Thursday, October 1, 2009

I Can Spell Mississippi

9715 -10113

Wednesday September 30 I travelled down blue highways (US 61 and the Natchez Trace) along the Mississippi River and got to see the state in all its glory.

First stop was in Clarksdale, Mississippi, at the Shack Up Inn. Supposedly this is Mississppi's orginal "B&B" --in this case Bed and Beer (established 1998). It is made up of former tenant houses, gathered together from the middle of cotton fields, fixed up with air conditioning and indoor plumbing. "The Ritz it Ain't," they advertise. So now middle class folks can have a great weekend drinking beer on an authentic porch. I guess it's supposed to be cute. Or slumming. Or whatever. I must admit I found the concept oddly appealing. Apparently it is hugely popular with British tourists. Whodathunkit.

Mississippi seemed a prime spot for Hummer Flipping. Here is one. I particularily liked the yellow color. The house it is parked in front of could easily be transported to the Shack Up Inn for a real dose of authenticity.

On to The Jim Henson Exhibit in the Washington County Tourist Center/Leland Chamber of Commerce in Leland, Mississippi. Jim Henson spent his youth in Leland. Kermit the Frog was "born" here, named for Henson's childhood friend Kermit Scott.

I particularily liked the greeting committee of cats, all seen in this photo. One is appropriately named Ernie, and the other far less appropriately Frisky (Mamma Cat is on the left). I got all this from the docent in the small exhibit, named appropriately (for Mississippi) Rita Sue.

Rita Sue gave me lots of info on Henson and Kermit, like how Kermit was originally made from Henson's mother's coat (and has changed remarkably little). Listening to Rita Sue reminded me of a golden rule of docenting: don't give more info than the visitor obviously wants. The small exhibit was crammed with Kermit and Muppet TaT (Trash and Trinkets). Naturally I had a photo taken with stuffed Kermit. I am on the right.

My next stop was in Vicksburg. Now you might have expected this historian to visit Civil War memorials, but I instead found myself at Margaret's Grocery and Market. Folks from around the world are drawn inexplicably by this shrine of folk art, painted red, white, and pink, and covered with biblical verses and found objects of every sort. It doubles as a church, the chapel being a simialrily adorned school bus on the property. But the real treasure is Reverend Dennis.

Reverend Dennis owns the place. Margaret was his wife, and the place is no longer a retail business. He was quick to greet me as "young man;" he is 94 years old. He literally has two teeth in his head. And he told the same stories multiple times. And I loved it.

His mother died in his childbirth; he was raised by his grandmother, a former slave, until she died when he was 10. Then he was raised by "white folks" so he has an appreciation for "both sides." He was wounded in WWII in the South Pacific (hence the salute in both photos). He has been preaching since he was 22.

He showed me inside the place; a hodge podge of religious items, photos, newspaper clippings, bric-a-brac, and odd items (for instance there was an M&M character standing with the ceramic tablets of the Ten Commandments). Mega TaT. But not for sale. Though donations gladly accepted. His guest book was amazing; folks from all over the world. I was happy to add my name.

I spent the better part of an hour with Reverend Dennis. He is another fine example of someone who touched me by giving of himself. He has been touching people with stories (and junk) for decades. And I hope many more.

As I drove through Port Gibson, Mississippi, it was hard to miss the the gold "Hand Pointing to Heaven" on the steeple of the First Presbyterian Church. Apparently the original hand was afixed in 1860, and has been replaced several times since. The town was spared destruction by fire during the Civil War due to its beauty (as was Natchez, down the road).

Natchez is the home of Mammy's Cupboard, a very unusual looking restaurant. Have you ever wanted to eat in a 28 foot tall woman's skirt? Well, this is the place for you.

One review described it as "a classic piece of vernacular architecture and, as such, is well worth a visit for that reason alone. How often do you see a restaurant in the shape of a mammy? She's been spruced up, and made ethnically vague: if you mixed all the different peoples of the world in a jar, and shook them up, you might get today's Mammy. " It is open for lunch only, so no chance to sample the fare (the desserts are supposedly fantastic).

I finally arrived at the home of my college friend Tim Stoll and his wife Peg, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. We had a great time catching up. Tim's recent experience was most enlightening: he was laid off after years in marketing for a petroleum company. He has opened a franchise of The Alternative Board, where he gathers small business owners for business coaching and peer advisory boards. His desire to do something that involved coaching and mentoring took him out of the corporate world. Bravo, Tim. And bravo, Peg, who successfuly home-schooled all three of their daughters all the way through high school. Vain Tim insisted on wearing a hat as to not show his bed hair.

Easy puppy fix at the Stoll's. Here are goldens Wendy and Gracie. Petey, the 16 year old pound puppy (and you would never guess it!), was camera shy.

Now I head for Houston, where I will be staying for a couple of weeks with my sister Sarah.

1 comment:

  1. I'm telling you, you've got to publish this in book form. You are in fine form here, my friend. Copyright and publish this baby!

    CWC in JC's account!!