Tour of Tupelo #2 - Elvis Presley Park

The summer of 1972, I worked at the pool in Elvis Presley Park. Countless tourists – really, they were pilgrims – came to my concession stand window to ask about seeing Elvis’s birthplace. Most of these people had traveled a long way, only to be greeted by scruffy turf, a generic swimming pool, a birthplace that might or might not be open, and a Youth Center. That was all there was back then – or maybe there were tennis courts, I can’t really remember. The city, which bought the birthplace and surrounding land with money Elvis donated from his famous 1956 Tupelo Fair appearance, gave the park short shrift. To be fair, that was just the way things were back then – people weren’t prone to glamorize stuff or blow it out of proportion in those days – but still…Elvis was the indisputable King of Rock ‘n’ Roll and had been for some time.

A definite stop on the Mississippi Country Music Trail!

Most pilgrims were either going to or coming from Memphis – Graceland, really – but Elvis lived there then, so a glimpse of his house through the front gate was about all they could hope for. Consequently, they were excited about seeing the inside of Elvis’s first home. The problem was, there wasn’t anything else to see at the park and the birthplace wasn’t always open. If memory serves me, it was staffed by a small group of volunteers then. Even if the volunteer had only stepped out for an hour, it never failed that a carload of people from Wisconsin would pick that time to turn up. They’d soon show up at the pool asking to be let in the house.

My, how times have changed! When Marian and I walked onto the property, we were gob smacked. Full disclosure: we’ve both been there since 1972…but it’s been years. As in decades. We didn’t recognize the place. Gone are the shabby grounds, the swimming pool, and the Youth Center – but there’s plenty to see. The birthplace is still there, of course, but it’s now joined by a chapel, a church, a museum, a gift shop, a fountain, and a memorial garden with a bronze statue of thirteen-year-old Elvis – the age he was when he left Tupelo for Memphis in 1948.

Elvis -- at age 13.

Close up

Generous Elvis fans donated money to build the chapel that stands in the park, a lovely little building with gorgeous stained glass windows. It’s available for weddings, and while a few Elvis impersonators have probably been wed there, you’ll not find one performing ceremonies.That would be tacky, and great pains have been taken to see that there is nothing tacky about the park. After all, it wasn’t a group of promoters who came up with the idea of building a park on the site where Elvis was born. It was Elvis’s vision, shared by his childhood friends, a way to give something back to his old neighborhood. Everything about the park reflects that.

Note the white-suited Elvis!

We followed the forty-two granite blocks that make up the Walk of Life – a timeline of Elvis’s life. It circles the birthplace and leads to that beautiful fountain. Then we read what Elvis’s friends had to say about him on the Story Wall.

Along the outside of the Chapel -- posted memories of Elvis's friends and relatives.

Even the church he attended – where he learned to sing “Old Shep” – now sits in the park and it’s a real trip back in time. It’s an old, white, country-style Assembly of God church and, inside, you can hear the sort of music Elvis grew up with.

Elvis Presley began his singing career in this church. It was moved to park grounds several years ago and shows a video depicting a normal church service.

Attention to details -- this outhouse came with the church. Most country churches had outdoor plumbing.

The old home in which Elvis was born. It is a "shotgun" type -- two rooms.

We didn’t tour his birthplace, the home his father, uncle, and grandfather built for $180, as we had both done that and, while it’s interesting, we didn’t really feel like doing it again. It would be more enticing if the furniture had really belonged to the Presleys rather than just being authentic to the period. That said, it has never looked better. Like the rest of the park, it’s beautifully landscaped – to an extent that would render it unrecognizable to Elvis today.

Presley Park is one of the major tourist draws in Mississippi – every year some 50,000 visitors come to this big-city attraction with the small-town feel. There's even an annual Fan Appreciation Day every August, with local entertainment and speeches by city bigwigs. Everything about the park bespeaks love and respect for Elvis the person, along with a near reverence for Elvis the entertainer. And despite the crowds and the occasional “Elvi” sightings, a true sense of serenity pervades the place. There’s a dignity to the park that’s unmistakable and very touching. (Okay, maybe the gift shop does stock a few souvenirs that couldn’t be described as dignified, but still….)

Fun in September

September 3 - 4 -- Iuka Heritage Festival --Iuka Mineral Springs Park and Jay Bird Park, Iuka -- Arts, crafts, entertainment, food, annual car show.

September 3 -- Annual Ocean Springs Art Walk-- Downtown Ocean Springs -- over 70 artists

September 6 - 12 -- Tennessee Williams Tribute and Tour of Victorian Homes --Rosenzweig Arts Center, 501 Main Street, Columbus, MS

September 9-11 -- The National Audubon Society Hummingbird Migration -- Ruby-throated hummingbirds viewing and crafts. 285 Plains Rd., 3.2 miles North on Hwy 311 Holly Springs, MS for more information go to strawberryplains.audubon.org/events/1305

September 10 -- Belmont Bear Creek Festival and Antique Car Show -- Arts, crafts, etc. Downtown Belmont

September 17 - 18 -- Mississippi Gourd Festival -- Buy gourd art or make your own. Smith County Ag Complex, off Hwy. 35S Oil Field Rd Raleigh, MS www.mississippigourdsociety.org for more information

September 17 -- The Charlie Daniels Band --MSU Riley Center, Downtown Meridian, MS for more information www.msurileycenter.com/

September 24 -- Leland -- Festival of the Arts. A festival honoring Muppet creator Jim Henson on his 75th birthday. www.lelandms.org for more information

September 30 -- October 14 -- Natchez Fall Pilgrimage -- Like the Spring Pilgrimage, each October, Natchez welcomes guests into its historic homes, this time for two weeks that include beautiful tours of autumn gardens and evening entertainment in the homes, such as this year's Stone House Musicale event. www.natchezpilgramage.com for more information.

Tour of Tupelo #1 - Johnnie's Drive-In

Incredibly, it had never occurred to us to tour Tupelo. Who goes sightseeing in their hometown? After all, the idea behind Tiny Travels was to see places in Mississippi we’d never seen. However, once we thought about it, we quickly warmed to the idea of snooping around Tupelo and knew just where we wanted to go first: Johnnie’s Drive-In. When a restaurant established in 1945 is still around in 2011, it deserves a visit.

Johnnie’s is on East Main Street, deep in the heart of Elvis Country. In fact, along with its longevity, Elvis is one of Johnnie’s claims to fame - they're even featured on the Elvis Presley's Early Years Driving Tour. It seems he used to frequent the drive-in as often as he could during his impoverished youth – if only to split an RC Cola with a friend. And apparently he regularly stopped in on his visits back to Tupelo after he made good.

Customers have the choice of outside table seating, car hop service, or table seating inside. Since there is nothing Elvis-related outside, we opted to go in. In fact, we went right in and sat down in the “Elvis booth,” and yes, it’s really labeled.

Some of the countless pictures of Elvis decorating the walls of Johnnie's.

That's my water on the right! Imagine...sitting right next to the King in his own booth!

There’s a picture on the wall above the booth, showing a circa 1960 Elvis sitting right where Marian was sitting! Actually, there are about a zillion pictures of Elvis on the walls and yet…somehow…it doesn’t seem like “too much.” Really. Must be the “Elvis effect.”

Yep, Mississippi has its own Elvis Presley tag! A fine example shown here -- now used as wall art in Johnnie's.

We walked around admiring the many photos and bits of memorabilia that adorn Johnnie’s walls, taking photos of photos and soaking up the nostalgia of being someplace that remains virtually unchanged from its original incarnation. The old booths are still there, along with the old tables, the big cut-out opening directly into the kitchen, the individual letters that spell out the menu items on large plastic signs…same old, same old.

Elvis's birthday cakes were all made by Kermit's Bakery in downtown Tupelo. They were carefully shipped to wherever Elvis happened to be on January 8th. This picture was taken in Kermit's in the early 60s.

Here in Elvisland, walking around clicking your camera doesn't faze employees or regular customers – it happens every day. And once we got our photos, we did sit down long enough to order. Although Johnnie’s is best-known for its “dough burgers” and barbeque, we both ordered the standard hamburger with fries. After all, we’re diners, not restaurant reviewers, and we’ve done the dough burger thing. There was a moment of disappointment when our orders came and we saw crinkle cut fries, but they were good – don’t know how they managed that. The burgers were tasty in a real-food, just-like-you-remember kind of way. What a treat.

After we ate, we walked around to the front of Johnnie’s (you park on the side, so we really hadn’t seen the front). There, painted on the big window, was their phone number “VI2- 6748.”

The front of Johnnie's. Just like most southern homes, the front door isn't used much--friends use the back door. Note the plaque attesting to their relationship with Elvis.

Could a visit chosen purely for its nostalgia quotient have a better ending? Seriously. Who knows when that number was painted on there, but for those of us who remember using the VInewood prefix, who spent our formative years reciting our phone number as Vinewood-two- ---- or VI-2- ---- – that is, for those of us who remember 1950s Tupelo – it’s a heartwarming sight.

Corinth, Shiloh, and the Civil War

Downtown Corinth

Okay, we freely admit that we have never been all that interested in the Civil War. And we’ve certainly never been very knowledgeable about it. But it’s impossible to read a travel book about Mississippi and not feel almost overwhelmed by the sheer number of Civil War sites – and connections. It seems that almost every town has some tie to “the war.” We grudgingly agreed that we could no longer ignore this piece of Mississippi history, so we set out to see Corinth and Shiloh.
When we scouted out our route, we saw that we would “go right by” Synagogue, Mississippi on our way. We had to see if there really was a synagogue in Synagogue – we just had to – so we marked our map carefully in order to ensure we didn’t miss it. (That means figuring out which two County Roads running off Highway 45 it lies between. “County Road,” by the way, can be anything from a beautifully maintained two-lane highway to the equivalent of a cow path.) Sure enough, when we passed County Road 8200, there was a sign…not for Synagogue, Mississippi, but for Synagogue Baptist Church! And yes, once again we tried to find a town that doesn’t exist. You’d think we’d learn.

On the way into Corinth, we stopped at the Alcorn Welcome Center – yet another beautifully designed and decorated font of information on Mississippi sites. Information there led us to the Civil War Interpretive Center. The fact that the CWIC is a National Park site should have been a clue that we were in for a good experience, but since our attitudes, uh, could have been better, we groaned when we pulled into the parking lot and realized that we couldn’t park near the front door on that scorching hot day because of an incredibly long switchback sidewalk leading to the entrance. Why would anyone design such an inconvenient handicapped entry, we wondered. Off we trudged, grousing about having to walk in the heat – right up until we realized there was “stuff” embedded in the sidewalk, interesting stuff like smashed hats, bullets, knives, tent stakes, belt buckles, horseshoes, eyeglasses, a scabbard, a shovel, a canteen, shoes, a plate, books, a comb…well, you get the picture. Every few feet there would be something else to see – a button here, a pistol there, a little treasure hunt. There was even a letter in one display, and a rifle that hangs off into the grass. Really clever.

Bronzed cap

This cup sits on the outer edge of the walkway...situated in an area that you really couldn't trip over it.

This cap sits on the retaining wall.

The belt stands up above the ground 6 - 8".
This carbine is broken and partially buried in concrete.

This complete rifle was just outside the door of the CWIC.

Things got even better and more interesting once we got inside, where the first thing we learned was…why Corinth? What was so important about this small town?
Its railroads! In 1862, Corinth was second only to Richmond in importance to military planners. Two major lines crossed in Corinth (the Memphis and Charleston and the Mobile and Ohio, if you’re curious), so whoever controlled Corinth controlled access to the Mississippi River Valley and points west. Although that “crossroads,” the point at which the railroads intersected, was the epicenter of the fighting, the battle moved around a bit as forces attacked and withdrew, resulting in a series of battles around Corinth. And by the way, although Union forces actually came down to take the crossroads, the Confederates didn’t take a purely defensive position. In fact, the Corinth campaigns are considered the last Confederate offensive in Mississippi.
The center is a beautiful building with well-done, visually-pleasing displays, the sort that make learning fun no matter your age. And, in keeping with the embedding-things-in-concrete theme, the floor of one room has railroad tracks set into it just to bring home the reason you’re there in the first place!

Railroad ties and rail buried in concrete in one of the rooms.

Our favorite display? The Mobile woman who came to nurse soldiers and left a written account of what she saw in Corinth’s Tishomingo Hotel, which had been converted into a hospital. The exhibit allows visitors to pick up a telephone and listen to what she had to say, surely one of the best ways to learn history – so personal, so interesting. There are also plenty of exhibits and interactive displays featuring memorabilia, battle plans and information, along with scores of photos, a couple movies, beautiful artwork, and some really interesting exhibits on black history. (Corinth was home to a huge Contraband Camp for slaves seeking safe harbor.) So much to see. Outside, there is a commemorative courtyard, where, according to the National Park brochure, “stone and flowing water chronicle the birth and growth of the United States, the accompanying rise of sectionalism, key events leading to the Civil War, and a symbolic representation of four years of war.” The reflecting pool contains blocks of stone representing the various battles set in a timeline, and like everything else, it’s beautifully done. The whole site is really top notch and a credit to everyone involved.

Outside the CWIC, this water sculpture was awesome. Boxes are labeled representing the battles of the Civil War and are staged along a timeline -- Fort Sumter to Appomattox.
This Battery Robinett replica can be viewed from inside the CWIC.

The center sits on land near the site of Battery Robinett, which was built by the Federal Army following the Siege of Corinth in April - May 1862. It was the site of heavy fighting in October of 1862, during the Second Battle of Corinth. There are graves behind the building to prove it, and, like everything else about the Interpretive Center, it’s beautifully maintained. By the way, all this is free. They accept donations, but it’s free.

Confederate Brigadier-General Joseph Lewis Hogg was buried near the CWIC. He died of dysentery May 16, 1862, during the Siege of Corinth -- April ~May 1862.

Confederate soldiers from the Siege of Corinth, buried behind the CWIC.

Corinth does a spectacular job directing traffic to their historical sites. Really…we’ve never seen a city so well-marked, it’s easy to find everything, despite the fact that some places are far off the beaten path. Still, most things, including the center, are woefully under-attended.
We took a lunch break after the center – vegetable plates at Martha’s Menu downtown. Then we walked around a bit and re-visited Borroum’s Drug Store, the oldest continually operating drug store in the state. Then we dropped in on Wait’s Jewelry store, the oldest store in town and far and away the store with the most beautiful ceiling in town. Ernest Wait himself painted murals on the (very high) ceiling in 1925 and they’re a treasure. We also stopped in at Franklin Cruise. The building dates to 1886 and has been beautifully restored as a fine home-goods/antique store with two luxury hotel suites upstairs. Sort of a mini hotel/shop – really cool. We looked around for the former Tishomingo Savings Bank just because it was once robbed by Jesse James and his gang and, while no one we encountered could identify exactly which building had been the bank, consensus was that it was the Federal Land Bank building. Then we drove around admiring some of the beautiful old homes and the beautiful renovations downtown.

Caboose on the grounds of the Depot Museum

We kept driving until we got to the Crossroads Museum at the Depot. This sits on ground zero, the reason everyone came to Corinth in 1862. There’s a beautifully restored depot there that houses a diverse and interesting museum. There are exhibits related to the war, of course, but it also contains interesting exhibits on local history, archeology, and its own little Coca Cola museum – a real trip down memory lane. We really enjoyed the film on local aviation pioneer Roscoe Turner. Like so many early aviators, Turner was a barnstormer, a racer (he broke the east/west transcontinental air speed record in 1930), a WWI pilot, a movie stunt flier, a WWII flight instructor, and the founder of a couple early incarnations of commercial airlines, among many other endeavors. One of the more colorful aspects of his career would have to be his co-pilot, a pet lion named Gilmore, a gift/publicity stunt from the good folks at Gilmore Oil, one of his employers. All told, this farmer’s son from Corinth did pretty well for himself; he landed on the cover of Time magazine. Gilmore didn’t do badly either, although his honor is somewhat less enviable. He’s at the Smithsonian (stuffed). The Crossroads Museum is a small museum, but well worth the $5 admission.

Doesn't look like much now, but, this crossroad of tracks made Corinth ground zero in 1862. Originally, there were 4 tracks crossing at this point -- only 2 exist now. This picture was taken from a window in the Depot.

We enjoyed our visit, but by then our interest in the Civil War had been piqued to the point that we were actually anxious to see Shiloh – a battle so famous that it’s almost synonymous with the war. We thought we had studied up on Shiloh, so imagine our surprise when we realized it was in Tennessee! For some reason this took both of us totally by surprise. In the most technical sense, of course, we knew where it was, but Shiloh is so closely associated with Corinth and Bryce’s Crossroads – and we had historically paid such pitifully little attention to anything related to the Civil War – that we hadn’t really thought it out.
Not surprisingly, Shiloh is beautiful. It, too, is under the control of those wonderful National Park people, whose maintenance talents are much to be admired. As we drove in, it was apparent to even Civil War novices like us that Shiloh was a major battle site. The sheer number of monuments was impressive, and there’s something to see at every turn: signs relating the history of that particular site, statues, cannons, and monuments, monuments, monuments…an incredible number of which are there courtesy of the people of Illinois. Illinois monuments are everywhere!

Grant's line of cannons pointing across an open field toward the Sunken Road.

First, we went to the Shiloh Battlefield Visitors Center, where we watched a film about the two horrible days in April of 1862, when the area around Shiloh Church became a battlefield. (The church didn’t make it through the battle, but the Tennessee Sons of the Confederacy built a replica on the site a few years ago and it does look authentic.) The park ranger at the center told us that we’d be seeing a film about the battle, and that the film had been made in the 1950s (there’s a new one coming out any time now). Our excitement level dropped precipitously when we heard that, but – surprise! – it was really well-done, not nearly as dated as we would have thought. It gave a really even account of what had gone on, both the military aspects and the personal ones, and we really enjoyed it. Then we hopped in the car and set off on the well-marked driving tour of the battle grounds, where we found that the park is not just beautiful, it’s user-friendly too. We had several things that we particularly wanted to see: Shiloh Church, the Confederate Monument, the row of cannons that mark Grant’s last line, and at least one of the Confederate mass graves, but the battlefield is so well-marked and accessible that we managed to see most everything...and were impressed and humbled by everything we saw.

Shiloh Church Although the original church was destroyed during the battle, this is "a near exact replica of that original church. Much detail went into building this church, using hand hewn logs approximately 150 years old that came from this area. This church was started in 1999 under the direction of the Shiloh Sons of Confederate Veteran Camp #1454 and Shiloh Methodist Church." Quotation is from the plaque that is on the church grounds.

Behind this monument is one of the mass graves of the Confederate soldiers who were killed at the Battle of Corinth. At the time, Confederate dead were not permitted burial in U.S. military cemeteries. Later - muuuuucccch later - this was changed.


We are both Ole Miss alums. Granted, we graduated a while ago, but once you’ve spent time there it’s difficult to break the tie. It’s also unnecessary to break that tie, so we go back to Oxford whenever we can and revisit our youth. This trip, however, our youth was all we revisited. Everywhere else we went was virgin territory because it seems that we’ve missed a few things over the years.

We started our campus tour with one of our favorite buildings, Ventress Hall, although it wasn’t called that in our day – it was either “the art building” or “the geology building” in those days. Nobody bothered naming the building until 1993, and it’s more than a little surprising that the name Ventress was still available, given that James Alexander Ventress was the legislator responsible for there being a University of Mississippi in the first place! A dark-red, castle-like brick building with gables and a bright red roof, Ventress sits on the Circle, the grassy, park-like expanse at the heart of the original Ole Miss campus. Despite our affinity for Ventress’s charming, fairy tale looks, it had never occurred to either of us to actually go inside, never dawned on us to wonder what that little turret looked like from the other side.

The building began life in 1889 as the library – there’s still an “L” over the front doors. Then it was the law building for a while; after that it was used by the State Geological Survey for over thirty years, and then became the geology building before it became the art building. Now it’s home to the College of Liberal Arts and those folks are lucky indeed. It’s a beautiful place to work, all the more so because of the incredible stained glass window on the landing of the staircase in the elegant foyer – a Tiffany stained glass window right on the Ole Miss campus. Hiding in plain sight. It cost $500 in 1891, a gift from Delta Gamma sorority girls and generous alumni to honor the University Greys, a company of the 11th Mississippi Infantry in the Civil War – almost all of whom were students at the university when war began. Ole Miss had to close for the duration of the war, by the way; all the students were male and only four showed up that first year. The fact that most of the donations that paid for the window probably came from the children, grandchildren, and friends of the men of the 11th makes it even more meaningful. It’s exquisite, a truly magnificent work of art that must be seen to be appreciated…which is why we are posting all these pictures. (Also, we feel some obligation to make up for having lived on campus all those years without knowing it existed. We feel badly about that.)

Getting a picture of the entire window was quite a feat -- it spans most of the stairwell and is over a story high.

The faces were so well detailed -- painted on the glass.

It seems we have several things to feel badly about. We had never quite found the time to drop by the library and see Faulkner’s 1949 Nobel Prize for Literature either. So, we went into the library and inquired of the young (very young) woman at the front desk as to how to find Archives. “They’re on the second floor,” she said with a smile. And then, with what can only be called a “concerned” expression, she asked, “Can you manage the stairs?”
Say what?
She asked if we could manage the stairs! We were speechless. Well, we were speechless until we started up those stairs, and then, believe me, we had plenty to say.
Incredibly, by the time we reached the second floor we had pretty much forgotten that sweet young thing's inadvertent affront. After all, we’ll never know what possessed her to ask such a bizarre question, so there’s no point in worrying about it. There’s obviously something wrong with her. It’s sad.

The medal, approximately 2.5" in diameter, 23 carat gold - really quite pretty!
Anyway, Faulkner’s Nobel Prize, which looks like a rather large gold coin, is right there in the Ole Miss Archives, in a case with first editions of all his books and many honorary medals bestowed on him by various countries. There are portraits of him on the walls, and manuscripts of some of his books tucked away.
From the library we went to check out the Lyceum, which has received much sprucing up since we were students. The oldest building on campus, it is the only building that remains from the original campus. A Greek Revival structure built between 1846-48, this iconic building presides over the Circle and the entrance to campus. It served as a Confederate hospital during the Civil War, and then as a Union hospital when the area changed hands. The building has been added on to over the years and was beautifully renovated in the 1990s. It’s gorgeous, with wall coverings, carpets, window treatments, etc. reminiscent of a fine antebellum home.
Like the columns of many antebellum mansions, the Lyceum’s massive Ionic columns still bear nicks from bullets. Oddly, those bullets didn’t come from Civil War muskets. They date to 1962, when Federal Marshals surrounded the Lyceum to protect James Meredith as he registered as the university’s first black student. A riot ensued, complete with burning cars, tear gas, and the gunfire that left the above mentioned marks. And, while we’re on the subject, there is a beautiful plaza behind the Lyceum, between it and the library, dedicated (in 2006) to this dark period in the university’s history. It’s a beautiful plaza, with a statue of Meredith walking toward a series of arches labeled: courage, perseverance, opportunity, and knowledge. The James Meredith Memorial is also the source of the beautiful quote we borrowed for our home page.
By now we were starving, so we drove into town and visited Bottletree Bakery, just off the square, where we ordered a couple pastries to hold us till dinner. We had a superb raspberry brioche and a Humble Pie, a delicious shortbread/blueberry pastry, and we recommend both. Then, refreshed, we set out for the Made in Mississippi store that apparently no longer exists. So…we amused ourselves with a visit to Neilson’s, the oldest continually operating department store in Mississippi. It’s a great place, a wonderful old store. After that we drove around town admiring the gorgeous new houses/condos and the old homes that have been refurbished so beautifully now that everyone we went to school with is buying a second home in Oxford in preparation for retirement. They really are. Seriously, it’s beginning to look like Parents’ Weekend 1972 around there.
We still had a couple hours to pass before Taylor Grocery opened, so we went antiquing, a great way to unwind before dinner. Eating at Taylor’s has been high on our bucket list for years, but it has proved easier said than done, given that it’s only open Thursday-Sunday nights. We have been to Taylor, a cute, artsy community nine miles out of Oxford, several times, but the timing had never been right to eat at the Grocery. There are no groceries at Taylor Grocery by the way, it’s just a restaurant.

The front door of the Taylor Grocery shows some of the graffiti that decorates almost every flat surface.

Generally, places everyone says you have to try tend to be disappointments, so our primary interest in eating at Taylor Grocery was to be done with it and not have to think about it anymore. As it turns out, we’re still thinking about it. It was wonderful. We had catfish – we love catfish – and we want to go back and have more catfish. Soon.
The Grocery opens at 5:00 p.m., but people start lining up on the porch around 4:30. Despite the fact that the nine-mile drive from Oxford to Taylor is the longest nine miles in the entire world – seriously, it just goes on and on and you’re sure you’ve somehow gotten on the wrong road – we made it there early and sat on the porch to await the opening. As we sat there, we noticed a gallon-sized Jim Beam bottle tied to a rope. The rope ran from the bottle, which hung from the edge of the porch roof, near the stairs, up and across the ceiling and down the wall to the door. When the place opened, and, consequently, the front door opened, we saw the bottle and rope for what they are…a door weight. Seriously, it closes the door behind people.

This bottle works well for a door-closer -- and is a great example of living green in the country.
We went in to find an old country store with writing covering the walls and tablecloths and a profusion of license plates and old senior class pictures hanging on the wall. Historically, Taylor High School has not been the sort of massive institution a child could get lost in. The class of 1965, for instance, had only seventeen students, and only four of them were boys. At least one – maybe two – classes were smaller.
We ordered two-piece catfish filet dinners, which came with hushpuppies and a choice of two sides. We figured that would be plenty, but we were somewhat disappointed to get the smallest catfish filets we have ever seen. Thank goodness we’d ordered that extra side of fried okra! As it turned out, there was plenty of food – their hush puppies are small, but they put five or six on your plate – but next time we might order more catfish just because it was sooooo good. Really. It was delicious, some of the best we have ever had. Perfectly seasoned and not a bit greasy. They advertise that they have the “best catfish in Mississippi” – just like every other place that serves catfish – but they may be right!
We topped off the meal with chocolate cobbler, which the waitress described as a small serving. It came in the same little bowl that school cafeterias used to use, but looks are deceptive – that tiny bowl held a lot of cobbler, which tasted more like a gooey brownie made with really fine chocolate. It was incredible, the best…and it was topped off with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Taylor Grocery surpassed our expectations. The waitress was wonderful, the food delicious. It’s no wonder the wait for a table is long long long if you don’t arrive by 4:30 or so. The fact that it’s a totally unpretentious place is yet another reason to like it. It is what it is. No more. No less. The building itself looks like every country store in the South looked pre-1960s. The floor is wood, not “hardwood.” The doorknob on the women’s bathroom is original – porcelain. And, of course, the “automatic door” is controlled by an old booze bottle. The menu states outright, “Tipping is not a city in Taiwan,” and there is a sign on the front door, scrawled on a piece of a brown paper sack, that states, “We will be closed Sunday nite to watch Eli beat the Patriots.” We wondered why it was still up until we got close enough to see that Eli had autographed it! But, our very favorite thing (after the catfish and the chocolate cobbler) is the restaurant’s motto: “Eat or we both starve.” You have to admire that kind of honesty.

Brown paper sack -- worth a thousand smiles..

Eli "10" Manning autograph makes it even more valuable.