When I first moved to Mississippi from Italy, this native Floridian felt like he was moving from one foreign country to another. Eleven years later, this place is home and I am so thankful for every day I have had here. Like any state, it has its baggage, but as I leave Mississippi, I am overwhelmingly thankful for my time here. We have lived in the rival towns of Starkville and Oxford and have seen the best of each. In this post, I simply want to say thank you to a state that isn’t thanked enough.
Mississippi is more like a large town than a state. Each town feels more like a neighborhood and, if you grew up here, you can always find a mutual friend. In Mississippi, there is only one degree of separation. It seems counter intuitive, but somehow the smaller the town, the more people you know. It’s easy to feel isolated in a large city, but when you run into the same people in the same places long enough, it’s hard not to begin to feel like you have more friends than you know what to do with.
My vocabulary has been expanded during my time in the land of buggies and clickers. I’m fixina move back to the world of grocery carts and remote controls where the pace of life could make someone ‘bout to stroke. My verbs have gone a bit caddywompus in Mississippi, so I’ll have to watch the ‘might coulds’ and ‘should coulds.’ A nice little lagniappe from our time here.
Many of these new words were learned over uniquely Mississippi cuisine. I doubt I’ll see tamales, chicken on a stick or chicken and waffles (yes, that’s one dish) where I’m going. I don’t think you could find a slug burger in the whole state of Florida. I may be able to find shrimp and grits, but it won’t be as good. I suppose I’ll always be able to put some peanuts in my coke though. Only in this part of the world does the slaw come on the pulled pork sandwich and only in Mississippi would I be tempted to order the catfish over a filet. And are there any other states where some of the best food is made in gas stations?
I never realized how diverse this state is. The Mississippi Delta is a place everyone should visit. The small towns there are connected by roads with no stores or gas stations giving the feel of jumping from island to island on a boat. You better have all you need to get from point A to point B, unless your car runs on corn, cotton or soy beans. Maybe that’s why I almost always see someone walking those roads.
It’s an odd thing to go south in Mississippi and hear the accents change. Southern Mississippi slowly feels more like New Orleans than Mississippi in the way they talk and eat. Most people don’t realize that the biggest city in Mississippi is Memphis. Tennessee may try and forget their claim Memphis, but Mississippians go there to get engaged. Mississippi colleges actually give special tuition rates to Memphians. It’s also a handy city if you are looking for a Target, Apple store or airport.
In Mississippi I have learned what it means to be a real football fan. Even though my home value does fluctuate signicantly based on the success of the football team, Mississippians require no championships (or really much potential) to come and support their team. To be in the Grove or the Junction on game day can often feel more like a family reunion that just happens to have a football game going on. Each tent represents a city (or neighborhood) and you get to take a nice stroll through the entire state catching up with old friends.
When most of the other states will chew you out to your face, Mississippians will always give you the courtesy of talking about you when you aren’t there. In this state I can assure you that you will be gossiped about in the most polite way possible and often in the form of a prayer request. You better pay attention when you hear the words ‘bless their heart.’ That’s when the best stuff comes out. Here that’s known as ‘blessing someone out.’
In Mississippi, we don’t have everything, but we have what we need. Values like sacrificial giving, hospitality and a slower pace of life live on here. I’m proud that all four of my children were born in this state and would be thrilled for any of them to come back one day. I’m different for my years in Mississippi and thankful for it.
So, the next time someone has something negative to say about my state, I’ll politely point them to Arkansas and say, “We aren’t 50th on the list.”