Ever heard the expression (or maybe it was a bumper sticker), "I wasn't born in the South, but I got here as fast as I could"? Well, I wasn't born in Mississippi. I don't even live there. But from the moment I set foot in Old Man River's stomping ground, I was hooked.
That's saying a lot, because my home state's nothing to sneeze at. Alabama's got beautiful mountains, snow-white beaches, Mama's cooking, and my beloved Auburn Tigers. People still pull over to show respect for a passing funeral procession and stand to show respect for a passing quarterback. We're the homeland of Hank Williams, for heaven's sake. So what's the pull of our sister state to the west?
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For starters, it's the only place I've ever visited that didn't eventually make me homesick. Maybe that's because Alabama and Mississippi are like cousins who don't visit very often but always have a big time together at the family reunion.
Both states are Southern to the core, but every now and then, Mississippi takes it to a whole new level. Most locals would just as soon throw a fine party—or own a fine bird dog—as drive a fine car. They fish with pride and fry without shame. I love the way Delta folks refer to the Mighty Mississippi simply as "the river" because really, when you get down to it, there's the Mississippi and then there are all those other sweet little tributaries like, say, the Ohio.
I am especially intrigued by the many contradictions that give the state its quirky charm. For example, Mississippians can swear in a genteel sort of way that sounds gracious and cordial, even while they're blessing you out. I have seen svelte beauties with immaculate makeup and glamorous updos sit down to a platter of catfish big enough to feed a truckload of deer hunters. And I'd be willing to bet those delicate flowers know how to handle a shotgun. (Speaking of beauties, have you ever seen a Miss America pageant that didn't have a Mississippi girl in the top 10? She's usually standing next to Miss Texas. Or Miss Alabama.)
When Mississippians chose, as their state flower, a symbol of hospitality, they weren't kidding around. Once, when my mother and I were driving through a small town on U.S. 61, a road machine threw a rock and shattered the passenger window of my car. The fellows at the local office of the Mississippi Department of Transportation vacuumed my car, then went out and bought some clear plastic to cover my window because they thought the orange variety they had on hand would look tacky on my Cadillac. They sent us home with a complimentary roll of duct tape.
My Midwestern husband, Dave, is as infatuated as I am. For years now, he and I have been preparing my couldn't-pry-us-out-of-Alabama-with-a-stick parents for the day when we'll at least spend long weekends on Mississippi Sound. Dave says I'm too much of an Alabama girl to leave altogether, and he's right.
But here's an idea—dual citizenship! Governor Bryant, Governor Bentley—if y'all could get together over some grits and coffee one morning and work that out for us, we'd be forever in your debt. Meridian's about halfway between Jackson and Montgomery, and we're pretty sure they've got a Cracker Barrel. We'll call ahead and get your names on the list.