Joe and I took a brief fall break trip to Oxford, Mississippi, this weekend. That little town has become one of our favorite places in the world, for reasons neither of us can clearly articulate. It’s a beautiful place, for one, and a friendly community. We always check out Rowan Oak, William Faulkner’s old home, with its stately, tree-lined drive and tall white columns, the room that has one of his novels outlined on the wall, and the walls that smell and look slightly like what I remember from Granny’s old house. We love the food–Taylor Grocery is a must at some point for anyone who loves southern food, and while I know it’s just a little greasy spoon, I’ve never had better coffee anywhere in the world than at the Beacon. It eases me slowly into my day and makes me a happier, better person. Then there’s the shopping. I always spend hours wandering the shops on the square, dragging Joe in and out of dress shops, stationery shops, and bath shops, trying on sunglasses and bracelets and buying oversized bags. No trip is complete without multiple trips to Square Books and Off Square Books, which may be my two favorite bookstores in the world. I could sit all day on the balcony at Square Books, reading and writing, watching and listening. It’s a gorgeous, relaxing, calming place for us to be, and I love it more than I can say.
This time, we started our trip with a visit to the Thacker Mountain Radio Show. Joe saw an episode of the program on his first trip to Oxford, and he’s been anxious to get me to it ever since. Basically, on Thursday nights, Off Square Books clears its floors of books and sets up 200 folding chairs so the audience can watch a live, literary radio show. A house band plays a few songs, and then artists come in and read from their books, or play some of their music, or just talk about whatever they do. It was beyond cool–so interesting, and then the artists relate to and react very well with the audience. I wish I could be there every week, but since I can’t, I will just have to pick up the live feed on their website.
On Saturday, we went to an Ole Miss football game. Joe was pretty fired up about it, and I have to admit that I was excited too, because I’d heard a lot about Ole Miss school spirit, and tailgating in the Grove, and all that. We were not disappointed. It was homecoming, and we couldn’t even get a room in Oxford that night, or in any of the surrounding towns, so we ended up 50 miles away, in Tupelo, driving back in for the game. Oxford was packed. I wondered if it could have possibly been more crowded the week before when the first presidential debates were held in town. We parked at the town’s decrepit mall (it always makes Joe gleeful that this town has a thriving downtown and a falling-apart mall) and joined the throngs headed through campus toward the Grove.
It was amazing. I knew going in that I would be massively underdressed in my jeans, Chucks, and Ole Miss t-shirt, but I had a long drive home that night and really didn’t care. Even so, I was awed at the extent to which people dress up for football there. Everywhere we looked, there was a girl in a sundress. Red, white, and blue tents stretched as far as the eye could see. Beneath the tents, southern women put on a spread that put my church’s homecoming banquets to shame. Like I said, I knew going in that tailgating was serious there, but since the only live football I’d ever really watched before was at Western Kentucky and UK, I was kind of blown away. I wanted to pull up a blue Ole Miss chair, grab a red plastic cup, and join in the party.
The game itself was pretty cool. The stadium is a little bit crummy, and our seats were in the end zone, but they were low enough to have an awesome view of players coming in for a touchdown, and the football whizzed over our heads every time an extra point or a field goal were kicked. Fans were spirited and fun. I got a monstrous sunburn and look a little like an alien today, but it was worth it.
Every time I go to Oxford, I watch “For Sale” signs, idly dreaming of packing it all up and moving down there, studying southern culture at Ole Miss, writing and reading and drinking a lot of sweet tea. People always look at me oddly when I say that this town tops the list of places I would be willing to retire too. I tell them, go there sometime. Then you’ll understand.