My South (And What You Might Not See)

Mississippi washes over you like a wave.

The smell of the grass and tall weeds hit by the hot sun. Crickets.

Moss hanging from them trees that we were told as kids had lice in em’. Well, Me-Maw wasn’t wrong, we found out.

It sounds different than the Pacific Northwest. The way the trees rustle and lose their leaves. Discovering the Battle of Raymond — now just a hay field off the Natchez Trace. A good place to pick up acorns and the occasional mushroom.

It is my home when I’m not in Oregon.

I think y’all know this by now.

But what you don’t know is how that place makes me soft. The mix of family and smells and deep fried carbohydrates puts me into that place that I’m so familiar with. Odd, how a place does that.

I visited home last week and had such a great time. We went to Mississippi State Fair and ate fried alligator and smoked turkey legs. I almost threw up on at least two rides, mostly due to the block of fair cart food sloshing around in my (usually) well balanced belly. I didn’t much mind.

I watched my mom in the kitchen, orchestrating dinner and snacks and realized where I got it from — why it feels so natural — and why we both get it. Someone has to be in charge of that stuff or people get grumpy and hungry. We know, we know.

I got to each lunch with my niece at her school where my sister teaches 1st grade. She’s such a good teacher. I love looking at her classroom and realizing how bad I am at math. God, I miss cubby holes. And naps! And chicken tetrazzini!

It’s also been since last December that I’ve seen my home state. I was not in a great place health wise, as y’all might recall. Having heartburn and stomach pains nearly every day.

I started going to a doctor and 10 months later, have dropped nearly 45lbs. Stomach pains have stopped and I haven’t had heartburn till I made Gran’s chili, but that’s just to be expected, I think.

Southern cuisine is struggling. Fast food has destroyed what made Southern food so good. If you look hard enough, you can find mom and pop storefronts that are making the real stuff. You’ll find T-Beaux’s seafood stand that builds on to its small trailer every year. You’d be surprised to find a lot of gas stations doing their own stuff.

Mostly you’ll notice the fast food. I strolled into Wal-Mart looking for headphones when I noticed nearly everyone walking around with soda in their hand, shopping. And I don’t say this to cast a bad light on my people. Because I’ve come a long way to lose that habit and it’s changed my life.

I mean, to feel how good it is to have folks say, “Whoa, you have lost so much weight!”

Damn straight.

I worked hard for that. Fought back control of my body. Only to see the struggle of the South. To take back what made it so unique. But I will say it again, fast food is killing the South. Cheap, empty calories, sugar highs and temporarily full bellies.

Real southern food is not this. Don’t kid yourself. Vegetables are a HUGE part of Southern foodways. The “meat and three veg” joints. The huge potential of growing amazing food out of the earth. I saw the most beautiful fresh okra from the street fair. It looked like it was still alive and moving. I don’t know if I’ll be able to buy the other stuff again.

I crave this from my South. A place that most of the world is still so curious about. A place where food and hospitality reign over anything else.

You won’t really find any izakayas or Michelin rated restaurants.

You will find my family and friends who are there. Adapting and moving in the way Mississippi lets you. You’ll see that my mom uses real butter now and that my Gran hooks us up with that awesome yellow cheddar from Mississippi State. I love that.

We’re all still moving and adjusting, hardly settling. And that’s okay. We experience growing pains everywhere we plant our roots.

Thankful for the times sitting around the table and getting to spend time with my niece and nephew. Always so sad to leave, but with each trip, learning what it means to have two homes with lots of people who love us. So thankful for all of it that I just eat it up.

Mississippi, as the sign reads, is always like comin’ home.

 

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