Last week, my book club met for our monthly get together. Over the very Southern dish of shrimp and grits and chocolate fudge cake, we visited for hours about books, life, children, family, and of course, elaborate tall tales.
For years, book club has been my therapy, stress reducer, and comfort. When I moved to Winona last summer, I just knew I must find a new club, or I would not and could not be truly content. Now, with a wonderful group of fellow book-lovers, I once again find comfort with my book club.
The ladies in my group are quite diverse. There is one homemaker, an English teacher, two in the medical profession, and a fellow writer. We all bring our different viewpoints and life experiences to the table with the same goal in mind – to lose ourselves in some intelligent (sometimes) conversation that runs a gambit of subjects.
This month, the book we were discussing was a memoire of a New Yorker’s relocation to the Mississippi coast. Finally, a book – not written by a native Mississippian -- that actually celebrates Mississippi, its people, and culture!
The author had survived Hurricane Katrina, but her home and her belongings did not. In her experience, the most amazing aspect of disaster was the perseverance, good will, and philanthropy of Mississippi’s people.
One book clubber (the English teacher) said it infuriates her that Mississippi is always described as last – last in education, last in per capita income, last in graduation rates. She said everyone needs to know that Mississippi is first in something – giving.
For the past several years, although Mississippi is last in per capita income, we are the most charitable state in the nation. Of course, this wasn’t news to me; I have always known Mississippi was the kindest and friendliest state in the nation – and I didn’t need statistics to prove it. Mississippians prove it to me every day.
So in keeping with my book clubber’s wishes, instead of focusing on the lasts, let’s spotlight some of the firsts.
· In 1963, the University of Mississippi Medical Center accomplished the world's first human lung transplant.
· In 1964, Dr. James D. Hardy performed the world's first heart transplant surgery.
· Mississippi College was the first co-educational college in the nation to grant degrees to women.
· Mississippi was the first state in the nation to have a planned system of junior colleges, and just look how successful they are.
· The 4-H Club, first known as the "Corn Club," started in Holmes County in 1907.
· Shoes were first sold in boxes in pairs (right foot and left foot) in Vicksburg, at Phil Gilbert's Shoe Parlor on Washington Street in 1884. (In my mind this is like the invention of the wheel! Tell me if you aren’t impressed by this.)
· Dr. Emmette F. Izard, of Hazelhurst, developed the first fibers of rayon, the first real synthetic.
· All Space Shuttle engines are tested at John Stennis Center in Hancock County. Talk about shooting for the moon!
· Alcorn State University is the nation's oldest historically black land-grant college.
· Mississippi has more churches per capita than any other state.
· Mississippians invented Pine Sol (oh, yes, we also like things to smell good), root beer, the helicopter (well, developed it anyway), Stetson hats, stick ball, condensed milk and the dollar sign.
· We also “birthed” some other cultural phenomenon: blues music, four Miss Americas, and Elvis.
· Mississippi lost more soldiers of any Confederate State in the Civil War. Seventy-eight thousand Mississippians entered the Confederate military. By the end of the war, 59,000 of the 78,000 were either dead or wounded.
· On April 25, 1866, a group of ladies from Columbus decorated both Confederate and Union soldiers’ graves with flowers and garlands. This gesture eventually became Memorial Day every year.
You see, Mississippians have so many accomplishments to be proud. Of course, let’s work to improve our weaknesses, but don’t dwell on the negative. We have too much to brag about!