A Day in the Life of a True Blue Southerner

A Day in the Life of a True Blue Southerner

I once told my kids that when the genie asks for my 3 wishes, one of the three would include the chance to live a day in the life of everyone.  It certainly wasn’t the answer they expected to hear and definitely made for some interesting conversation.   That was a few years ago. Truth be told, I frequently ponder that wish, most often while traveling.   Passing through cities I may glance upon a high-rise and wonder;  Who lives there?  What do they do?  What have they experienced?  Who do they love?  Are they happy?  Or, it may be while passing by an immaculate country home,  a gated mansion, a working farm, a run-down trailer in a low-income trailer park.  Up until we set out on this trip, I always imagined my wish taking place in the present lives of ordinary and extraordinary people (well, with the exception of maybe Janis Joplin). But now, I am taking my wish back in time.

Traveling through the south has been a very eye-opening experience for me personally. From Indian burial grounds to slave territory, civil war battlegrounds to the civil rights movement, the birthplace of jazz to the heart of  blues, I am constantly envisioning and imagining myself in the skin of those who experienced life during these different eras and events.

Highway 61

The historical road running north and south following the Mississippi River from Louisiana to Minnesota.  Also referred to  as “The Great River Road”  or the more familiar, ” Blues Highway”.  We did travel north along a portion of this road, and unlike Bob Dylan, I don’t feel the need to re-visit. Perhaps my expectations were too high.( After all, I was just coming from New Orleans where I was wishfully in a smoke-filled bar on Bourbon Street witnessing  Ella Fitzgerald or Billie Holiday wow the crowd.) Expecting to see an abundance of jukejoints and the likes, I was disappointed and saddened to bear witness to the undesirable sites along the way. Factories spewing fumes into the air, run down homes and boarded up family businesses made for some depressing scenery.  Not to mention acres and acres of unkept fields, capable of providing enough crops to feed an army.  Through it all though, I found myself sitting on a  front porch,  slapping my knee to the beat of the weathered instruments being played by my neighbors while belting out some melodic bluesy songs about life in the south.

Natchez Trace Parkway

A 444 mile historical path running from Mississippi to Tennessee. First created and used  by Native Americans, later to be the travel route for traders and explorers, the parkway is now a scenic drive devoid of modern-day necessities and conveniences.  The fact that the campgrounds along the Trace are all free made it even more enticing and we spent a few days exploring the trails and the surrounding towns.  One historical landmark that the kids particularly enjoyed was an old Inn, built in the late 1700s, much of it still preserved.   Run by a woman widowed twice with 10 kids, travelers were charged 25 cents for a place to sleep and a hot meal.  I  immediately removed myself from that scenario once the number of children she bore was mentioned!

A short distance off The Trace we encountered an incredible site seemingly very out-of-place today, yet still a reminder of  the changes our country has gone through. The ruins of an Antebellum Home, constructed by slave labor, Gothic in structure and set back in the woods was breathtaking. How fun to host and entertain  in my own mansion. I’m guessing I wouldn’t really have to break a sweat as I am the wife of a wealthy landowner, in Mississippi, during the slave years.

Montgomery

The capital of Alabama and a  major site of events in The Civil Rights Movement, we spent a day there so River could complete a project for English class.  The museums, along with a self guided tour through the city provided us with more than enough education about the struggles for equality in the 1960s.  MLK spent his time there during the bus boycott and The Freedom Riders encountered a violent mob scene upon their arrival. Try as I may, I can’t fathom being consumed with that much hatred.  Likewise, I may be second guessing my decision to stand up for what is right as my life is in great danger.  

Nashville

Not being much of  country music fans, and having been to Nashville before, our stay was short. Apparantly, there are two sites for The Grande Ole Opry.  We happened to be camped by the “out of season” one.  In addition, due to major flooding in 2010, many areas were still closed or being re-built. Nonetheless, I was gracing the stage as Lorretta Lynn singing” Coal Miners Daughter” while Mercy was hoping to bump into Miley Cyrus somewhere outside the Gaylord Opreyland Hotel.

Just north of Nashville is where Mercy and I went hunting for Civil War relics.  Although the finds were absolutely amazing, I was holding out for some more personal belongings. Like the wedding band of my young husband or the family keepsake I gave to my son barely old enough to fight in the war between the states.

Memphis

The music, the legends, the food, the fun!  Sometimes I think that it’s a good thing  that we’ve experienced places like New Orleans and Memphis in the off-season, for the kids’ sake. As fun as it would be for Bri and I, I’m pretty sure that they wouldn’t enjoy the nightlife when the streets are lined with young tourists taking advantage of the fact that you can order ‘ to go’ beverages in the bars. Furthermore, I don’t know how proud they’d be of their Mom….the gin-soaked bar room queen in Memphis.  You know, the one that tried to take Mick Jagger upstairs for….something!

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Gray Fades to Blue

Gray Fades to Blue

Rainy days are always a drag. Well, almost always. They’re OK when you can stay warm inside and read a book, or work on a project, or watch a movie or something. But I’ve been trying to alter my self-entertainment activities from passive to active, meaning I’m trying to DO more things and watch LESS things. Not always an easy thing to do when they require the outdoors. Especially on a rainy day.

Getting into the Christmas spirit proved more than a little difficult this year. As I mentioned earlier, the sight of Santa, Elves, and Reindeer surrounded by Palm trees just wasn’t doing it for me. I was even hesitant to put on any Christmas music until the 22nd or so because it just didn’t seem appropriate. But starting that evening as the music played, I did begin to feel some of that elation that comes along with the holidays. I found myself remembering the old Christmas specials like Santa Claus Is Coming To Town and Rudolph, but stopped short of actually seeking them out to watch. I decided it best to skip those this year as I still just couldn’t place myself in the warm, cozy glow of Rudolph‘s nose on “The Island of Misfit Toys”.

With no cold to force us into the warmth of a Christmas tree-lit living room, there existed yet another obstacle to experiencing the season as we are used to. Reading peoples’ FB posts and seeing their pictures made me wish I was home sharing in the joy with family and friends. An impromptu recording of a new DunnFunn Christmas video helped get us a little more in the proper mindset, and then the Holiday Golf Cart Parade (yes, I said “Holiday Golf Cart Parade”…) the following night just kind of pushed things over the edge and got me there. Perhaps it was just the good hearted ridiculousness of it all!   

The one good thing our absence brought however was missing the pressure and stress that come with the holidays. Perhaps a bit more poignant for Tanya, it was nice to avoid the “big rush” nonetheless. Although we did get small tastes of it here and there while traveling inland to run errands and such. It seems to me the Holidays would be so much more enjoyable if we concentrated more on enjoying our time with friends and loved ones than running around buying, buying, and buying some more, all the while stressing about if we’re buying the right things! Anyway, enough about this Christmas passed.

We left the east coast of Florida and headed further south to the Everglades. Already well documented in River’s and Tanya’s blogs I just want to add that there are few places where I have seen the stars shine so brightly. I was amazed to look up into the night sky and see the stars so vividly and clearly. In a sense it was almost as if there were more stars than black space. That, coupled with the surrounding noises of the Everglades’ wildlife made it truly out of this world.

From there we headed up Florida’s west coast to St. Pete Beach where we stayed at Fort Desoto Camp Ground. Since Tan already talked about that (I know, I know, you’re well ahead of me) I won’t go into too much detail. As noted, we managed to find the first apartment we shared. I must say that while the surrounding neighborhood looked a bit more kept up, our apartment looked a bit more run down, although generally it all looked the same. I would have loved to knock on the door and have a look inside but it didn’t seem as anyone was home. Still, it was strange to look up at that balcony feeling like we lived there yesterday, and then to think about all we have been through since leaving there twenty years ago. It wasn’t yesterday at all and so much has changed. So odd it is to return to a place where your life reached such a turning point, ultimately changing so much from that point onward, to find the place itself virtually unchanged. Like stepping out of time.

Speaking of time, we went north and up around the bend into the Central Time Zone working our way towards New Orleans. After almost six weeks it was nice to finally be out of Florida. Along the way we lost another tire, leaving one more of our original RV tires to go! It’s now the spare and with any luck we won’t have to change any for a long while.

Somewhere along here I read “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy. It had been haunting me for quite awhile ever since I saw the movie preview. Very quickly, it’s the story of a man and his son who are among the survivors in a (never explained) post-apocalyptic world. As the world is dying around them they are trying to get south, all the while trying to avoid gangs of cannibals, thieves, and other nastiness that comes their way. Of course as I’m reading I’m putting myself in the father’s shoes and Riv or Mercy in the boy’s. As we continued our travels, and I continued the book, I found myself watching my children more and more while they were unaware. You know, just watching them and marveling in their beauty and thinking to myself how lucky I am to have this time. And how I have to make sure I’m not squandering it. The book still haunts me… but not as much.  

New Orleans (a visit previously relayed by Mercy) was certainly a blast and pretty much all I expected it to be. I really enjoyed Decatur Street with all it’s shops and such. Bourbon Street was the usual and not particularly kid-friendly. It would have been much more fun to head there in the evening with Tan for some drinks and nightlife, but that‘s not what this is about (we do manage to get “out” every now and then though).  I found myself continually trying to block Mercy’s view of the photos (even though they have the black bars across certain parts) depicting what goes on in the various clubs we strolled by.

Having read Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles and Mayfair Witch series years ago, I was really interested in visiting the Garden District. Again, doing so in the evening would have improved the ambience of the experience of walking streets that are (fictionally?) inhabited by Witches and Vampires, but it was a thrill nonetheless. We strolled by Anne’s former home which was a beautifully gated house tucked in the shadows of the trees and vines that grow all around and where the sun snuck through at various angles. Tan even thought she saw a strange glow in one of the upstairs windows! And of course we visited the famous Lafayette Cemetery in the heart of the Garden District. I was hoping for some sort of weirdness to occur but what can you expect at one in the afternoon.   

On Martin Luther King Day we went north up through Baton Rouge. The poverty was almost too much to take in as we traveled up “picturesque” Highway 61. Mile after mile of abandoned, run down homes and junky looking stores and factories made for quite a depressing ride as visions of “The Road” returned to my mind. The sights reminded me of how far this country still has to come especially in light of the ideas that Dr. King espoused.

Further along as the city receded but before the land began to open up again we put on some music that became the perfect soundtrack to the scenes passing by our windows. Some blues, some rock, and some lighter stuff as the urban views gave way to more rural settings, it all seemed to reflect our surroundings perfectly. Needless to say we were grateful for the mixes supplied to us by a few friends, and our moods were lifted as the music floated from the speakers.

After so many miles I’ve noticed something about the various highway exits we pass day and night. Coming down a long stretch of road where there has been nothing for miles and we have been driving for hours, it can be a great relief to see the billions of lights off in the approaching distance. It’s a comforting feel to know that soon we will have a place to land for the night and if need be, somewhere I can plug in and work a few hours before bed. The thing is, as we get closer, it almost seems that we arrive at the same island of lights every time. We emerge from the blackness into a maze of Walmarts, McDonald’s, Subways, Home Depots, Cracker Barrels and Waffle Houses, sprinkled with the same truck stops and hotels that were at the last exit. Until we get off of the highway, it’s sometimes hard to tell if we’ve gone anywhere at all!   

Of course getting off the highway got us to the head of the Natchez Trace Parkway. A beautifully serene and scenic drive, it is the exact opposite of what I previously described. Miles and miles of nothingness. But good nothingness like farmland and cattle and trees. Lots and lots of trees. Originally being the trail that traders walked from Natchez to places back north along the Mississippi, it has stops along the way of historical significance which served us well for some history lessons. Along the way are some free campgrounds that make it easy to just meander your way up, taking as long as you wish. And I wish we could have taken longer, but we had to head north before things got colder than it already was and I had to find a place where I could get a better internet connection.

Although it’s yet to be a major issue, having a good connection is one of those necessary evils that enables us to do this. Not only do I need it for work, but the kids need it for school, and Tan needs it to navigate our next moves. It’s a wonder to me how we managed to do this twenty years ago with no internet and no cell phone! And speaking of work, I have to say I think it’s come together pretty well. We move around a bit more than I had anticipated so there are times when I wind up being unavailable for a few hours at a time, which can be tricky when time is of the essence. Thankfully Transformit, the company I work for, has really been cooperative in this and I can’t thank them enough for allowing me to take this opportunity with my family. So cheers to you guys!

Next up was Alabama and into Montgomery for a great visit exploring the history of the civil rights movement. River put together a video for a school project as we toured the various places where events in the movement actually took place. Being there made us really think about what it must have been like for African Americans at that time, with the turmoil and danger that surrounded them even for something like walking through the wrong entrance.

Nashville was next up where toured the world famous Dukes of Hazzard Museum! That’s right folks, every toy, shirt, puzzle, photo, poster, and anything else you can think of with a Dukes logo was on display. It had the General Lee as well as Daisy Duke’s Jeep (and Daisy Duke’s daisy dukes), Roscoe’s squad car, and Cooter’s tow truck. The kids wandered around with a look of “what is this crap all about” look on their faces. Man, if they only knew…

While in Nashville we hooked up with an old friend of Tan’s who treated us to a very relaxing and stress free few days and shelter from the chilly weather. It’s always a treat to be able to sit tight for a few days with wonderful hospitality after being in a different place almost every night. The kids also got another great history lesson enabling Mercy to put together her own video project.

Remaining in Tennessee we moved on to Memphis and saw the sights of that famously musical town. A quick stop by Sun Studios for an opener, followed by Graceland and then Beale Street as the main event. We didn’t tour Graceland as it was a bit out of the budget and we didn’t feel the need to drag the kids around Elvis’ old digs. We did get a few photos of the place and I remarked to Tan how it didn’t really seem that extravagant for the level of “star” that Elvis was. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure there were excesses, but it seems that back then people didn’t live to the extreme overindulgences that they do now.

Beale Street was all neon and cool and fun and… empty. I guess on a Monday night in January the place can’t be all that hopping. It was probably for the best as it made it easy for us to walk around and get into places, and probably contributed to it being a little more (unlike Bourbon Street) kid friendly. We had some dinner in the Blues Café and then moved into their bar area for yet another history lesson. This one being about the “Million Dollar Quartet”, we learned about Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and Elvis, and their early recording history at Sun Studios. Gary Hardy (being a former owner/producer at Sun Studios) and his band played some of the older hits and told humorous stories about those early days which made for a fabulous night! Mercy helped the band end a song with a perfectly timed leap and River really got a kick out of “A Boy Named Sue”!

So we’re on our way to Texas after a day of diamond mining in Arkansas. As I finish this rather long narrative up, the rains are starting and I have to run outside to make sure everything that’s out is at least given some shelter under the RV. You don’t want to be packing up a bunch of wet stuff. As we head further south again towards warmer weather, I’m looking forward to being able to spend more time on the outside of our little wheeled abode. After all, we did tell the kids that the country will be their backyard. At least for a little while.