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How I Spent Thanksgiving II
December 9, 2007
How I Spent Thanksgiving . . . or
There is a Lot of There There – Part The Second
I have never been particularly good at managing nostalgia. The college town down home called Oxford, it is a tiny blue dot in the great red sea that is my original home state. 'Twas ever thus?
Grandmother Sarah Elizabeth, but they called her Bettie, she lived in Yocona, a small community outside of Oxford, echoed in the place name used by Williams Faulkner for the fictional area he wrote about: Yoknapatawpha County. Grandmother Bettie knew Mr. Bill Faulkner from time in days gone by she'd spent up around the Oxford town square.
Grandmother Bettie married Jack Knight and they lived in a house Jack built in Taylor, yet another small town near Oxford. Grandfather Jack was a railroad man, a foreman for the Illinois Central RR, and he went to work just by walking outside and catching the train that ran down the long track in front of their house there.
At the shoppe there known as Square Books, about a decade ago, I found reference in an historical overview to my great, great grandfather Knight, saying he'd come from England to oversee a plantation owned by Senator L.Q.C. Lamar.
Generations later, Miss Louise was born there in that house in Taylor, in the Mississippi county actually named Lafayette for the great French general. But the natives have their own pronunciation sounding nothing like the general’s name - accent on the second syllable (La-FAY-et) - and, yes, we descriptivists know the correct pronunciation is exactly whatever the natives say.
Miss Louise married Pop and they lived for more than 40 years in a Mississippi River town about 200 miles sound of Oxford known as Vicksburg. That's where I was born but it is mostly known for being where General U.S. Grant led a sixty-day siege and rode his horse through an antebellum home.
Brother Stan was born in Vicksburg seven years before I was. As far back as I can recall, there were Stan and me in the back seat of Pop's car all excited about going to see Grandma Bettie Knight, being able to put out pennies on the railroad in front of her house in Taylor and hoping to find them squashed into keepsake items. And we hoped also maybe we'd get to go with Pop over to the campus that was famous for its football.
I remember on those visits to Grandma Bettie's how cold I thought it was taking a bath or going to the bathroom in her house. The bathroom was just off the enclosed porch and had one light bulb hanging from the ceiling, like all the other rooms in her house did. And, I do remember those great big biscuits fresh from the oven served at breakfast there and she had a fluffy feather bed that was fun to jump around in and hear the springs squeaking. That was when springs on a bed were not yet enclosed inside your mattress, you know.
Miss Louise was the first in her family to graduate from college. She earned her way through Ole Miss working in the University Library, a place where as a college student, I would years later spend hours and hours and hours and more there. Pop earned his masters degree there.
When Stan finished high school, he went off to Ole Miss on his football scholarship. He graduated several years later, and since then, has missed few football games, season after season after season there.
Time came and I went off to Oxford for college. We all did. Liz’s father and I moved away from Oxford after graduating, then moved back, and Liz was born there.
They say that the Confederate soldier atop the statue on campus will tip his hat to any girl who graduates from Ole Miss still a virgin. They say that, but I’ve never seen it. Riding around the Courthouse in the middle of the town square on this trip, I was reminded my name is on a marriage and a divorce certificate recorded in that very building. There were some antics we pulled living on and off campus back in the early 70s, but suffice it to say, I've never seen that soldier tip his hat.
Dr. Carolyn Ellis Staton – a friend of our family, my 9th grade English teacher and later a role model for me when she went to New York to study at Columbia and then on to Yale Law in the same class with Bill and Hillary, well, she is now the university’s provost there, a fact I find amusing in view of how she characterized Ole Miss when she was just out of Sophie Newcome College in New Orleans. Other professors I knew there also pointed me in the direction of my newspaper industry career and on to New York for graduate school.
There are so, so, many memories tied up round or about Oxford, and when I went to visit this time, they came rolling back over the decades and decades down the long halls of time and life and so much of what I tried so hard to get away from, only to find out it was home once more.
Liz left New Orleans when she finished high school and became a young adult going to college there. Liz met John there and they got married standing in that sacred Grove.
Pop died in 2000, and after his funeral, I made my way a few days later with Stan back there to the campus of Ole Miss so we could see a football game together and remark on how much Pop had loved the Ole Miss Rebels. Pop was so relatively liberal in his thinking, I'd have to say his love of Ole Miss is a fine example of how one can believe deeply in an idea or institution and at the same time be totally in the dark about what its underlying meaning or implications may be. He was a thinker but he couldn't think his way out of the box when it came to the symbols and nostalgia lumped up and dumped on the University of Mississippi.
A few months ago, Liz and John moved back to Oxford after three years living in godforsaken Altoona, PA. They moved . . . yes, they moved back to Oxford. So, this year for Thanksgiving, I did indeed go back there to Mr. Faulkner's county once again.
It was just overwhelming, bittersweet and charming all at the same. I was sitting with the thought that we, our family, cannot escape this town. As the week passed, I had to spend a lot of time asleep, I suppose, just processing the meaning. Cannot escape Mississippi nor Oxford nor Ole Miss, so make the best of it. Enjoy the catfish, the barbeque, the fried green tomatoes and okra, grits and fresh-picked blackberries right off the vine.
So much there there is there. Pause for just a moment to ponder and focus. It is obvious that most likely there will be more there in days to come.
Entered by BettyS 4:00 AM
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