Sunday, October 30, 2011

Oxford Town, Oxford Town

This post is a continuation of a series on my travels to my home state of Mississippi.

Picking up where my last post left off, I left Booneville and headed to Oxford to finally see my mother-in-law's new house. The house is great, and everyone is very excited. It's nice to see Crystel getting to spend time with her mom and sister again, and I'm enjoying the time with them and with Lauren's boyfriend Chris. We didn't get to stay around too long, since I didn't get to Oxford until 5:00 in the evening and we still had to get our dog from the kennel back home in Memphis.

Speaking of a trip to the kennel, here is Porter's "Pawgress Report" from the visit.

The following weekend, we really got to discover the new house. We drove down on Friday after work, and stayed until Sunday, when we left kicking and screaming to head back to Memphis and reality. While we were there, we got to go to the South Depot Taco Shop on the square for dinner (always a good choice if you're looking for a fun casual meal in Oxford). After dinner on Friday night, we headed to our old watering hole The Rib Cage to see if we could spot any old friends. We ran into several people we knew, and I was reminded of how much I miss my friends. I made the best friends of my life while I was in college, and I'm hope I get the opportunity to see them more often. Here's a picture of most of our college friends at our wedding in 2007. Just looking at this picture makes me miss everyone.

On Saturday morning I went for a run around the new neighborhood, and I can't think of a more perfect place to run than Oxford in the fall. The new neighborhood has a lake, and the path around it is approximately 3 miles; perfect for 5k training. We managed help out with a couple of things with the house before we had to head back to Collierville on Saturday afternoon so Crystel could work at an event for her Youth United group at Habitat for Humanity.

When we got back into town around 6:30, the Rebels were already getting thumped soundly by the Tide, and we decided we'd better get our running around done before the game crowds hit the streets. We stopped by Home Depot, where we ran into our old friend Neal Patel. Neal was part of our group of friends in Oxford from the very first semester when he owned a bar called Duffy's where we'd go for Leo's Karaoke. It was great catching up with Neal, and a nice surprise to run into him while shopping for toilet flappers and picture hooks.

Speaking of Duffy's, it will always hold a special place in my heart. It's really where Crystel and I were able to spend time together early on, without the pressure of formal "dates." We were just hanging out with friends, and it became what it is today. We would go and listen to the same people sing the same songs week after week, but it never got old. Burt would sing Bottle of Wine, a group would always sing Love Shack, a few fraternity brothers would always ironically sing I Want It That Way, I would usually join our friend Chambers and a few other friends near the end of the night for a Top Gun-style rendition of You've Lost That Loving Feeling or a group rendition of Lean on Me, I'd usually sing a few solo songs, and I'll never forget the Coopers singing Elvira (with Little Cooper gracefully filling in the Oom PaPa Oom PaPa Oom PaPa MowMow...). I seem to recall Big Al singing the Jason Boland masterpiece Rich Young Dumb Nymphomaniac, but I can't remember if that was Karaoke or just sitting in with the bands that sometimes came through. Duffy's closed during our second semester in town, but it definitely left a mark, and things were never quite the same afterwards.
We spent the rest of Saturday night and Sunday helping out around the house, and as we headed home we vowed to try and spend more time visiting our family and friends. I always really enjoy visiting both of our homes in Mississippi, so we really have no reason not to make more of an effort to go. It's an easy trip,and a fun, cheap way to have an enjoyable weekend away from our day to day lives.

We rolled into Memphis, happier and more relaxed than we've been in months, even though I had an 8:00 flight the next morning to Harrison, AR. I had to unpack, wash clothes and repack in a short few hours, then spend four days on the road, but I was very calm. Crystel can attest that I'm not normally so calm on days before I travel. If we've felt like something is missing from our lives, I think we've been pinpointing it lately. We've started regularly going to church (and actually being involved with the church), and that has helped a lot. I think the other missing element is quality family time. Sure, we see our families occasionally, but I don't feel like we've been really involved enough in each other's lives. We hope to change that.

I'm going to try and continue the series of posts about time spent in Mississippi. Hopefully, the posts will become more entertaining (and maybe even humorous) as I'm able to write more real-time about what's going on as it happens (as opposed to playing catch-up with 4-5 posts in a week).

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Welcome to Booneville

This post is a continuation of a series on my travels through my home state of Mississippi, in which I'm trying to spend more time in my home state than the 5 or 6 days we've averaged over the past few years.

Let's back up to a few weeks ago. I took a Friday off of work, and left Memphis at around 7:00 in the morning headed for my hometown of Booneville. After dropping off a few things and seeing my mom, headed to the city park for a cookout my dad was helping put together for several of the students in the various technical programs at Northeast Mississippi Community College, my dad's employer. Just getting to spend some relaxing time with my dad and brother was worth the drive down. The food wasn't bad either. My grandparents even stopped by for a quick bite on their way to Miami (now you see where I get my traveling tendencies).

Every Friday and Saturday night of my high school years was spent hanging out at that same park, sitting on the tailgate of my '85 red long-wheelbase Silverado listening to cheesy music and learning the lessons of life. For a short time in my life, it seemed like everything that mattered in the world was right there on that 2 mile stretch of road between the city park and Hardee's. I'd wash my truck nearly every Friday night after work. If I didn't have the newest truck on the strip, I could sure have the cleanest. I still wonder where that truck is now.

On the way to my family home, I stopped by Courtesy Automotive (formerly Davidson Chevrolet), my employer during my high school and community college days. This is where I learned to wash a car with the best of them, from the best of them. This is also where I'd wash my truck on Friday nights (and sometimes on Saturdays too). It was good to catch up with old friends and reminisce about the "good old days" when I had a tendency to be kind of a brat.

When I finally got home, I worked on my truck with my dad and brother for a little while, and then visited the family farm with my dad later that evening. I even got to go pick up my niece (at her request) with my brother in his classic Corvette convertible. She attends Thrasher School, the same school that me, my sister and brother attended (my sister teaches there now). Just sticking my head inside the door filled my nose with the smells of my youth. It's funny how smells seem to be the best way to bring back a memory. For me, it's even stronger than sight. Later that night, we spent time with my mom and dad eating Pizza Factory pizza. Here's a picture of my niece, Eliza in the aforementioned Corvette. Ain't she purty?

The next day, I visited two more landmarks of my youth. I had breakfast at the Thrasher Store with my family, then had lunch at Weeks' Cafe with my brother. I used to stop by the Thrasher Store every morning for a 20 oz. Mountain Dew on the way to school. I remember the funny looks I'd get sometimes from the older folks hanging around when I'd drive out of the parking lot blasting Nirvana's In Utero, Pearl Jam's Ten, Outkast's Southerplayalisticcadillacfunkymusic, Tool's Anemia, Phish's A Live One, Offspring's Smash, or what ever my latest discovery was at the time. Here's one of the songs that got the stangest looks.

As a side note: I know it's hard for most people to imagine now, but living in a small town prior to the internet age made it both a task and a joy to discover new music. We never had a real "Rock" station, and we didn't even have cable at my house until later in my high school years. Discovering new music meant reading magazines, visiting record strores (for you kids, that's a store, mostly extinct now, where you'd go to buy music; ususally on 8-track, vinyl, cassette or CD, depending on your generation). These days everyone is pretty much on a level playing field when it comes to discovering music, which is mostly great, but a little sad. Sad because most younger people now days may never feel the excitement of driving 30-45 minutes into the next town over to buy an album, ripping the plastic off and rocking out all the way home. Now it's all too easy.

Back to the story: between breakfast and lunch, I had the privilege of watching Eliza play soccer. If you haven't seen 5 year olds play soccer, it's a sight to behold. Here's a picture of Eliza warming up.

And a picture of what most of the game looked like. Notice the coach pointing in the direction of the goal.

That Saturday afternoon, I officially started the project of restoring our 1972 Volkswagen SuperBeetle. My brother and I used the 4-wheeler to drag it to the shop and tear the brakes down. To be honest, my brother did the bulk of the work (as evidenced below). At any rate, here are a few progress pictures. Don't worry, the funky paint job will have to go. Hopefully, I'll drive it sometime before the end of the year.

 Here's what I hope it looks like when finished

Stopping by my mom's daycare in the middle of the day and closing the door gently to keep from waking up the kids at naptime, running into old friends around every corner, seeing my little sister all grown up and teaching at our old school, noticing even the slightest change to the landscape in the middle of the country that is ingrained in your mind like a painting you see every day, standing in my dad's shop where I learned most everything I know about cars and putting one more mile on a few old forgotten roads can only mean one thing, I'm home. It's funny when I notice that this town not only shaped me, but I left my mark on it as well. I see the beams I helped hang (and sandblast, and paint, in July, with a protective leather hood for the sandblasting) in my dad's shop, I see the floors and walls I helped paint a time or two and the shelves in the parts warehouse I helped move and assemble at the dealership where I worked, I see various cars I've worked on or helped build and I see my siblings who for better or worse, I've had a huge influence on.

I've been having a blast spending time in my home state, and it's a shame I've been away for so long. I might have to keep this up.

Here's a great song by one of my fellow Boonevillians (is that a word?), Mississippi Moonshine by Jamie Davis and Soul Gravy. While I guess this song is technically a song about a night out with a girl, I like it because Jamie does such a good job of painting a picture of a quiet Northeast Mississippi night.

What about you? Do you feel a strong pull from your hometown or home state? What sort of memories are stirred for you when you go home?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Home Sweet Home Mississippi

Why am I here? Am I doing what I was put here for? Should I be living somewhere else, living a different life? It's not that I'm unhappy. I consider myself a really happy person. I just don't always know if I'm living life to the fullest.

For the last 5 years, Crystel and I have been living in Memphis. While Memphis isn't the biggest city, it's a far cry from my hometown of Booneville, MS, population approximately 10,000. I've been exposed to a lot of things in the past 5 years that I would have never dreamed of growing up. Memphis has been, and continues to be good to me. For that matter, the South has been good to me.

In my many travels all over the world, my constantly questioning nature leads me into thoughts of living elsewhere. Los Angeles was my most recent obsession, but Nashville, Atlanta, Savannah, Charleston, Austin and many other destinations, both foreign and domestic have all been in play in the past 5 years. The funny thing is, I'm always drawn to Mississippi. It's not the most exciting place, and it can sometimes limit opportunities, but it's always been home.
Early in my career, I worked for the public accounting firm Deloitte. One of my clients was Viking Range, the high-end appliance company based in Greenwood, MS. I would routinely spend 4-6 consecutive weeks at a time traveling to Mississippi to work. Driving down on Monday morning always had a therapeutic effect that I don't get in the city. I found myself reading Mississippi magazines and feeling a strong urge to move back to my home state. I always missed Crystel when I was gone, but I loved being in Mississippi.

After I left Deloitte, I stopped traveling to Mississippi as often (though I did still travel periodically to Fulton, MS to my company's plant...feeling that same pull then as well). I slowly became more removed from my home state. We moved further into Memphis (we previously lived in the suburbs of Shelby Country), got more caught up in young married life with a new (old) house, a new dog and our cat. Crystel took a non-profit job that immersed her more in the Memphis life and we traveled more together.

Speaking of the dog and cat...

All along, we both dearly loved our family, but we couldn't seem find a spare moment to spend quality time with them. A lot of other factors have been at play, but I feel like we missed out on a lot of time with family and friends while living just a short drive up the road. Recent developments have made it a little easier to see our loved ones. My mother-in-law, Julie, moved to Oxford, MS, and that's been a tremendous help. Before, she was always bouncing around between Booneville, Oxford, Memphis and her late mother's house in Cerritos, CA.

This past weekend, we went down to help Julie settle in. The weekend before, we spent one night in my hometown and got to visit Oxford on the way back to Memphis. All of this time in Mississippi has made me realize how much I miss home. I don't mean that I miss home in the sense of needing to move back. I just want to spend more time at home, more time with our family. Mississippi is home. From Booneville to Tupelo to Oxford and all points in between and everywhere else I've been in Mississippi, it feels like home. It's where our families are, it's where most of my best friends are, it's where I grew up and it's always going to be home to me. It's what made me who I am. I don't have to live there for it to be home.

I thought I'd write a few blog posts about our travels home. The posts will be chronological to document the past two weekends, with future posts likely to follow as we continue helping my mother-in-law move into her new house, restoring the Beetle (more on that later...before picture below) and visiting our families for the upcoming holiday season.

One more thing I confirmed last weekend: Oxford, MS is my favorite place on earth. Nothing can compare to it.

So, where is home for you? Do you have that certain place that always immediately feels like home no matter how long you've been gone?