Friday, September 28, 2007

Roughing it is when the hotel doesn't have room service

I went to my first adult slumber party last week. Although I couldn’t spend the night because I had to work the next morning, I was able to spend some time with some very entertaining and fascinating women from Montgomery County.

With enough food to feed an army, we descended on a little cabin in Carroll County to enjoy nature with the girls. (Well, I don’t really like nature especially when nature gets all over you – particularly nature that crawls). There we were – Gerry Whitfield, Diane Welch, Kay Burke, Liz VanHorn, Earnestine Smith, and me – in the middle of the woods.
Donning fuzzy slippers, the six of us kicked back and laughed (and ate) until we hurt.

I have to admit I had a great time – taking into account I was in the middle of nature. Thinking back to my childhood, I loved the outdoors. I didn’t worry about dirty feet, mosquito bites, poison ivy, sunburn, or poisonous retiles. These days I go through about a quart of anti-bacterial a month.

I was traumatized several times during my youth in the great outdoors. The first being a canoe trip with my family – a Southern-version of the Griswolds. I was four-years-old, and I was forced to canoe on the White River in Arkansas.

Let me explain something: NO ONE IN MY FAMILY IS OUTDOORSY. Seriously, we have never slept in a tent, and we have no intention of doing so. We do not hunt down and kill our own food, and we have never made a s’more (well, outside that is, and it is not smart to try this with gas logs.)

As we were canoeing down the White River (actually, it was more like using your paddles to walk over enormous rocks covered in two feet of water), we went over a huge waterfall and flipped.

Momma was with Stephanie and me in one canoe, and Daddy and Deana were in the other. While my parents scooped up canned drinks and snacks from the river, I floated away. An hour and four-miles later, they found me sitting with a strange family at a picnic area eating bologna sandwiches.

Then there was my experience at Camp Hopewell in Oxford. My parents thought it would be fun for my sister, Stephanie, and I to go to camp for a week. The problem was, she was older than me, and we were not allowed to stay in the same cabin.

I had just watched Friday the 13th with my cousins earlier that year, and I am telling you, that crazed guy in the hockey mask stared at me through the “screen” of the cabin the whole week. (Yes, I said screen – no air conditioner, no locks, no privacy. It was just a make-shift carport.)

Stephanie, of course, had the best idea. She dislocated her knee cap and was sent home – she so did that on purpose, I don’t care what she says. My parents would not take me with them because Daddy had already paid, and Heaven forbid he not get his money’s worth.

The worst thing about Camp Hopewell was that they sent me back the very next year with my best friend, Heather. They thought if Heather was there I would forget about the psychic killer and the bugs and “cabins”. Wrong, we ended up almost being sent home after falsely accused of all sorts of heinous crimes (for a fourth grader, the penalty for these crimes would be a month without Dukes of Hazzard).

I am still looking for a support group for my experiences with nature. I still think of them often, mainly curled up in the fetal position. Seriously now, nature is beautiful to look at – from the balcony of a resort.

Roughing it is all relative. You can give some people a Q-tip and a twig, and they can build a condo. Me – I can’t walk through the yard without getting a rash. To each his own, I guess.

One more cuckoo in the nest doesn't crowd us

Growing up, I always wanted a big brother. My reasoning was simple – he could help Daddy with the horrendous task of yard work and protect Stephanie and me from my oldest sister, Deana, who beat us to a pulp when we were little.

I never got an older brother. I got a Larry.

Larry Scott has worked for my family for the past 20 years – part gardener, part Daddy’s personal assistant. He is really a jack of all trades – washing windows, polishing floors, helping Momma hang Christmas decorations, landscaping, and day to day “Daddy stuff”.
Over the years, Larry has become part of the family, and I have said many times, if I needed a kidney and Larry needed a kidney, Larry would get the kidney. “He works harder than you,” Daddy jokes.

Larry is Daddy’s sidekick like Batman and Robin, Bo and Luke Duke, Butch and Sundance (which is which, I sometimes get confused). I don’t think Daddy can make it without Larry, and on days when Larry is unable to come, it just ruins Daddy’s whole day. Of course, we know that Daddy just wants a friend to hang out with.

One weekend when I was home from college, Momma got a call from the police informing her that Daddy had been in an accident, and we were needed at the scene immediately. Of course, we thought he was dead. When we get there, Daddy, all purple-faced with that bulging vein in his forehead, is leaning up against the back of the ambulance. He was alright, but the police had to call an ambulance because they though he looked like he was having a stroke (he was just ticked off). He made the police call us because someone had to go and pick up Larry.

Daddy and Larry go to breakfast most mornings at some diner while they plan what they will be meddling with later that day. It could be a church project, spreading a load of mulch, or mowing the front lawn in a diagonal pattern just like Daddy likes it. Side by side, they work, and because they have been together for so many years, it is a routine.

There is always a project the two are working on. For the last couple of years, their favorite thing has been bush hogging down at the farm. Of course, Daddy won’t let Larry drive the tractor, and Larry has been itching ride. Larry kind of leads the way to make sure Daddy doesn’t hit something or fall off and run himself over. Most days, they both look like a wild cat attacked them because they got caught up in a blackberry bush (it just jumped out and got ‘em!).

Of course, he and Daddy manage the landscaping duties at my sisters and my homes. And, Lord forbid it not be kept to Larry’s standards, he will shake his finger at us and tell us just how lazy we are. Of course, he is all talk -- he would do anything for us.

He is always in charge of everything my family is scared of doing. For example, once as I stood at the kitchen window, Larry was shimmying up a tree in the yard with a cranked chainsaw because Daddy wanted all the trees “canopied”. Daddy was down on the ground directing.

One Christmas, Momma wanted wreaths on every window on the front of the house, including the dormer windows at the top. After some serious thought, Larry decided to climb up the back of the house, cross over the roof, and hang the wreaths while sitting on top of the dormer windows. The family all stood in the front yard anxiously as we watched Larry made it over the roof to hang the wreaths. Neighbors had come out of their houses to watch the spectacle as Daddy hollered up at him, “Larry, we should have put you in a Santa outfit because if you get stuck, you are staying up there through Christmas.”

We hoped he was joking – you never can tell.

Larry was in charge of the champagne fountain at my sister’s wedding. Daddy had bought him a new suit, and he looked quite dapper in his mauve sharkskin suit. After the wedding, Daddy sent Larry home with a case of champagne. Last we saw of him, he was walking down Union Ave. in Memphis with a case of champagne under one arm and a cute wedding caterer on the other.

He is family, and we include him as we would any other member of the family. Mind you he likes being part of the family which should make you question his sanity. Of course, one more crazy in my family doesn’t shuffle the deck too much. Besides, someone has to guide Daddy so he doesn’t run himself over with the bush hog.

Marriage: An institution that leads to another

After Sunday services, my Granddaddy was standing outside talking with all the men of the church when he pulled my grandmother’s bra out of his back pocket and blew his nose. When hunting down a handkerchief, he had been mistaken. Knowing my grandmother, she was more upset that he had dirtied up her clean bra than advertising her cup size to the entire congregation.

I love watching couples who have been married for decades. They tickle me.
My parents have been married for 40 years, and according to them, they have been 40 long years. They pick at each other like children for pure meanness, but they always manage to laugh – usually at the other. I figure they just want to keep things stirred up to prevent boredom.

My mother had knee replacement surgery Monday, and will be in a rehabilitation center for the next two weeks. This is a good thing since Daddy insists that “she is a horrible patient.” I figured if she recovered at home, one of them would be dead, and I would be visiting the other every Sunday at Parchman.

After Momma’s surgery, Daddy called all of us to let us know that she was doing okay. In fact, he said the doctor called him and said she was doing wonderful. She even pointed out that Momma had not woken once and opined on how the surgical team should proceed. “They sure know her,” he said.

Momma is known around town as Miss Dot, and nobody crosses Miss Dot. She is very outspoken with a sharp tongue and will tell you exactly what she thinks – right, wrong, or just plain crazy. She has a heart as good as gold and will do anything in the world for you. If you want to know the truth, her bark is a lot worse than her bite. I know this because none of my friends have ever been scared of her even with her threats of beating them. Now Daddy is a different story – maybe for us kids.

Daddy is the quiet one – for a Sexton that is. He is stoically Southern with a dry sense of humor. It is usually best not to laugh until you are sure he is joking. When he gets excited or angry or stroke-level with veins surging in his forehead, his voice can break glass. I would recommend not being anywhere in a mile radius when this happens. God forbid you be the cause of the excitement or the anger. He is so hyper he makes coffee nervous, but there isn’t anyone who doesn’t warm to Daddy immediately.

A few months ago, my parents were awakened by their security alarm in the middle of the night. With Momma being a crack-shot, Daddy sent Momma downstairs to investigate with a .410 shotgun. I can just hear him, “Dot, go down there and see if there is a burglar. Holler up and let me know what you find.”

This is the same man who had Momma shooting woodpeckers off the house and a rouge rooster at 6 a.m. in her nightgown (thank the Lord we didn’t live in town!) That rooster escaped from somebody’s coop and made a mess all over the porch. Momma snapped his head off at 100 yards – now that is impressive.

Daddy admitted to me the other day that he had accidentally tried to wear Momma’s jeans. He managed to get them buttoned, but pitched a huge fit because Momma had shrunk them into “high-waters.” It took him a few minutes to realize what he had done.

I’m not just picking on Daddy. Momma has given him some gray hair, too. She considers herself “management,” and will argue her point until the rapture.

Once on a trip to Arkansas, Momma was pointing out landmarks and commenting on them. “That there used to be an old church,” she said. Of course, we all knew it was just a Howard Johnson motel.

She is constantly telling us that over the years, we have driven her insane. Maybe so. We all went to dinner in Memphis for someone’s birthday, and seven of us had piled into one car – Momma was driving. After dinner, with the six of us laughing and hollering and Momma’s nerves to a breaking point, she turned left. The next thing we knew our car was straddling a concrete median and kind of seesawing back and forth. Even she thought it was funny once she got tired of trying to backhand us – bobbing and weaving - in the backseat.

I guess after a while a spouse does become as comfortable as old shoes. My parents have never quit laughing, and I believe that is what holds two people together for 40 years. When the crazy stuff just isn’t funny anymore, then someone ends up in a padded room. Momma and Daddy have some more years before they decide who.

Only the goat was hurt

With the upcoming Hill Fire production in rehearsals, I am proud to say that I am a member of the cast. Of course, I have to credit Mrs. Nell Middleton for my premiering role. When I attended the first reading of the play, I had hoped to cover the event for the newspaper, but
Mrs. Nell would not let me leave without a part in the play.

The premise behind Hill Fire is so interesting to me – performing original plays about local characters from the past. I am probably intrigued because I come from a family of storytellers.
I grew up in a house where we would sit for hours laughing over “you ‘member whens.” And rightly so, compared to us, the Griswolds weren’t as colorful or full of bad luck.

As a sophomore at Ole Miss, I learned all the “you ‘member whens” was actually a Southern art form, and those at the Center for Southern Studies were actively trying to keep this art from fading into the history books. Under the tutelage of Dr. William Farris, I was taught Oral History, and he not only made me appreciate the craft, he made me want to write all of my “you ‘member whens” down.

I went to work, and wrote my first story for Oral History. I was the only underclassman in the class – most being seniors and graduate students. Doubting my first silly little story, I turned it in, and received good reviews from Dr. Farris. Of course, I had only grazed the surface. I had enough material for four classes.

I delved into the world of the Mississippi Delta and my Momma’s family. These people were a treasure trove of good stuff. Not even Faulkner could make up characters like these. I think Momma’s people drank too much of that brown delta water because they were real looloos – endearing and God-fearing, but looloos.

When I was a kid, Momma would take us kids down there for a couple of weeks to spend time with the family. I loved it. They had critters – tons of them – from wild boar to baby deer to Chinese chickens. I always wondered how or why someone would want a wild boar for a pet, but my Uncle B-Boy (his real name was Breland) was kind of like Noah – two of each.

Once I tried to smuggle a pigmy goat home in the back seat of the car. I wasn’t discovered for at least 40 miles, and I am sure I don’t have to describe Daddy’s reaction. We had to turn around and “get that stinky thing out of my new car.”

As I got older, the appeal was lost because there was nothing to do that did not include getting dirty – and Delta dirt doesn’t wash off. I did love their stories, and they could tell them better than anyone.

My favorite story was about my Uncle Burnell winning a pink Cadillac and a goat in a poker game at some juke joint over on the river. For some reason, he thought it was a good idea to put the goat in the back seat of the car – of course, that could have been because he had drinking pretty much all night.

Well, Uncle Burnell was driving his prizes home early Sunday morning when he fell asleep. He ended up crashing his car into the First Missionary Baptist Church during revival services. Can you even imagine being touched by the spirit, and then being attacked by an enormous pink Cadillac? Those poor people thought Jesus had returned.

Thankfully, no one was hurt – except the goat. It didn’t make it through the accident.
I never met Uncle Burnell, but I feel like I have known him all along through the endless stories I’ve been told about him.

Hill Fire is really on to something. In a hundred years, when we are all dead and buried, we will be remembered by those we left behind – for what is up to you.

Porch swing: A staple in Southern life

Since moving here, I have noticed that there is one similarity to almost every house – a front porch swing. I have yet to hang my own swing, but it is first on my list when “settling in.”

A porch swing is a Southern staple in most every household, and has been the center of life in most families – a Sunday afternoon gather place, a retreat after a long day, a familiar locale for entertaining a sweetheart. Like the kitchen table, the porch swing is central in most Southerner’s memories.

I can’t remember my grandparents without their swing. My Daddy had given them the swing as a gift, and nothing made my grandfather happier that sitting in the swing humming an old hymn, twiddling his thumbs (he literally did). As a child, I would run barefoot across the pasture to my grandparents’ house for an afternoon on the porch.

My grandmother and my Aunt Pete would be shelling peas and colorfully describing how Miss Martha down the road had treated my grandmother in the Piggly Wiggly. My grandfather would be swaying so slightly on the swing humming his hymn not paying them a bit of attention.

I can still feel the pinch of the cracked paint on the back of my bare legs as I sat between my grandparents, my bare feet dangling. With honeysuckle in the air and lightning bugs flickering in the golden light of dusk, nothing would be said between us, and everything was quite except for my Granddaddy’s humming.

One Easter, my sister, Deana, along with two cousins was swinging – too high, according to my grandmother who insisted they slow down. Of course, they ignored her, and the swing broke throwing them into the flower beds.

After learning that no one was injured, my grandmother gave them a good chewing for squashing her azaleas and breaking her prized peony. She let them know real quick that she had told them to slow down and they refused – proving once again that she was always right, and her word should be taken as gospel.

One Christmas, my Aunt Bapie with her hunting vest orange hair (the dye was so toxic, her scalp was also dyed) was swinging easy on the porch, and one side broke bringing the swing down hard – almost squashing a stray dog that had wondered up. You could hear her screeching for her smelling salts for miles.

I remember standing on the porch swing to get away from bottle rockets and firecrackers on Christmas Eve. My cousins Lisa and Dennis would always have fights with them. I wasn’t really scared of them until they put a whole pack of firecrackers down Granddaddy’s pants. I had never seen him run so fast! For a seventy-five year man, he was amazing at hurdles.

When my grandparents passed away, I immediately thought of that swing. Selfishly and childishly, I wanted to make sure no other family make memories in our swing. “You need to go down there and get our swing,” I insisted to my Daddy, but as much as I wanted to keep my memories close to me, he was unwilling to separate his from the house he grew up in.

With my own front porch and my own front porch swing, I plan to make more memories, but I will always cherish a childhood spent soaring to the tune of “I Love to Tell the Story” between my grandparents.

Meet my herd: A king, an idiot, a priss, and Don Juan

My neighbors have all seen me in my pajamas walking my dogs at 6:30 a.m. I have made a great first impression. I’m sure momma is proud.

I figure I am now known as the crazy dog lady -- outside in her nightgown at all hours yelling a terrier that thought it would be best to hike his leg on her. The dogs have usually tied me up in their leashes or are dragging me across the yard after a squirrel or a bird or a frog – all of which they have no idea what to do with if they catch them.

I have four dogs, and they are the loves of my life. Duncan – a Scottish Terrier -- is my first born and (I know it isn’t right, but….) my favorite. My sister Deana bought Duncan for me when I moved into my first apartment as some sort of burglar deterrent. I really don’t know what he will do except bug the stew out of the intruder to “throw the ball.” He suffers from some sort of Obsessive Compulsion Disorder with the ball. He just won’t stop, and the pity if you actually say the word “ball” in his presence. I now know what a “conniption” is.

I drove all the way to Jackson to rescue Skipper, my Fox Terrier. Someone had thrown him in a dumpster, and the librarian at the Eudora Welty Library was fostering him. When I saw his picture on, I knew we were destined to be together. He was sitting propped up against a bust of the great Eudora Welty – as an English major I took that as a sign. On the drive home, he was the sweetest thing asleep on my lap, but then he woke up. So far, he has but two speeds: sleep and run.

Skipper is quite affectionately referred to as the Village Idiot (bless his heart!). I think he might have gotten some sort of brain damage in the dumpster or perhaps ate some paint chips. One thing I do know is just being around him makes me tired. I have had him nearly ten years, and he still has as much energy as the day I brought him home (bless my heart!).

My next adoption was Toulouse, a full-blooded Maltese someone abandoned at the Southaven Animal Shelter with two of his siblings. He was so mangled and matted, the shelter workers did not know what kind of dog he was – almost putting him to sleep with the fear that he was covered in mange. But they found a dog groomer to shave the three dogs; they discovered they were full bred. Two of the three dogs were adopted before they could get back to the shelter.
Toulouse was the only one left, and I (as president of the humane society) just couldn’t let him go back to the shelter by himself. He would be scared without his brother and sister.

Toulouse is my prissy dog, and even though he is a boy, I put ribbons and barrettes in his hair and paint his toenails. He is totally okay with his feminine side.

My youngest, and by far most manipulative, is Don Juan – the Chihuahua. He got his name for two reasons – he has a heart-shaped birth mark on his forehead and he loves the ladies. Anytime I have had people over for a get-together, he will work the room – going from guest to guest to be held, and if he doesn’t get the attention he believes he deserves, he will be upset. He literally gets his feelings hurt and cries – big alligator tears. No one told me that Chihuahuas do that. For the longest time, I thought I was the most evil person in the world for making my dog cry!

Together, the four make life very colorful for me. Skipper and Toulouse hate each other (well they all hate Skipper) and Duncan treats the others like they are beneath him. In fact, I don’t believe he has ever acknowledged any of them.

I just kind of dwell in their house with my six inches of mattress and a blanket corner for warmth as they are stretched out under the covers on their backs or wrapped around my head or two inches from my nose with their head on the other pillow. I can’t sit down without all four trying to give me kisses or getting jealous that another one might get more than the other.

Dog people are funny – their dogs are children to them. I know non-dog-people think we all have lost our minds, and we treat our canine friends a little too much like family. Well, maybe I am crazy. I don’t sew clothes for them, but I do give them Christmas presents. I have never pushed one of them around in a baby buggy, but I have taken them to the “toy store” (Petco) to pick out their own toys.

I also believe dogs go to heaven – if lions and lambs than why not dogs? I don’t believe God would put something on earth that can give unconditional love and not give it a soul.

So I might be a crazy dog lady who has been dragged through her yard by four idiots chasing a bunny and some squirrels, but I am also the lady who is means to world to a herd of critters who prefer sleeping on an electric blanket.

The cobbler has charisma

Over the years, I have become famous – for my chocolate cobbler (it is one of the few dishes I can make since I am domestically challenged). So much so that I am always instructed to bring it to church potluck dinners and holiday gatherings as if it’s my plus one. “Thank you for the invitation. I will be attending the party, and yes, chocolate cobbler will be accompanying me.”

I have actually been greeted at the door by the hostess ripping the cobbler out of my hands. “Oh, hi, Amanda. How long do I need to heat the cobbler?”

Of course, I can’t blame them. With two sticks of real butter and about four cups of sugar, the cobbler has charisma. Two inches of chocolate goo under a golden brown crust – it would be sinful if it weren’t the closest thing to Heaven. It sucks people in and makes them do things they would not normally do – like grown women scraping the bowl and fighting over who gets to lick the spoon.

It is the best thing in the world to bring if there is a death, and I always manage to keep the ingredients in the pantry in case of a cobbler emergency.
My friend Jill says there are some foods that actually say, “So sorry for your loss.” But other foods just say, “Thinking of you” or “Hope you feel better soon.” Chocolate cobbler is reach-out-and-hug-your-neck food.

I laugh at the effect the cobber has on people, and I can’t wait to see the reaction of a first-timer. But I never really understood until this week – and I learned my lesson over a plate of black-eyed peas, fried eggplant, squash dressing, fried corn, and fried chicken.

On Monday, I had the pleasure of enjoying the most amazing lunch with Winona’s Mildred Fondren – cuisine and company both exquisite. Now, for someone who has been living on frozen dinners for the past month, the invitation to lunch with Miss Mildred was a God-send.

And the experienced began the moment I walked into the door. The aroma of frying chicken and black-eyed peas brought me back to my grandmother’s kitchen in Eudora with me at 10-years-old sitting on the counter next to the stove watching her cook. “Watch out for the grease, Mandy,” she would say.

After I left Miss Mildred’s, I actually called my Daddy to tell him that I just had the most Thelma Sexton meal ever, and he had to hear every detail as if he too were brought back to dinner with “Mother.”

Isn’t it crazy that a meal can take you places like that? I don’t know why people go cuckoo over my chocolate cobbler, but I know why I like it. It tastes like my Aunt Gaye Gaye’s house – not literally of course.

Gaye Gaye was my Daddy’s oldest sister who lived up the hill from our house, and she loved to spoil all of us kids. She would take us to Arkabutla Lake and let us slide down the hill in cardboard boxes. On the rare occasion of a Mississippi snow, she would make us snow cream.

She would even let us hide behind her skirts when a switching from Momma was imminent.
Gaye Gaye’s house was a sanctuary for us growing up – warm and inviting and always smelling like homemade fudge – just like chocolate cobbler.

I learned two things from my lunch with Miss Mildred (other than the fact that her chocolate cake is certainly rivaling chocolate cobbler for the food that God eats). I learned that you can find the comfort of home in a great meal, a beautiful view, or the embrace of a friend, but most of all, home can be anywhere you make it.

Feeling at home in the azaleas

A bunny has moved into my azaleas. I discovered that Chaucer, as I have named him (I name all my pets after literary figures), is a Desert Cottontail rabbit (according to Wikipedia) and lives in an above ground nest in my flower bed.

I have caught myself completely engrossed with Chaucer, and the two of us have had several staring contests. If course, I don’t think he has any eyelids, so he is always going to win. He is also fearless – smirking at my leashed dogs as they lunge at him.

A friend told me to go to the co-op and buy rabbit food to domesticate Chaucer some. Of course, this same friend informed me that rabbits are “good eatin’” so I am a little scared of domesticating him too much. He might end up in someone’s oven (Got to love these Mississippi boys!).

I want to keep Chaucer as he is. I like watching him hop around the yard, snacking on clover and checking things out. If I domesticate him, he won’t be able to survive outside anymore – and the last thing I need is another critter living in my house! I will probably get some rabbit food, and sprinkle it near the azaleas. But as for him eating out of my hand, that would not be the best thing for him. I don’t want Chaucer to become accustomed to my way of life when it will make him vulnerable in his.

As a newspaper publisher, I am a lot like Chaucer. I have moved into a new space, built a nest, and am trying to learn my surroundings. I am learning friend and foe, and I am determining my comfort zone.

In the three weeks since I moved to Montgomery County, I have done my best to learn the community, its routine, and its people while becoming accustomed with a new home and missing the one I left. I am still learning, and I am certain it will take some time to become completely integrated into life here.

I am not infallible. I am certain I will have a misstep every now and then, but one thing is for sure, I am dedicated to this community and service to it.
I am asking that the community help with my transition by sending me news-worthy stories, story ideas and must-go events, but remember, I am only one person. I may need your help in gathering information or taking a few photographs, and I will do my best in publishing what is submitted based on available space in the newspaper.

If perhaps something is omitted, let me say up front, it is not because the newspaper is not supportive of a particular event or not interested in covering a particular story. It is merely an oversight or the result of a small staff.

I want to thank those who have been so supportive of me during my first few weeks. Thank you so much for the learning curve – I am touched by your kindness and understanding. I especially want to thank the staff of The Winona Times and The Conservative. I have been blessed with an amazing team.

Like Chaucer, I am fearless and willing to embrace any challenge. I am easygoing, and I don’t get frazzled by the proverbial barking dog. I might not eat out of anyone’s hand, but I am very comfortable co-existing in the same azaleas.

Twenty-five years and still giggling

My best friend Heather is officially addicted to Woody’s cheeseburgers. While five-months pregnant in the heat of the summer, there is nothing like finding a little comfort in a five pound burger and a pile of fries.

Heather drove down from Grenada last week just to eat the famous Woody’s cheeseburger. “I actually dreamed about it,” she told me.
Of course, I want to believe she came to see me, but I suspect the cheeseburger was the draw.

Heather is my oldest friend. We met the first day of fourth grade, and have been best friends through elementary, high school, and college. Since she got married ten years ago, she has lived more than an hour from me, but we have remained as close as ever. Of course, the phone bills have run rampant.

After she and her husband moved to Tupelo following their marriage and I was still in Oxford completing my last semester, we would talk on the phone from the moment I got home from class at about 10 a.m. until her husband came home from work at 5 p.m. We would watch television together on the phone. At the end of the month, her husband got the phone bill and our days of Jerry Springer and Oprah were over.

Growing up, Heather was always getting me into trouble. Just to clarify, when I say trouble, I don’t mean held-over-to-the-grand-jury-type of trouble – stupid kid stuff that gets you beat by your parents.

For example, she almost got me kicked out of fourth grade. She made me laugh during the sixth grade graduation, and of course, I made a spectacle of myself. They stopped the program until I shut up, and later I got yelled at in front of the entire class and threatened with expulsion. My teacher called my parents, and I got an “unsatisfactory” in conduct on my report card.

That following summer, we were nearly sent home from church camp after she talked me into skipping chapel (of course, that might have been my idea). As we hid under a weeping willow tree, Heather kicked what appeared to be an empty beer car at me. It wasn’t empty – it exploded all over both of us. We ended up in the dining hall later smelling like we had been on a two-week drunk.

There are very few memories I have that do not involve Heather. High school and college are a blur of yard rolling, coffee and pie from The Beacon, Rebel football games, midnight trips to Huddle House in New Albany for waffles, red hair dye she promised would wash out after three shampoos (uh, no!), and a late night Voodoo tour in New Orleans that gave us nightmares for weeks.

After 10 years, we now live just 20 miles from each other. We know there will be many more memories to make – some good, some bad. For the record, the bad ones will totally be Heather’s fault.


Except for four years in Oxford and three months in Great Britain, I have lived in DeSoto County my entire life. I figured I would be another Sexton to live and die there, but God had a different plan for me.

I am now the newest resident of Winona, Miss., and I couldn't be more content. I feel like I have lived here forever. I have yet to meet a stranger, and the small town atmosphere is a welcomed relief to the hustle and bustle of DeSoto County and Memphis. I was beginning to think getting stuck in traffic on a daily basis was a metaphor for my life. That is not the case in Winona with the fresh air and laid-back pace.

But I need to warn you now that a Sexton is living in town, the community will have to accept the eccentricities of my crazy family, and I am the first to admit we are an acquired taste. They will be here often, but you will hear them coming a mile a way. They don't know how to use their inside voice.

Two Sundays ago, we descended upon the unsuspecting community of Winona armed with four dogs and a moving crew of retired Canadian hockey players. Even the dead were alerted by the commotion - barking orders at movers and hollering at a dog who escaped from his kennel.
There is nothing like making a good first impression on the neighbors.

The spectacle started as we left Southaven (my neighbors there had already become accustomed to us). Duncan, my beloved Scottish Terrier, got to ride shotgun while my sister Deana had to ride in the backseat with the three other dogs. We received odd looks from fellow travelers on the interstate, and made quite a scene in the drive through at McDonald's in Batesville. Even my parents, as we sped by on them interstate, had to look twice as Deana waved from the back window.

"Duncan gets carsick," I reminded everyone. "Besides, he always sits in the front."

After we ran into a patch of rain at Coffeeville, my sister Stephanie called on the cell phone to remind us that she had taken the top off her jeep, left it at home, and was now soaked. She could only talk for a second because she feared getting shocked from the phone.

When we arrived finally, our nerves frazzled from barking dogs and stormy weather, we were greeted by friendly neighbors and waves from drivers in passing cars. The hospitality and demeanor of everyone we came in contact was a dose calm after a while even for my chaotic family.

"Friendly town," my father remarked. "Everyone seems really nice."He was right.

I finally have a wave-at-your-neighbor, porch-swing, white-picket-fence community. There is nothing in the world like the smell of fresh figs, lightning bugs in the evening, and children on bicycles without the fear of a semi-truck running them down. I am most definitely content. No, strike that. I am home.