Sunday, November 30, 2014

Taylor and Oxford, Mississippi, November 15 and 16

In these times of smart phones and GPS, Rich and I are still traveling mostly the "old fashioned" way, with (real paper) maps, hand-written directions, and our latest addition--screen grabs of maps on Rich's iPad.  Our AK cell phones have no data plan so we have to be prepared with instructions in advance or search for a wi-fi spot.  Yes, I know, this sounds terribly 20th century.

We left Jackson for Taylor, Mississippi to visit friends for the weekend.  We knew that they lived out in the country a bit but we figured we'd be fine with our iPad directions.  We didn't leave as early as we'd hoped and I texted along the way that we would just stop for lunch before arrival since we hadn't eaten breakfast. Then came the search for a place to eat and we finally were forced into a row of fast food places off the highway, settling for a Waffle House where I could still get some kind of breakfast food.  Okay, seriously, if a place calls itself "Waffle House," shouldn't it have super great waffles?  Waffle House--where you get  the flattest, saddest, most tasteless waffles you'll ever meet. :)

After eating, we continued on our journey to Taylor.  The bad thing about screen grabs of maps and directions is that they are not necessarily correct and you have no way to do any further research with no internet. Well, we did have an atlas in the car but it was no help. We were sent down many winding backroads that did not seem to match up with the directions at hand.  Eventually, I called Susan, who said without missing a beat, "Are you lost yet?!"  Yes, we were lost, but luckily we were lost in Taylor, MS and just had not come far enough.

Susan gave us directions the rest of the way and said she would wait down at the end of their driveway for us.  It's a good thing she did or we might have driven right past their house, which is up a hill and somewhat hidden from the road.  Whew, we made it!

It was great fun to be reunited with my dear friend Susan, also known here as fellow blogger Suzassippi, her husband known affectionately as Randoman, and their son known on her blog as J.  We go way back to our days in Texas, before they took off for Mississippi and I took off for Alaska, when we had young kids and were young social workers and peace activists in a town not-so-friendly to left-leaning folks . We've shared many adventures over the years and she is the one friend who has consistently kept in touch with me since I moved away.  We still email each other several times a week and discuss everything from current events to family life to the fact that getting older sucks pretty badly sometimes. Although we have seen each other in TX for brief get togethers when we both happen to be in town, this is the first time in several years we've had a couple of days to visit and hang out.

Our southern road trip was turning out to be a chilly and rainy one and our arrival date was probably the coldest and dreariest of the drive so far.  Where was our sunshine??!!

The first night our friends treated us to a lovely dinner out at a place called The Ravine.  The food and the company were great and we had a nice time catching up.

Randy and Susan

Since we have been in Oxford before, and the weather was pretty nasty, we did not tour around too much this time. We did visit the Ole Miss campus, where both Randy and Susan are employed, and went to see the statue of James Meredith, the first person of African American heritage to enroll in the University of Mississippi in 1962, amid violence from segregationists that necessitated the calling up of the National Guard and US Marshals.  Two people were killed with many more wounded and the Governor was fined and found in contempt before the rioting was done.  Read much more about these events here.

Once again, I am struck by the courage it took for one person to stand alone when all around him people were carrying out violence and spewing hatred.  I often wonder what it is about people like James Meredith that compels them to persevere in the face of so much opposition, not to mention the very real possibility of physical harm or death.  These are certainly the people who move our society along, even if many are kicking and screaming (literally--and worse--) against change.
Otherwise we mostly hung out at the house and visited, while reassuring their dogs that we had not moved in forever and that soon they would  have their routine and their sleeping arrangements back to normal.  ;)   Thanks, S, R and J for your hospitality!

Friday, November 28, 2014

Jackson, Mississippi, November 14

First stop in Jackson was the historic Greenwood Cemetery.  It's still in use and was established by a federal land grant in 1821.  It was originally known as "The Graveyard" and then as "City Cemetery" before being given the name of Greenwood in 1899.  Buried on these grounds are several Confederate generals, former governors of Mississippi and mayors of Jackson, as well as the author Eudora Welty.  The graves of more than 100 unknown Confederate soldiers are also located here.

I've always loved old cemeteries, probably because my grandfather used to take us to see them when we were kids visiting in New Jersey. Some dated back to Revolutionary War days and were very spooky as well as fascinating.  :)
We went to the State Capitol but there was a lot of construction going on and we ended up not going inside because the front entrance was blocked off.  For my friend Suzassippi, I did a little research and learned that the building is constructed in the Beaux-Arts architectural style.  :)   Out front is a memorial to the mothers, sisters, wives and daughters of Confederate soldiers.  From "Nashville artist Belle Kinney created the sculpture, which was cast by the Tiffany Studio and dated 1917. The monument, one-and-one-half times life size, is the oldest public bronze sculpture in Jackson and the only one memorializing women. The sculpture features three figures: a central female representing Fame, to her left a dying Confederate soldier, and to her right a Confederate woman on whose head Fame is placing a laurel wreath, the symbolic gesture of victory, giving the monument its meaning as a memorial to women."

Across the street from the Capitol is the Gothic style First Baptist Church, which was built in 1927 and houses the largest Baptist congregation in the state.  It has connections to the Mt. Helm Baptist Church, below.
This is the historic Mt. Helm Baptist Church.  One of my favorite quotes is used in the description of the congregation:  "A community is like a ship; everyone ought to be prepared to take the helm (Henrik Ibsen).  From  the church website: "Founded in 1835, Mt. Helm is the oldest Black church in Jackson.  It began with several enslaved Blacks worshipping in the basement of First Baptist Church--Jackson, and became a separate body in 1867, the year the 13th amendment was ratified. A number of prominent Baptist churches were generated from the Mt. Helm congregation. Also Jackson State University, formerly Jackson College, was for a time housed at Mt. Helm."
 We passed this building while driving in the historic Farish District.
The Greyhound Bus Station where Freedom Riders were arrested in 1961.  From the website Civil Rights Movement Veterans:"On Wednesday morning, May 24, a dozen Freedom Riders boarded a Trailways bus for the 250 mile journey to Jackson MS. Surrounded by Highway Patrol and National Guard, the bus heads west on Highway 80 in a caravan of more than 40 vehicles. They pass through Selma at top speed without stopping--there will be no bus depot rest stops until Jackson seven hours from Montgomery. Meanwhile, back in Montgomery, 14 more riders board the mid day Greyhound for Jackson. When the weary riders arrive in Jackson and attempt to use "white only" restrooms and lunch counters they are immediately arrested for Breach of Peace and Refusal to Obey an Officer.  From lockup, the riders announce "Jail No Bail"--they will not pay fines for unconstitutional arrests and illegal convictions--and by staying in jain, they keep the issue alive." 

Eventually, there were so many Freedom Riders in jail that they were transferred to the notorious Parchman Prison where they continued their vow for "Jail No Bail."  Read more about the Freedom Riders here..  Imagine taking this ride knowing you could have been arrested, beaten, or even killed for your actions. I hope I would have been willing.
It's now an architect's office.
Medgar Evers was shot and killed outside his home, pictured above.  From the Evers Institute website:  "Medgar Evers was a pioneering visionary for civil rights in the 1950s and early 1960s in Mississippi. As the state's first field secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), he was one of the most visible leaders in the civil rights movement in America. His assassination on June 12, 1963, galvanized President John F. Kennedy to ask Congress for a comprehensive civil rights bill, which was signed into law the following year by President Lyndon Johnson."  Medgar Evers' wife Myrlie said, "You can kill a man, but you can't kill an idea."  She went on to establish the Evers Institute to continue work on social justice issues. It took almost 31 years for Evers' killer, Byron De La Beckwith, to be brought to justice.  Read more about Medgar Evers here.
We drove through the historic Farish District which was once a thriving area containing businesses such as the Alamo Theater, Trumpet Records, the NAACP field office where Medgar Evers worked, and the Big Apple Inn.  We were told they serve a great pig ear sandwich at the Big Apple Inn, but we didn't make it for lunch.  :)
We passed "Freedom Corner" while looking for Medgar Evers' home.  This caused me to reflect that many are still searching for true freedom, which only comes when there is equal opportunity and social justice for all.  I hope that the sacrifices of Medgar Evers, freedom riders, and civil rights activists will not have been in vain.

Dallas to Shreveport to Vicksburg November 12 and 13

We left Dallas mid-afternoon so decided to go only as far as Shreveport the first night of our road trip. We got a room at a hotel/casino and managed to lose a few bucks before calling it quits.  Thankfully we are not big gamblers and don't have any trouble walking away.  It's always fun to *TRY* for the big win, though.  :)  We had dinner at the hotel and on the way out, the cashier asked Rich for his ID to go with his credit card.  She about freaked out when she saw his driver's license was from Alaska!  She was really cute and was so excited to meet people from AK that we couldn't help but get a little excited, too. Well, I did. Rich was more embarrassed by all the attention than he was excited. She asked us if we would wait while she called her coworker over to meet us, saying that she also loves meeting people from out of state. The coworker came by and gave us a cursory "hello" and kept going, so I don't think she was all that thrilled.  The cashier then gave me a hug, told me she had tears in her eyes, and she was about to call her mama next.  I suppose if you have never been anywhere outside your home town, meeting people from Alaska seems pretty exotic.  :)

We drove around Shreveport a little the next morning but couldn't seem to find anything we were looking for, so we set out for Vicksburg to begin our Civil Rights Tour.  As an Air Force brat, I lived in Georgia in the early 1960s when segregation of the races was still the norm.  Even as a child, I knew that there was something wrong with "whites only" bathrooms and water fountains at the local drug store, just for an example.  As I grew older, I realized the larger evil and implications of oppression of an entire people. Although I was too young to participate in freedom rides or protests in the 1960s, I've always been interested in the history of the movement and desired to visit some of the important sites of that time, to bear witness to those who sacrificed so much and to acknowledge that the work is still not done.

Most of our scheduled places to visit were further down the road but we decided we would stop in Vicksburg for the night and while there we could see the Civil War national park--a fitting start to the tour in many ways. After a lunch break, we didn't arrive in Vicksburg till late afternoon when the sun was about to set and the park was about to close. We watched a short video about the Battle of Vicksburg in the visitor's center of the Vicksburg National Military Park and then proceeded on a driving tour through the grounds.
Vicksburg National Military Park preserves the site of the Civil War battle, which lasted 47 days and ended in the surrender of the city of Vicksburg to Union troops. I did not realize till we toured the park that it is basically a monument to the Union.  In the late 1950s, a portion of the park was transferred to the city, containing most of the Confederate landmarks and sites. This was done in exchange for closing local roads running through the remainder of the park and also allowed for the construction of Interstate 20.
According to Wikipedia, "The park includes 1,325 historic monuments and markers, 20 miles (32 km) of historic trenches and earthworks, a 16-mile (26 km) tour road, a 12.5-mile (20.1 km) walking trail, two antebellum homes, 144 emplaced cannons, restored gunboat  USS Cairo (sunk on December 12, 1862, on the  Yazoo River, recovered successfully in 1964), and the Grant's Canal site, where the Union army attempted to build a canal to let their ships bypass Confederate artillery fire. The Cairo, also known as the "Hardluck Ironclad," was the first U.S. ship in history to be sunk by a torpedo/mine. It was raised in 1964. The Illinois State Memorial has 47 steps, one for every day Vicksburg was besieged."

The park was quite beautiful at sunset, adding to its sad and haunting mood.  It was hard to imagine what troops on both sides endured at this place, most of them far from home and loved ones, battling day after day in terrible conditions.  We saw markers for troops from Ohio, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan and more.   I'm sure many were young farm boys who had no real idea what they were going to face.  (Some day, will we learn to solve our problems without war?)

I read that somewhere around 17,000 Union troops are buried in the cemetery and about 13,000 of them are unknown soldiers.  As a mother, I imagine the anguish of those moms who never knew exactly what happened to their sons, where they fell, if they suffered, where their remains might be.

Visiting this somber place seemed an appropriate start to our Civil Rights tour as the issues of the Civil Rights movement were directly related to our country's history of enslaving human beings. When I look at the news today, I can see that there are still correlations that continue to plague us and I wish we were further advanced down the path to equality and equal justice for all.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Where, oh where, have we been?!

Life keeps happening at a breakneck speed, it seems.  After my quick visit in Dallas, I went back home and had a busy couple of weeks, mostly at work, before getting back on track with my original schedule of going to Dallas to help Sarah and Miles.  And I've been gone ever since!

In Dallas, I
*did lots of baby holding--is there anything sweeter?  Jack is doing great, gaining weight and growing well, though he's still a little guy and looks pretty much like a newborn at this point.  He's a cutie and a calm baby except for a period each night where no one but his mama will do.  So happy I had this time with him--even though I know he will not remember it, I will.  :)

*played with Elle and Beck, including running the full length of their block, "duck, duck, goose," tag, freeze tag, racing up the stairs and back again while Miles timed us (hey, I wasn't too bad at it!), hide and seek, play-doh, artwork, went to the pumpkin patch, watched Elle do lots of cartwheels, read books, went to the park, took walks, helped with homework, learned my way to Elle's school as I picked her up a few times, volunteered to work at the book fair, and went to have lunch with her.  Sarah also gave in to the "American Girl" doll phenomenon and we had a girls' day where we took Elle to choose a doll and ate lunch at the American Girl bistro.  Can I just say that the food was fabulous?? We were expecting some run of the mill kids' food but we joked that it could be our new favorite lunch place. 

*watched Beck and Elle play soccer -- Beck is a hoot and you can never be sure whether he is up for soccer or not.  Some days he couldn't care less and does not pay attention and other days he is super focused and makes four goals. But hey, he's not even 4 yet!  Elle, on the other hand, is a power house and a force to be reckoned with on the soccer field.  That girl can run, and often scores for her team. It was great fun to watch her!

*got to hang out with my girl and her hubs, talk, laugh, run errands, tell stories, meet friends, fold laundry, load and unload the dishwasher, shop, watch a movie or two, feed and bathe kids, go out to eat, attend the State Fair of Texas for the first time ever, and once in awhile sit and relax.  :)  They are a busy little family of five.

*had a short visit with Bonnie and Ada, who flew in for a few days. Great to see them and Ada is as cute as can be, developing a little personality, and growing so fast.  While Bonnie was there, Sarah's friends gave her a shower so we all got to go to that together.

*dressed up as a witch for Halloween at the kids' request, went trick or treating with them and attended a block party in their neighborhood.  Big fun!

*managed to get another kidney stone, had a few really bad days, got misdiagnosed at a walk in clinic, finally had a CT scan, saw a urologist (good ole boy who had actually been out to Unalaska fishing a few times..imagine that!), and ended up having to have a day surgery to have it removed. I am happy to report I am stone-free and hope to remain that way.  NO FUN.

*picked Rich up at the airport on Nov. 1, enjoyed a few more days with the kids, had dinner with our NJ high school friend Anna, Rich cooked and did card tricks, I had my kidney stone procedure, and then we left for a few days in Clyde with Susan and Corey and kids.

In Clyde, we:

*watched Ally practice cheerleading and attended her cheerleading exhibition at the high school gym. She's taking gymnastics and is quite good--can do a cartwheel into a round-off already!  The cheerleading exhibition was really cute with several teams of little girls showing off their skills.  

*watched Aidan practice riding his motorcycle at the motocross track--he's very good at this and consistently wins a trophy in his races!

*took the kids to see "Big Hero Six," went to the park, went out to eat with family and friends, got to hang out with my girl and her hubs, went shopping, ran errands, Rich cooked, we talked, laughed, told stories, looked at photos from our summer trip, played card games with the kids, read books, helped with homework, Rich did card tricks, we had lunch with Aidan at school, then back to Dallas for one night before heading out on a road trip.

Now we are traveling through the southern states on a civil rights tour--combining our social justice leanings with a desire to stay in warmer weather.  Well, that has not quite panned out as it is in the 30s right now.  Hopefully this will end soon.  I did not plan to wear a hoodie in Mississippi.