I was born and raised in Arkansas. I love Arkansas. Now I live in California. And I love California. But recently I was reminded that a significant part of my heart remains in Mississippi.
We lived in Mississippi for about ten years and then moved to California about ten years ago. When we moved I expected to visit Mississippi from time to time, but somehow that had not happened in nine years until an unexpected invitation to officiate a funeral for a sweet friend arrived a couple of weeks ago. After a crazy couple of days of rearranging plans, I woke up to discover that I had been blasted into the past. I was unprepared.
I often say that nostalgia is just not my jam. For better or worse, my brain is oriented toward what is ahead, so life’s rearview mirror is relatively unused in my world. Well, it got used a bunch on this return to Mississippi.
Upon landing in Gulfport, I rented a car and drove down Highway 49 to the Gulf Coast and then along the beach that had been ravaged by Katrina thirteen years ago and, as the kids say, I started to feel all the feels. I saw familiar landmarks such as Beauvoir, the Biloxi Lighthouse, and Mary Mahoney’s. I saw the Coast Coliseum where my oldest daughter graduated high school and Point Cadet where my youngest had her first dance recital. There was the familiar Sharkhead’s souvenir shop and Jaws-inspired entrance but with a post-Katrina transformation that turned the entire first floor into a shaded parking lot. The Treasure Bay casino pirate ship is simply gone forever, and although I had never stepped foot inside, that made me want to cry. I had misplaced certain memories like the unique combination of bright white sands and murky waters and wondered what else I had forgotten over the years. It appeared that my GPS had sent me unwittingly down Memory Lane.
Our old hometown of Ocean Springs really threw me for a loop. I drove downtown past Lovelace Drugs and the Walter Anderson Museum and had to get out on Front Beach just to breathe. I stopped for a heavenly Tato-Nut donut and drove to our old Katrina-flooded house and discovered that it now looks like it did that fateful day when we evacuated for the storm. I wasn’t sure what to think about that sort of resurrection.
But seeing old friends nearly made my heart explode with love. Jim and Dimple. Gene and Eileen. All the Fains. Bruno and Linda. Angie and Carol. Todd and Robin. Samantha and Shelly. Tandy and Peggy. Bernice and Cathy. Frances and Mark. Tim and Katie. Connor and Amanda. Debbie and Brynlee. There is so much love in my heart for Ocean Springs and the Mississippi Gulf Coast—especially for our friends. I knew that in my brain and held it in my heart, but this trip resurrected the feeling from deep in my soul. Nostalgia hit me like a wave and left me dizzy. Like that old storm surge.
I texted my wife to say that we have to go back and visit together sometime. She said that she had wanted to do that for a long time now.
I know that I should learn to stop and smell the roses. But I am learning that I should also stop, turn around, and head back to Mississippi to smell the magnolias from time to time.
Posted in Original Essays
Tagged arkansas, beauvior, california, gulf coast, hurricane katrina, lovelace drugs, mary mahoney's, memories, mississippi, nostalgia, ocean springs, sharkhead's, tatonut, treasure bay, walter anderson
My favorite baseball team swung through Los Angeles this past week, and I had the rare opportunity to catch the Cardinals in person both at Angel Stadium of Anaheim and Dodger Stadium. The Anaheim game increased the number of places I have been the “visiting fan” to six stadiums. For those scoring at home, in such a hostile environment I choose to wear my Cardinals gear but adopt a low-key approach—in part out of respect for being in someone else’s house but mostly to avoid trying out my Jackie Chan impersonation when under attack from inebriated fans in a post-game parking lot. I hate to hurt people.
I love baseball because of my dad. He grew up as a Depression-era Cardinals fan in Missouri, and in our daily games of catch in the backyard, told mesmerizing stories of seeing Dizzy Dean and the Gashouse Gang in an exhibition game in the 1930s and of later games at old Sportsman’s Park, including a doubleheader that pitted Stan Musial against Willie Mays. I was hooked. My dad, of course, was my first hero, so when your hero tells stories of heroes, well, it is sort of hard not to be forever influenced.
My first trip to see the Cardinals in person was in the middle of a sticky St. Louis summer in 1979. We couldn’t afford a St. Louis hotel or to leave our family without a car, so my dad bought two bus tickets for our first ever father-son trip. We left before sunrise and arrived in time to wander around the city. We checked out the zoo in Forest Park and gazed in awe at the mighty Gateway Arch, but we came to watch baseball—and we watched the Redbirds get destroyed by the Cincinnati Big Red Machine sixteen to four. The score didn’t matter. I will never forget sitting in the left field loge seats behind Lou Brock at old Busch Memorial Stadium with my dad. Afterward, we boarded the bus and rode home through the night with me asleep on his lap. At that point it was the best day of my life, and now so many years later, it remains pretty darn close.
There is a crazy cool baseball website that has box scores and game information from MLB games dating all the way back to 1913, and I discovered that every play of my special baseball trip with my dad is recorded there. It was a Thursday evening (July 19), and 27,228 were in attendance. Dave Collins led off the game by grounding out to Keith Hernandez, unassisted, followed by a walk to Joe Morgan. Lou Brock went three for five with three ribbies. Ray Knight hit a grand slam. Johnny Bench hit a single to left that scored Dave Concepcion. Mario Soto struck out Tony Scott to end the game. The game lasted two hours and fifty-two minutes.
Nobody cares about the details but me, but I care enough for the whole world combined. It reminds me of an innocent kid with a hero dad on a grand adventure. I suspect that is why I fought Los Angeles traffic twice this past week—just to tap into that special feeling from thirty-seven years ago. My dad has been gone for over twenty years now, but when I watch the Cardinals play baseball in a major-league stadium, he is right beside me.
Posted in Original Essays, Uncategorized
Tagged baseball, busch memorial stadium, cardinals, dizzy dean, father-son, fatherhood, gashouse gang, heroes, lou brock, memories, nostalgia, presence, redbirds, st. louis, stan musial, statistics, willie mays
I took this picture in a little house in South Mississippi thirteen years ago before my daughter Hillary’s first day of kindergarten at Magnolia Park Elementary. Three years later, Katrina did shameful things to that little house, but this picture survives and brings its own flood of memories.
Yesterday, Hillary graduated from Malibu High School, and I am a proud and thankful dad.
You may recognize me from the NA (“Nostalgics Anonymous”) meetings, but I am not a sad nostalgic. Instead of asking What happened to my little girl?, I choose to say Look what happened to my little girl! The punctuation is important. Approaching life with a joyful exclamation mark is preferable to a despondent question mark.
As a nostalgia-holic, I began rummaging through old computer files and stumbled across a journal entry from when Hillary was six years old:
Recently, I was snuggling up with Hillary on the couch, tickling her and playing, her infectious giggle in steady use. I said something about her being my angel, and then I feigned seriousness and asked her, “Are you an angel, or are you just a regular human being?” She giggled her honest response, “I don’t know.” After a moment of playful reflection, she added, “I feel like a regular human being.”
I’m still not convinced but am as proud today as ever.
Whatever the marker in life—from first days to last days and all the big days in between—I side with Viktor Frankl in saying that although Attitude is a required course in life, there are several from which we get to choose. Instead of weeping for days long gone or frustrated longing for days yet to come, I choose to celebrate life’s markers with wide-eyed wonder.
Look what happened to my little girl!