The next stop on our trip was Oxford, Mississippi. Oxford is/was home to so many literary greats. William Faulkner and Larry Brown both called Oxford home. The world’s best bookstore is located in Oxford. If you are a lover of Southern fiction, then Square Books is a little slice of heaven on earth. Not only is it an independent bookstore, which I love, but it is so well respected and recognized in the literary world. The weekly book signings in this little bookstore are an amazing who’s who of literary talent.
This isn’t the first time my family has humored me as I made my pilgrimage to Oxford and Square Books. I have been enamored by Oxford for well over a decade now. I have been a member of their Signed First Editions Book Club for years. Each month, a new selection arrives at my home. Years ago, I couldn’t wait for each new delivery. I practically devoured each new arrival. For the past couple of years, though, I have unwrapped the books and placed them on the shelf. I couldn’t even tell you the title of last month’s selection. I was ashamed as I walked through the doors of Square Books. I felt ashamed and dishonorable.
All morning, I had been reading Sketches of New Orleans as we drove to Oxford. I could feel something old begin to stir in me again, and I was ashamed that I had somehow lost sight of that (whatever it is!) Ah, Square Books, the smells, so many covers to look at, so many things to pick up, so much possibility. I wandered from shelf to shelf, table to table. I knew I wouldn’t be leaving empty handed.
I saw my Dad in Oxford. Last time I visited Oxford, he was with me. He didn’t understand my love for the place. Like T, he simply humored me and tolerated the time spent in this place. My thoughts are jumbled, and I am finding it difficult to explain the budding feelings of myself that I felt as I revisited this place. It is simply a bookstore, but to me, it signified so much more on this particular visit. I suppose the best way to explain it is to say that it was deeply evident to me all that I have lost of myself over the course of these past few years. These places I have visited, these memories that have been stirred, have reminded me that I once was a different, happier woman. Perhaps, I have seen possibility and potential.
Thankfully, the girls loved Oxford. This was not Em’s first visit. As an avid reader, she was thrilled to be back among her own Southern favorites.
After our time at Square Books, we headed over to the local favorite, Ajax Diner. Larry Brown wrote often of Ajax in his stories. Legend has it that it you toss a toothpick up and it sticks in the ceiling tiles, then your dinner is free. I’m not sure if it’s true, but there are plenty of toothpicks in the ceiling. Oh, and they serve fabulous southern soul food.
One last stop in Oxford, and we were on the road for home. We headed over to the courthouse square. Like any good southern town, Oxford has a Confederate soldier standing proudly as a memorial. Oxford has something else. too. Sitting quietly on a bench smoking his pipe, Mr. Faulkner observes the world around him. Faulkner’s Oxford. Faulkner’s world continues on and on. What words would he use to describe the slightly troubled Midwestern woman who visits from time to time to kiss him on the cheek?