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Mississippi ~ The Soul of Dixie
by Carl Wayne Hardeman



Alabama may be the "Heart of Dixie," but the grand old state of Mississippi is the "Soul of Dixie."

One of my most favoritest (that's perfectly good Southrenese) online sites is USADEEPSOUTH.com . I am fortunate enough to be honored by having one of my stories included in each of the last several editions. It's about as close as a body can get to being steeped in pure Southerniana, if I may coin a word.

A recent challenge in their Message Board was to describe one Southern state which epitomizes the South. Now, before you get all riled up and get your dauber in the mud, everyone has the same fair chance of making his or her case. I want to make the case for the Magnolia State of Mississippi, the Southern Belle of the Southern states.

My birth state is Tennessee. I have also lived in Alabama, Texas, Georgia and Louisiana. My love for Mississippi grew out of my love for Mimi, the love of my life, and a true daughter of that state. She comes from a Scots heritage of farmers and laborers with fierce family pride, deep love for children, a strong work ethic, and an unquestioned love for the Good Lord. Spending weekends with her parents on their small farm and living some of that life has only strengthened my appreciation and love for them and their Mississippi heritage and culture.

Mississippi is a microcosm of not just the South, but the nation as a whole. Her topology covers the gamut of terrain found across the South from the wooded hills and rich farmland in the "bottoms" of the northeast to the prairies of central Mississippi to the pine forests and cattle ranches of its southeast section -- then south to the warm Gulf of Mexico waters lapping her white sand beaches. Then one heads west to her lazy bayous and moss draped lowlands before heading north to the nation's threadbasket and breadbasket in that great alluvial plain we call the Delta.

That alluvial plain extends south from Cairo, Illinois, with the Pontotoc Ridge near Tupelo as its northeast boundary and Crowley's Ridge, Arkansas, as the western boundary. All the land south of Cairo was once the Gulf of Mexico and has been filled in by the meandering Mississippi River with the rich alluvial material from the outflow of the melting glaciers of the last Ice Age, and the rich loess, or windblown glacial till. You can see the chalky limestone deposits in the road cuts around Tupelo.

One need only drive any of the old "banana highways" the length of the state for a microcosm of what Irving Berlin wrote in "God Bless America."

"From the mountains" takes a little imagination, but one can visit Woodall Mountain. It's not much of a mountain at 806 feet above sea level, but a mountain nonetheless near Iuka, and the USGS marker makes it so.

Going south from Woodall Mountain past Tupelo where the Pontotoc Ridge trends eastward into Alabama, you'll come "to the prairies" of central Mississippi, the home of delicious sweet 'taters in Vardaman, and a flat landscape dotted with catfish ponds and cattle ranches.

Continuing south, one drives through vast pine tree farms and more cattle ranches before reaching the "oceans, white with foam," at least during a hurricane. Thus we have a grand state which represents the South and America itself in all its topographical glory, and glory is a word we don't take lightly around here.

Mississippi has a wealth of culture from "birthin" the Blues in the Delta to the King of Rock and Roll's birthplace in Tupelo. We just call him Elvis.

Our literature is world known from William Faulkner's epics and history to Eudora Welty's depiction of our proud Southern ways to John Grisham's modern mysteries.

Casey Jones met his fate as a hero in Vaughan, Mississippi, and Jimmy Rodgers, the Singing Brakeman, is the Father of Country Music. Norman Winter, Felder Rushing, and Dr. Dirt, are just as famous in their own right. One culture I urge readers to enjoy before it dies out is the Sacred Harp a capella singing in Pontotoc County.

Mississippi's impact on technology is exemplified by the Redstone Rocket testing facilities to the Stennis Space Center and Lockheed Martin Mississippi Space and Technology Center. Native son Jim Barksdale is a giant in modern information technology and just as well known for his family's generous gifts to the children of his beloved home state.

Mississippi's long and diverse history parallels that of the nation as a whole, too. Prehistorical trails like the Chickasaw Trail and the Natchez Trace were major economic pathways long before US45 and US51 were built to bring bananas from Gulf ports to Fulton, Kentucky, for distribution across the northern USA. The oldest (the Mississippi River) and newest (the Tombigbee Waterway) commercial waterways are along her borders.

I55 and the coming I69 are major north south economic corridors for the whole nation as is the railroad system made famous by the City of New Orleans passenger train. The Memphis FedEx hub is the busiest cargo airport in the world and is connected by air worldwide, and this hub sits less than three miles from Mississippi's major light manufacturing and distribution centers in Olive Branch and Southaven.

As with most of the nation, Mississippi had indigenous native Indians, principally Chickasaw and Choctaw, who were forced to sell their land in the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek and walk the Trail of Tears. Many site names retain the English pronunciation of original Indian names. Most flow easily off the tongue like Shuba, Shubuta, Hiwassee, Tupelo, Buckatunna, Tallahatchie, Tishomingo, Toccopola, Pontotoc, and Tangipahoa, while some require lingual acrobatics like Ishtehotopah, Noxapater, Shuqualak, Wahalak, and Pascagoula.

The next wave of peoples were the Spanish and French settlers, who also left their mark from Mardi Gras to the rich Creole cuisine, to place names like D'Iberville and Gautier from the French and Spanish names like Desoto and Hernando from the rediscoverer of the "Father of Waters" somewhere near Tunica, which is one of the largest gambling meccas in the nation.

The next wave of settlers were the white farmers and the blacks on whose backs the cotton industry thrived. And let us not forget the Chinese merchants of the Delta and the modern day Vietnamese fishermen of the Gulf coast.

Mississippi saw her share of Civil War battles (or The War of Northern Aggression, if you prefer) from the skirmishes of the leadup to Shiloh to the Battle of Vicksburg, which sealed the Mississippi River and irrevocably cut Southern supply lines from New Orleans and ensured the end of the war in the deep south, just as surely as Sherman's March to the Sea did in Georgia. And sons and grandsons of those brave soldiers have volunteered and served as loyal patriots in all subsequent wars.

The great diversity of terrain, culture and ethnic heritage, has produced a highly diverse cuisine. One can enjoy fresh Mississippi farm raised catfish and hushpuppies to die for, made with bits of jalapeno peppers and cream style corn for the liquid. Tamales are another specialty in both the Delta and in Corinth, where slugburgers were born and are the reason for the Slugburger Festival each year. Hands down, the best steak this side of the Andromeda Galaxy is cooked at Doe's Eat Place in Oxford and Greenville. Mix in the creole and cajun cuisine of south Mississippi and Wally Joe's Chinese cuisine in the Delta, and you have a cuisine diversity as good or better than any other Southern state.

My favorite Mississippi food is a plate-load of home grown, vine ripe, fresh picked, hand shelled, purplehull peas, butterbeans, boiled 'taters, fried okra, sliced 'maters, and sliced mushmelon accompanied with fresh hot buttered cornbread and biscuits, with a giant moist delicate coconut cake for dessert. Drinks can be either sweet tea with lemon or ice cold buttermilk. That's in the summer.

In the fall I love a mess of collard greens and baked sweet 'taters with fried whole crappie or catfish, or a big steamy pot of chicken and dumplins, and a pan of cornbread dressing redolent with black pepper, onion, celery, and sage so strong that the next day your Auntie will be sniffin and askin you what you had for supper the night before.

Of course we eat supper in the evening and dinner at noon. On hot days we might just bust open a sweet juicy rattlesnake watermelon and eat the heart or hand crank sweet 'niller ice cream while cooling off on the front porch. It can't get no better than that.

While each of her sister Southern states has its own unique attractions, Mississippi is both Belle and Grand Dame of the South and exemplifies all the South has to offer.

Alabama may be the Heart of Dixie, but Mississippi is the Soul of Dixie.

__________________________


Carl Wayne tells us about himself:
"I write gardening articles for the Collierville, Tennessee, Independent, the Southaven, Mississippi, Press, and Desoto Magazine, all from a Southern perspective. I point out the correct pronunciation of ants (aints) and peonies (peOnies) and advise always to plant hydrangeas on the north side of the house. I've been in software development forty years, the last twenty with a large overnight express delivery company. I have taught computer science as adjunct faculty at local universities over twenty-five years. We have a small farm in Pontotoc County, Mississippi, where we raise a large garden with my in-laws. My in-laws were there when the REA strung the first electric wires in that area. They were killing hogs. That night for supper they had liver and lights."


Write Carl Wayne at this e-mail address: Rows of Buttercups

Read more of Carl Wayne's stories at USADS:
Southern Snakes
Mississippi ~ the Garden of Eden
Slide down my cellar door!
Eco-friendly gardening: Yes, It's Weeds


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