Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas Eve Gift

Absent Family, Friends, and Loved Ones


There was a tradition in my family, on Christmas Eve, to greet one another when we first got up to say, "Christmas Eve Gift!" and to say it first. I think this was a "tradition" in my immediate family, alone. I think maybe Mom made it up. But this tradition among the surviving members of my family that once numbered eight of us still survives. If I call one of my sisters today, and she sees that it's me calling, it will be a race to see who can say "Christmas Eve Gift" first.

Christmas in the desert (hehehe)
Over the years this little game, this little saying, turned into Christmas Eve Blessing for me, as I took stock of my immediate family members. We all made it another year, or those of us who have survived since the three years in a row (1998, 1999, and 2000) when three of my immediate family died: my eldest sister, my mother, and my father—in that order. We were greatly diminished when my eldest sister passed away in August of 1998. It felt like far more in our family was gone than just one person. And when my mother passed away in February of 1999, it felt like the heart had been ripped out of the family, and when Thanksgiving arrived that year, those of us who could make it gathered at Dad's house. Mom wasn't there to cook her delicious turkey. Mom wasn't there to fix the dressing. Mom wasn't there. Dad was there, but he was still grieving, after fifty-four years of marriage, and maybe he didn't feel we had much to be thankful for that year. We bought a turkey breast and Stovetop Stuffing, and the few of us gathered that Thanksgiving day.

When my dad passed away on his birthday, on September 17, 2000, that which held the family on a steady course, mainly through his hard work, sacrifice, and undying sense of duty to provide for his family diminished us even more. The five of us who have survived since those three years ending with the old century have now continued for sixteen years. And here it is 2016 and I wish them all "Christmas Eve Gift!" If you're reading this Betty, Libby, Carlton, or Donna...got you first! May we all be blessed for another year.

The center hall in my house
To me, Christmas has always meant family, a time to gather, a time unlike Thanksgiving to really reflect on our blessings. This year, I will be spending Christmas alone (with my two little cats Ellie and Mae), but in my heart I will not be alone. Cliff will be here in my heart, my parents will be here, my eldest sister will be here, and those of my siblings who have made it through another year will be here.

My Christmas dinner this year will consist of Southern red beans (a gift from a neighbor), rice, homemade bread (a gift from my accountant in Las Cruces, NM), and  in remembrance of that melancholy Thanksgiving in 1999, the year our Mother passed away, a turkey breast, instead of her home-cooked turkey. My leftovers will consist of sliced turkey sandwiches. Just that. Nothing more. But this year, as every Christmas I find blessings that get me through this season, also knowing that the New Year is just a week away. Although I fully embrace the "Winter Season" celebrations that somehow involve other religions, I am glad to see that Columbus has decorated its streets with Christmas trees and snow flakes (tree-symbols and snow flake symbols, that hang from the light poles down Main Street and Fifth Street). I remember driving through small Texas towns on the way from Deming, New Mexico to Waco, Texas, when our entire family was young and consisted only of Mom, Dad, my two older sisters, me, and one younger sister, and all the small towns were decorated for Christmas, which we would pass through at night on the way to Waco to spend Christmas with Mom's mother and her family. Some of the small towns might also have snow, which added to the beauty.

It's just that time of year for me to consider that Christmas Eve Gift, more special than anything under the tree on Christmas morning.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Southern Writers


More Specifically, Mississippi Writers...


One thing that is undeniable about Mississippi (and the South) is that this state in particular and the South in general has produced some of America's greatest writers and literature. It says something about the contradictions that I hinted at in the header paragraph in Postcards from Mississippi. It is a complex, brooding, conflicted...place. And the fact that Mississippi ranks low on the quality of education belies this.

Available at Amazon
But this literary heritage and Mississippi's love of great writing, especially here in Columbus, Mississippi, is one of the reasons I chose Columbus as a place to live in my golden years (read that as becoming elderly, but I hope not mentally incapacitated).

I have time to read now that I'm retired, even though the last fifteen years of my working life at New Mexico State University and working for Amazon as an editor in my spare time kept me reading newbie writers, to the tune of well over five hundred books. But now I can choose which books I read.

I was at the Coffee House on 5th this afternoon, where I like to take my newspapers as I have coffee, and I ran across a small tidbit on the front page of the Commercial Dispatch. A Columbus writer, Michael Farris Smith, who has been compared to Cormac McCarthy and Annie Proulx will be reading from his works at the Columbus Arts Center this coming January 5th. I definitely plan to attend.


Michael Farris Smith: website
He will also talk about launching a Mississippi Writers series. In fact, I have a lot of local writers to find out more about, and I hope add such activities as readings to my other activities with the local writers' group, which will take place January 10 in the same location.

Some writers like to stop in small Mississippi towns as a way of paying homage to Mississippi's rich history. Earlier in the year I attended a reading at MUW and met the students in the MFA writing program. And I hope that when possible I learn about other visiting writers. Especially now that the weather is colder and turning my thoughts to reading and writing seems the natural thing to do during these dark, gray days and cold nights.

Even though it's not quite winter, yet, the temps have dropped, and a cozy, warm house makes me want to settle back in a comfortable chair and read, while sipping hot chocolate. But I go to the coffee house for such delights—because Ellie-Mae. My two girls would be gnawing the pages and smelling of the hot chocolate and more than likely start a wrestling game in my lap. They're only nine months old, and so I have to wait to enjoy such a liesurely activity as reading in a comfortable chair until they're sedate enough for me to do so. Right now, my lap is one of their favorite places to wrestle.



Thursday, December 15, 2016

The Deep South and My Misconceptions

The Deep South Has Four Seasons...


Yeah, I know. I was wrong. I had often thought until coming here that the "deep South" meant that it was always hot and humid. For most people, of course, that sounds naive, but until I actually started visiting Louisiana, Mississippi, etc. I was too lazy to give that concept much thought. But here it is six days before winter, and I can tell you that it's colder here in Columbus, Mississippi, than it is in Las Cruces, New Mexico, and it's going to get colder. I also never thought about just how far north Columbus, Mississippi, was in relation to Las Cruces, which is in southern New Mexico. Columbus, Mississippi, is actually on a line just below Albuquerque, New Mexico, almost two hundred miles north of Las Cruces. If your mind's eye is failing you in visualizing this, here's a map I've fixed up for the visualization:


As you can see, Columbus, Mississippi is actually above Dallas, Texas. Yes, it doesn't look like it on this map, but I-20 runs through Dal/Worth, TX, Shreveport, LA, and Jackson, MS, and then you have to drive northeast up to Columbus, Mississippi almost 150 miles from Jackson.

Winter Storm in Mississippi
I just did not realize that all of Mississippi was above much of Texas. The saving aspect of my winter realization that it's cold in my area of Mississippi is that it doesn't snow much. But ice storms are not out of the question since Mississippi gets a lot of rain in the winter!

I've had eye-opening realizations about other things about Mississippi, but especially Columbus, where I now live, concerning the weather, the sky at night and during the day. I thought that because Mississippi had a lot of humidity (compared to the desert) that the night sky would be obscured by a kind of hazy aspect. But I can see the same constellations here that I was able to see in Las Cruces, and most times the humidity isn't a factor. We get clear, crystal-blue skies in Mississippi, too, which delights me, since that's one thing I miss about living in the desert.

Until moving to Mississippi, I really had no
idea that there would be beautiful skies like this.
While this next picture is from the Mississippi delta on the western side of Mississippi from Columbus, I've been delighted to see this kind of sky with puffy clouds and clear blue sky. But with the advent of winter here, my first time living through this season, I'm afraid I will miss the desert of New Mexico off and on. I won't be spending Christmas with Cliff, nor his parents, nor friends and family in Las Cruces. 2016 is turning out to be a year of firsts. The first time in 25 years that Cliff and I have lived apart, purchasing my first house—ever—and a whole lot of other things. I also think that maybe Christmas will be melancholy for me this year, although I've never celebrated Christmas with any sort of real enthusiasm. At Thanksgiving this year, I ate dinner by myself at Ryan's all-you-can-eat buffet. I won't be going there for Christmas dinner, though. I think I'll join others at either Waffle House or Huddle House, and get into the spirit of being among others who have to work or who have no real place to go on Christmas. I'm bound to be able to wring something of meaning and substance from that experience. I'm not one to feel sorry for myself. But this year, Christmas will just be "another day".

Maybe my state of mind this winter will sound something like this: Johnny Winter playing Leland Mississippi blues.


Monday, December 5, 2016

The Sirens

And these aren't the ones from Greek mythology...


That would have lured Odysseus and his crew if he had not filled his sailers' ears with wax and had them tie him to the ship's mast.

These were tornado sirens. The first one lasted about two minutes and sent Mae scurrying under the bed and Ellie running from room to room trying to get away from the sound. This was not a drill, either, and it occurred shortly before sunset on a dreary, rainy afternoon. But it passed. This was my first tornado warning, and I always wondered how I would handle it, knowing that tornadoes are common in Mississippi. When the second siren sounded, the girls went through the same routine, and I started wondering just where we could take cover, should that become necessary. None of the rooms in my house are interior rooms. All of the rooms, including the center hallway, have at least one wall exposed to the outside of the house and windows and doors. I was actually amazed that the electricity didn't even flicker. So by the time the third tornado siren went off (yeah, I know), I rounded up the girls and we went into the bedroom. I shut the bedroom door, and without me trying to get them to, they not only crawled under the bed but climbed into the box springs. All I could do was lie down on the floor on the side of the bed opposite the windows and keep talking to them, touching the heft of their little bodies inside the box springs. I took a pillow off the bed, kept my phone handy to check for a possible tornado sighting; but there was none.

At least there wasn't a sighting until the fourth Siren went off, this one well into the night, when the sky was black and it wouldn't have been possible from my vantage to even see a tornado. This time the weather alert on my phone said: A tornado has touched down in the Columbus area—TAKE COVER NOW!

I knew about tornadoes in Columbus, Mississippi, before I moved here. As a friend of mine in nearby Aberdeen said, if you're afraid of tornadoes, you shouldn't move here. Theoretical tornadoes didn't frighten me in the least (ah-hahaha...). But the sirens were enough to probably drain my face of all color, especially the last siren and the definite warning. Mississippi was hit that night with six tornadoes. That was just last week, and this week storms are again moving across Mississippi from the southwest to the northeast, and Columbus is once again getting rain. But there is no expectation that these will generate tornadoes. Now, while I felt partially responsible for bringing the drought of this past summer and fall, I am not responsible for bringing the tornadoes. Where I lived most of my life, the most destructive weather was hail storms, and they could be doozies. The second worst condition is the massive sand storms that occasionally block out the sky and hide the mountains. And in Arizona, they have haboobs that cover the cities.

The effect is that there is really no place free of bad weather from time to time, and unless I get hit by a tornado, I'm staying right here.

I just discovered this marvelous keyboardist named Doña Oxford. She has just the kind of high energy entertainment I needed to forget about the recent sirens. Here's her web site. She plays a variety of music, and her bio is impressive.


Friday, November 25, 2016

Thanksgiving and Christmas in Columbus, Mississippi

Alone with My Twin Calicos...


When I bought my house here in Columbus, part of the expectation was that my partner would be joining me sooner, rather than later, but as it turns out it will be later. I've been here in Columbus, Mississippi (I like writing out the full name of the state, and the license plate is pretty, too), since Midnight of May 26, 2016. That is when I arrived to move in. I was here in April to close on the house, and I spent a week here that time, but I stayed in a hotel. So, I arrived in May with my two kittens, who were a little over two months old and "moved in" to an empty house. I had an air mattress, and it was literally the only furniture I had for over a week before the movers arrived. There was no place to sit, except for the toilets in the two bathrooms. I had no cooking utensils and not even a microwave, so I had to buy sandwich fixings and lots of junk food, or eat out at restaurants, which I did.

I was alone with my twin calico kittens and we made the best of it and have, now, for almost six months, but now that it's that time for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year, I'm feeling the alone part much more intensely than the rest of the time I've been here. I quickly add that I'm not feeling sorry about it. It's just the way it is. So, I keep out my feelers for what's happening with the people "back home" that I love and those who likewise moved this year. Specifically, Cliff's parents just moved to Rosebud, Texas, to a place out in the country and they're getting settled as well. And here is a story that will be talked about in the family for years to come, one that doesn't have anything to do with me or Mississippi, but I "witnessed" it through communication from Cliff.



To set the stage for the story, Rosebud, Texas, is 668 miles from Las Cruces, New Mexico, and on Tuesday, November 22,  Cliff and his brother left Las Cruces in two pickup trucks, one hooked up to a horse trailer that was fifty years old (built in the 1960s), and the four wheels on the horse trailer are the kind that have the split-wheel ring—a very dangerous tire to change. Add to that, the tires on the horse trailer were old and the tread was thin, they also required inner tubes (yes, that old). It was loaded with stuff from their father's farm, including a welder, steel, and other heavy stuff, which their father wanted in Rosebud, Texas.

About halfway between Las Cruces and Rosebud is a town called Ft. Stockton, Texas. It's out in the middle of west Texas in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the harsh desert. Cliff and his brother sailed through Ft. Stockton, but about fifteen miles east of Ft. Stockton two tires on the horse trailer started shedding tread. Cliff said he saw it flying off, as he followed along behind his brother. So they pulled off to the side of the road and had to assess the situation. This was about 1 p.m. The logical thing to do was to call gas stations and other places in Ft. Stockton where they could buy new tires.

The phone calls revealed that no place they called had the type of tires (requiring inner tubes) and none that would fit the wheels on the trailer, either. So Cliff's brother did the next logical thing. He left Cliff  on the side of the road with one pickup and the horse trailer, and he drove back to Ft. Stockton to further check out the possibility of buying tires and maybe even wheels, if necessary. Two hours later, still nothing. They had to contemplate leaving the horse trailer on the side of the Interstate, but...

When I finally called Cliff at 5 p.m. to see what the progress was on the situation, he said they were just then leaving a steak house in Ft. Stockton, and as soon as they filled the pickups with gas they would be continuing down the road.

Huh?

It was around four o'clock when Clay discovered that the manufacturer that built the horse trailer back in the 1960s was right there in Ft. Stockton. This in itself is actually quite a coincidence, since what are the odds that the very builder of the horse trailer would be in Ft. Stockton? And not only that, they were still in business, and not only that, but they had new wheels and tires that would fit the fifty-year-old horse trailer. The wheels were modern and did not have the split ring and the tires were tubeless tires. It was also quite a coincidence that the tires blew just fifteen miles outside of Ft. Stockton, the very place they needed to blow to make it possible for Cliff and his brother to get replacements. Remember that the distance they had to travel was over six hundred miles, and the tires blew in exactly the right place where they could get them replaced. Had this happened a hundred miles East of Ft. Stockton or a hundred miles West, the story would not have turned out quite so well.

So, that alone is something I and the rest of Cliff's family have to be thankful for this season. I might have spent Thanksgiving alone with my little girl cats, but I was emotionally "right there" when Cliff and his brother were going through their ordeal and amazing resolution.

And now, here is my absolute favorite Turkey video. I hope you enjoy it. It's another kind of survival story.


Monday, November 14, 2016

What do Donuts, Gasoline, and Prescription Meds have in Common?

A delightful discovery...

On the mornings when I drive up Highway 45 on the edge of Columbus, MS on the way to MacDonald's to have a cheap sausage biscuit for my 5 a.m. breakfast, or heading up to Walmart for my grocery shopping (it's still the cheapest place for food and toiletries), I often passed Krispy Kreme, a chain donut shop, and I stopped there a couple of times when I wanted to be bad. But one place I kept passing back and forth, on 45 closer to downtown was a place called The Donut Factory, a local donut shop that made me wonder, could they possibly be as good as Krispy Kreme?

The Donut Factory, Gas Station, and Pharmacy
Now, I want to make it very clear that during the five months I've been living in Columbus, I've restricted my sweets and pastry intake to once or so a month. It has paid off in lost weight, and I intend to keep it that way. But one day I needed gasoline, and I had tried several places in town, and while the gas was not that expensive in those other places, their convenience stores were...meh. Just the usual. So a couple of mornings ago, I got gas at the combination Donut Factory, drive-thru pharmacy, convenience store, and gas station. And since I'd been wondering about the quality of the donuts at the Donut Factory, I went in and bought an old fashioned glazed and a caramel cake donut, and took them home. Man, was I surprised. They were both delicious. But my surprise and delight did not stop there. In the convenience store, which I went to the next time I bought a donut at the store, I brought my own mug, The Commercial Dispatch Sunday edition, and bought a cup of coffee from the convenience store. The surprise was they had several coffees to choose from, sitting on the warmers in very clean pots. I chose the Southern Pecan coffee. I hadn't had Southern Pecan coffee in several years. Yeah, I know, it's a flavored coffee and not something gourmet. But I don't care. I like the things I like and Southern Pecan coffee is one of them. I took my mug of coffee into the donut shop and ate my donut and read the Sunday paper. It doesn't take much to please me, granted, but this was a delightful (and cheap alternative) to my usual coffee shop visits.

I highly recommend this place as a stop for gas and treats, and I plan to make it a regular gas station when I need to fill up. Now, I just have to hold off and only buy a single donut whenever I fill up with gas...in about three weeks. Oh, yeah, the convenience store is a little different than the other gas station convenience stores. I picked up a loaf of bread there today because it was closer than Walmart and I was out.


Tonight is the Super moon, which hasn't been this close to the earth in 69 years. It's last appearance was 1948, the year I was born. Alas, this is Mississippi, and unlike the desert of southern New Mexico, you can't watch it come up over the mountain peaks. Still, I was able to view it just down the street from my house, coming up over one of the buildings on the MUW campus.


Be sure to watch this video far enough in for some really interesting information on Mississippi Hills blues technique, which is different from Mississippi Delta blues.
And I couldn't resist throwing in this "hot" video. I think it's all right to repost it, but if not and I get a complaint, I'll take it down, but for now, enjoy. It's from Late Night.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Taking time out to relax

This is a longish video of the Natchez Trace Parkway. I was delighted to have discovered it on YouTube and after this awful presidential election, I just wanted to visually, at least, decompress. The results of the election still feel unreal, in a way I simply cannot wrap my head around.

So join me in enjoying the views in this informative video

This is the Tennessee portion of the parkway, but the scenery is like this in Mississippi. Total mileage of this well maintained highway is around 400 miles.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Deeper into Fall, Soul Food, and Ellie-Mae

Cooler Weather and the Need for Comfort


I got up this morning at 4:44 a.m. The temperature inside the house was 65 degrees, and for a couple of hours I just wore a long-sleeved shirt to alleviate the cold, but I knew I had to take a shower and so I wondered if the heater would work. It's part of the AC/Heat package, and even though the gas company had checked to make sure the electric pilot would work, I just had to see for myself this morning. So I turned the thermostat to Heat, raised the setting to 68 degrees, and it worked! I still need to have the gas company check on the carbon-monoxide, but I figured I'm not going to be running the system regularly for quite some time. Temperatures are supposed to go up after today, back into the 80's.

Mae is on the left, Ellie is on the right
My girls, Ellie and Mae, also need to be kept comfortable, so, I've increased their blanket nests around the house, but even with the colder weather they're mostly content to play and explore, within the confines of the house, little "birds" in a gilded cage, I guess, but unless I can ever come up with a way to partition off part of the back yard, where they can't get out and stray cats can't get in (yeah...right), they must remain indoor cats. They do get a lot of exercise, but they also have their powered-down moments throughout the day. They're growing...my how they are growing. They're just seven months old, and just look at them!

This drop in temperature reminds me, too, that it's getting close to time for some soul food, a much better alternative than the usual fast-food and high-sugar snacks. I also found a Mexican food restaurant here that I like. I've tried three others, here in town, but I was very pleased with the latest one—very good red sauce for their enchiladas. I had a bit of fun with the owner, however, when I asked him if he ever heard of putting an egg on top of the enchilada, over-easy, and a dollop of sour cream. He had not. I guess that's a New Mexico thing. That's the southwest US equivalent of soul food.

Glenn's BBQ: catfish filet, coleslaw, mac and
cheese, and hushpuppies.
While I've been here, I've been trying all the Southern food cafes and restaurants I can find. I have a new favorite in catfish. And if anyone has ever read my essay, "Mississippi" from Slices of REAL Life, they will know that before I moved here, I didn't think I would like catfish. All that was shattered when Cliff and I ate at the Friendship House restaurant in Aberdeen, Mississippi, in 2014. And so now, catfish is one of my favorite soul-food meals. At the moment, my favorite place for Southern cooking is Glenn's BBQ in east Columbus, but another place is Little Dooey's up on 5th Street North close to downtown.

And I was delighted to find another Southern food restaurant called Jones Restaurant, right in the heart of downtown. They have been in business since 1940; they closed briefly in 2015/16 due to illness in the family, but I stumbled onto the restaurant about a week after they re-opened. And the good thing about this restaurant is the price of a lunch. It's a great place to eat when I'm a little short of cash.

Jones Restaurant: smothered pork chop, mashed potatoes,
corn, yams, and cornbread.
The thing about Columbus's downtown is the more I explore it, the more cafes and restaurants I find within a three-block radius, including The Cafe on Main, Thai by Thai, Jones Restaurant, Huck's Place, J Brussards,  and Zachary's, and just a little farther out on Main, Harvey's. These are all great places to eat, and not one of them is a chain (except for Harvey's, which is a small chain with only two or three locations). So far, all I've had at the Thai restaurant is their sticky rice and mango and their great coffee, which I like to have before I go to the writer's group meeting just next door at the Columbus Art's Council building.

Consider that Columbus, Mississippi, is only 25,000 people, and it amazes me that there are so many restaurants to choose from without once setting foot in a big-box chain. Farther out, but well within a couple of miles of downtown are numerous steak houses, Chinese food places (locally owned, each with its own style of Chinese), and Mexican food places. But, yeah, there are the chains: Applebees, Cracker Barrel, Subway, Popeye's, McAlister's, Buffalo Wild Wings, and really for a small town, the list is endless.

So I'm looking forward to the real fall weather, once most of the days are in the 70's and lower. Maybe I'm even looking forward to winter, but I'll get back to you on that.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

A Change of Seasons

Something in the Air...


So I survived my first summer in the Deep South, and I do have to say that had it not been for a very good AC system on my house, there were days this summer that would have been unbearable, especially when combined with the humidity. But Fall is here and already I have gone at least three weeks without using the air-conditioning, nor has the humidity been a factor. The mornings are cool and with the temps only reaching into the 80s, now, I've been able to get out and work in the yard. I also see that several weeks have passed since I posted to this blog. Instead, I've been finishing a few writing projects:


  • Three volumes and the final books in my Common Threads in the Life Series. For a look at this series and my thoughts about completing it, visit my writing website.
  • A new and expanded collection of autobiographical essays called Slices of REAL Life.
  • The Columbus Writer's Guild and each of us editing work by other members.

There's just something about the serene days of fall weather, when the days are beautiful and the nights are peaceful that allow me to concentrate on my post-retirement avocation of writing. I've even thought about writing about this Reality TV Presidential Election (soontobeoverthankgod), but there's no sense in driving away readers who might be as sick and tired of this most disgusting election cycle in American history as I am.

Now that my twin calico girls are getting a little more mature and don't need to hang onto every thing I do, I don't have to escape their incessant curiosity by hanging out at the local coffee shop to do any serious reading or writing. For example, right now, they're not locked in the prison of the master bedroom/bathroom while I'm at my computer. They're free to come and go as they want, and usually, these days, they just hang out on top of the computer desk, staring upside down at the computer screen and allow my fingers to move over the keyboard or move the mouse without their help. I've also been able to work in Photoshop again and I've come up with an apropos cover for Slices of REAL Life. This book will only be available as a Kindle book and will sell for $3.99. It contains essays I wrote for three literary anthologies, two of them published by Dutton, one published through a grant from the New Mexico Arts Division in a literary anthology, titled, The Deming Six: Voices of the Chihuahuan Desert. And several more of the essays are those I've written and never published anywhere until now.

Several people have told me that it can get quite cold in Columbus, Mississippi, in the winter, and if the humidity has something to do with making it feel colder, I'll tend to listen to those people, so I hope the heater works as well as the AC did this past summer. But for now, there's just something in the air that has got my creative side working overtime.

For those who want to traverse Mississippi on one of the most beautiful highways in the state, consider the Natchez Trace Parkway that runs from Natchez, Mississippi to Nashville Tennessee, over 400 miles of uncomplicated driving without Semi-Trucks. There are plenty of exits off the Parkway to visit historic towns  along the way.
   

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Possum Town Tales, Storytelling Festival

My Night Out...


I attended the first storytelling event last night at the Columbus Arts Council auditorium, a small venue with a small stage and seating for around a hundred people. But like any event that includes celebrity speakers and musical entertainment, there were books, T-shirts, music CDs, and refreshments for sale, and an excited, milling crowd before the show. The storytelling festival is a three-day event. On Thursday night, which I didn't attend, the storytellers held a workshop for those that are interested. Friday night was the event I attended, and then the next day a tent was set up outside Tennessee Williams's home and museum, where the storytelling and musical entertainment continued, along with a tour of the Tennessee Williams home. Around lunch, burgers and hotdogs were served. I would have like to attend that event as well, but I was tired from my night out.

After the storytelling event, I treated myself to dessert and coffee at Harvey's restaurant, one of the better restaurants in Columbus, Starkville, and elsewhere and one that I have only eaten at a couple of times because of my shoestring budget.

I had already seen Donald Davis's storytelling on a video, which I included in an earlier post, and to see him in person was a treat, but even more entertaining was how the audience responded to tales that were all too familiar to many of us. Davis is from North Carolina and told of visits with his relatives, stories about his brothers and himself growing up relatively poor; especially poignant and funny was the relationship he had with his mother and father and the Methodist church he attended as a child and teenager. As I looked around the audience at the people my age and older, I figured that part of their delight was recalling their own childhoods. The stories Davis told reminded me of my own  rural childhood, even though I had never been to the deep south until 2014. I recalled my aunts and uncles and the farm and ranch lives that most of them lived. Perhaps Davis's stories were a kind of vehicle for those in the audience to be transported back in time to our own growing-up experiences. In an important way, I think that is precisely what storytelling is meant to do.

I thought of my family's trips to visit relatives in the mountains of southern New Mexico, especially to an aunt on my father's side of the family. She was the oldest of nine children, my father was the youngest. Once the crops were up and growing and freshly irrigated sometime in the heat of the summer, we would all load into the family car and make a weekend trip to the mountains to visit with Aunt Carrie and Uncle Bud (who knows what his real name was?). Our arrival would prompt visits from relatives who also lived in the area on other ranches or down in town in Alamogordo, and for a long weekend it would be an impromptu family reunion, of at least one branch of the family. And neighbors would come over to my aunt and uncle's house, usually on that Saturday night, and out would come the fiddles and guitars. The piano would be opened up, and we would gather in the living room and those who could would make music, and the rest of us would listen and talk and exchange stories.

As I looked around at the audience of southerners (most of them, I assumed)  at the storytelling event, I knew that they had similar experiences to my own. On my mother's side were relatives who were born in Mississippi or Louisiana, and Texas, and on my father's side were those like his father who were born in Texas, and they just transported their southern and Irish ways with them into New Mexico. It seems that southerners are true music makers, and as one of the musicians in the show said, music was central to the simple family life in the rural south. Anna and Elizabeth were the musical entertainment. They are storytelling balladeers, neither of whom grew up in the south but both of them have dedicated several years to collecting folk music and they both play banjo, guitar, and fiddle (not to be confused with the music one makes with a violin, even though they are the same instrument). In the hands of country music and folk music, some of which has its roots in Scotland and Ireland, the violin becomes a fiddle.

The video, here, is from Anna and Elizabeth's web site.



The entertainment ended about 9:30 and from there I went for my dessert and coffee at Harvey's. While I sipped on my coffee and indulged in the cheesecake (which Harvey's brings in from a cheesecake factory in West Point, Mississippi, called Jubilations), I thought about my life here in Columbus. I knew a number of people at the storytelling event, some from the writer's group I attend regularly, some of neighbors I have seen here and at other places in town, and I was also introduced to more people. In a town the size of Columbus it is possible to not only begin to recognize faces but to also know the names of people I see out and about. It's beginning to feel like home.


Saturday, September 17, 2016

Comes a South Wind

Welcome rain...


It had been a few weeks since we'd gotten any good rain, and that surprised me, considering that Columbus, Mississippi, is supposed to get no less than three inches of rain, even in a "dry" month. Contrast that to southern New Mexico which might get seven inches of rain in a year. I stepped out on the porch this morning, and I was surprised how wet the air felt. The weather app said it was 73 degrees but 83 percent humidity, and when I looked up the rain chances it indicated a 65 percent chance of rain.

The Coffee House on 5th is in a busy block of
Downtown Columbus, MS
Later, when I went off to the Coffee House on 5th for my daily cuppa and a visit with the people who work there, I stepped out onto the sidewalk and was glad to see there came a south wind, the sky was thickly overcast as well and the wind was moving the clouds northward. It was like being bathed with wet air and it felt good. I think that when the winds come from the south (maybe) we have a better chance of rain. I'll have to see how this plays out each time we get a wind from the south.

The overcast skies, the wet south wind, and later the rain that fell made me think of the contrast with southern New Mexico where I moved from.

Me coming back from the post office in
Southern NM (hehehe)
For those who have never been to southern New Mexico, or maybe the west, in general, it might be difficult to imagine what we mean by the desert. For many people who don't know, perhaps the image of the Sahara comes to mind, but the desert in southern New Mexico is teeming with wild life, mesquite, yucca (the state flower), and surprising micro-habitats. Sometimes, there, when it rains and the water comes down from the mountains it fills the arroyos with angry rushing water, with the power to cut a canyon into a paved road, and the water comes, does its damage, and quickly disappears into the ground into the aquifers. In the boot-heel of Southern New Mexico, a tour guide at a copper smelting plant told us that we were sitting on an "ocean of water." But I must tell you that such an ocean is very deep below ground and is very briney. It would take a water crisis of great severity to make that ocean of water economically feasible to pump and then desalinate before it could be used for agriculture and human consumption. However, in the same area, there are geothermal water aquifers and the largest geothermal-powered greenhouse in the United States raises roses that supplies florists all over the country.

But it's what lies above ground that makes such a dramatic contrast to what I've seen and enjoyed here in Mississippi.  I am looking forward to more rain. Apparently August and September are dryer than other times of the year, which might explain why, right now, the grass is looking less lush, the leaves are still green but yellowing and limp, and I cast my eyes heavenward hoping for the refreshing rain. Later in the year, I might be howling from the downpours...but not yet. Oh, no, not yet. Let it rain...let the south wind come.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

September in Columbus, Mississippi

Lots of fun, interesting, and thought provoking activities in September...

One of the reasons both Cliff and I were interested in Columbus, Mississippi, was that it appeared to have all sorts of cultural, historical, musical, and art activities. Columbus is one of the top ten downtown revitalization cities in the United States, and it shows. Downtown is like the downtowns of yesteryear, cars line the busy downtown streets from dawn until midnight, and it doesn't matter what day of the week. I knew I couldn't partake of all the activities when I first got here, and so in June I attended a fiddling concert at the arts council auditorium. I also joined the writer's group in June and have been going every second Tuesday since then...I'll get back to that in a minute.

But it looks like September and October really crank up the kinds of activities that will appeal to people of all ages. Already past was the 15th annual Tennessee Williams Tribute. There were plays, movies, workshops, and the Stella Shouting Contest. I attended the Stella Shouting Contest. It was free and held on 5th Street South in front of the Hollyhocks Gift Shop. People came for the event from almost every direction that afternoon before dusk began falling, and by the time the contest started at six p.m. both sides of the street were lined with people, around the corner in a kind of on-street patio, amid vendors and the music setup were more people. In just a little over three months, I actually knew some of the people who were attending the event. Hollyhocks Gift Shop has sponsored this event for many years, and it's one of the fun activities that bring people out. After that I ate dinner at J. Broussard's New Orleans Style Cuisine restaurant just two doors down, and I had a Cajun spiced chicken dish with New Orleans rice. If you live in Columbus, definitely plan to go to the restaurant, if you're not here, make it a must stop on your way through or as a destination point if you ever come visit.

I won't list all the events scheduled for September/October, but I do plan to attend the Possum Town Tales Storytelling Festival. Specifically, I plan to attend to hear Donald Davis, who is known as the Dean of Storytelling. He has received numerous awards and has performed all over the world. Possum Town (aka Columbus, MS) is lucky to have him for this fifth annual storytelling festival.



Along the Tom Bigbee River in Columbus, MS
Even though there's hardly any difference in the heat and humidity as we move past mid-September, I do find that the mornings are cooler and the afternoons are balmy enough to sit out on my front porch a little before sunset. My house looks south, and the porch is deep enough to escape the direct sunlight that lights up the front yard. But I can almost feel autumn coming on. I can see it in the yellow-tinged leaves of the trees; the grass has begun to go to sleep, not yet brown but not so brilliant green as it was at the beginning of the summer. Fall is one of my favorite times of the year, and this will be the first time I have lived through the fall in the Deep South.

Back to the Writer's Group
The writer's group is gelling into quite an inspiring monthly activity. Last night, Tuesday the 13th, six of us exchanged samples of our writing that each of us is to edit, based upon our individual levels of understanding. It was nice that Dorris Brown, the moderator of the group, had asked me to work with the group for the editing exchange. And I was glad to hear several say they didn't want to wait a whole month to see how each of the writers would edit their work. I felt the same way. Although I've been a writer/editor for at least 35 years, it is always a pleasure to be edited by fellow writers. If I were actually conducting a writing workshop, of course, I would expand the editing samples to actual whole manuscripts from each of the writers, and the workshop would last six weeks, with one manuscript being edited and discussed each week. I just know we're going to learn a great deal from one another when we come back together in October with edited samples in hand.


I leave you with a Blues event on the Columbus Riverwalk...

Friday, September 9, 2016

Aberdeen, Mississippi

One of the Jewels of Small Town Mississippi


When my partner and I first made a trip to the South to look at property, back in October of 2014, one of the main properties we were going to look at was "Green Leaves" mansion in Aberdeen, Mississippi. It's a small town under 7,000 people, and it's just outside of the "Golden Triangle" region that includes Columbus, Starkville, and West Point. The Golden Triangle is the three-city triangle where industry has moved in and is causing a resurgence in jobs and potential growth. Aberdeen is only 29 miles from Columbus, Mississippi, but it is off the main highway coming from the north, from Tupelo down to Columbus. And that is both unfortunate because you don't see Aberdeen unless you're looking for it and fortunate in a way because if you're looking for a beautiful, quiet, and peaceful place to call home, Aberdeen is off the modern beaten path. But Aberdeen is close to Columbus and Starkville and close to the same cities in Alabama where people from Columbus go to shop, which includes Birmingham and Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

If you've never been to Mississippi, and you just think of it as a poor state with right-wing politics, you'll be surprised how "off" such a perception is. A trip down from Tupelo to Aberdeen (off the main highway) or a trip up from Columbus to Aberdeen on the old Aberdeen Highway is a stunningly beautiful and well-kept area. Rolling hills, tree-lined highways, rivers, historic homes, silk-smooth roads everywhere. But best of all, you're in the Mississippi Hills National Heritage Area, and there's lots to do and see.

Elgin Theatre, Aberdeen, MS
A couple of months ago I went to Aberdeen to take a realtor friend of mine out to dinner.  Her name is Marsha Ballard, and her realty web site Southern Management and Realty Company is dedicated not only to selling new homes in the Aberdeen area, but she specializes in historic homes. You will often pay less than $50/square foot on well-kept, renovated historic homes. It is the first place to look if you're interested in purchasing a historic home. Marsha is also a great resource for information. She taught school in Aberdeen and knows the native citizens well. She is also extremely knowledgeable about the historic homes. Like Columbus, Aberdeen is rich in historic buildings and historic houses and it has a heritage homes tour of its own every year.

The downtown is well maintained and has a great selection of independently owned businesses. If you're interested in big box stores, they are out on the edge of Aberdeen and don't interfere with the downtown, where it's fun to shop and walk. Yes, there is a coffee shop and a diner, a candy and pastry store, a historic theater, where Morgan Freeman came one year to celebrate the Elkin Theatre's long history, which has operated since the 1930s. The town library is known, also, for the famous Southern writers who often come there. There is an active new-comers club that gets together every Tuesday morning at the breakfast diner or coffee shop. And if you're adventurous and want an absolutely Southern Living magazine dining experience, there is the Friendship House restaurant just north of Aberdeen a few miles. The chef and his catfish specialties has in fact been written up in Southern Living Magazine. When my partner and I went there one night while we were in Aberdeen, we went there, but we told people we didn't "like" catfish and so he ordered shrimp and I ordered steak, but the chef would not have it. He also served two different fillets of catfish, one grilled and one fried. After just a few bites of the catfish, both my partner and I set aside our other dinners and ate the catfish! That's saying something for two desert rats like us.

If you're really looking for a restful and beautiful place to retire to, don't take my word for it. Here is a promo video you might find enlightening. Forget about the Mississippi you think you know...


Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Columbus, Mississippi

Now that I've been here three full months...update on Columbus

A Contestant from a previous Stella Shouting Contest
I'm looking forward to the Tennessee Williams 15th Annual Tribute coming up in the first week of September, including the Hollyhocks sponsored "Stella Shouting Contest." When I was first anticipating the humid, languid, hot summer months, here, I had jokingly said that I might soon find myself shouting "Stella!", but looks like someone beat me to it. The thing is, it's a contest held during the tribute, and the contestants stand in front of the Hollyhocks store overlooking 5th Street South, around six o'clock in the evening, and each contestant is judged on volume, originality, and emotion, as he or she (I assume women can now participate) shouts "Stella!" like Marlon Brando does in the movie.

I missed the annual Market Street Festival held this year in May (didn't get here until May 26th), but it has been named a Top 20 Event in the Southeast by the Southeast Tourism Society. A crowd of nearly 40,000 gathers each year to enjoy the two-day festival that features over 250 arts, crafts, and food vendors, as well as dozens of special events, musical acts, and other activities.

There are a whole host of festivals and events that I am just now learning about, after three months in Columbus. I've of course already participated in three of the writer's group meetings held at the Columbus Arts Council building in downtown Columbus, but if you're interested in finding a complete schedule of other events, visit this events and festival website.

During my three months, here, I have discovered where I can go for coffee in the middle of the night or before daylight. There are several cool coffee houses, here, as well, and my favorite is The Coffee House on 5th Street. That's the actual name. There are two Thai restaurants, a handful of Chinese restaurants, a few Mexican food restaurants, Southern Diners and BBQ places, close by and fun bars (where I will probably never go), except that Huck's Place is kind of a big bar and restaurant combination on 4th Street. For a city of only 24,000, Columbus has a bunch of great restaurants, an active downtown, lots of Antebellum, Victorian, Italianate, and Craftsman houses, a very cool and history-drenched Friendship Cemetery. I've only driven through part of it, and I was told that the Civil-War-Era portion is in the southern part of the cemetery. Even more delightful, which is what I was hoping for when I moved here is the stunning beauty of parts of Columbus, from well kept neighborhoods, to lush, tree-lined backroads inside and outside of the city, and even the area of town where the shopping centers and big-box stores is located offers the shopping you'd expect to find in a much larger town. Instead of the ubiquitous Barnes and Noble in the local mall, there is a Books-a-Million bookstore, tailored to fit the size of the town, with its own coffee and snack shop. There is a B&N bookstore on the MUW campus.

I've just about made it through the worst part of the year, here in Columbus, and even though I dreaded the muggy summer, it wasn't so bad, and I didn't need to yell "Stella!" even once.

I've solved the comments problem, if you want to leave a comment on any of my posts. Just scroll down and look for the "button" that will say "no comments" (ask me why?! I don't know) but if you click on that you can leave a comment. I hope you do. You can even comment anonymously, as I have done to test the functionality.


Monday, August 29, 2016

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...

A Tale of Two Kitties


I couldn't resist this (no doubt) overused opening for this post. But really, though, I think it's the best of times for both Ellie and Mae. The worst of times came, of course when they were spayed and spent the next several days recovering. I'd say they're 98 percent back to their old selves, meaning rambunctious, cute, energetic, loving, and two very combative army girls. They do NOT prefer playing dolls.

Maybe male cats calm down when they're neutered but spaying my little females didn't calm them down, but at least they'll never suffer "heat" and the (perhaps) dubious joy of motherhood. But since this is the tale of two kitties let me tell you some of their differences:

Here's Mae getting in on the
building of the second section
of their cat tunnels
Ellie is the climber and jumper
Mae spends more time on the floor

Ellie meows
Mae purrs

Ellie likes to sleep on my chest
Mae likes to sleep in the crook of my knees

Ellie is petit
Mae is a bit taller (when both girls are on all fours)

Ellie is the first one out the door to the bedroom when I open it to let them out into the rest of the house.
Mae is the first one to examine a new item, unlike Ellie, who is a bit leery of something new, especially if it is big, like the cat tunnels I made yesterday.

And while there are differences in the two kitties, they're sometimes indistinguishable to me in other ways. Their markings are remarkably similar with bits of differences that I still have to check to know which girl I'm dealing with.

Did I mention that they're both cute?

You can barely see Mae
inside the tunnel, but her
eyes are lit by the camera light.
Now this is the first tunnel I made, and my idea was to place another tunnel at right angles to this one, so that they would have to negotiate a turn before they could emerge from the other side. But I've never been much of an engineer. I didn't do very well on the aptitude test the Air Force administered when I joined up, on those items where you had to decide what an object would look like once it was folded up. You were only given a drawing of the flat object with lines showing where it would be folded. So I'm still working on the corner. I did build another tunnel, and when I set them side-by-side, the girls run through one and immediately turn and run through the other.

Forgive me if I dote. When I decided to adopt a cat and I saw these two kittens, they were like bookends, and I knew I couldn't just take one of them. There are times when I would be less distracted if I didn't have either kitten. I could work longer times at the computer. I could take a shower without first having to put the girls into prison in what I call the romper room, where they can look out the windows. But I knew I could never separate them, and so I took both, because they need each other. That way I can be gone from home for hours at a time and they will not be lonely. I have no idea what will happen when they're bigger than me and can push me around if they choose to. Stay tuned!


Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Taking Care of Ellie-Mae (my twin calico kittens)


The trauma of getting the girls spayed...


The girls are now five months and some days old and it was almost overdue for them to be spayed before they came into puberty. They were only a handful when I brought them with me from New Mexico in late May 2016, but they grew fast and got their shots and were becoming arms full by the time I stuffed them, a little tightly, into the second carrier I had bought because it was larger than the first one. They had outgrown their first carrier and when they are fully grown (so fast, so fast) I'm sure I will have to take them to the vet in separate carriers.

They are a lot bigger than this, now.
But it was time to spay them. Prior to getting their shots and setting up an appointment for their spay, I asked neighbors about vets.My neighbor down the street (Sharon, a wealth of knowledge) recommended two vets. I chose one that was closer to home and more direct. She did say that she thought all the vets in town were good. When I took the girls in for their shots, I was pleased with the staff and the vet herself, and so when I took the girls for their spay, I felt they were in good hands. This is the vet where the military people take their pets, also because the Air Force Base is just a few more miles north of this vet's office.

I took the girls in on Monday, August 22, at 7:30 a.m., and I was able to pick them up after 3:30. And so began a long afternoon, night, and part of the next day when the girls were recovering. They sure slept a lot, and even though in prior posts I have said how it's difficult for me to write and work on my computer at home, I missed them doing that. Now they were zombies. I missed their rambunctious behavior (like walking over the keyboard and sitting on the computer mouse, or blocking my view of the screen because they actually watch the little "bug" that crawls on screen as I move the mouse). I missed them as they slept and sounded like old people recovering from the trachea stress from the anesthesia.

Another shot of the beautiful MUW campus buildings.
But now that it's early afternoon, they've finally started to eat again, but bless them, even in their drunken, drugged state when I first brought them home, they used their "bathroom" facilities like real troopers, even though they had to stagger in there to do it. 

This post is more about me and my little girls than it is about Mississippi, but I do have to say that I'm pleased with the medical facilities for pets, here in Columbus. I'm pleased that my neighbors are accessible for advice and recommendations. I'm pleased with my old house, now 111 years old and still turnkey. I've been blessed with an AC system that works well; otherwise, these summer months with high humidity would probably have been unbearable. But I'm looking forward to the fall and the ability to work longer hours in the yard and to tackle the chaos of roots that run underground in every square inch of the yard, like Medusa's head of snakes. Alas, even when my girls recover and are full-tilt rambunctious again, they will not be able to go into the yard. This is Mississippi, after all, and every kind of insect, including fleas and ticks and mosquitoes, are too much to protect the girls from.

Here's an un-narrated video of Columbus, Mississippi. Now that I've lived here awhile, I recognize so many of these scenes...

Monday, August 22, 2016

Mississippi Pre-dawn

Like the Silver Robin Out and About before Dawn in Columbus, Mississippi


The Silver Robin is a children's book I read in grade school well over fifty years ago, and it reminds me of the discoveries I made today when I left the house around 4:30 a.m. The silver robin in the story is an adventurous young bird, and he decided that he wanted to get up during the night and see what it was like. As we all know, robins are daylight birds and go to bed at sunset. So the night world was a whole different experience for the silver robin, as well as for me in pre-dawn Columbus, Mississippi.

That's how I felt this morning. I really got up at 3:30 a.m., because...Ellie-Mae (my five-month-old calico twin-sister kittens). I showered, dressed, and left the house. It was dark out, sultry from the humidity. The sky was socked in with heavy clouds. The streets were almost empty, except for others of us out at this time. My neighbor, Sharon, just two houses down was already out with her dog when I passed by. I passed through traffic lights on my way to the local MacDonald's, where I hoped they had places where I could plug in my laptop. They didn't. But I stayed anyway and settled down with a cup of coffee and worked on one of my book manuscripts. It's amazing how fresh the mind is in the early morning.

The large plate-glass windows were beaded with moisture like a glass of iced, Southern sweet tea on a summer's day; this is a phenomena one doesn't see in the desert on a summer morning. I liked the feel of the air: moist, sultry, enfolding.

Another thing I prefer to do away from the house (because...Ellie-Mae) is read the printout of my current work, where I can sit and red line the manuscript in peace and quiet. I can and sometimes do put the girls in the master bedroom/bath, so I can work on my home computer in peace, but I soon feel guilty. So the solution for me is to go somewhere in town. At 4:30 a.m. that would be MacDonald's, the Waffle House, Huddle House, or perhaps Hardees.

Out and about in the predawn was a good time for contemplation of the coming day and projects I'm currently working on. I'm simultaneously preparing three manuscripts for publication. They're the last three books in my Common Threads in the Life series, titled A Summer's Change, Book I: The Runaway, A Summer's Change, Book II: A Season of Family, and A Summer's Change, Book III: The Rest of Their Lives. So I contemplated the three cover graphics the artist had sent me, and I'm excited about getting them ready for the e-book debut in just a few weeks. I thought about the ongoing work my house needs--mainly to the outside, like the underground jungle of roots and nodes that must be dug up. I'm working on the two flower beds in front of the house, which are currently in a chaos of growth. I now see why people here usually just cut back the branches and bushes, rather than trying to eradicate them by digging up the roots (silly me).

When I left MacDonald's, the dawn was imminent, and I drove reluctantly to Walmart, where I needed to get some items. Even at this hour, there were customers, so there are more silver robins than I thought.

After I took my purchases home, I visited the local farmer's market. The air was cool and wet and felt good, different from the often icy desert dawn, even in the summer. I bought homemade blackberry jam, peach fried pies, and farm fresh ham slices which I will cook up later, along with my potato-cheese soup.

Finally, at 8:30, the Coffee Shop on 5th opened and I set up my laptop. It's a new experience, getting used to how this PC works, since I've used a Mac almost exclusively for the past 25 years. At least in the coffee shop, I don't have my kittens climbing up my leg and getting in front of the computer screen, or better yet pulling the flat-screen monitor over as they attempt to climb up on that. Oh well...they won't be kittens forever, so I need to enjoy their exuberance while it lasts.

The predawn does present a different edge to the world, and again in the summer with the high humidity, it was like leaving the house with a warm blanket wrapped around my shoulders, one that I readily tossed off when I returned home to my girls; I turned the AC down to 74 for a little of that icy feel one can get during a predawn desert morning.

I finally configured this blog so that readers can comment. Check out the comments, below and if you have a reaction to any post, please feel free to let me know.
   

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

On the Road to Hattiesburg, Part II


The Book Club Meeting and My Thoughts...


I had to drive somewhat on the outskirts of Hattiesburg to find the book club meeting place, which was being held in the Joshua Generation MCC location. It was in a strip shopping center in another development, not sure whether it was a separate town or just a subdivision.

Anyway by two o'clock when the meeting was to begin, it was truly hot and humid, one of those August days that I'd heard about, effectively feeling like triple digit heat, so hot it was hard to draw a breath, and if it had been the kind of dry heat in the triple digits in Phoenix, Arizona, runways would be soft and lift would be nearly impossible, given how light the air would be, say if the temps were close to 120 degrees. But here, just outside of Hattiesburg, the air was hot and heavy with humidity, but at the same time the sun was searing on my skin.

There were cars in the strip shopping center parking lot, and when I saw the Joshua Center sign, I saw that cars were clustered around that entrance. The MCC was having some sort of mid-afternoon get together when I walked in, and I was shown where the book club meeting was going on.

I do have to say that I didn't know if the turnout for the meeting was going to be heavy (around thirty people) or light (no more than a half-dozen. It was the latter, but the people had come with written questions and places marked in their copy of Common Sons that they wanted to read aloud and comment on. I didn't want to be the focus of the meeting, however, I wanted the club members' focus on the book, to see what they thought. After all, Common Sons had been in print for twenty-seven years by this time, in it's fourth edition.

Now, this is where the religious sub-culture of the south and particularly the Mississippi religious sub-culture is important. The Common Threads in the Life series, of which Common Sons is the first book is also heavy in the religious theme, considering that one of the main characters is a preacher's son, with a fundamentalist, Southern-Baptist type preacher-father. So I figured that the religion aspect and how LGBT people in the South had to deal with their religions would be relevant in their reading of Common Sons.

This is the Governor of Mississippi
who eagerly signed the recent
unconstitutional "religious freedom"
bill, HB1523, which was promptly
shut down by a federal court.
I was right. The undertone was that religion played a big part in the lives of the readers, but it did in my life, as well. Southern Baptists on my mother's side and Church of Christ (non-affiliated) on my father's side. The discussion was lively, and one reader admitted that the main character was a kind of fantasy character, when I asked if anything bothered the group about the book. Yes, Joel Reece is an "ideal" of mine, a young man who early on has the strength of character to trust his own feelings over the strictures and expectations of the society in which he lives. So this one reader said that, although Joel represented a fantasy, he was still "realistic" in the way I had sketched him and that by the end of the book, the reader had overcome his feeling that Joel was just a fantasy character.

I can't speak for the South. I can't even speak for Mississippi, nor Hattiesburg, nor Columbus, but when I ask people, they tell me that the farther south you go in Mississippi, the more progressive and even liberal the towns and cities become. Columbus doesn't have a Unitarian Universalist church, but I bet Hattiesburg does.

This Sticker is used in
businesses in Mississippi
to indicate that the owners
do not discriminate against
LGBT people.
After all, it does have an MCC, a church organization founded by a gay man quite a few decades ago, now. And the setting of Common Sons was far enough back in time (mid-1960s) that the characters can be expected to be ignorant of what their feelings might represent and have to struggle with them on a much more basic level than young people might have to today. And this novel is relevant to southern readers in particular, precisely because the struggles that the preacher's son had to go through are still representative of what LGBT people have to go through in a predominantly religious culture in Mississippi. As I indicated when I initiated this blog, I'm only going to write about the positive aspects of my experiences in Mississippi. We all know the negatives, including that the Mississippi legislature and executive branch currently have a super-majority Republican base. However, the AG is a Democrat. He decided not to defend HB1523, but he didn't have to, anyway, since it was blocked from becoming law by a federal court.

Also, like the setting in a rural community in Common Sons many of the readers in Mississippi can relate to living in small towns and even coming from farms.

So, the upshot is that the club decided that it would take on the other books in the Common Threads series, and I think the next one will be discussed in December. I hope to attend. It will be a chance to get on the road in a Mississippi winter and see what Hattiesburg is like then.

I included this video, not to indicate that Mississippians themselves are stuck in the past but that the people, and not the politicians, are just fine, at least where I live and apparently south all the way to the coast. A long discussion, then, of how the Republican majority could have been voted in to begin with won't be part of my postcards...Like New Mexico, however, the pendulum swings between Democrats and Republicans in the legislature.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

On the Road to Hattiesburg, Part I

Attending the Book Club Meeting (and finding my way)...


I left Columbus, Mississippi, at 8:30 on Saturday, August 6, for my Hattiesburg, Mississippi, adventure. It was one of those very hot and very humid days we had last week, where the "real feel" according to the smart phone weather said it felt like the triple digits...but I'll get to this in a minute.

Somewhere on I-59 approaching Meridian
When I started out, it was cool-ish and that was good enough for me. In the case of this trip, it was more about what I would see on the way to Hattiesburg, some 180 miles almost due south. It was bright and sunny as I followed my phone's directions to get onto highway 45. And the first part of the trip took me to familiar scenery as I started out going west toward Starkville. Once you leave Columbus, heading west, the land opens up just a bit and you can see down the lush, green highway, the Golden Triangle Regional Airport off to the left, the industrial park, small bodies of water, and meadows. The trees don't close in the road, and as I turned south onto Highway 45, as directed, it stayed this way for the first few miles. The highway was smooth and the countryside to my desert eyes was beautiful. A little farther down the road and small farms came into view on both sides of the highway. I immediately knew when I passed cotton fields, since I grew up on a cotton farm, and this early in August, the cotton was in the latter blooming stage, with their yellow flowers, but not in profusion, and I figured the crops were already forming the cotton bowls, as well. There were also what looked like fields of grain, and cornfields that were already beyond the ripened corn stage. I figure that, while corn takes about 90 days to grow and mature, it is possible to plant at least two crops before the weather turns too cold, if you stagger the planting. Of course, the fields were bordered by trees, and for awhile it was sunny and the sky was mostly clear. I've been delighted having only lived in Mississippi now for a little over two months that there are days and portions of days when the sky is almost cloudless, and people tell me that August is a relatively dry month.

As the miles accumulated under me, the terrain changed, and the land "undulated" rather than forming "rolling hills" as it might in other parts of the country. Of course the distinct difference between anything east of New Mexico and the western half of New Mexico is there were no mountains rising up on the horizon in any direction, but the trees of Mississippi keep it from being boring to the eye, as might be the case in the great plains (at least to me).

Fairly soon, however, the farmland diminished and the trees moved in closer to the highway, and the four-lane highway separated and, as in Louisiana on I-20 out of Shreveport, the medians grew wide and were also filled with trees, so that you couldn't see the oncoming lanes of traffic. There were signs for small towns all along the way, but they were not visible from the highway, and I was on a mission to get to Hattiesburg, anyway, in time to drive around and sight see before it was time to get to the book club meeting. But it was over a two-hour drive, and so I did have to pull off a couple of times to either gas up or take a bathroom break and have a cup of coffee.

I saw the signs for Macon, Mississippi, but I was disappointed to see that the only part of Macon that was visible from the highway were gas stations and a few outlying houses. Macon is where my partner had found a drop-dead gorgeous, 5,000 square-foot Victorian that I would have liked to see, but that part of Macon was hidden by trees, and I didn't even know whether the mass of Macon was on the west side of the highway or the east side, and so I kept on driving.

In my limited knowledge of the terrain of Mississippi, I theorize that the land is flatter and more farming is done on the Mississippi delta side of the state (along the Mississippi River and inland to about the middle of the state). I was driving down along the eastern side of the state, not far from the Alabama border, and I saw signs for towns in Alabama as I drove.

Don't ask me what kinds of trees grow along the highways, but I noticed that as I continued southward, the trees changed from leafy to piney trees. Sorry, that's the best I can do. In the part of New Mexico I'm from, there are pine forests, dotted with aspens, in the higher elevations, but in the desert, you not only know what kind each tree is, but you practically can name each one...that mulberry by the grocery store. That old pine tree that froze out in 2005 at the Papen house. There just aren't that many stands of trees in the desert. But in Mississippi and along the highway there is a large variety of trees, so thick in some places along the highways that you can't even walk through them!

I arrived in Hattiesburg, after traversing Meridian and getting onto Highway 59 south, there. Once again the terrain changed a little more and the land opened up so that I could see a little farther in each direction. And it became somewhat hotter and more humid, but I figured part of that was passing from morning into mid-morning. In all, it was still lush and green as I drifted into the outskirts of Hattiesburg, and once the gps app released me, saying I had "arrived" I found I was on Main street in Hattiesburg.

From there I just winged it as I drove around, always keeping in mind where Main street was. I was a little surprised that Hattiesburg, being a much larger town than Columbus was a bit more rough around the edges in the downtown area. In my last post, I featured a video about the Midtown Hattiesburg development, but I decided it must still be in the planning stages. No doubt there are, as in most other cities, well-developed areas and areas that need to undergo renovation, and the older homes I saw in Hattiesburg in the downtown area were ripe for renovation, but there were lots of old homes that would be stunning once they are renovated. I've always been lucky in unfamiliar cities in stumbling onto just what I was looking for, and when I arrived in Hattiesburg, I was looking for a cafe or coffee shop. I found the Depot Coffee House, right along the railroad tracks near what must have been the bustling center of Hattiesburg when the railroads were the hub of the city. On the Road to Hattiesburg, Part II will continue in the next post...