by Mrs. Whatsit
For the March 2008 Blogville News
To understand the world, you must first understand a place like Mississippi.
First, I would like to thank Scarlett for asking me to write for The Blogville News . . . an honor indeed! Before we get to the entertaining part, you are going to learn a little bit.
A Mississippi History Lesson
In Mississippi, we speak of "The War." There is only one war, the War Between The States, better known as The Civil War outside of the Southeastern United States. We have Sherman to thank for reshaping the landscape with his tendency to burn southern cities. Jackson, the capital city, did not escape. It earned the nickname Chimneyville because all over town, nothing was left standing after the burning except a bunch of chimneys.
As a result, Jackson was totally rebuilt during and after Reconstruction. Jackson defies being described as a typical southern town where life is slow and people take it easy. It has a skyline, suburbs, and a large First Baptist Church which takes up more than a city block. However, there are a few cities that contain plenty of Antebellum, or pre-war, buildings - Natchez and Vicksburg being the premier examples. Much of Mississippi is so rural that the zip code is E I E I O. We take pride in these contradictions - Mississippi is more than just moonlight and magnolias, grits and gloves.
A Little Literary Gossip
I'm sure y'all are acquainted with Mississippi's reputation of being an illiterate, backward state. However, as Mississippi native Willie Morris, author of My Dog Skip, said, "We may not be able to read, but we sure can write." We tend to hold on to our literary heritage as something we can be proud of.
I suppose William Faulkner would probably be one of the best known Mississippi authors before a scribbling lawyer named John Grisham came along. In the 1930's Faulkner went dove hunting with a man named Howard Hawks. Hawks was friends with Clark Gable and had invited him along. Hawks started a literary discussion with Faulkner, asking him who he thought were the best living writers. Faulkner's reply was, "Ernest Hemingway, Willa Cather, Thomas Mann, John Dos Passos, and myself." Gable paused for a moment and said, "Oh, do you write?" "Yes, Mr. Gable," Faulkner said. "What do you do?"
A man named John Maxwell took this episode and turned it into a one man show called Oh Mr. Faulkner, Do You Write?
Eudora Welty, another one of Mississippi's literary stars, spent her life in Jackson. In fact, as an adult she still lived in the house her father built while she was a child. This house was across the street from my alma mater, Belhaven College. The pride of my life is that I saw her in her front yard once. She made a habit of going to the local grocery store every morning. Some said this was because, as a wordsmith, she liked the name of it, the Jitney Jungle. As a child, to get to the public library, she would roller skate through the State Capitol Building. If she arrived at the library lacking a petticoat, the librarian would send her home to get one.
Hail to the Kings
Elvis Presley, nicknamed "The King," usually gets associated with Memphis, and rightly so, he spent the vast majority of his life there. However, he was born and spent his childhood in Tupelo, Mississippi. The house he grew up in is about the size of my family room. They have it open for tours. It's a little two-room place that takes about two minutes to go through.
Another famous Mississippian, Jimmy Buffett, said "Elvis was the only man from Northeast Mississippi who could shake his hips and still be loved by rednecks, cops, and hippies."
The form of music known as The Blues originated in the Mississippi Delta. Jazz is a direct descendant of The Blues: these are the only two musical forms native to the United States. Born in Itta Bena, Mississippi, B. B. King is one of our most famous Blues artists. His trademark is calling his guitar by the name of Lucille. Once he was performing in a juke joint in Twist, Arkansas, and a fight broke out, which caused a fire. B. B. King almost lost his life running back to get his guitar. After he learned that the original fight that started the whole thing was over a woman named Lucille, his guitar has been known by this name ever since.
One thing we have to watch for in Mississippi . . . well, I should say that people from outside of the south have to watch for this. That is, using our southern language. It can be difficult to decipher for those who didn't grow up listening to it. Mississippians have a choice of using our regular voices, or sending our minds back to English grammar class to pick up the correct thing. Because we do know the King's English, but don't always use it. Ours is so much more colorful and less stodgy. Who wants to say "Where are you going at this moment?" when you could say "Where're you fixin to go?"
So, Dear Readers, here is a translation guide for those not fortunate enough to have made their home in God's Country.
A Mississippi Dictionary
How's your Mama'n them? How is your family?
Daddy's porely. Unfortunately, my father is ill.
You don't say! What's the matter with 'im? Oh, I'm sorry to hear that. What is the nature of his illness?
I reckon he's plumb wore out from the honey-dew list Mama made 'im.
I suppose that he is exceedingly weary because my mother has kept him busy.
Tell 'im I asked about 'im, y'hear? Please give him my regards.
Crack the window. The south may be the only place on earth where you get asked to crack a window. If a southerner asks you to do this, don't pick up a rock, just open the window a tee-niny bit. Which brings us to . . .
Tee-niny Exceedingly small.
Do you reckon he's off his rocker? Would it be your opinion that he belongs in a mental institution?
Do you think I just fell off the turnip truck? Do I look like an idiot to you?
Some Mississippi Trivia
Teddy Roosevelt came to Mississippi on a bear-hunting trip. His party sighted a bear cub. Teddy refused to shoot it. This event was widely reported, and led to the development of the Teddy Bear.
Memorial Day was originally known as Decoration Day. This started in Columbus, Mississippi, when a group of ladies decided to decorate the Yankee graves of the Civil War as well as the Confederate ones.
A man named Louis LeFleur established a trading post called LeFleur's Bluff on the banks of the Pearl River. This became the site of Jackson, the capitol city. Our current governor, Haley Barbour, is a descendant of Louis LeFleur.
Root beer was invented in Biloxi, on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, in 1898, by Edward Barq.
Mississippi College was the first co-educational college in the country to grant a degree to a woman.
Katrina was retired as a hurricane name and replaced with Katia.
The world's largest cactus plantation is in Edwards.
The first human lung transplant was in 1963 at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. The same facility was the site for the first human heart transplant the following year.
Stetson practiced the trade of making hats at Dunn's Falls, a place I have picnicked hundreds of times.
Babe Ruth's final homerun was hit off of a Mississippian, Guy Bush, of Tupelo.
Joseph Biedenharn of Vicksburg was the first person to put Coca-Cola in bottles.
The largest man-made beach in the world is at the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
National Geographic is printed at the Ringier-America Company in Corinth, Mississippi.
Native Mississsippian Walter Peyton is the first football player to have his picture on the Wheaties box.
A few unusual town names in Mississippi:
Learned (two syllables)
Thank you for listening to me brag on my home state. I appreciate you lending an ear, or in this case, an eye. Mississippi is known as the hospitality state. No Mississippian would think of concluding a conversation without issuing an invitation.
Y'all come, you hear?