The campus looked much leafier and green. New buildings had sprung up among the old red brick ones I rememered. This was the place I was happiest as a young married, the place my ex-mother-in-law said I went, got over-educated and went crazy.
I reconnected with the wonderful man who taught me religion, and taught it as history, which made all the difference (Millsaps is a Methodist college and every student is required to take one semester of Old Testament and one of the New).
After the reading, another professor told me a story. In 1970, his father was a county commissioner in North Carolina. When he voted to give black schools the same money as the white ones, they burned down his store.
What can I say about the food in my home state? I never had to add salt.
Les and I drove south to New Orleans and spent a night with my friend Winifred, who knows every joint with good food and music in that town. We drove through the lower 9th Ward, and looked at the fifty houses Brad Pitt’s group has built–amazing, imaginatively-designed houses, high off the ground in case of another break in the levee.
We had dinner in a place called Feelings, in one of the oldest buildings in the city. I recommend the fish with pecan sauce. The next day, we had one last bowl of gumbo and half an oyster Poor Boy, and flew away.
What struck me during those readings in Mississippi was the kindness and enthusiasm of my audiences, and how everyone wanted to rewrite the story.There were always good people working for change; I just didn’t know them. My father was more charming and lovable than I painted him; my cousin Doug was a sweetheart and certainly no bully. They never drank as much as I said, and they may have paid the maids poorly, but they never treated them bad like that woman wrote in The Help.