We awoke to a cool morning, perfect for a walk around the park and down to the boat dock. I keep looking for eyes staring out from the river but don’t see any. I don’ know what I would do if I saw a gator on the shore, probably run as quickly as 50-year-old legs will carry me, meaning I will be gator food. We run into another camper, his name is Ricky and has lived in Alabama all his life except for a stint in the Air Force during the 70’s. He wishes he appreciated his time at Ellsworth South Dakota more when he was there, age will do that to you. It brings up the times you wished you took advantage of and makes you realize you didn’t. He has one granddaughter with him, the others are on vacation with his kids. His wife is a full-time Granny, as he puts it and watches the grandkids during the week. It’s a lot of work but she likes it. Another chance to ask a Southerner about the statues, so I do. He says they will take them down if they want, not much he can do about it, but he wants them to stay up. “They are our history, “he continues. I tell him sometimes life doesn’t always give you the luxury of acting on your convictions, raising kids can get in the way. He tells me they took the Confederate flag off the Capitol during a construction project and it never went back up. We had talked enough for both our dogs and they urged us to move on.
The neighbor couple were up and offered me coffee which I declined. No coffee for me in the mornings, only coffee ice cream. I might have mention that already. They get along really well and I think they have been married forever but it has been only 6 years. His first wife of 40 years died of cancer and she divorced young. She tells me her first husband was in the Air Force and was assigned to Pennsylvania which she didn’t like and was happy when they came back to Alabama. A divorce came soon after. I ask how they met and they tell me it was at church. She had her eye on him but he but he never acted so she finally gave him her number. Nervous, she gave the wrong seven digits and he called a disconnected number which prompted a “what the heck”. He backed off until she invited him for coffee and cake. Then, she tells me, she was so nervous, she forgot to get cake. But the heavens were in their favor and six years later were standing in a campsite talking to me.
I had planned on taking HWY 31 to Birmingham, another site of the Civil Rights movement, but the road turned into a toilet. Strip malls, gas stations, and just seedy looking businesses. An accident had my lane blocked, the waiting policeman putting his hand up to “STOP” as soon as I got to the line. A tow-truck was pulling a car out of a shallow ditch and no one would let me around. Thankfully the policeman held his hand out for the others to “STOP” so I could get by. I jumped on 65 and bypassed Birmingham completely. Then it was HYW 78- IS 22 and I was almost into Mississippi.
A sign pulls me to Natural Bridge, just North on HWY 13 and I pull down the long driveway. It looks like a very neat and tidy tourist trap, mine the only car in the parking lot. I walk into the store, a lone woman on duty and she tells me its $3.50 to walk back and look at the stone bridge. “But you can’t walk on it.” I take the bait and fork over the cash, walking back to pick up Mabel for a jaunt down the trail. As I am, a pick up truck pulls in and a man gets out announcing that he has went by this place many times and decided to pull in and see what it’s all about. My Spidey senses were tingling because this is just how so many horror movies start out. I didn’t want to end up like Bruce Willis in Pulp Fiction’s ball gag scene, or my tubby body held over a wash tub with a man holding a hammer and saying, “Let Grandpa have a whack.’ But the allure of the natural Bridge was too great, and Mabel can be ferocious when needed so we ventured forth.
The Natural Bridge was neat and high enough over the forest floor to create a chamber effect, a hush falls over you as you enter. The man was harmless, originally from Texas, and worked at Life Time for a bit. He was a lot bigger than me so I could see him as a trainer. His son is still in the Lone Star State hence the many trips past the Natural Bridge entrance. Getting married soon and a birthday tomorrow, he was in a good mood. Somehow Mabel hurt her foot on the trail and I had to carry her back. I watched and it was okay later in the day. We survived and started towards Tupelo.
I know very little about Tupelo. When I was in the Air Force, we called the supply sergeant, Mudbone Martin, after the Richard Pryor skit. My friend Jim, did a wonderful impression, adding to the dialogue that Mudbone was from Tupelo. So, there was a faint excitement at actually seeing what this place was like. I didn’t realize until crossing the border that it was more famous for Elvis than Mudbone. After seeing the signs for his birthplace, I knew I had to check it out and it was kind of cool. Elvis, a man of very humble beginnings went on to be world-wide. He was world-wide before the web was world-wide.
The lady at the Welcome Center said there is a large example of Southern style houses in Holly Springs. I had been watching the hurricane and it will prevent me from going to Natchez so I take her advice and head North. The country is pretty and I find camping amongst the pines at Wall Doxey State Park. Pulling pass the stone built Ranger’s house I stop at the welcome shack but it is unattended. Walking back to the Ranger’s house I am surrounded by very small yipping dogs that look aggressive. Now I don’t want to kick them, they were field goal sized, so I retreat until a young girl comes out. I ask about a spot and she says just take one that is open, her Mom is in “the tub.” Far be it from to interrupt one’s bath. We pull down the tree lined street into the very wooded and quiet campground. I take a spot that looks easy to back into and is close to the bathhouse. But I realize later that it is close to another camper, like across the road close. I should have selected another spot to be neighborly but it was late and getting dark so Mabel and I took it. I cooked and then we went to bed under the Deep South Mississippi stars for the first time.
Thankful today no one was hurt at the accident.