“Wait … you have a gun in your purse here? Here and now? At this dinner?”

“Sure do. I don’t leave home without it. Don’t ask me to pull it out at the dinner table, though. That’s just tacky. That I will not do.”

Hot damn, I love Mississippi.

Kudzu Roof, Roadside shack, Greenwood Mississippi, photo by Jenny Adams-5124

You know why I love it? Because it’s got this absolute, hard-fought refusal to be anything other than Mississippi. Before you start judging this place … or the lovely blonde, who eloquently explained the etiquette of firearm ownership to me … let me fill you in on a little secret.

Mississippi does not give a crumb off a crouton what you think of her. She will drink-you-under-the-table in conversation.

Roadside sign, Greenwood, Mississippi, photo by Jenny Adams-5370

She’s got stories, and they are sordid and hysterical and sad and real. People here manage to celebrate the Bible and Bourbon with more balance than Simone Biles on a beam.

Mississippi’s old money. It’s also no money. Both bank accounts are having breakfast together at the same diner, where Blues always comes drippin’ out the stereo.

The weirdness of this state is viscous. I’ve known this fact all my life, because I grew up summers in Greenwood, Mississippi. I was born to women who grew up in this lovely, crumbly, big-hearted small town, where writers sprout ferociously but un-fried vegetables can be tough to come by.

Greenwood is in a region known as The Delta. Nowhere in the state is stranger than The Delta – a teardrop-shaped bean of land carved by a smirk in the river. It’s fertile here. And they grow cotton and sometimes insanity.

On my first night back … after a gut-busting, catfish supper … my aunt and uncle drove me to the Little Zion Baptist Church. We tromped through the dewy grass in the darkness, around the edge of the small, white, wooden chapel. We stood looking in reverence at the gravestone for a moment, until the mosquitos drove us away.

robert-johnsons-grave-mississippi-greenwood-buddhadrinksfanta

The next day when I told my great-aunt Tricia I’d been to Bluesman Robert Johnson’s burial site just an hour shy of midnight, she exclaimed, “Why, Jenny, that’s crazy! It’s snake season!”

Snake season, indeed. However, that would not deter me from tromping through further fields of cotton and Cottonmouths.

greenwood-mississippi-river-road-plantation-photos-jenny-adams-buddha-drinks-fanta Greenwood-mississippi-brooklyn-plantation-cotton-feilds-jenny-adams-buddha-drinks-fanta

“You must ride out to River Road,” my aunt implored over coffee one morning, just after 6am. We were happily wallowing in our shared love of abandoned, sprawling Delta houses and forgotten mansions down dirt roads. She writes books about this very subject, actually.

“There’s one old gothic house out on River Road,” she continued, “where the entire family went insane. The father once waved a pistol at your grandmother. I believe his son is now in the state asylum. Anyways, the house is a wreck and it might even be unlocked. Don’t fall through the floor though. Your mother will kill me.”

I didn't fall through.

I didn’t fall through.

I just spent four days exploring The Delta, returning to places I haunted as a kid. The nostalgia was too much to bear at points. I cried twice in the car. I ate Mac & Cheese from a to-go cup and drove the wrong direction down Howard Street. I turned up the AM station loud, tossing boiled peanut shells out the window, nodding sagely to some preacher’s lamentations of hellfire and brimstone. I went a bit insane. It’s The Delta. It’s allowed. Nay, encouraged.

highway-82-mississippi-delta-vacation-driving-roadtrip-jenny-adams-buddha-drinks-fantaSharecrop shacks, side of the road, Mississippi Delta, photo by Jenny Adams-5297

I know I’ll probably never go and shoot guns with that lovely blonde from the dinner table, but the invite warmed my heart in a suitably strange and beautiful way.

I travel the world to some very unsavory places, and conversation remains my weapon of choice. Still, I admire her greatly for being true to her beliefs and for being proud of where she comes from. Her daddy taught her to shoot, love and respect guns. So what if I despise them?

We both like ice cream and happily killed off a carton together. In this age of soap-boxing on Facebook, it’s a blessing to share a table with people who think differently than you … to fist bump responsible, intelligent gun owners, whilst licking cold cream off a spoon.

If you want the best road trip of your life, rent a car in Memphis. Turn it to the AM dial and drive due south to The Delta. Be forewarned. Mississippi will get under your skin and she’ll linger there, with soft hips made of soothing calories, a voice like pedal steel, bare feet in loose dirt and unspooling ribbons of bright green kudzu.

 Here’s How You Love Her Best:

  1. Attend a Delta Supper Club. These dinners bring in chefs, musicians, and cool, quirky experiences.
  2. Tour the B.B. King Museum in Indianola, then head to The Crown for lunch.

    Exhibit at the B.B. King Museum, in Indianola

    Exhibit at the B.B. King Museum, in Indianola

  3. Drive through tiny Itta Bena. They filmed O Brother Where Art Thou here. Let’s just say set design was point-and-shoot. It’s a place currently enduring rough times. Go by the flea market just beside the main traffic light and ask for Charlotte. She’ll be the tall, beautiful black woman who hugs you when you get out of the car. It takes less than 30 seconds to be best friends with Charlotte.

    Itta-bena-mississippi-abandoned-houses-old-signs-delta-food-jenny-adams

    Downtown Itta Bena

  4. Go to Greenwood for a cooking class at the Viking Cooking School, then visit Turnrow Books, where some of the country’s best authors read frequently.
  5. Drive out to Little Zion Missionary Baptist Church, keep a wary eye for snakes and say a soft prayer over the resting place of one of the greatest musicians of all time.
  6. You can stay a night at Tallahatchie Flats for fun, but don’t depart Greenwood without dining at Steven’s BBQ or at Lusco’s.

    Greenwood, Mississippi

    Greenwood, Mississippi

  7. Twenty minutes down the road from Greenwood is Carrollton, where Steve McQueen once filmed The Reivers. You can still see movie-set-moments, and the town has a warped and weathered, old South charm.

    Downtown (North?) Carrolton, Mississippi

    Downtown (North?) Carrolton, Mississippi

  8. Grab the best burger of your life at Dixie’s Kozy Kitchen in North Carrollton. In a city of less than 1,000 people, there are two posts offices and two high schools. Because, there is North Carrollton and then there’s Carrollton. People round here do not like when you confuse these two distinct towns as one. Trust.
  9. Finish up in Oxford, Mississippi. It’s two hours away. Oxford is not in the Delta, but it’s home to William Faulkner’s home Rowan Oak, Thacker Mountain Radio, Square Books, Ajax Diner and the mouth-watering City Grocery, run by acclaimed chef, John Currence. You need all these places in your life at least once. Art studio at Old Taylor Grocery, Taylor, Mississippi, photo by Jenny Adams-6026
  10. The little town of Taylor, Mississippi is 20 minutes from Oxford and it should be your road trip finale. Old Taylor Grocery serves something much deeper than divine, fried catfish. To sit on the rickety porch, while someone plucks an acoustic guitar, is to absorb the real and the timeless Mississippi. Word to the wise. You drink on their terms. Whatever you bring is fine, so long as it’s hidden in a brown paper bag.Old-Taylor-Grocery-Oxford-Mississippi-Jenny-Adams-catfish-writer-author-blog

As for me, I swung into Memphis and left the AM Baptist preacher’s last staticky testimonial for the rental car guy at Enterprise. I went back to New York with a fine film of Mississippi sweat clinging to my t-shirt.

And … while my moral compass still bounces like a lie detector test only ever asked the wrong questions … my True North is always South.

It’s snake season. I do know that. I suppose I’m repenting in my own way. Repenting for being gone from such a striking and strange place for far too long.

Self Portrait, taken looking into the Little Zion Missionary Baptist Church, Money Road, Greenwood, Mississippi

Self Portrait : Looking into the Little Zion Missionary Baptist Church on Money Road, Greenwood, Mississippi, August 2016

 

Jenny Adams is a freelance travel writer, author and photographer. She currently contributes to a number of publications, including National Geographic Traveler, Hemispheres, American Way and Imbibe. She's the former Bar Columnist for the Miami Herald, the current Copy Editor at Robb Vices and is also wrestling a half-written novel, set in New Orleans. Jenny's got an knack for getting lost, an addiction to full-fat cream cheese, and a deep and abiding love for every Water Buffalo she's ever seen. Her bookshelf is mainly Tom Robbins, her favorite word is 'visceral,' and you can find out more about her at www.jennyadamsfreelance.com.

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