Myrtle - Holly Springs - Tunica September 24, 2009

We left Tupelo about 9:00 on a cloudy Thursday morning and headed up new Highway 78. The first thing that caught our attention was the sign for Myrtle. Myrtle, Mississippi is an enticing name, isn’t it?

Yes, it is.

Sadly though, it appears that Myrtle is another small town that seems to be fading away. And what a shame that any place with a Town Hall like this would fade away.

As you can see from the picture, Myrtle has a Town Hall tota
lly out of keeping with the town I’ve been describing here, and one has to wonder if it’s a remnant from Myrtle’s better days. It’s a beautiful old house.

The photo above is of a beautiful old house, but mostly we drove through Myrtle saying, “Now, with some work, that could be a beautiful house.” Over and over again we said this, and there’s something sad about that.

And, with a sigh, we were off to Ashland – a little out of the way, but worth a visit. It’s in the hill country, you know, and it actually has a mountain area look to it. The town of Ashland is really small, but it was a beautiful drive.


The photo above is of Snow Lake Shores, a real “Whaa? Stop the car!” place. We were just driving over a bridge when we looked to our right and saw the most beautiful lake. There are houses all around the lake. They look like the sort of houses that people built years ago when you could buy a piece of land, pick out a house plan, and build a house without having to consult a committee or get anything approved. In fact, that's just the way it came about. It was developed during the 50s.

The houses all back up to the lake, and have really deep back yards that slope down to the lake, where each house has its own small covered boat dock. It was so serene, so incredibly beautiful, so unexpected.

We got to Holly Springs around 10:45 and made (the HBCU) Rust College our first stop. It is really pretty. There are several buildings that appear to be quite old (and therefore, have personality), a few that appear to just be old (and therefore, run down and dirty), and some lovely new buildings. The main building (pictured above) – one that appears to be the centerpiece of campus – has a date of 1947 on it, I believe, although the school dates to 1866.
Across the street from Rust sits the remains of Mississippi Industrial College. This, too, was an African American school, but more trade school than university. It opened in 1902 to educate blacks and train them for a total of three occupations (in case something happened to the first, or second, career choice). MIC closed in 1982, leaving five beautiful old buildings behind. Recently, someone has gotten the buildings onto the National Register of Historic Places, but the action seems to have stopped there. One building has collapsed, the rest are on their way; it’s a shame as they are gorgeous and a real loss.
Holly Springs has a nice town square. We weren’t there to see the town square though. Marian and I went to Holly Springs to see Graceland Too, something we assumed folks in Holly Springs wished would just go away. It is home to Paul McLeod and his son, Elvis Aaron Presley McLeod, who are devoting their lives to keeping Elvis’s memory alive. (And, goodness, don’t they have a lot of help there?)

All the rest of the Elvis impersonators and Elvis memorabilia collectors in the world don’t have a thing on these guys. Their goal is to compile the most thorough collection of Elvis-related items in the world – and they’re well on their way! This goal necessitates (in their minds, at least) keeping a record of every time Elvis has appeared on TV. Or, been the subject of a program on TV. Or had someone so much as mention his name on TV. You can only imagine how extensive this collection alone must be. It requires them to man a TV (or several) 24/7. They do this in 12 hour shifts with the help of VCRs and now, TIVO, which must have made their lives much easier. Consequently, these guys are home all the time, and they advertise that fact. We’re always home, they say, all you have to do is ring the bell, pay $5, and in you come!
Not so. 
They weren’t home/wouldn’t answer the door/whatever and we didn’t get in. We had to console ourselves with looking at the innumerable plastic 3’ tall Christmas trees they have placed along the top of the fence that surrounds the house.

Personally, Marian seemed a little too happy about us not getting in,
but I really wanted to see it. I was sorely disappointed and will be dragging Marian back there.

Marian -- Happy? I seemed HAPPY? I wouldn't say HAPPY...........cheerful, contented, delighted, glad, jolly, overjoyed, thrilled, upbeat......yes, but.....cheez... Susan couldn't see the condition of this place up close. There was no bell....no door knocker...I knocked on the door and rapped on the window....but no one answered. The door didn't seem to be closed all of the way, so I pushed on it...but.. it was padlocked from within. Heck, I've seen this place on YouTube and, I promise you, there's no use in being rude and disturbing these people if they don't hear your first knock. These people need their rest!
We were hungry by then, so we set off for Phillips Grocery. It used to be the kind of grocery where the town’s working men would lunch on Vienna sausages, saltines and an RC, but they also cook food and they’re known for their hamburgers. In fact, they are actually in the book, “Hamburger America,” a copy of which they display for all to see. It’s a book that some guy wrote, rating the best hamburger joints in the U.S. (well, in 39 states at least). Only one other hamburger place in MS made the cut by the way, that being Bill’s in Amory. At $2.55, it was a fine burger. It didn’t knock our socks off, but it tasted like the burgers mom used to make – a real burger. Another nice thing they do at Phillips is offer a side of fried okra, which we thoroughly enjoyed. They have fried pies too – apple and peach. We split a yummy peach one.

As you can see, Phillips is in an old building, a circa-1900 store/home combo, a fairly narrow building with a porch and an upstairs where the owner lived. It was very conveniently located in its time too, right across the street from one of the prettiest train depots ever.

It’s not a fancy depot, but the picture hardly does it justice; it’s a striking red brick building (with a gorgeous brick walkway). It appears someone lives in the depot, judging from the plantation-shuttered upstairs windows and the note to the postman on the door, but it kind of gave us the creeps because the depot doesn't appear to have been refurbished or gentrified – it’s an old deserted train depot. It’s not falling in or anything... but it could be haunted nonetheless. The depot and Phillips are within touching distance of the train tracks, yet they still somehow seem isolated.


We left Holly Springs in plenty of time to get to Tunica for the highlight of our adventure, a trip down the Mississippi on the Tunica Queen. However, the highway (Highway 4, I believe) is enchanted, and somehow cast us onto another highway headed in the wrong direction. While the scenery was lovely, it was not going to take us to Tunica, and it took a while to right ourselves. I won’t go into all the boring details; suffice it to say, blah, blah, blah, we got to the dock at 2:26 for a 2:30 departure.
Perhaps this would be a good time to mention that I broke my ankle two months ago, and I’m still incapacitated. I can’t put any weight on my left leg, which is a real hindrance because in this particular case, I had to hop on my crutches down a tall set of steps while Marian carted my wheelchair down. Then I hopped into my chair and held on to my crutches while Marian flew down this (very steep and therefore very scary) ramp. Apparently, they held the boat for a couple minutes to allow us to get on, so…we made it! Sure was close though.
Neither Marian nor I had ever navigated the Mississippi, and we aren’t getting any younger, you know, so we figured this was our chance. Incredibly though, we were about the youngest people aboard, so I guess we still had plenty of time and just didn’t know it.

We found the Mississippi to be very interesting. Did you know that there is a 50’ fluctuation in water height on the river? True! That’s why the docks along the MS are floating rather than stationary. The river only flows about 4 miles an hour, which doesn’t sound like much at all, but that sucker is full of movement. It’s possible to see signs of movement from the top of the water, in the form of large circles. They look like the equivalent of crop circles on water. They’re just flat, glassy places in the water, 5-8 feet across, sometimes more. They’re everywhere, each one signifying that something is going on underneath the water. 

Then, there are little tiny places that look like water being sucked down a drain. People who know the Mississippi have great respect for it due to the fact that they fear it, but our ignorance had precluded having such fears. Now we're scared of it too!
We motored upriver for 45 minutes before turning around and coming back, and that whole time we didn’t see one other boat or barge or anything. That’s not good. You see, the banks of the Mississippi are not particularly interesting – they’re flat and tree-lined, and they’re virtually identical, so you get the same view coming and going. A few barges or boats, even a tow boat with nothing to tow, would have enhanced the experience exponentially. That said, it was still fun, although it would have been more fun if I could have wandered the boat and perhaps, sat up top. As it was, I can't do any of those things, so Marian parked my wheelchair in the second level bow (entry and exit point) and I had quite a good view.
After our boat ride, we checked out a casino. Although neither of us is a gambler, you just can’t go to Tunica and NOT go to a casino. We chose Bally’s purely for convenience. We went through the front door and were immediately aware that smoking is not outlawed everywhere in Mississippi after all.
Marian wheeled me around till we found a penny machine (I told you we weren’t gamblers) and then we tried to figure out how to work it. Now, I go to Las Vegas every year or so and am not unfamiliar with slot machines, but these were puzzling. Worse, I was in my wheelchair, Marian’s hair is (prematurely) white, and the combo causes us to look, well, old and inept.
An employee took pity on us and tried to give us a tutorial in using the machines, but she soon gave up and found us one with a handle to pull. THAT’S what we had wanted in the first place! So, Marian and I sat side by side at our penny slots and played away. What a picture we must have made!
Those penny slots really pay off, but sadly, it’s all in pennies. Our employee/tutor kept urging me to play the full board, which added up to 90 cents a pull, but I stood my ground at 5 or 10 cents a hit. She told me that I couldn’t win the progressive jackpot that way, and I told her that I wasn’t going to win the progressive jackpot anyway. She said, “You never know.” and I said, “Yes, I do.”

I learned a long time ago that as far as casinos go, you are a winner or a loser and I’m a loser. I can accept that, but it must have been hard for her because she gave up and went away then. It was shortly after that that Marian and I decided it was time to cash out, to take our winnings and go. So, we took our $3.52 cents and left for home.

Greenwood - Indianola - Leland - Greenville July 31, 2009

Day 1


an early start for our “See the Delta” trip – we’re always a little concerned about allowing enough time for all the side trips we want to take. As it turned out, we were in Greenwood by 10:00 a.m. because there wasn’t anything enticing along the way. There were plenty of enticements in Greenwood, however. There is a nice little shopping strip downtown (Howard Street), with cute stores that all seemed to be having sales. Add to that the fact that it was “no tax day” there, and the buys got even better.

Greenwood’s Alluvian Hotel is on the same street, and I must say, it’s snazzy. It’s also pricey, but for folks coming to do business with Viking (which is right across the street), the hotel has to be a wonderful surprise. The lobby is striking in a very contemporary/almost-minimalist-modern sort of way, and the ladies’ room is gorgeous – really beautiful. The Viking Spa is also across the street. While that wasn’t on our agenda, it must come as another wonderful surprise to travelers.

We had wanted to tour Florewood River Plantation, but sadly, it’s closed – apparently due to some disagreement between the owners and the state or something like that. It’s a shame, as it got great recommendations and looked really interesting. We had to appease the tourist in us with a trip to Cottonlandia Museum. It was interesting, but in a school field trip kind of way. Nice stop, but once is enough unless you have little ones with you.


From Greenwood we moved on to Indianola for lunch. We were looking forward to eating at The Crown, Evelyn Roughton’s downtown restaurant. She catered Amy May’s wedding in 1994 (Amy is my goddaughter, the daughter of Karen Cooper and Robert May), and I still remember the food because this woman is so fabulous. She makes a catfish pate that is out of this world. I used to buy it at a specialty store here (that, sadly, went out of business) and I’ve really missed being able to serve it at parties – the look on people’s faces when you tell them that they haven’t been eating smoked salmon, they’ve been eating catfish is priceless. (People from other parts of the country, especially the east coast, are afraid of catfish, you know. A friend in Chicago actually thought they were poisonous. Despite that, I’ve been told that her catfish pate has won national awards at some of the big food shows. I guess food critics are more savvy.)

Anyway, we had a wonderful lunch and it’s a charming place. The restaurant exhibits the work of local artists, and has a small toy store and book store. They prepare catfish every way but fried, serve yummy beer breads with the meal, and they had a dessert table (for $2!) that contained no less than 6 pies, a trifle, and a pavlova. They serve prepared versions of the prepackaged mixes they sell (Taste of Gourmet), so it’s kind of a tasting. Also, Evelyn is the hostess-with-the-mostess that every restaurateur should be.

We walked around downtown Indianola and saw BB King’s hand and foot prints on the sidewalk at the spot where he first played for locals when he was just 17.

Then we took Evelyn’s advice and drove along the bayou. What a surprise! We didn’t really know what we were looking for, but we certainly weren’t looking for a swamp in a nice neighborhood. That’s what is it though. It’s just off the downtown area, and it is a long body of standing water with cypress trees and their knees sticking up out of the water. (Did you know that the knees rise above water to take in oxygen? I read that in a tourist brochure.) There are also bird houses planted on long sticks in the water (gotta be to lure mosquito eaters). The water is covered with some of the loveliest slime I believe I’ve ever seen – a beautiful shade of bright, light green, and as gross as it sounds, it’s very appealing. (Karen says that it is probably duck weed, a real problem, so I guess it’s not always green.) But it’s just so unexpected to come upon a sight like that! I couldn’t help worrying about mosquitoes though, what with all that standing water.

Marian -- This picture of the Bayou can be taken anywhere down Main Street in Indianola. You can see the bird/duck houses on stilts in the water. The light green is slime, the dark green is lush grass...beautiful, but, also unsettling. Something made a ripple in the lime green slime just as we got out of the car. I choose to believe that it was a frog -- Kermit?


Next stop was Leland, Mississippi, and the Kermit the Frog/Jim Henson museum. Marian’s got a thing for Kermit; I’m a Miss Piggy fan myself. The nice woman at the museum was incredibly knowledgeable; she knew a lot about Jim, and she really knew her muppets. We had our photo made with a giant Kermit, bought a couple tee shirts and were on our way.


We got to Greenville about 4:30 and checked into a new Hampton Inn near the country club. What a nice hotel! We dropped off our stuff and then headed across the Mississippi River to Lake Village, Arkansas, to a store that is supposed to offer fabulous shopping. Sadly, it was a mecca for “Made in China” housewares, so we soon came back across the bridge.

Speaking of the bridge, it’s very old and doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence, but there is a new bridge being built that is spectacular. I imagine the Mississippi is hard on its bridges, what with the current and all.

On the way home, we stopped at Warfield Park Landing and climbed the lookout tower to get an incredible view of the Mississippi. Now, all things are relative and this is the Delta, so the “tower” is really only three or four stories high. Still, it doesn’t need to be any higher – we could see for miles! There was also an old, rusting paddlewheel boat parked not far from the “tower.” It was built in 1924, and had a full and busy life before being purchased for $1.00 and brought here. Hopefully, they will come up with the money to restore it while there’s still time. It would be a shame to lose it.

By this time, it was nearly 6:00, and we had 6:30 reservations at Doe’s Eat Place. For years (decades, maybe) we have both heard how wonderful Doe’s is, how it has the best steaks in the world, blah, blah, blah. Seldom does anyplace that gets such hype live up to it, so we were wary, but determined to eat there and put an end to thinking about it. I do believe that Doe’s is all it’s cracked up to be though. I’ve never had a better steak. Ever. It was incredible. Marian had fried shrimp (the only way I don’t like shrimp) and her shrimp was delicious. So light and flavorful, I could hardly believe it.

That said, the place gave us a fright. It’s rumored to be a dump, but that’s almost flattering. It’s the only place I’ve ever been where I would eat their food, yet didn’t want to use their bathroom. You enter through a kitchen – a really hot kitchen – with stoves going and supplies piled up everywhere. Then they seat you. There are several rooms: the side room, which you can find because the wood sign over the door says “side room,” the back room (same thing), a main room, and a few tables along a wall in a second kitchen. That’s where we sat, in the second kitchen. Our table was right on the dividing line between the kitchen and the main room, and it sloped down toward the main room. I sat on the kitchen side, but Marian sat on the main room side and she looked about two feet tall. The table came way up her chest.

The waitress came to us with a pitcher of water, and then stood there holding her tablet and pencil and looking at us. We looked back, but we didn’t know what to do. Finally, we told her we hadn’t gotten a menu, and she said that was because they didn’t have menus. She reeled off a few things and I ordered a filet and Marian ordered shrimp. I have no idea what all our choices were, but from my handy-dandy kitchen seat, I did see spaghetti, shrimp pasta, tamales and a few other things go out.We were right by the big stove where this woman cooked batch after batch of fries that had obviously been hand-cut. She had a cast iron skillet going, and that’s pretty much all she did. They were wonderful. Another woman dipped and fried shrimp. Other people buttered bread and toasted it, etc., so we had some entertainment with our dinner.

We also got a good look at their pans, and they aren’t for the faint of heart. There is so much grease cooked/caked on the outside that I don’t believe it is even possible to clean them. Seriously. I’m glad I couldn’t see the inside. What I could see was everything under and behind the stove (I’m looking into hypnosis to help me forget what I saw), and the walls and ceiling, which had electric cords running all along them. Some were in metal tubes, others just painted over. I don’t know how the place has stood so long (the sign says since 1941) without burning to the ground. It’s a miracle, a real miracle, but so was that steak. I can’t get over it.

Marian here...I have to second Susan's assessment of Doe's. To all of those who told me that Doe's has "gone down" since their heyday....obviously you were speaking of the building...NOT the food! The shrimp was better than I've ever had on the coast...any coast, any where, any time. I tasted Susan's filet. WOW....melt in your mouth, no seasoning to mask anything, 3" high and fork-tender, filet. The food definitely was fabulous. The building is still etched in my mind. The two are not a match! The wall we sat next to leaned toward the street ....the outside of the building appeared to have had a new coat of paint...maybe the paint will keep that place together -- this place needs to be preserved!

Marian and I headed back to the Hampton Inn then, fat and happy, and slept like logs despite the fact that – lucky us – we had gotten to town in time for a Little League baseball tournament and the hotel was full of 9 year olds!

Greenville - Cleveland - Merigold - Clarksdale August 1, 2009



Our first stop on Day 2 was Cleveland. We were looking forward to it as neither of us had ever seen Delta State and the town is supposed to have good shopping. Delta State was much bigger than either of us had thought, and it’s a truly beautiful campus – we were both impressed. Sadly, it was Saturday morning and the campus store was closed; we had wanted to buy one of their “Fighting Okra” tee shirts. They’re really the Delta State Statesmen, but some kid came up with the “fighting okra” and it caught on. It is not popular with alums apparently, but it’s cute. We did find the shopping all it was rumored to be in Cleveland, and we ended up buying a lot of gifts.


Our second stop was McCarty’s Pottery in Merigold. My, it’s well hidden. You wouldn’t think it would be hard to find anything in Merigold, but it is. I suspect that it might be the one ugly house in a pretty old neighborhood, because they’ve hidden the house behind a wall of bamboo. Even knowing the house number, you really have to look for the large number of cars parked across the street to spot the place. We met Mr. McCarty and looked around, but neither of us was in a pottery-buying mood, so off we went.


Next on the agenda was a visit to the Shack Up Inn, just outside Clarksdale. For those who aren’t familiar with it, some guys around our age hauled some former sharecroppers’ cabins to the Hopson Plantation, set them in a line, plumbed and wired them, and opened a B&B (Bed & Beer) sometime around 2000 as I recall. I stayed there in 2002, and it’s an experience. My shack was as clean as it could be (but not as clean as clean could be) – its age and history pretty much preclude the use of terms like “pristine,” “sparkling,” “antiseptic,” or even "clean" if you're totally honest. We’re talking peeling linoleum, old plank floors, etc. They wasted no money on furnishings, paint or anything like that; they kept the shacks in their original state and (apparently) used whatever furniture they found by the side of the road. The sheets (which don’t necessarily match) are worn and faded, and the towels look like those your grandmother had – with all the terry nubs worn off so that you can see through some places. The bed was comfortable, as I recall, but everything else is “to the period” so to speak. My room (my sister and I splurged on the two-bedroom shack) had a Hi-Fi that worked and plenty of records (some nailed to the wall as decorations). Our refrigerator was an old Coke machine, our kitchen and bathroom sinks had the biggest rust stains I have ever seen, and the kitchen wall was covered with newspapers from the 1960s that had been glued on for insulation – they advertised $5 dresses and stuff like that. One cute thing though: when we checked in, we found a mini Moon Pie on our pillows. (Sadly, they’ve stopped doing that. The guy at the desk told me that it turned out that rats love Moon Pies. I can only imagine.) Marian here -- Any of you who know me know that this cute little story completely ruled out any possibility in this life of my staying at this Inn. In fact, Moon Pies are also off my list...just to be safe.

Almost all the porches have an old couch, the back seat of an old car, a broken recliner or plastic chairs (something to sit on), and an old washing machine, a big console radio, a refrigerator or some other broken-down appliance. We had an old refrigerator sitting on our side porch, and various items in disrepair on the front porch. Outside walls are further decorated with hub caps or things like a large shard of broken mirror or really, any hangable piece of junk.

The Inn stays full – you have to book months in advance. When we were there, it was all booked up (except for two shacks with other guests) by a family’s family reunion. They had even booked most all the (nicer) hotel-room like rooms in the big building (the Cotton Gin Inn). There is a new luxury suite in that main building too, with a view of the stage from the room! It’s a really nice room too, and will probably be constantly sold out when there is entertainment going on. This picture of the luxury room shows a very nice flat screen television mounted on the wall above the air conditioner beside the comfy rocker. Sorta makes you want to settle down and relax a while, doesn't it? -- Marian

The Shack Up Inn isn’t for everyone (my husband wouldn’t stay there – period), but it’s an experience. When I stayed there, I couldn’t help but think of all the people who had lived (and been born and died) in my shack…what their lives had been like, how the world had looked to them…things like that. It raised my consciousness a good bit.

The Inn is especially popular during the Blues festivals, and with songwriters. The guy behind the desk told me that many songwriters want to come down there for a month or more, but that they don’t ever have that kind of availability. So…they are opening a Shackominium development across the road. Seriously. He showed me this awful looking shack that will be part of it, and then told me that the shack is beautiful on the inside. These new shacks are meant to look bad on the outside, but people can buy them and decorate them nicely or in keeping with the Inn. At first it sounded like nonsense, but a little further thought made it sound pretty good. The price will be right, and it’ll be a place to kick back or rent out to long or short term guests. With our huge generation retiring, it will probably do real well.


We tore ourselves away from the Inn to go to Clarksdale for lunch. We ate at Morgan Freeman’s club, Ground Zero, and what a kick that was! It’s a big, barn-like place downtown, and the first thing you notice when you walk in is that the walls are covered in graffiti. And, we mean covered. All the walls are covered, people have even signed the glass on framed photos, the windows, the load-bearing columns, the mirrors, walls, stalls and ceilings in the bathrooms – everything is covered in writing. Neither Marian nor I had ever written on a wall – it’s something that had never occurred to either one of us to do – but hey, we’re getting on in years and need to experience these things, so we scribbled our names (small and lightly) and now we have actually written on a wall. By the way, the club has great catfish. The picture above shows the grafitti...written in magic marker (be sure to take one with you when you visit...) almost all the way up to the top of the 12' ceilings. -- Marian

The picture above shows the ladies' restroom. I just don't know how to explain this....ladies normally are much neater than this! Even the mirror had grafitti on it. -- Marian

Next we moseyed down the street to a country store and looked around, but by then it was raining and it was mid afternoon, so we decided to forgo any further touring and head home. So off we went, and...guess what we saw out our car windows when we pulled out of Clarksdale?!? The exact same thing we had seen since we hit Greenwood the day before!!! Really, the exact same view!!! Cotton fields, corn fields, soybean fields, and barren fields – all flat as a flitter. Not a hill, not a bump, not a knoll, not a lump. Just “miles and miles of miles and miles.” That’s the Delta, for sure.

Aberdeen -- Columbus -- Amory May 7, 2009

How about a day-trip to the cities of Aberdeen, Columbus, Amory?

We took the old Highway 45 route into Aberdeen – driving by Ernie’s, a hamburger joint that used to have the best frozen custard in the world. Memories...always tied to good food and good friends.

One of the first signs that caught our attention was on a little shop called Monogram Magic. Monogramming...something that we both love to do. It looked like a neat place to get some gifts, and, boy, we weren’t disappointed! The store was crowded with baby gifts, little girls’ dresses, shoes, purses, jewelry, and things to monogram.

August of 1929 postcard of Commerce Street in Aberdeen -- costs a penny to mail it!

Aberdeen has beautiful tree-lined streets and some of the prettiest antebellum houses in the state.The downtown area still needs some spit and polish, but we drove around a while and then went on to Columbus, home to Mississippi University for Women. What a beautiful place and campus! Susan was a student there for the first two years of college - back when the place was known as MSCW.

Susan – I’ll take us on this little jaunt down memory lane. There is a new – very pretty – entrance to the ‘W’ now. At least, I don’t remember there having been one before. I hadn’t been back in at least 15 years, and the last time I was there, I was struck by how gorgeous it was. In fact, I was stunned by what a beautiful campus it was. I was stunned this time too, but this time it was because it looked so different.

Most all of the dorms that I remember from forty years ago are still there – Fant, for instance. It’s looking old, but doesn’t seem to be in bad condition. The old sophomore dorms over by the former dining hall (Shattuck Hall) are empty and in poor shape – Shattuck’s empty too. The two sophomore dorms were among the newer dorms when I was there, and it seems odd that Fant – which was ancient even when I was there – is still used, and not the two high rises. The old house on campus – possibly the president’s house? – is deserted as well and that really is a shame – it’s gorgeous and should be saved. Apparently, there was a tornado that touched down on campus a few years back, and it did a good bit of damage. They’ve done some nice landscaping, but it’s obviously new and doesn't have that old- growth look that made the campus look so elegant.

We ate at the Goose, the college’s snack bar, because the cafeteria was closed. Anyway, the Goose has changed very little since I first saw it on a Girl Scout trip in 1960 – it has been expanded a bit, but the general layout and the mailboxes are the same. After lunch, we headed toward the back of campus to see the Magnolia, the private dorm. It was fairly new when I was there, and was the lap of luxury. The lap of luxury is gone. I don’t know why, but there’s not a brick left. They’ve built some new dorms at the back of campus – nondescript high rises. They’ve also built new facades on some buildings that are too modern for what used to be a stately old campus. The whole campus seems to be fenced in, and I get the feeling it’s a security fence rather than a decorative one. Marian may have thought it was beautiful, having never seen it before, and maybe I would too if I had never been there, but for me it was kind of a depressing experience.
Downtown Columbus is beautiful, beautiful, beautiful – I give it 4 stars. The buildings have been updated with bright paint, awnings, and ironwork. Boutiques, clothing stores, a cafe, a coffee shop, and a consignment shop – just to name a few places to shop/see downtown. I think Columbus has done it right on their downtown revitalization plan.

Going west from Columbus we took Highway 82 to Highway 45 Alternate to an interesting-looking antique shop just north of the Egypt community. (This is one of those places that I have always wanted to stop when Barry and I return from the coast, but testosterone doesn't stop for shopping.) This store has a beautiful building with many, many antiques, but, they close a bit early (4:00) and we felt rushed to complete our “tour” before the doors closed behind us.

Hey, we still had some daylight left, and, so on to Amory! I remembered a previous trip to Amory to visit a garden full of irises…and we spent quite a bit of time driving through the residential area looking for the house. Although we never found the house, we certainly didn't waste our time – honestly – this town is beautiful! The homes – while they are not antebellum – have been lovingly restored, and the gardens are beautiful! Also, we found the old depot and an interesting log cabin that both had already closed for the day.

Hunger and lack of daylight made us give up on the iris-yard, but not on Amory....so, we drove through the downtown area looking for dinner. The young lady we asked highly recommended the Wilson's Family Restaurant – she may have been a relative, but heck, she knew her country food!

The restaurant was pretty empty when we went in, but, the aroma of home cooking was enough to make us realize that this place was for us. There was a buffet of chopped steak, gravy, green beans, salad, cornbread – food was just like Grandma used to cook. The atmosphere was welcoming and down home. (They host a music and singing program on Thursday nights – and, by the time we left, we could tell that it was very well attended.)

I asked the waitress what they added to the ground beef to make the chopped steak taste so good? She got the sweet lady who did the cooking to come out to talk to us. She said that the steak had no fillers, nothing was added except fresh ground beef (they grind it themselves fresh everyday)...she packed the beef tightly and grilled the steaks before they added them to the pan of gravy. One more hint was – don't turn the steaks too much and don't press down on the cooking patties. I've tried her “recipe” but the secret must be in the fresh meat – or it could be the years of experience.

For desert they offered homemade peach cobbler on the buffet and the cook sent us out some of her special chocolate cobbler. Wow!

We got back to Tupelo around 7:30 – and went for a 3 mile walk.

One major note: Amory is somewhere that we have to re-visit. There are many, many things that we have missed and, heck, Wilson's Family Restaurant serves home cooking almost every night.

Belmont - Woodall Mountain - Iuka - Corinth - Blue Mountain March 26, 2009

Marian and I started our adventure in Belmont, where we planned to have breakfast at the Belmont Hotel. Unfortunately, the hotel wasn’t open, which is a shame because it looked charming (which was our whole reason for wanting to go there for breakfast). It has only about 15 rooms, and operates more as a B and B than a standard hotel. If they don’t have any guests, it probably functions just as the owners’ home – supposedly he is a local pastor. We had planned to try to visit again during Belmont’s “high season,” when there would be a better chance of it being open, but since then I’ve read online reviews that mention something about there being Pop-tarts for breakfast, so…maybe not. 

We don’t care for Pop-tarts. I don’t know if it’s because we think of them as a processed food product rather than as real food, or if it’s because they taste bad, but regardless, we don’t care for Pop-tarts and certainly don’t plan to drive all the way to Belmont to eat one. At any rate, the hotel is an old beauty built around 1924, when there was real craftsmanship involved in building. A peek through the windows showed a very elegantly decorated interior.
Downtown Belmont is only a block or two – a tiny town, but pretty. Once we got over our disappointment about the hotel being closed, we moved on to our second (and really, only) choice for breakfast: Sparks’ Restaurant. We knew it would be good when we saw that it was where the town’s old men gather every morning to drink coffee, smoke cigarettes and exaggerate past accomplishments. Marian and I each had a scrambled egg and bacon biscuit and a bowl of grits – all homemade, all delicious, all served by women who called us “Hon.” Bliss.

From Belmont we headed to Golden and ended up at TMI, a warehouse full of "items" made in China. But there are two small rooms full of really cool paper products where we spent a good half hour ooohing and aaahing over diaries and stationary. 

Next stop was Woodall Mountain – the highest point in Mississippi. We like visiting the highest points in various states. They’re all different, but Woodall has to be one of the very few that is in a neighborhood, or rather, that has had a neighborhood grow up around it. Usually a state’s highest point is in a national park, or at least a state park. But here, you drive out in the country and turn right by somebody’s house in a subdivision and head uphill. 

The brochure put out by the Tishomingo county Visitor’s Bureau refers to it as a “scenic gravel road,” but I believe all of us who were raised in Mississippi have a good idea how that translates in real life. The “mountain” is forested, and as you drive downhill and see the treed hillside dropping away, you do get some sense of being on a mountain. Driving uphill, your ears pop, but that’s about it. 

This was my third trip to Woodall, and Marian’s second. This was due to the fact that we couldn’t seem to get there before the sun set, no matter how hard we tried. Poor planning, we suppose, but we were determined to see it. It turns out that the darkness had been a blessing, and that the top of Woodall Mountain is best seen in total darkness. 

To say that it is “not scenic” borders on shameless praise coming from women who have no real interest in propane tanks, cinderblock storage buildings, or radio towers. That’s what greets visitors at the top of Woodall Mountain. Well, that, a sprinkling of litter, and a small cement table with benches (one’s broken). There’s a bronze marker too, telling you that it’s the highest point in Mississippi at 806’; but Marian’s GPS said 819’ and we're going with the satellite. 

Bear in mind that the lovely marker pictured here is the most beautiful thing on Woodall’s summit! There is one place that offers a narrow vista of the surrounding area; elsewhere, you’re just looking at trees with ugly propane tanks and buildings in front of them.

For history buffs, Woodall is known (although we don’t know by whom) as America’s bloodiest high point. That's because of the Battle of Iuka in 1862. That’s an honor no other state will try to snatch from Mississippi’s grasp!
After Woodall, we went to Iuka, a town I had never even thought about visiting. Interestingly enough, there once was a person named Iuka, a Chickasaw Indian chief. 

What a lovely little town! It’s a genteel Southern town with beautiful old houses and a nice little downtown. There’s also a park – Mineral Springs Park – that is very old and very charming. Iuka’s spring water won the 1902 World’s Fair prize for best mineral water, by the way. 

The park has, among many other offerings, a dogtrot log cabin that dates to 1879, and a covered bridge! The covered bridge is so small, pretty, and well-kept that we were afraid to drive through it – we thought it might be there just for show – but we decided to go for it and our reward was getting to see the beautiful old homes on the other side of the creek.

There are many unique things about Iuka, but one that I thought was especially interesting was that there’s a beautifully maintained old apartment building downtown (brick, two or three stories, circa 1930 maybe?). Think about it. Small Southern towns aren’t known for having desirable old downtown apartment buildings. If it was in most any city, it would be a much sought-after place to live, and we hope it is in Iuka. 

Downtown Iuka also has a real keeper of a church, the Church of our Savior. Pictured here, it’s an “1873 board and batten Carpenter Gothic Episcopal Church” according to the brochure, and it was purchased and restored by local citizens in 1985. God bless them for doing it; it’s a really charming and picturesque place that can be rented for weddings. 

Iuka is the only place we have ever visited that has a museum devoted to aprons. Yes, just aprons. A disturbingly large proportion of those aprons depict Aunt Jemima or one of her relations. We can’t believe people ever did that! There are also aprons depicting various states – souvenirs of 1950's travel – as well as new aprons and beautifully well-preserved handmade antique aprons. The lady who owns the store (there are aprons and knick-knacks for sale, so it’s a store/museum) is very nice, and it turns out that she hadn’t intended to open an apron museum at all. She had planned to open an antique book store. I had a bit of trouble following her story from books to aprons, but somehow it happened and now she has a store that’s almost totally devoted to aprons.
Downtown Iuka has been/is being gentrified/spruced up, and  they’re doing a fine job of it. We went to one of their restaurants; it was full of interesting old photos, antique clothing and other historical-type decorations, but we were  more interested in the other people in the restaurant. It was a very “citified” crowd: men in business suits and women in stylish attire. It’s funny how towns are like that, how one town can be so different from the towns around it. At any rate, our impression of Iuka was that it was sophisticated and upscale – a really nice place to visit.

From Iuka, we zipped up to Corinth. We were working against the clock there, as we were determined to try the famous Corinth slugburger and we had to get there before the store closed at 3 or 4:00. We wanted to do it right, so we went to the home of the slugburger, Borroum’s Drug Store. What a delightfully charming place Borroum’s is. The building was built in 1873, and it exudes character. The drugstore was founded in 1865 by Dr. Borroum, a Confederate surgeon, and it’s still family run. In fact, there are several large family portraits hanging in the drugstore, and one of them is Dr. Borroum. The drugstore also has a real old-fashioned soda fountain that serves vanilla phosphates, no less. 

The unappealing name slugburger comes from its original price, which was a nickel, AKA, a slug. The burger (and I’m using the word very loosely here), was a product of the depression, a way to stretch meat by adding fillers. Sadly, this is a textbook case of over-achievement. A standard slugburger which, by the way, is dropped into a vat of hot grease and deep-fried, comes with mustard, pickle and onions to disguise the taste. Marian liked hers, but I am getting a little queasy just writing about slugburgers. It sat in my stomach like a brick. As it turns out, the people behind the counter admitted that they “replace” slugburgers with real burgers if asked. That’s very telling and I wish I had listened. 

After the slugburgers, we went for tamales. No, we weren’t hungry; Marian was full and I was nauseous, but Corinth is famous for its tamales too and we didn’t want to miss anything. Again, we searched for the original – Dilworth’s Drive Through – and I have to say, they were delicious. Neither of us could finish even one of the tiny tamales, but they were really good and I’m glad we tried them. As for the rest of Corinth, there is so much to see around there that we will make it a trip in itself. We were just trying their local foods this trip.

From Corinth we headed to Blue Mountain to spend the night. I had an aunt who went to Blue Mountain College, and both Marian and I had grandmothers who went there, so we have heard about the place all our lives. Weeks earlier, we had gotten in touch with BMC’s director of Alumni Affairs and booked a room in Stewart Hall. It seems that the college rents out rooms for alums or “friends” of the college; a double with bathroom goes for $25. No kidding. Anyway, we got to Blue Mountain about dusk, checked in, and got a wonderful night's sleep - with the window open to let the quiet in!

Blue Mountain - Tishomingo March 27, 2009

We got up early and walked around Blue Mountain’s pretty campus and, oddly enough, we caught ourselves whispering instead of talking in a normal tone of voice. Don’t know why, it was just the sort of place that inspired respect, I guess.
Then, we went to the library to begin researching our relatives by looking through old yearbooks and such. We were still whispering, and although it was more appropriate in the library, it turned out to be unnecessary because the librarian was deaf. Seriously. She had a dog and everything. Still, we whispered, and so did the students. Everyone whispered except the librarian. 

We put on little white gloves and began sorting through their archives. It was very interesting, but we learned that neither of our grandmothers went to Blue Mountain College. Well, that’s not really true, both of them had, quite literally, “gone to Blue Mountain.” Marian’s grandmother had gone up there, taken a test to qualify her to teach in Mississippi, and then gone home. My grandmother had gone there to visit her four sisters who really did go to school there. We both found paperwork indicating that other relatives had attended school there as well, but no grandmas. Believe it or not, it’s fairly common to find out that your family history is…how shall I put this?...a lie. Happens all the time.

We ate lunch with our new friends at Blue Mountain College: the people from the Alumni Department, the gym teacher, even the president of the college came over to our table! Every single person we met there was so nice, so incredibly friendly and helpful. Most of them had been students there, and these people seriously LOVE their alma mater. It’s a small school, and only recently began accepting men; the students all know each other, and they’re devoted to their school. It’s a Baptist college, and I’m sure it’s quite committed, but it’s a fairly relaxed atmosphere. 

After lunch, we headed to Tishomingo. There was little of interest to us in downtown Tishomingo (which, by the way, is Chickasaw for “Warrior Chief” or “Medicine Leader”), but we did buy some “made in Tishomingo” candles. We try to buy something local, especially in areas that are obviously hurting, but we had really come to Tishomingo for the outdoor sights. Our main objective was the swinging bridge in Tishomingo State Park, and it was fun. It dates to the 1930s, and it seems like I read somewhere that it was a WPA project. There are pretty stone arches at either end, and steel cables supporting the wooden bridge. Once you cross the bridge there are all sorts of hiking trails and the only real canyon in Mississippi. It’s the one place in Mississippi that offers rock climbing. 

We also visited a pioneer log cabin that sits on the bank of a stream. It had rained a good bit the day before, making the stream full and really beautiful with its waterfalls and rushing waters. There was a lot more to see in the park – that whole area of Mississippi has beautiful lakes and hills – but Marian and I weren’t really dressed for trekking. 

We took off for a fabric/quilt store near Booneville (Claude Wilemon’s Quilt Gallery), but we had trouble finding the place so we called the lady at the apron museum (who had told us about it) and got her to direct us! (We had her number on a bill of sale because I had purchased a pot holder shaped like Mississippi, with IUKA embroidered at the appropriate place. This goes with my cutting board shaped like MS that I bought in Oxford, my chip’n dip bowl shaped like MS that I bought at the Canton flea market, and my cookie cutter shaped like MS that I bought in Columbus.) Anyway, we finally found the quilt place (with the apron lady’s help), and I’ve never seen so many quilts in my life. 

At that point, Marian and I had had a full two days of traveling and it was almost dark, so we headed back to Tupelo, where Marian's husband was waiting to hear all about that apron museum.

Oxford, Taylor January 16, 2009

Are you ready? Another day trip to our old college stomping grounds. Oxford and Taylor. The weather was a bit cool, but, not cold -- heck, we're in Mississippi -- really cold weather comes in February.

Taylor is south of Oxford on Old Taylor Road. It is the location of the planned neighborhood, Plein Air (French for fresh air) and the 2008 Southern Living home (currently leased -- appears that it was a bit too pricey to sell). Plein Air is a small, planned community of homes with close neighbors, a couple of art studios, an antique store, and a “soda shop”. The entire area makes you want to dust off the bike and go for a ride.

The Tin Pan Alley antique store is filled with old things, handmade items and reproductions. Loved the vintage hats…'specially the red with a black feather. I thought I looked fetching, Susan said it added 10 years to my age -- and, I certainly don’t need that…. Looks good on Susan, though. (I'm really glad she can't delete pics on my part of this blog, and, I own the camera, so, very few pics of me exist to be published..... wooo hoo....life is good.)

Next door to the Alley is Emilieigh's -- a wonderful place for lunch (open Tuesday through Sunday for lunch and dinner) -- loved it... .

On to Oxford -- one of the prettiest towns in Mississippi. The University perennially is named in the top 10 party schools in the nation and Oxford is recognized as one of the top 10 retirement places in the nation. Who says old people can’t remember anything? Anyway, back to our trip -- Any place you drive in the residential areas of Oxford close to the square, you will find refurbished homes that are beautiful…. The colors, the landscapes, everything…

We stopped by the Bottletree Bakery (just west of the square) for a sample of the cinnamon rolls -- a delicacy touted by Southern Living. Sold out…not one in sight. All in all, it was a neat little coffee house -- almost reminded me of the 80s.

On the square, we found the "Made in Mississippi" store -- what a beautiful selection of items from local artists! Pottery, paintings, carvings, hand-made crafts, whimsical items, and items for the serious collector. This isn’t a place to rush through -- there is something there for every collector.

Oxford has a wonderful antique shop on University Avenue called the Mustard Seed. (We later found out that this shop and the one at Plein Air are “siblings”.) It is a collection of 50 or so vendors and it's packed -- with antiques, old stuff, monogrammable items, reproductions...and customers.

One of my favorite “finds” was a circa 1965 Ole Miss jacket. Back when I was in junior high and high school, this jacket was a must for all Ole Miss fans. It was very pricey back then -- although much less than its current $25 tag! I had just tried to describe this little number to my son and his girlfriend (both Ole Miss students) and had to take a picture of this to show them. (I detected a bit of an eye-roll from each of them -- obviously they aren’t majoring in fashion.)

We left Oxford going toward New Albany on Highway 30. Just outside the city limits a bit, we spotted 3 alpacas -- 2 black ones and one brown one -- on a beautiful farm/ranch/home on the north side of the highway. Yep, alpacas...beautiful, shiny, stately -- wow. They walked with their heads held majestically and shimmered in the sunlight -- especially the black ones. I’ve got to go back to get a picture of these beautiful animals -- some of my family have driven this route to try to find them and believe that Susan and I have traveled together so much that our hallucinations coincide.

We tried to make it to Woodall Mountain before sunset, but, alas…we failed. This is the highest point in Mississippi -- 806 feet above sea level. After circling the area for a while, we finally found a little sign -- not far from the Bingo Hall -- that directed us toward the apex of Mississippi. The drive up the mountain isn’t steep, but, the area does have drop offs beside the gravel road that remind you of a mountain area. After a quick “tour” of Woodall Mountain, we returned to the Bingo Hall for a “break” and a pre-packaged snack. Since so many towns now have smoking bans, it’s a blast from the past when you walk into a place that doesn‘t. And, the memory lasts a long, long, long time (or until your next shower).

Canton Flea Market October 11, 2007

After hearing about the Canton Flea Market for years, Marian and I decided to tackle the 5+ hour round-trip drive - and were we glad we did! If you’ve never been, it’s worth the trip.

We left very early and took the Trace from Tupelo down to Canton, where we saw locals holding signs inviting people to park in their yards/driveways – for a fee, of course. We parked in the yard of a house Marian had admired since her childhood trips to Jackson – a beautiful old home. Then we joined the throngs walking toward downtown, where even larger throngs of people moved along the street and sidewalks.

There is a festive, the-fair’s-in-town attitude about the Flea Market. The lines of booths start several blocks before the town square, but booths also cover the square, surround the square, and line several blocks of another street off the square. There must be 1,000 vendors and the quality of the wares is impressive. The fall market is larger than the spring (we did the spring market in 2008, but since the write ups would be so similar, we’ll spare you that) and more festive – maybe because there's a Christmas spirit about the fall market.

Canton’s one of those towns that got left out of the traffic pattern when the Trace bypassed it. Someone smart is in charge though, because on one day (it’s always on a Thursday), the flea markets bring in $100,000.+ in vendor fees alone. Someone makes money off the portable potties, clean-up teams, etc., others by letting people park in their yards. Stores on the square see thousands of customers they wouldn’t otherwise see, and the two restaurants downtown (Davidson’s and Subway) probably do enough business during those two festivals to supplement the other 363 days. We have nothing but admiration for whoever came up with the brilliant idea of hosting a flea market in Canton.

Marian and I ate at Davidson’s and those people have mastered crowd control. They have also mastered shrimp gumbo and bread pudding – the best in the world. Seriously. Anyway, as we were eating, we tried to figure out how much they were making at an average of $10 a head. While we were there – and we didn’t stay long – over 100 people came through. And, that was at 10:30 am! They must make $2000+ an hour for at least 6 hours a day. Probably a lot more than that since the average bill is over $10. Amazing...but in a shocker, we’ve heard they are no longer serving on flea market days. Surely not – hope it’s a rumor!

After an incredibly enjoyable six hours or so, we headed home – tired and happy. We stopped at French Camp just to look around, and it turned into its own little adventure. We toured the old log cabin and store and then looked around town. There’s a pretty bed and breakfast/hotel hidden away behind the main street. We were just standing in front of the bakery trying to decide
what to do next, when we saw this really old car coming up the road. It was a black Chevrolet, circa 1950, driven by a young mother. There were three or four kids standing up in the car eating Popsicles as they rode along. It was like looking back to the 50s, when we used to do stuff like that. Luckily for us, the woman pulled over and we got to look at the car up close. The driver said it was her father’s car, that he had had it for years, and had just gotten it out of the storage shed to see if it worked. It was completely original, including the back seat, which wasn’t fastened down, by the way.

We went to see the Christian boarding school at French Camp after that. I had always thought of it as an orphanage, and maybe it used to be, but it's not now. They were holding a reunion that weekend, and we bumped into a woman who had been raised at French Camp Academy who had come in for the festivities. She told us the students were all there for a reason – either they had no family, or (more likely) they had to be taken from their families for safety reasons. Sad either way. She also said that the school had saved her life, that it had educated her and put her on the path to a normal, happy life. It was a really touching story.

The campus isn't large, but it's pretty. There's a cafeteria and, for reasons neither Marian nor I really understand, we love cafeterias. So, off we went with the woman we'd met and she gave us the skinny on the school. All the kids have jobs; working is mandatory, as is doing well academically. They have all sorts of sports teams and a sizable stable as well. No cell phones allowed. No video games or, at least, very restricted use. They can run away, but there isn’t anyplace to go, so apparently most kids settle in and do well. The kids we saw, who were very clean-cut looking, seemed happy enough, and apparently the school has a good record of helping kids find their way, which is wonderful to hear.

Anyway, as it turned out, we enjoyed our little trek to French Camp almost as much as we enjoyed the Canton Flea Market.

Bruce -- July 13, 2007

A Sawmill Festival? Yes, a Sawmill Festival. Our trip to the Bruce Sawmill Festival began our entire “See Mississippi" campaign. To be honest, the festival was really just an excuse to go to Bruce because neither of us had ever been there. It had never occurred to us that we could just pick up and go to Bruce (or anywhere else) without a reason. After all, our parents never went anywhere without a reason and old habits die hard for those of us who grew up in families that only traveled for one reason: to visit relatives.

We didn’t go straight to Bruce; we saw signs along the highway beckoning us to visit various towns or communities, so we did. We'd turn off the highway and check out places, most of which were communities with little to see (a few houses and maybe a small store). Still, we think it's a good use of our time. We don't want to miss anything.

Bruce’s festival was a bit of a disappointment. The square was crowded and lively, mind you…but there were so few handmade items at their crafts fair. We'd expected homemade jams, knitting, crocheting, wood carvings, pottery…but no. Most stuff came from China and that's a letdown. And the place was crawling with politicians! Really, there was some serious stumping going on.

A little bit of politicking goes a long way, you know, so we decided to leave the square and see the town. The first place we went was a gift shop that had a snack bar. We ordered two sandwiches, two cokes, a bag of chips and a piece of cake…total bill: $4.70. Then we went back to the festival and ordered mango ice cream from a traveling vendor and it was incredible! We eventually wandered over to the antique car show, where an older woman came over and told us how her father had owned a car like the one we were looking at and how she used to ride in it, etc. – a real interesting bit of history there.

There is an awesome antique store on the town square…and it's air conditioned. That’s such a draw in Mississippi. We searched through its three buildings for more than an hour and a half - delightful! - and found the stuff well-priced. Time well spent!

It may seem like we didn’t have a very good time in Bruce, but really, we did. We had a wonderful time! We always have a wonderful time. We don’t care if it rains (well, we wish it wouldn’t); we don’t care if it is hot or cold. We are just happy that we can do exactly what we want to do, with no children, husbands, or parents to consider or appease. We’re free to indulge ourselves every trip. It’s our time. We can eat cake for lunch and spend the day shopping if we want, and no one can stop us. No one.