Thankfully, I have been able to string together a few days at work that have been rewarding, productive, and enjoyable. Although I didn’t get home to stay for the night until after 10:30, I did sneak out for a few hours late this afternoon to spend some time with the family. The next few days are going to be full, and I am trying to take it in stride. It is what it is, and all I can do is hold on tight and make the most of it. We are in the midst of our summer season at work, and that means we are hosting ten concerts throughout the summer. So far, the weather has been wonderful. The volunteers have been happy, and the concert-goers have had a good time. It’s our fifth season with the summer concerts, and although it takes time and means extra work, we have gotten things down to a science. Continue Reading »
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?
We left the Gulf Coast, and our three days of relaxation and sun, to continue our trip. Like most of my life this past year, this trip has been (unknowingly) about revisiting the past and happier memories, but first we headed to a new place to make a few new memories. We left Biloxi and headed through the bayou toward New Orleans. It was an amazing drive. I was awed by the evidence of hurricane damage. Lot after lot was left with only driveway and foundation remaining. Wooden platforms stood alone where they once supported homes. We loved the wildness of the bayou drive. Oh, how I wished to have a canoe or kayak to explore the waterways. I understood why the locals refused to uproot to safer, higher ground. This was certainly a place that would get into your heart, your blood, and your soul. The bayou has a wild beauty that I have never experienced. It was quiet and haunting. I admired those who knew this beautiful land as their own.
We spent the day in New Orleans in the French Quarter, and I know it is a place where I will return to again and again. One day wasn’t nearly enough time. There was something to see at every turn. The architecture was delicately beautiful. The stench was overpowering on a hot day and reminded me of plagues of yellow fever with black swags on doors announcing death. It was the oldest, most beautiful untamed city I could ever imagine in this country.
We had our destinations in New Orleans mapped out. We parked our car and headed for Cafe Du Monde for cafe au lait and beignets. Delicious! A hot beverage wasn’t really what any of us wanted in the heat, but it was delicious nonetheless.
After our snack, we headed through Jackson Square. It was a beautiful park with an incredible mix of musicians, artists, tourists, locals, homeless and crazy people, and performers. I could have planted myself on a bench in the shade for the rest of the day to simply watch the people passing by, but we had a destination. We were heading to Pirates Alley and William Faulkner’s New Orleans home. The home is now operating as a tiny book store.
Faulkner House is where my journey began to take on different meaning for me. I LOVE, LOVE William Faulkner. This certainly isn’t my first Faulkner pilgrimage. For years, I have considered myself to be a student of Faulkner and Southern fiction. That is to say, I DID. At one time, I was knowledgeable about the latest offerings in Southern Fiction. Larry Brown, Eudora Welty, Rick Bass, John Dufresne….on and on, I could endlessly list my favorite Southern authors. At one time, I could tell you the exact release dates for upcoming Southern literature. Back in 2003, I was so afraid of missing the release of Larry Brown’s Rabbit Factory. I was pregnant with Lola, and I feared that if I died in childbirth, I would never get to read his latest. I emailed the publishing house, and they sent an unedited copy of the book which I was asked to review. It is/was one of my most treasured possessions. Larry Brown died shortly after the release of Rabbit Factory at the young age of 54.
I keep a picture of Faulkner on my desk at all times. I’m not sure exactly what the draw is, but his writing and the style of Southern fiction speaks to me. In Faulkner’s former home, I felt ashamed. Where had my passion and love for Southern fiction gone? When was the last time I read a REAL book? I stood there in Faulkner House and let his spirit berate me for my neglect. I gently touched the wooden door frame. I placed my hand on the banister. I let the spirit of Faulkner nourish my soul once again. I bought a book written by William Faulkner at Faulkner House Books, New Orleans Sketches. It was written in that very house. It practically vibrated in my hands as I carried it out of the building.
As much as I wanted to sit down in Jackson Square and read the book from cover to cover, there was not time. T and the girls had exhausted their patience with me and wanted to be on out way. We moved down the street exclaiming over and over as we went. There was so much to see! Em dragged me into Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo, and I bought a voodoo doll. It is made and blessed by a “local voodoo practioner.” This voodoo doll is supposed to be made specifically for “Conquering Obstacles.” Well, hey! It could not have found a better home!
I was sad to leave New Orleans, but I knew it was a place already dear to my heart. I would be back, and my next visit would not be so brief.
The voodoo doll is now hanging in my room in Illinois. Pepper the Wondercat is suspicious of the new presence in our space. I caught him sitting on the dresser (which he never does!) and glaring at Voodoo Queen from across the room. Maybe that’s a good sign. She is already making her presence felt. I am ready to begin conquering the obstacles in my path. I’m ready to find that engaged and passionate woman I once was, and I can use all the help she can offer to me as I continue on this path.