I’m back at my year of yes – essentially the year of yes prompts you to be open to trying anything (Legal, safe etc). I first tried this in 2013 thanks to a friend of mine, and what an incredible year it was.
So what has my new commitment to yes led me to? Focused only on summer break…
Tonight I’m going to a Baptist Catfish Fry near the lake, and Tuesday I start fencing.
As I mentioned earlier, best laid plans are often interrupted by minimal driving experience, storms, and a lack of commitment to the Natchez plan.
I rolled North out of Vicksburg, coffee in hand and headed for Rolling Fork, MS – home of Muddy Waters, the carved bear, and small town comforts. Rolling Fork came onto my list of places to visit after seeing a photograph of Mont Helena, on the Delta Top 40 list (a project of the Grammy Museum).
According to the website, Mont Helana’s tragic love story goes as follows:
“In 1855 a carriage accident caused a chance meeting between Helen Johnstone of Annandale Plantation (near present day Madison, MS) and Henry Vick of Nitta Yuma, MS. There was an immediate attraction between Helen and Henry. A courtship began and in 1857 they became engaged. Helen’s mother insisted they wait until Helen’s 20th birthday to marry. The wedding date was set for May 21, 1859 (Helen’s birth date.) In 1859 at a bachelor party for Henry an argument ensued between Henry and his best friend, James Stith. Henry had sided with a servant causing James to vow to never speak to Henry again. While Henry was in New Orleans one week before the wedding finalizing plans, Henry and James had a chance encounter. James, still angry with Henry, challenged him to a duel. The next morning the two met on the dueling grounds. During his courtship with Helen, Henry had made a promise to never kill an opponent in a duel. Keeping his promise to Helen Henry shot into the air. But, James shot and killed Henry. Henry’s body was returned to Annandale a little after midnight on May 21, 1859. He was buried in the Johnstone family cemetery that same night. Grief-stricken and wearing her wedding gown and a black veil, Helen leaned over Henry’s grave and pledged her eternal love to him. Having suffered such a great tragedy on her wedding day, Helen became known as the “Bride of Annandale.”
The mansion is truly stunning from afar – as I’ve learned from my wandering throughout Mississippi, things that go unmentioned are typically the best, and that which is mentioned tends to be a bit overrated. Mont Helena, rarely mentioned, totally worth a visit. Nita Yuma, home of the Henry Vick, is not mentioned at ALL. Is it worth it? Most certainly.
Leaving Rolling Fork, headed north to Leland, you’ll cross a small bridge and on the left side are a series of what appears to be abandoned buildings. This is Nitta Yuma, and you must stop there.
After arriving in Yazoo City to find most restaurants closed, I decided to snap a picture of its colorful main street and continue on to Natchez.
At this point I was already feeling stressed, and to be honest, over the idea of the whole trip. Almost immediately outside of Yazoo City, I hit another patch of bad weather and called my mother in tears. Always the voice of reason, she promptly told me to drive onto Vicksburg and then get a hotel for the night.
An hour later, she had a reservation for me at a Ramada Inn. An hour after that I bought a $3.50 bottle of wine, and a $5 pizza and grabbed a seat at the pool at the hotel next to my hotel.
The forecast called for more storms outside of Natchez, and so the next day, rather than continue on with my plan, I abandoned ship and started making my way northward. Committed to going to find the carved bears at Rolling Fork, and hopeful for a tour of Mont Helena… I rolled into Rolling Fork at about 9am. Things were on track to be in Leland, MS for a quick hello to Kermit by 11:30, and then a tour of the BB King Museum at 1.
Best laid plans.
I am absolutely in love with Birmingham, Alabama…It could be that I’m starved for city life, because Birmingham doesn’t have that many great options for food, grocery, or walkable neighborhoods. It was also terribly cold –
But… more than one option for decent coffee, and great beer! Incredible history that has been supported by both the city and the state! Friendly people who actually take the time to engage in conversation. It was a much needed break from small town living – I have threatened repeatedly to look for jobs in Birmingham.
Perhaps the best part of the city is how much there is to do within the city and just outside it. Some incredible hiking, and plenty of outdoor activities… moreover, most activities are free!
The only Ethiopian food we found was both mediocre and overpriced… coupled with people using forks (I’m sorry, what?) who proceeded to stare silently at me while I ate my injera and lentils. Luckily, the woman behind the counter gave me a thumbs up and complimented my eating etiquette. I find that most people I meet are baffled by my preference for, and skill at, eating with my hands. I often neglect to tell them that for the better part of two years I was reprimanded and coached over Kebsa like a small child on the floor of a Missoula apartment.
Off to Alabama for a few days this spring break… it’s 25 degrees outside, Barry is not amused by my commitment to camping out.
I’m working on developing a new, website!
Wait for updates!
The National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis is an absolute must for any visitor to north Mississippi.
Barry and I have tried to make it a few times, but daunted by long lines, have opted for beers and BBQ elsewhere in Memphis. Today we ignored the lines, purchased the family pass, and spent a few hours soaking in the incredible amount of information. I don’t know that I’ve ever cried in a museum before today, but… in front of the burned Freedom Rider bus, a little girl turned to ask her mom “who burned the bus?” And her grandma replied, “people who didn’t like what we were doing.”
As a teen in the north west, racism always seemed like a southern problem – limited to geographic boundaries suggested by electoral maps, and history text books. It occurred to me when I was 16 or 17 that it wasn’t that we didn’t have a race problem, it’s that we didn’t have to deal with it… northerners could shift the blame as long as it was politely done. People were quietly racist – the way they pulled their purses away from my step brother, Royce, or followed my friends in college into the store to see if they were stealing. The quiet acceptance of a national narrative that labeled muslims and arab nationals as terrorists or radicals, African American youth as criminals, rappers or gang bangers, and the Asian students as incredibly brilliant while dangerous on the road has been the norm. We continue to perpetuate horrific, degrading stereotypes of LGBTQ communities, and to speak of hate crimes, and an uptick in anti Semitic crimes as the melodramatic ramblings of liberal snowflakes… and to default to these labels rather than describing one another by personality and character traits – allowing our everyday patterns of speech to open the door to where our neighbors are less than us.
Today, an older African American woman turned to me, and gave voice to what I was thinking “huh. We’ve come a long way, you and I standing here… but still…”
Exactly, but still…We have a long way to go before we can tackle the injustices of the past, and the present… I’d like to think it starts with sitting down to listen.
One of the decisions that I made 6 months ago when I decided to take this job was to “go all in.” I wanted to give myself up to Mississippi, and see what would happen – where it would take me.
I’ve just passed the month mark – and while I can’t say I’d live here forever, I’m not looking to live someplace else just yet. There is something about Mississippi that pulls you in – today in class I told students that we have to understand the intersections of past and present (talking about a novel, but it works in the day to day as well). My mom visited over Labor Day, and in addition to making my house into a home, we travelled the state. South to Port Gibson to the Windsor Ruins, then onto Vicksburg for the National Military Park, to Corinth and its crossroads, and over to the Delta… with side trips to Arkansas and Alabama just for fun.
There are things I don’t like about Oxford, but there is a love of the American South that overrides the unreliable bus system, the bad service at most restaurants, and the otherwise superficial aspects that get on my nerves. While I like my beautiful white shoes, in a way, I like that tradition and custom require they go to the back of the closet until the late spring. I like that the history of the south is one that I don’t know, forcing me to reassess what I’ve learned and better understand where we’re going.