Sunday, March 18, 2012

Off to Oxford Mississippi

Oxford, Mississippi is a place I've always wanted to visit, in part, perhaps, because my Mother used to say "If you have to live in a small town, choose a college town, because there will be smart, intelligent people there with whom to associate."
I also wanted to visit because it seems a very literary town.
Oxford was home to William Faulkner. Dozens of other Southern writers have made their home in Oxford. This small town appeared to me to have a literary advantage as well as being home to a university. That would be Ole Miss.
When I met ES's friends, Judy and Barry Rose, and discovered they lived in Oxford and had moved there for similar reasons that might have drawn my mother, I was set on making a visit. Last fall Barry and Judy graciously invited us and ES's spring break provided the opportunity.
We left Houston last Tuesday at 6:00 a.m. figuring the journey to Oxford would be as long as the trip across Texas to Terlingua. We were right. We drove north to Nacogdoches, TX and then headed due east toward Monroe, LA.
ES got a bag full of maps and guide books from AAA for the trip. Loved having them because I like to follow a car trip with a map. And it was fun to read and learn so many new things about the towns we sped through. If only I could redo this trip to Oxford and spend two or three days meandering and stopping along the way. There is 'that much' to see and so much that we missed.
At Monroe, we veered north through southeast corner of Arkansas, crossing the Mississippi River at Greenville, an old river port that found itself inundated with river water for 70 days in 1927. Greenville natives include William Alexander Percy, Shelby Foote, Walker Percy, and the Muppets creator, Jim Henson. Our AAA book says that Henson played along the shores of Deer Creek and surely informed his character Kermit the Frog. Who knew all of this?
We drove north on route 61 through the flat Delta, mile after mile of fields ready for new crops. The land was dotted with rice towers, prosperous farm homes and very poor little towns. What I discovered is that the Delta is the home of the blues (It's not all about New Orleans.) and we were driving right through it without stopping. And without visiting the B. B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center in Indianola. I could have prepared for this driving trip a lot better. All this means, of course, is that there will be a return trip sometime.
It was 6:00 p.m. when we drove into Oxford. The town was different than I'd pictured it, because I had not anticipated big roads and traffic circles around this small town, nor the new strip retail centers along these roads. In my mind, I saw the town as it was in the 1950s? Perhaps.
But once we got to Barry and Judy's and planned the next day while sitting on their screen porch, I felt we'd see some of the 'old and the real.'
For supper, they drove us into downtown square which is anchored by the Courthouse. There is a real department store on the square, still in operation, old store fronts now filled with short fashionable dresses and platform shoes for Old Miss coeds. Not one dress manniquin approached even a size 6. There were restaurants and a couple of art galleries. All doing business in old buildings.
We parked the car and wandered this square after half price rib steaks at the Downtown Grill. We passed by Square Books and lingered in front of the window reading book titles. Barry and Judy are big readers and are members of several book clubs, including one devoted to Faulkner's works. I knew we'd peruse this bookstore, perhaps more than once.
The next morning we headed out to Rowan House, a half mile from the town square and the home of William Faulkner for over thirty years. "And then, I began to understand why I so wanted to visit Oxford Mississippi," said MMH who has read very, very little Faulkner.

"To understand the world, you must first understand a place like Mississippi."
William Faulkner

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