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.