Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Rebel Country

Things I love right now:

My life.
My country.
Oxford, Mississippi.

This morning I left Kosciusko and started back on the Natchez Trace. I left later than I would have because I wanted to get to French Camp at 10:30am, and French Camp is only about 45 minutes away from Kosciusko. Everything I have read about my section of the Trace says to stop at French Camp for lunch, because the Council House Cafe has the best BLTs in the world.

Now, French Camp is barely a town. It's itty bitty. It's based around the French Camp Academy, which, from what I can figure, is a Christian school with a graduating class of about 25 per year. It is very small. And it's really all there is in the town. I turn off the Trace and my phone says the cafe is a few blocks in. But I know I'm not the in the right place, because I'm on the campus and all they buildings are new and I know the cafe is in a log cabin. There is not a map of the village or campus or anything on the internet. I get out of my car and decide to walk around and hope to find someone to ask.

I ran into someone pretty fast, and he was carrying styrofoam takeout containers so I figured he would know. He tells me "Oh, that's downtown." Which has be completely bewildered because--and this is not an exaggeration--this town is less than 1 square mile. There is not a "downtown" to a town that small. He gives me directions (turn left and before you cross the Trace, there's a Baptist church and turn right) and then we talk a little and he asks where I'm from, I say Seattle, and he says "Well, you sure are a far piece from home." Before I leave, he tells me that if I get lost to come back because his house is right there and he'll take me down there.

I find the cafe no problem, because it's really only about half a mile from where I had parked (and about 500 feet from where I had talked to that man). It is in a log cabin, and I'm the only one there. I get the BLT. I had wondered, "how great can a BLT really be?" and it turns out that a BLT can be spectacular. The bread is homemade every day, and toasted just slightly. Lots of crunchy bacon, perfect tomatoes, and not too much lettuce. But the special touch is their homemade spicy garlic mayonnaise. I think that was the best sandwich I've had. Ever. There was a note on the menu board that recipe cards were available in the gift shop, so I went in and asked if they had the recipe for the sauce and they sell the recipes for all the things in the cafe (even the bread) in a little bundle for $2. I snatched that up and anyone who visits me will be getting a homemade replica of that sandwich because it was that good.

While I was eating, one of the employees came in to the cafe and said "I saw you had New York tags and I wondered where in New York you were from so I thought 'Well, I'll go find out'" (that was verbatim, by the way). I told him, and then he told me he'd spent a year in Monticello. We talked about the weather, he said he would like it up there if they could shorten the winter from nine months to three weeks. He said after 27 inches of snow in 24 hours he kept thinking "Lord, let me get back to Mississippi." I told him one of the reasons I wanted to move south was because I'd had enough of long winters and could manage with long summers for a little while.

I left with a very full, very happy belly and some good impressions of Mississippians.

I was driving again and realized I was smiling, for no real reason, just smiling and driving. I felt--I feel--like right now, I'm exactly where I'm supposed to be. Right that moment, I really felt it. Driving through a national park, in a part of the country I've been so anxious to visit, having interacted with a few very nice people, knowing I was headed towards Oxford, everything felt perfect. What a wonderful feeling. To just feel right.

I arrived in Oxford a little later than I would've liked because of my late start to eat at French Camp (worth it), but it didn't matter much anyway since almost everything was closed for the holiday.

The first place I went was Courthouse Square, which features in some of William Faulkner's novels.

OH! Maybe I should explain this a little more. William Faulkner is the love of my literary life. Really, reading The Sound and the Fury is what started this whole love of the south that I have. The best compliment I have ever gotten on a paper was when one of my professors wrote "this is a bit Faulkneresque" (which, can actually be a compliment or a criticism). Oxford is William Faulkner's hometown, and also the town where he owned his estate, Rowan Oak. He created a fictional county in Mississippi and a lot of it is based on Oxford.

Oxford is also home of University of Mississippi, or Ole Miss. Ole Miss embraces the Faulkner thing and holds an annual Faulkner conference. Ole Miss also embraces the southern thing and has a Center for Southern Studies, which is a big deal, sort of, if you're in to that kind of thing (I am). If zookeeping falls through, or I find myself with a few years to kill, I want to come to Ole Miss and get my master's in Southern Studies. It's something I really want to do, but don't know how hard it would be to finance, and don't know how much I really want to go to school again, and don't know how practical it is to get an advanced degree that doesn't relate to a career. Buuuut, I think it would be a lot of fun.

Anyway. The point is, I'm really excited about being in Oxford. It's very Southern and has a lot of Faulkner. So I'm in a kind of heaven. It also happens to be the cutest little town in the world. And it's got a great book store with a section on Southern lit. That's real heaven.

There's a bronze bench with a bronze Faulkner in the town square in front of City Hall. I tried to sit on it earlier today, to sit next to Faulkner, and almost got a third degree burn on the back of my legs because I tried to sit on a bronze bench that had been sitting in the Mississippi sun, which had raised temperatures to 100 degrees, all day. It rained really hard shortly after that and the bench was probably cool enough, but then everything was wet.

I walked around the Ole Miss campus and thought that if my love of the South had just started a year or two earlier, in time to win over my New York thing, I would have gone to Ole Miss. It's got a beautiful campus. And Southern studies. Siiigggh. It's just lovely here.

I went to the fireworks tonight and sat next to a nice family and talked to the mom for awhile. The fireworks show wasn't on par with Seattle's, but it was good for the size of the town. And I love fireworks. And I love how much nearly everyone loves fireworks. Enough to go outside in all weather, stake out a seat hours in advance, get a cramp in your neck, and then get caught in traffic trying to leave.

I've covered two out of three of the things I said I love right now. The other seems like it should explain itself, but I think one of the things people don't know about me is how much I really do love my country. I think it comes from loving history. I also think it comes from not really being involved in my cultural heritage. Since I don't think about where my family comes from, I focus on where I am. And I like it. I like the history and even though I don't think I had any ancestors here when the country started, I still feel like it is part of my history, because I don't feel like I belong anywhere else. It's strange, maybe. I don't know. But being able to see the country and talk to some new people makes me love it more. And today seemed the appropriate day to share.

Now, I am quite tired and have a lot to do tomorrow and I have to figure out if I'm going to stay in Oxford another night or go to Memphis. Big decisions.

(Oh, one last thing, the Ole Miss mascot is the rebel, which explains the post title. I also thought it was a little interesting to spend the day celebrating the union on a campus of rebels.)

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