(originally published in December 2007)
Beaumont, TX: I love that the list of vegetables here includes mashed potatoes, steak fries, mac ‘n’ cheese and dumplings. The vegetable of the day? Dressing. Yum.
Greenwood, MS: Deeply disturbing poverty in the hometown of Viking appliances. The streets are old brick, just like in beautiful Natchidoches, but look forlorn rather than historic. Here the feeling is one of sadness, disrepair, and loss.
I decamp for the night at the Bridgewater B&B, run by a 62-year-old psychiatric nurse. Her training comes in handy as she lives next to a pair of bachelor brothers from a famous family, both of whom are a few biscuits short of a picnic. One lives in the downstairs part of the mansion and is (she says) delusional, believing he is a civil servant. Should I ever go mad, remind me to be more ambitious in my delusions. The other brother lives upstairs; he is (she says) a paranoid schizophrenic and believes he runs a radio station from his room. He may be correct, but no one in town has been able to tune in. Perhaps he is on Sirius. There’s a hotshot down the street from us at home who is supposedly some kind of subscription-radio celebrity.
The B&B is on the Yazoo River and is rich with period detail – stained glass transoms above all the bedroom doors, and larger stained glass windows and doors throughout the house. It is full of burnished antiques and there is a suit of armor on the stairs. It would appear that in days of old, knights were really small.
A door between two upstairs bedrooms gives onto a gallery with porch swings and a view of the quiet river and the trees on the opposite bank. I have the house to myself.
The kitchen is well-eqippped and guests are welcome to whip up whatever meals they’d like on the Viking stove with ingredients from the Viking refrigerator. (Please place dirty dishes in the Viking dishwasher.)
For dinner, the innkeeper recommends her favorite restaurant. “It’s owned by Greeks,” she whispers confidentially, in answer to a question I had not asked but perhaps others had.
The place is crowded and dirty, the food is not particularly good, and the menu cover features old newspapers with disturbing celebratory headlines including “WAR ENDS AS JAPS ACCEPT UNCONDITIONAL SURRENDER.” If the (possibly) mentally ill, unsupervised brothers living next to the giant house where I’m the only guest was creepy, this place is off the charts. The B&B is lovely, but I can’t wait to get back into my time machine in the morning and head toward the state line.
Vicksburg, MS: Leaving town, the landscape is lush with cheerful leafy trees still delighted from an unusually rainy spring, and happy in their home on the river. Then the farms start – corn, mostly, looking as though the spring rains have passed them by. Unlike the endless plains and prairies of the Midwest that became large, flat fields with orderly rows, these farms have low, sloping hills, and are lovely in a different way.
Heading south, the sweet rolling curves give way to something more bleak, flatter, swampier, and wide open to the blasting Delta sun.
Natchidoches, LA: Just one of the many, many reasons I adore Louisiana…I wandered into a lovely small bookstore to ask if he had a state map.
“Hmm,” he said. “No, I don’t. But I can have one by tomorrow.” I explained that I was headed out of town and thanked him anyway. He stopped me from leaving and called to order some from the Visitor’s Center, and started to direct me there – and then stopped. “That’s too far to walk in this heat,” he said firmly, and directed me to a store a few doors down that would have them.
How did he know they’d have them? Because he called to ask as I stood there, and told them I was on my way.
I purchased a few books for the road, and gave him my credit card, asking if he needed ID. “No,” he said. “I like to think people who buy books are honest.”
As I walked out the door, I heard him greet a customer by name…and heard the customer say, “Put it on my account.” I had no idea anyone did that anymore.