Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Trash or Treasure?

A 2007 United States Census Bureau report listed Mississippi as the poorest state in the Nation. It definitely isn't the most popular one; between 2000 and 2005, there was a net migration of a mere 75 people into the state.

We do have some sad statistics:

-Per capita personal income in 2006 was the lowest of any state in the U.S.
-For three years in a row, over 30 percent of Mississippians have been classified as obese.
-22.8 percent of its children were also classified as obese.
-In 2004, Mississippi was ranked last among the fifty states in academic achievement by the American Legislative Exchange Council's Report Card on Education
-Mississippi has the lowest average ACT scores and spending per pupil in the nation.

We also have some goofy, backward, amusing and downright strange laws on the books:

-Cattle rustling is still punishable by hanging, pard'ner.
-Private citizens may personally arrest any person that disturbs a church service.
-No turtle races may be held at the airport.
-Mississippi was the last state to repeal Prohibition of alcohol.
-As a result, we have more "dry" counties than any state
-Some counties allow the sale of beer, but only if it's unrefrigerated (you can have your beer, Homer, but you ain't gettin' it cold!)

Because of things like this, and because of the state's complex history, most people have some very strong, negative pre-conceived ideas about Mississippi.

Amazingly enough, those who come and visit anyhow usually change their minds. I recently stopped into Taylor's Food Store for a cup of coffee and a chat. As I headed back to the deli counter, I saw Mr. Sonny talking to a tall man in bicycle shorts and a dayglo yellow windbreaker--not standard attire for these parts. Turns out he is a native Californian who, at the age of 63, was in the midst of his third cross-country bicycle tour. He had first driven from coast to coast in the northern states, then the central ones; due to learned prejudice and preconceived notions, he had saved the southern route for last.

We asked him for his impressions, and he was genuinely pleasantly surprised at the sincerity, kindness, and helpfulness of Mississippians. He could actually picture leaving his home in the beautiful Napa Valley and living in rural Mississippi, he said. One of the younger locals gathered around couldn't quite believe that statement until several of the rest of us piped up and admitted that we, too, had once been passers-through and have since become transplants, thriving in the local soil and climate of hospitality. We all agreed that you couldn't pay us any sum of money to live anywhere else in the world.

Mississippi may have its shameful statistics, but it has some pretty amazing things to be proud of, too:

-The state has the nation's lowest living costs.
-In spite of having the lowest per capita income, Mississippians consistently rank as one of the highest per capita in charitable contributions.
-Mississippi was the first state to pass a Married Women's Property Act.
-Mississippi has elected more African-American officials than any other state in the United States.
-In 1936 a Mississippi doctor performed the first bone pinning in the United States. This led to the development of the "Rush Pin", which is still in use.
-The first human lung transplant was performed in 1963 at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, Mississippi.
-In 1964, the first heart transplant was also performed at UMMC.
-The world-renowned USA International Ballet Competition takes place in Jackson every four years.

Culturally, Mississippi has so rich a heritage!

Mississippi has generated rich, quintessentially American music traditions: gospel music, country music, jazz, blues, and rock and roll were all invented, promulgated, or heavily developed by Mississippi musicians.

The Delta region has been historically significant in the development of the blues, producing such greats as: Charlie Patton, Muddy Waters, Mississippi John Hurt, Willie Brown, Big Joe Williams, Howlin' Wolf, Bo Diddley, and B.B. King. The state also played a significant role in the integration of American music. Its musicians combined musical traditions from Africa with the musical traditions of white Southerners, which were largely rooted in Celtic music, to create Creole music.

Mississippi's complex history has inspired great storytellers. Award-winning authors native to or associated with the state include William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, Eudora Welty, Richard Wright, Ellen Douglas, Willie Morris, Shelby Foote, Margaret Walker Alexander, Ellen Gilchrist, Alice Walker, John Grisham, and James Autry.

Come on down and find out why it's called the Hospitality State, and savour some of the rich traditions that make up the best of Mississippi. It sure isn't what you thought it was, and you might even stay a while...

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A Southern Girl's ABC

A is for Ants--step on a mound
and burning red bites on your feet will be found.
B is for Bubby, which might sound quite strange
but it's Southern for "Baby", a loving nickname.
C is for Coke, which is what you call soda--
whether it's Sprite, Pepsi, Root Beer, or Cola.
D is a Dollah, but now it's much mo'
when you go to pay fo' that Coke at the sto'.
E is Engagin'--which means glib or charming,
especially if a man's smile is disarming.
F is for Flip flops girls wear on their feet
from March 'til late fall without missin' a beat.
G is for Grits on the back of the stove;
never use instant, real down-home folks know.
H is a Harley, the cycle of choice;
no Japanese brands for a good Southern boy!
I is for Ice Storm--something you'll never
see on the Gulf Coast as part of the weather.
J is "Jus' folks", people like you and me
who are not pretentious, just ordinary.
K is a Kiss on the lip or the cheek;
down here, don't air kiss--you'll be up the creek.
L is L'z'yanne, which is how we pronounce
Loo-wee-zee-an-na down here in the South.
M is M'ssip, as the folks down here say,
and we're not at all slow, 'cause we spell it O.K.
N is for Nasty, what Southerners say
when something that's yucky crops up in their way.
O is for Okra, Opry, and Ol';
Ornery, and quite a few other words more.
P is "The Pig", a grocery store;
"Piggly Wiggly"s the name that hangs over the door.
Q is for Quick--not as fast as up North,
but a whole lot more courteous, that you can bet.
R is for Reg'lar, a term that applies
to food, drink, and folks that are simple and wise.
"Hey, Sensuous..." means 'Since You Is' on your feet,
could you bring me a drink on your way back here, sweet?
T is a Truck, not a Mercedes Benz;
F-350 is status for rich Southern men.
U is Ungodly, as in how hot;
how expensive; how rude; how long you had to wait.
V is Vivacious, what Southern Belles are
when talkin' to jus' folks from near or afar.
W's "Woman!"--what men call their gals
with playful respect, very rarely a scowl.
X marks the spot for a good pirate's treasure;
for a moonshiner, XXX marks a strong beverage.
Y has to be "Y'all", the endearing way
to address more than one when you call to say "hey".
Z is "Zee end!" --what a Creole would say
after a crawfish boil on a hot day.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Rome wasn't built in a day...

...but my new planter box was, thanks to my wonderful husband John and his best friend Dan--who is really a family member that was chosen, above and beyond the ones issued at birth.

A few weeks ago, John brought home a packet of tomato seeds. He is a fabulous cook, and we both love garden-fresh tomatoes. Last year, we grew some in containers on the deck out back. "It's a pity we don't have a raised planter box going around the edge of the deck", I mused. "The tomatoes got so root-bound in those pots last year". I shared my vision, and my husband agreed it was an intriguing idea.

Two weeks later, I came home from work to find an almost-finished project and two hard-working men. The planter was a wonderful surprise; the bond between these two men also warms my heart. When John told Dan what he had in mind to do, Dan didn't say "I'm busy", or "How about next weekend?". Between these two brothers-by-choice, the modus operandi is "You need me? I'll be right there."

Roof torn off by a storm? --No problem. We'll have a new one on shortly.

Bike not running? --Let's put our heads together and figure it out.

Child is sick and you have to be at work? --I'm off today; I'll take care of her.

Need a tool to finish that job? --I'll bring it over in a minute, and I'll stick around to help.

Family crisis? --I'll be right over.

Going through hard times? --I'm here to listen and help in any way I can.

Feel like giving up? --I'm not going to let you.

Broken-hearted? --Let me put my arms around you, brother.

Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither was this friendship; these two men have been through thick and through thin together for close to 20 years now, without ever counting the cost or keeping score of who has done what for whom. This is my ode to that friendship...and a thank-you to both, for all their hard work.

"I have friends in overalls

whose friendship I would not swap

for the favor of the kings of the world. "

~Thomas A. Edison

Friday, April 11, 2008


Perhaps it is because I grew up in a city, where the only animals we came in contact with were our pets and the only wild creatures were earthworms and ladybugs. Perhaps it can be ascribed to my perpetual sense of child-like wonder. It is certainly due in part to my appreciation of all creation as miraculous, diverse, interconnected, and precious.

"It" is the absolute kick I get out of waking up to a new surprise from nature every day; yesterday, my gift was this enormous bullfrog sitting on the front lawn when I left the house.

His body was at least 6" across. I stooped down to take a closer look. "Good Morning there! How are you?" I smiled. He blinked, quite unperturbed, and replied, "Wrrrok".

I wished him plentiful insects to eat and a moist, shady place to rest and went on my way. He was gone by the time I returned, but I heard a bullfrog chorus ringing loud and clear from the pond at 4 o'clock this morning and thought of my little friend. I can count on him to help keep down the insect population, and he can count on me to make sure his pond-side habitat remains undisturbed. We are, together, part of the great web of life on this planet.

In human terms, my husband and I are the owners of 2 acres of land. In reality, we are merely caretakers of it; the land will outlast us, and receive our bones after we have one day breathed our last.

There is no quiet place in the cities.
No place to hear the unfurling of leaves in spring
or the rustle of the insect's wings.
The clatter only seems to insult the ears.
And what is there to life if a man cannot hear
the lonely cry of the whippoorwill
or the arguments of the frogs around the pond at night?

The air is precious to man
for all things share the same breath;
the beast, the tree, the man,
they all share the same breath.
You must remember that the air is precious,
that the air shares its spirit with all the life it supports.

All things are connected.
Whatever befalls the earth
befalls the sons of earth.
If men spit upon the ground,
they spit upon themselves.

This we know;
the earth does not belong to man.
All things are connected
like the blood which unites one family.

The earth is precious to Him,
and to harm the earth
is to heap contempt on its Creator.
~Chief Seattle