It’s easy to get frustrated with modern life. The endless election phone calls and the ones with the annoying silence before a robot speaks up. The hottest September on record followed by a cold snap that eliminated what little fall we might have had. My hot water heater failing right after a $1200 plumbing job that will take another year to pay off. Washington – but let’s not go there.
And then, there’s Highway 61.
I spent the good bit of last week driving through the Mississippi Delta, meeting the publisher and art director of a magazine I work for, visiting attractions and hotels for my travel writing profession and taking in a blues marker or two. Or three; my husband co-pilot loves the blues. We enjoyed a mushroom burger at The Burger Shop in Hernando, where the Asian owner explained with passion how he learned about Creole and Cajun cooking while at the University of South Mississippi. We stopped in a rock shop where I was assigned to interview the owner. She wasn’t there but the shop assistant showed me around and I purchased the most beautiful stone.
We visited the Grammy Museum, Dockery Plantation where the blues is said to originate and the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale. I’d been to the latter before so while Bruce enjoyed the museum, I wondered around town. Clarksdale has always struggled, with new life coming in to attract visitors next to abandoned buildings. You never know what you’ll find in this blues mecca. As I was walking down the streets, some deserted, I spotted an elderly man sitting in front of a building with a plastic bag. My gut wondered if he was destitute, but then he looked up and smiled, said, “It’s cold but it ain’t snowing.”
At a shop, the clerk treated me to tasty chocolates (she had to try one in order to sell them she told me, so we shared a caramel). She then instructed me to visit a coffee shop where the area’s youth are trained to roast the beans and make coffee drinks, a warm comfortable place with blues singers on the wall and a bookshelf full of great reads.
Down the road, past the crossroads where Robert Johnson supposedly sold his soul to the devil (I don’t believe it, know he was born brilliant) and we landed in Cleveland. Our home for two nights was the new boutique hotel Cotton House where James Beard nominee Chef Cole Ellis cooks up amazing dishes at The Delta Meat Market. We split the hangar steak on fries drizzled with this amazing “Hoover” sauce and blue cheese and a side order of Brussel Sprouts swimming in a vinegar-brown sugar base. My toes were curling, it was that good. The following night, Chef Ellis taught a cooking class with several yummy dishes.
The final day was Vicksburg, a two-hour drive south, and we passed numerous bayous with bald cypress trees turned a vivid burnt orange. There were endless fields of spent cotton and an occasional green crop, many times surveyed by hawks on telephone wires. I relished in the solitude of the drive, the peacefulness of the countryside, the fall colors.
Our Vicksburg trip contained a tale of two ghost houses, both former hospitals during the town’s Civil War siege. That’s perhaps another story. On the ride back to Lafayette, we paused in Natchez for a meal by the Mississippi River, another site that takes your breath away, a water so massive and wide at its bend by the city.
The Mississippi Delta is one of my most favorite places on earth, entrenched with culture, music and the most interesting people. It’s also one of the poorest. Indianola, home to the B.B. King Museum, is the poorest town in this, one of the poorest states. The typical area household earns about $26K a year compared to the median income in Mississippi of $40,528 and the median income nationwide of $55,322 a year.
Like Louisiana, I’m sure residents cherish living in such a rich environment, but I feel for them as well. I kept thinking that if I won the lottery, I’d spread it around the Delta like the fertilizer they spray on cotton.
It also makes me grateful for the little things in life, like having a working shower in one bathroom even though the master has been out of service for many years now. My mother’s always remarking how we need to fix that shower and redo our bathrooms and my answer’s always been, “At least we have running water.” I know there are people in America — and certainly the world — who have a lot less. And that hot water heater hasn’t died yet.
So, here’s what I’m thankful this Thanksgiving:
Insulation on cold nights.
A running car. Actually two, even though the second is 10 years old and looks worse for wear.
A warm Calvin Klein coat that I got for $7 at The Hut thrift shop.
That my family’s healthy.
That my sister moved close so that I can see her more often and we can have lunch with my 90-year-old mother and be the "Three Musketeers" again.
That I’m able to work for myself, and publish my stories.
My landline, even though it spews off robo calls.
Bald cypress trees, for without them I may never know it’s fall.
The wonderful people I met this past week.
The birds outside my office window.
My life writing class, a collection of warm-hearted, beautiful souls who are so talented, more than I think they realize.
And, of course, you, my readers!!