation
with her about race and changes at Ol’ Miss.
She thought lots of change
had been made since James Meredith enrolled in l962. She told of doing a
documentary on the erection of a civil rights monument on campus. A committee
was selected to choose the design.. They chose a modern artistic design with
inscriptions that were descriptive, honest and inspirational. Some folks might
find them offensive. The inscriptions spoke truth to power. The chancellor
vetoed the design for what many considered superficial reasons. A traditional
bronze sculpture of James Meredith was then chosen for the monument. .Seems
there’s still a lot of controversy over erecting any sort of reminder of segregation
and the integration of ol’ Miss.
It was interesting to visit Faulkner’s
house and think back over some of his great writings. His typewriter, his
chair, his pipe, a portrait of him done by his mother, a portrait of him in his
riding gear – he was a hunter – his writing room with “The Fable” posted up on
the wall in story board form. It is done with grease pencil and graphite in his
own hand. The home was interesting but I think my favorite memory will be the
conversation we had with the young student, Amy, concerning the Civil
It was a three hour drive to Jackson. Here, we enjoyed
a two night stay with Brenda’s cousin, Beth and her husband Bruce. She is a
retired, management level, food dietitian for a corporation. He’s a designer of
the interiors of homes; expensive homes; like million dollar McMansions. He showed
us some during our visit. They were great hosts.
They provided one of our most
enlightening days of our trip with a tour around Jackson. We visited the home of Eudora Welty.
It was closed but we at least saw where she lived for 76 years of her life. We
drove around the grey, dark, brooding capital building. It looked like it needed
a good bath; at least a good sandblasting. The downtown was deserted. It was a
Sunday, but it was emptier than a Sunday deserved. I don’t remember seeing
anyone in the downtown core. No restaurants, no coffee shops, no newsstands, no
taxies, nothing. They have built a new convention center downtown but I can’t imagine
anyone choosing this place for a convention. There are no convenient hotels,
restaurants, etc. Our hosts told us that during the week people who work
downtown come to work around 9:30 in the morning and leave by 2:30 so that they
will never be there during darkness. It’s a crime ridden city.
We drove just a few blocks
from the center and there were blocks of houses that had been burned out.
Window glass was broken and gone. Rags hung from windows, Charred wood seemed
to hold everything in place. It looked like blocks of crack houses that had
been burned and abandoned. They wouldn’t take us across the tracks into the
ghetto. “Too dangerous”, they said.
Then we went to view some McMansions:
ten foot ceilings – maybe even higher, three laundries, indoor and outdoor
kitchens, perhaps a swimming pool, 6 to 10 thousand square feet, four car
garages. Just what everyone “needs”. Amazing!
“Everything is racial in Mississippi”, Bruce said.
“It’s a way of life and you’re not going to change it”. They had moved to Mississippi from the Midwest.
I asked them if it didn’t bother them to live in such a community. They said they
had just learned to live with it. They didn’t like it but they learned to
accept what they couldn’t change. They also said they liked the place because people
were friendly, it was inexpensive to live there and the weather was great. Pretty
appealing features for people who are retirement age.
We drove around Ross Barnett
Reservoir. He’s a figure of historical importance in Jackson and all of Mississippi. He was a
raciest – and proud of it. As governor of Mississippi
he was outspoken in his opposition to James Meredith’s admission to the University of Mississippi. He vehemently encouraged
outrage throughout the state. For this he was fined $10,000.00 and sentenced to
jail. But this was Mississippi.
He didn’t pay one dollar of the fine, nor did he spend one day in jail. His
legend does live on as an honored figure in Mississippi.
Our time in Jackson had been memorable. We drove out the
next morning. Our next scheduled stop was Denver.
We looked forward to getting west.
This is Retirement Talk.