j u l y CONTENTS 2017 • VOLUME 14 • NO. 7
features 46 Mississippi Celebrates 200 Bicentennial events underway
60 Boutique Bound Rest your weary head
52 Red, White, and Blues Blue Angels continue July 4th tradition
departments 14 Living Well Picnics are Forever
42 On the Road Again Natchez, Mississippi
18 Notables Senator Chris McDaniel
44 Greater Goods 66 Homegrown Cool Off with Artisan Pops
22 Exploring Art Muppet Mania
70 Southern Gentleman A Fly-Fishing Necessity
26 Exploring Books 100 Things to Do in Memphis
74 Southern Harmony Rock-on “Rocky Top”
30 Into the Wild Walk Across the River
76 In Good Spirits A Ducky Tradition at the Peabody
34 Table Talk Fisher’s in Orange Beach
78 Exploring Events
38 Exploring Destinations Sweet Watermelon Festivals
80 Reflections Going Home
editor’s note } july Shifting Gears
Over the years, I have shared my thoughts dozens of times on this page. And it’s been a privilege. This month, I share with you exciting news— and a change. Like other times in my life, I’ve always known when it’s time to shift gears, and after this memorable, gifted time as editor…it’s time. It’s with great excitement that I introduce Mary Ann DeSantis, a highly-accomplished writer who will take over the editorial reins. Her talents and portfolio are far too vast for me to divulge here, but you can get to know her at maryanndesantis.com. Originally from Laurel and with deep Mississippi ties, Mary Ann has both traveled with us and contributed to DeSoto Magazine for many years. She understands us perhaps better than we know ourselves around here. I hope you’ll welcome her as warmly as you have me. But, Karen, where are you going? Well, not far. Writers know when a writing project pulls or it’s time to return to the desk. So, while I may not be leading the team, you’ll still see me poking around occasionally on these pages which I so love. Next year, this magazine will celebrate 15 years! Perhaps the only thing better at 15 years is getting a driver’s permit. Since day one when I wrote the first feature, it’s hard to believe that much time has passed until I notice all my gray hair! Moving ahead, I know Mary Ann, Andrea and the Mitchells will keep
the DeSoto tradition alive and well— and growing. This month’s issue seems apropos as it’s all about celebrating: celebrating July 4th, celebrating new places and Mississippi’s 200th anniversary. What are you celebrating? Maybe a long-needed vacation, the kindling of an old friendship or just a quiet afternoon in your favorite place. With a grateful heart, I’ll end simply by saying thanks. Thanks for every kind compliment spoken, every page turned…and your enduring loyalty to DeSoto. Without all of us, we couldn’t produce the magazine each month. Without you, we wouldn’t be here. Until we meet again…
Karen with Marry Ann DeSantis
JULY 2017 • Vol. 14 No.7
PUBLISHER & CREATIVE DIRECTOR Adam Mitchell PUBLISHER & ADVERTISING DIRECTOR Paula Mitchell EDITOR-AT-LARGE Mary Ann DeSantis ASSISTANT EDITOR Andrea Brown Ross CONTRIBUTORS Robin Gallaher Branch Cassidy Broadaway Chére Coen Mary Ann DeSantis J. Eric Eckard Verna Gates Alex Jacks Charlene Oldham Karen Ott Mayer Mark Parsell James Richardson Andrea Brown Ross PUBLISHED BY DeSoto Media 2375 Memphis St. Ste 205 Hernando, MS 38632 662.429.4617 Fax 662.449.5813 ADVERTISING INFO: Paula Mitchell 901-262-9887 Paula@DeSotoMag.com DeSotoMagazine.com Get social with us!
on the cover It’s watermelon season! Watermelon festivals seem to have the answer to summer, family fun. It’s also a cool and refreshing treat to beat the heat. Read more on page 38.
©2017 DeSoto Media Co. DeSoto Magazine must give permission for any material contained herein to be reproduced in any manner. Any advertisements published in DeSoto Magazine do not constitute an endorsement of the advertiser’s services or products. DeSoto Magazine is published monthly by DeSoto Media Co. Parties i n t e re s t e d i n a d v e r t i s i n g s h o u l d email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 901-262-9887. Visit us online at desotomagazine.com.
living well }
Picnics are Forever By Robin Gallaher Branch. Photography courtesy of thespruce.com and fitgirlcode.com
Mary Wheeless, 100, a resident of a retirement center in Lakeland, Florida, remembers one picnic in particular that happened decades ago. She and her husband and their toddler daughter were picnicking at Rock Creek Park in Washington, D.C. The family spread a blanket and food under a tree near other picnickers. Suddenly the toddler started screaming. A bee had stung her on her nose! “Luckily, someone on another blanket knew what to do. He put chewing tobacco on it, and it took the sting away. She stopped crying,” Wheeless said. Her memory highlights several things about a picnic. It takes place outside. Usually an adventure happens. Family, fellowship, and packing a basket with favorites combine to create memories. Listen as others share their special outings and meals from romantic picnics to millennial “get togethers,” to intergenerational gatherings, to elegant dinners on a deck under the stars and hugged by a canopy of towering oaks.
Elegance Let’s start with that last one. Nancy Cook, 72, is famous among her friends in Alexandria, Virginia, for her elegant, fun, and delicious dinner parties. She’s the kind of hostess who makes everything look easy. Nancy and her husband, Chuck, are both retired -- he from real estate in northern Virginia and she from a counseling position. They serve as lay leaders of a healing prayer ministry at the Falls Church Anglican in Falls Church, Virginia. When asked about a picnic, she replied, “We have a deck.” DeSoto 17
A good excuse for a picnic is anything to celebrate. “It’s a chance to get people together for conversation and encouragement,” Nancy said. She mixes singles and marrieds with young people, middle agers, and baby boomers. Wine and candlelight soften everything and everybody. “I always have fresh flowers,” she added. Her menu often includes a big tossed salad, wine, lemon chicken that Chuck grills, and her delicious chess pie. She serves buffet-style from the kitchen island. Guests go to the deck to a round table or cushioned benches along the railing. She easily handles 15-to-17 friends. Nancy appreciates the difference between her dining room and deck. “Outside, you’re listening to the birds and watching the sun go down. These things are healing to the spirit. A gift is when a breeze comes. It’s sort of like being caressed by the creator God,” she said. Millennials Emilie Ball, 32, laughed when asked to represent millennials. She’s a nurse practitioner with a list of friends to text on her phone. Free concerts at the Levitt Shell in Memphis are sure gatherings. Picnics happen, millennial style, on the spur of the moment. “It’s mix and match. We bring a bunch of different things like a lot of snack foods, cheese, apples, and crackers,” she said. Invariably Ball contributes her famous salsa. It goes quickly. Informality sets the agenda. Usually five-to-seven show up, enough to cozily crowd a blanket. “We’ll all chat and kind of hang out,” Ball said. “We’re still young and don’t care about our backs much.” She notices other things as well. “You’ll see some 18 DeSoto
millennial girls who are very prepared. They bring bug spray. They’ll soon be mothers.” Another millennial girl may bring real napkins. That’s a sure sign. “We know she’s going to be married soon,” Ball said with a smile. Multi-Generational Libby Dickinson, 49, is a widow and the mother of two boys, ages 16 and 13, both Eagle Scouts. The Memphis family spends many holidays in Bluffton, South Carolina, on the May River. Dickinson’s extended family, including her twin, live nearby. Inevitably, there are picnics. Any excuse suffices. Decades have honed the routine. The same picnic supplies from the 1930s are loaded in a boat; hampers hold enough food for six hours. Family favorites include fried chicken, deviled eggs, and a bar cookie called Hello Dollies. Since the May flows into the Atlantic, sandbars literally appear and disappear with the tide. The boat heads toward a sandbar and drops anchor. Games begin. “We love shaving cream fights,” Dickinson said. The adults pull out plastic chairs, sit in the river and talk, keeping an eye on younger folks as they fish, play whiffle ball, swim, or make sandcastles. “We often have four generations,” Dickinson said. A day usually ends with grilled hamburgers stuffed with pimento cheese or avocado, long-time family favorites. S’mores give everybody sticky fingers. Racing the incoming tide and setting sun, the picnickers quickly pack the boat and head homeward to the dock. Hydration is a must for all ages. This wise mother of boys knows that “kids love Fanta and root beer.”
Romantic Memphians Andrew and Cara Best have been married a little over a year. The day after their wedding and on their way to the airport for their week-long honeymoon in St. Lucia, they stopped at his parents’ home. Unexpectedly, those (very wise) parents had yet another gift for the new couple: a picnic basket with service for two. The honeymoon was glorious with walks on the sand, swimming, good food, starry nights. “We came back on a Sunday and by Tuesday I was ready for a romantic outing,” Cara, 27, said. “We decided to do something different for the dinner routine. We packed our new basket and went to Overton Park.” Out came a family treasure from Cara’s side: her great aunt’s glorious patchwork quilt. “It’s been in the family for three generations,” Cara said. The menu was simple: salsa and chips. The less preparation the better, this bride believes, and the more romantic. “For a picnic, plan two things out of the ordinary,” Best suggested. “For example, choose a little nicer cheese and a nicer wine.”
notables } senator chris mcdaniel
Getting to Know Senator Chris McDaniel Robin Gallaher Branch. Photography courtesy of The Daily Beast, Newsweek and The Washington Post
Chris McDaniel of Laurel is in his third term as a Mississippi state senator. Married and with two sons, he is a partner in the Laurel law firm of Hortman Harlow Bassi Robinson & McDaniel. A man on the go, McDaniel says of his busy life, “It’s all good.” A native Mississippian, McDaniel, 45, graduated with a degree in English and social sciences from William Carey University. He received a Juris Doctor from Ole Miss in 1997 and clerked for two years for Charles Pickering, who at the time was a U.S. District Court judge. Why are you a Republican? “When I was 13, I heard President Ronald Reagan on television. I was mesmerized by his personality and the words he used. I decided to research the philosophy of being a Republican and a conservative. I read “The Conservative Mind from Burke to
Eliot” by Russell Kirk and “The Conscience of a Conservative” by Barry Goldwater. They formed my belief in the importance of the individual, of personal responsibility, and of selfgovernment. It boils down to this: We must protect liberty at all costs. What’s your favorite story about Mississippi? “We have so many. One that stands out is the University Greys; this was a unit of students and faculty from Ole Miss that fought in the Civil War. At Gettysburg, the unit suffered almost one hundred percent casualties. My Dog Skip by Willie Morris is a book that touched me; Willie was a beautiful storyteller. A Time to Kill by John DeSoto 21
Grisham is another. The state is filled with great storytellers and musicians. They’re all connected by great pain and suffering, which makes tougher, more beautiful human beings.” Why is Mississippi special? “It’s the people. Mississippians are blue collar, downto-earth, hard-working, and incredible human beings. I sometimes believe that those in government don’t listen to the people as they should. They’re too busy listening to the wealthy and the lobbyists. I keep telling the legislators, ‘We work for the people of Mississippi.’” What is something unusual about you? There are two Chris McDaniels; the one before 1999 and the other after. I lost my father on July 13, 1999. It’s unusual, the way I lost him, and it has impacted my life. He had just bought a new car. It was dark. I was driving home behind him on Highway 588. A big truck swerved out. He didn’t see it in time. It hit him. He lay there on the highway and died in my arms. I told him I loved him and kissed him on the cheek. Since the accident, I have had to rediscover my faith and my walk with the Lord. It was the most defining moment of my life and made me who I am now.” You’re a Southern Baptist. What part does your faith play in your life? “It’s behind everything I do. I am completely imperfect 22 DeSoto
and flawed beyond reason. Because of that, I have to ask for forgiveness and repent daily. I do not see myself as capable of being another person’s ruler, and another person is not capable of being my ruler. That’s why I am a conservative. My religious thought drives my conservative philosophy.” What news outlets do you read and listen to? “I read The New York Times daily and sometimes The Wall Street Journal, though it’s a little dull. I go to CNN and then I’ll go to Fox. I read things from the Cato Institute and FEE.org (Foundation for Economic Education).I listen to NPR and talk radio in the afternoon.” Please share an experience in which you learned an ethical lesson. “If people knew the extent of corruption in their government, they would be incredibly alarmed. The common man has no voice in Jackson or Washington. The lobbyist is king. There’s a sense of elitism around the state capitol. There is an atmosphere of corruption. I see money driving conversations. I see deals being cut. That’s not a system I’m proud of. I’d like to change it, but frankly, sometimes I feel alone in that.” Assess the current national political situation. “Washington needs to be completely changed. We have to find a way to limit D.C.’s involvement in our personal
lives. I don’t trust Washington. I don’t trust the individuals who inhabit it, for the most part.” How do you juggle your responsibilities and family duties? “I have no or very little personal time, but I never let life take away from my sons. They’re five and 10 years old. They’re the primary reason I fight. I want them to inherit a country better than the one I inherited. I tell them every day I love them. I hug them. I tell them I do what I do for them.” Name a challenge facing Mississippi and how to fix it. “Mississippi’s antiquated tax structure. Mississippi needs to have the personal income tax and the property tax eliminated. I think the property tax is punitive. To eliminate personal taxes would open up many new economic opportunities. If you free up private capital, entrepreneurs will use it to grow and invest in the economy, and individuals will use it to purchase and consume products in the economy.”
exploring art } jim henson
Continuing Jim Henson’s Legacy By Charlene Oldham. Photography courtesy of Atlanta’s Center for Puppetry Arts
Jim Henson may be best known as the Muppet master who created the puppets that populated Sesame Street and starred in movies and television shows. But the Mississippi-born puppeteer had an extensive body of work that included cult classic films like “The Dark Crystal” and “Labyrinth.” What’s more, Henson’s legacy continues growing well after his 1990 death as the Jim Henson Company and Foundation work to share artifacts from his productions, award grants to current puppetry projects, and create new material for modern audiences, among other initiatives. “We’re particularly pleased and excited by the number of projects happening right now that are celebrating my father’s life, legacy and the beautiful productions and collaborations he was able to do during his lifetime,” said daughter Cheryl Henson, who serves as president of the foundation. Those projects include a traveling exhibit from the Museum of the Moving Image currently on display at Seattle’s Museum of Pop Culture, a permanent exhibit at the Moving Image museum set to open this July in New York, and a Jim Henson Collection on permanent display at Atlanta’s Center for Puppetry Arts, which is also hosting a temporary exhibit,
“Jim Henson’s Labyrinth: Journey to Goblin City,” The exhibit opened last year to commemorate the film’s 30th anniversary. and closes Sept. 3. “None of these things happened quickly. In particular, the museum projects have been eight to 10 years in the works,” Henson said. “So I feel like this is a particularly rich and exciting time and sort of flowering and coming to fruition of many, many years of working and planning and really wanting to bring my father’s work to the public in a hands-on way.” Much of that planning started in the early 1990s, when Jim’s wife, Jane, an accomplished puppeteer who passed away in 2013, hired an archivist and founded The Jim Henson Legacy, an organization dedicated to preserving and perpetuating her husband’s contributions to puppetry, television, film, special effects and media technology. The Jim Henson Company is also extending that legacy through projects that include many DeSoto 25
of Henson’s original concepts and characters, such as the forthcoming “Dark Crystal” series on Netflix, as well as brandnew productions. For instance, the company currently has 10 shows airing around the world, including the PBS programs “Splash and Bubbles,” “Dinosaur Train” and “Sid the Science Kid.” Cheryl Henson said the family, which owns the company, strives to strike a balance between introducing classic characters to younger generations and creating new material that upholds her father’s ideals. “I feel like the heart of what The Jim Henson Company does is around character and that all of the projects are character driven,” she said. “Puppetry just lends itself so well to developing really specific and embraceable characters. So I think it’s a character design company, in a way.” Although the company is based in California, its seeds were planted in the Mississippi Delta, where Henson spent his early years exploring nature and his own imagination. There, a small exhibit in Leland, Miss., pays special tribute to one of his most-beloved characters, Kermit the Frog. Kermit, who began life as an abstracted character, morphed into an amphibian known for signature Southern scenes like the one that opens the original “Muppet Movie,” where he plays the banjo in his 26 DeSoto
bayou home while singing “Rainbow Connection.” “It was particularly important to my mom to have a real Kermit on exhibit [in Leland] and to have it really feel like he’s not just a puppet, but that he’s a character alive in that space and to have him displayed in a way that you really imagine him living right there at the banks of [Deer Creek].” The Worlds of Puppetry Museum at Atlanta’s Center for Puppetry Arts offers a more-comprehensive look at Henson’s life and legacy through its Jim Henson Collection and special exhibits like the one dedicated to “Labyrinth.” Among other attractions, the permanent exhibit includes a cadre of Sesame Street characters, an office area that showcases Henson’s actual desk as well as Emmys and gold records and a television studio where visitors can try their hand at puppeteering. Kelsey Fritz, exhibitions director for the center, said the Henson family thought it was important for many artifacts to go to museums and other nonprofits rather than be auctioned to private collectors. “So we received over 500 puppets, props and pieces really spanning his entire body of work,” she said. The size and scope of the collection allows the center to create special displays such as “Jim Henson’s Labyrinth: Journey to Goblin City,” which included more than 50 artifacts from
the film -- everything from goblin puppets and costumes from the ballroom scene to original sketches by conceptual designer Brian Froud. “So I think for the cult fans of ‘Labyrinth,’ it’s been really fun to see so much from the film in one spot,” Fritz said. The center also showcases a permanent global collection of puppets from around the world that occupies about half the museum’s exhibit space and complements the Henson collection. “I think something we want visitors to walk away with is that there’s so much more to puppetry than Jim Henson,” Fritz said. “But, at the same time, Jim Henson does embody a lot of the art’s creative spirit and its focus on team building. He really did everything collaboratively, and that’s something I really think is critical to puppetry overall.”
exploring books} 100 things to do in memphis before you die
Playing Tourist in Memphis By Robin Gallaher Branch. Photography courtesy of Choose901 and Downtown Memphis
Samantha Crespo and her family moved to Memphis in 2010. “We were eager to apply what we did in Florida to Memphis, playing tourist in our hometown,” she said. The result is a fun-filled, family-centered, fresh-eyed look at historic, modern, and ever-changing Memphis. Called “100 Things to Do in Memphis Before You Die” (Reedy Press 2016, $16), it’s already on its second edition. In her preface, Crespo talks about the chance “to celebrate the changes in our surging city.” Crespo, a travel writer, catches the Bluff City’s uniqueness in breezy prose. What comes across in her comealong-with-us style is this: She really does love Memphis. “It’s a great place to live and to visit,” she said. There are so many things to like about this book. Let’s start with size; it can fit in a wide pocket or purse. The 5 ½-inch x 8 ½-inch volume is a slim 146 pages. The last 11
pages include handy headings like - Suggested Itineraries - Free Activities - Activities by Season - Index Crespo thinks in terms of the reader, the one holding the book. That’s a hard switch for a writer. She thinks about how a reader reads. Her writing is kind to locals, be they businesses, people, or places. As a traveler and accomplished wordsmith, Crespo stays focused. She eats local food, buys local souvenirs, and goes to local attractions. “As a rule, I don’t go to chains,” she said. Her conversational style and friendly descriptions make you DeSoto 29
think there’s a person in the airport right beside you as you open her book and begin your visit to Memphis. Or if you’re a Memphian who just wants to go exploring, she’s like a friend at the kitchen table sharing good tips like calling in advance and the months, days, and even hours of freebies. Crespo knows what to highlight and recommend. She contributes to websites like TNVacation.com, MemphisTravel. com, TravelSouthUSA.com, and VisitTheUSA.com, the official website of Discover America. She graduated with a degree in communication and a minor in writing from the University of Tampa. Her entries are grouped by themes. She shares suggestions gleaned from her own discoveries of the everchanging Memphis scene. The first theme is History and Heritage. Regarding Beale Street she writes, “Numbered stops on a souvenir map conjure a time when orchestras filled these clubs, blues acts filled the streets, and (W.C.) Handy found inspiration inside Pee Wee’s Saloon.” During a telephone interview she mentioned a Japanese woman who had bought her book and contacted her. The two met for coffee at Muddy’s, a destination cupcake shop; 30 DeSoto
the tourist asked Crespo to take her to Elmwood Cemetery, one of the most beautiful and most historic attractions in Memphis. Crespo remembers the joy of seeing the city through the eyes of this international visitor. Crespo honors America’s major artery, the Mississippi River, by suggesting a visit to the American Queen, typically docked March through December at the Beale Street Landing. Better still, save up and book a cruise. Another theme is The Arts (and Artful Souvenirs). Go for a portrait with pals or family at Jamie Harmon’s “Amurica” photo booth (studio or trailers) Bring out your inner silliness from the choose-your-own selection of wigs, sunglasses, and masks. Spend time, a lot of it, with this Broad, Broad Avenue Arts District, Crespo advises. Art events and informal dance lessons spill into street parties silently viewed by the I Love Memphis mural painted by Michael Roy. Under Sports and Recreation, cycle around Memphis and see why it is aptly named the country’s most improved bike city. If you need a bike, Crespo has thought of that as well and includes five places for rentals. The Children’s Museum of Memphis offers play space
inside and out. Crespo writes well of this go-to destination: “The technicolor exterior, intensified by the 2013 addition of a splash pad, grabs kids’ attention like a paper wand grabs sun sugar.” Under Food and Drink, Crespo describes Alcenia’s owner B.J. Chester-Tamayo’s fried chicken as “photoshootready, its exterior nicely textured and browned. Inside, it’s savory and juicy.” Crespo loves Jerry’s Sno Cones—as does most of Memphis. “The sun can be blazing; you may be standing in a parking lot. But this is Memphis in all of its sweet, gritty glory—congratulations for seeking it out,” she writes. Crespo rounds out her themes with Music and Nightlife. Start the week at Al Green’s Full Gospel Tabernacle. Arrive when you wish on Sunday morning. “By 11:30, congregants are already taking turns at the mic and the small choir and seven-piece band are settling in. They set into motion a flow of spoken word and song that surges when Reverend Al joins. When his stream of conversation, testimony, social commentary, and prayer ripples into music, worshippers pull out tambourines and dance in the aisles,” she writes. Crespo keeps on touring and enjoying her new
hometown from her Midtown base. On a recent warm weekend, the Crespo family made excuses to go three times to nearby Overton Park. “We would get home and then go back,” Crespo recalled. That weekend the parents and their nine-yearold daughter toured Overton’s Old Forest, the Brooks Museum, and enjoyed the open spaces and breathing the fresh air. And what about the summer? “Of course we’ll be at the Levitt Shell,” Crespo said. This book truly helps with houseguests. Crespo invites feedback and updates. Share your Memphis explorations with her at samanthacrespo.com.
into the wild } big river crossing
Walking Across the Mighty Miss By Mark Parsell. Photography courtesy of Big River Crossing and Downtown Memphis Commission.
The historic Harahan Bridge rises 100 feet above the rushing waters of the fourth largest river in the world. Built in 1917 as the first span across the Mississippi River, the bridge is now the centerpiece for the pedestrian Big River Crossing boardwalk and the 10-mile, $40 million Main Street-to-Main Street Multimodal Project connecting downtown Memphis to West Memphis, Arkansas.
At one-mile long, Big River Crossing is the longest public pedestrian/bike bridge across the Mississippi River. By day, throngs of bikers, walkers, runners and strollers trek from a point on Channel 3 Drive in Memphis to the banks of the Arkansas side. By night, the Harahan Bridge that runs parallel to the pedestrian crossing is a dazzling mosaic of 100,000 highefficiency LED lights, showering the waters with a breathtaking reflection of color. The lights produce hundreds of possible configurations and light distribution patterns to create static displays or dynamic color shows. They are often programmed to commemorate special events, holidays and important civic causes. The dazzling nightly illumination adds to the safety and security, which were top concerns as the project neared completion. Security cameras, monitored 24 hours a day by the Memphis Police Department, are strategically placed along the 10-foot-wide pathway in addition to numerous emergency call boxes. Because Harahan Bridge is still an active rail line, an 11-foot-tall mesh fence was erected between the bridge and the pedestrian crossing to prevent any ill-advised trespassing onto Union Pacific Railroad-owned property. As I walked the Big River Crossing, I was struck by the mix of past and present, a solid structure built where planks had been removed in 1949 after completion of the Interstate-55 bridge. A peek through the metal mesh revealed vehicles across from me and barges below as Big Muddy makes the turn toward 34 DeSoto
New Orleans. Views of the river and skyline were breathtaking, and the consistent breezes made the adventure pleasant even in the summer heat. “We have the Great Allegheny Crossing back home so I wanted to see how the Big River Crossing compared to that,” said a visitor from Pittsburgh who was making his second trip across on the day I was there. “I’m fascinated by railroads as well so this was a must see for me. It’s amazing.” For decades, local efforts were made to turn the abandoned steel structure along the Harahan Bridge into a bike and pedestrian crossing. “The project required daunting approvals and funding,” said Paul Morris, city project director for Big River Crossing, in the Urban Waterways Forum. “Entrepreneur Charlie McVean and Congressman Steve Cohen convinced Union Pacific Railroad to cooperate with Memphis in building the crossing. Cohen then led the efforts to secure a $15 million grant to lead funding of the overall Main-To-Main project.” McVean, a Memphis-based commodities broker, philanthropist, and bicycle advocate, is largely credited with orchestrating the rails-with-trails project and helping to push it forward. Everyone connected to the project has a sense of passion about its completion. Downtown Memphis Commission Executive Director Terence Patterson said, “It’s less about connectivity than it is about giving visitors and residents a new way to experience the natural beauty of the Mississippi River and Memphis skyline.”
Patterson added that eventually pedestrians and bicyclists will be able to travel from Main Street in West Memphis to Shelby Farms via a connection to the Greenline. “It’s a regional wonder and a truly unique treasure in the country,” he said. When I visited the Big River Crossing, it was easy to conjure an image of Mark Twain who wrote in Eruption: “The Mississippi River will always have its own way; no engineering skill can persuade it to do otherwise.” The Big River Crossing engineering feat has, however, altered the way we see the river and Memphis. Like a beacon, it has attracted more than 65,000 people in just the first six weeks after opening in October 2016. Once referred to as “the bridge to nowhere,” the Harahan Bridge has proven to be anything but. Information Hours: 6 a.m.-10 p.m. Website: bigrivercrossing.com Facebook: @BigRiverCrossing Twitter: @BigRiverX Instagram: Big River Crossing DeSoto 35
table talk } fisher’s at orange beach
Dockside shrimp poboy
The Food of Love By Verna Gates. Photography courtesy of Fisher’s at Orange Beach
Sometimes everything goes wrong and works out right. Fisher’s at Orange Beach Marina barely had the stove gas turned on before seating the preeminent Emeril Lagasse at the first meal served. Just months before, in February 2013, Johnny Fisher had received a call from the marina asking if he could open a restaurant on the fast track. Johnny, who had worked as the manager of Lucy Buffett’s Lulu’s for seven years, leapt at the chance. That’s how he found himself cranking up stoves and testing menus the day before opening. Training became an onthe-job affair. But one ingredient made every effort gel into a success story: love. Johnny and Chef Bill Briand both love food. For the chef, he loves his vendors. He loves picking through a farmer’s produce to find just the right pieces. Johnny loves putting together a superb guest experience, starting with the food. “Bill treats everything with care. That is why his food is so good. He loves it and so does everyone else,” Fisher said. His beautiful plates have not escaped the eyes of the Oscars of food: the James Beard judges. Briand has been a semi-
finalist and an up-and-coming challenger for the established chefs in New Orleans and Birmingham. Simple, clean food characterizes the menu items. Johnny says the menu itself isn’t extensive, but the process is intensive. The personal touch in selecting the best ingredients creates a good balance of flavors with the right amount of acid versus sweet. For example, a vine-ripened tomato with sea salt and Spanish extra virgin olive oil transforms into the delectable memory of a summer picnic. Locally sourced produce lights up a salad, and Briand likes knowing the food was responsibly grown. It is the seafood industry that Fisher’s especially honors with business. Focusing on Gulf fish and shellfish, suppliers such as Murder Point Oysters, Johnny sees the need to support the fragile local food system so threatened by foreign imports. “We are one generation away from losing it all,” said DeSoto 37
Johnny Fisher at the bar
Fisher. Food source preservation extends to the farmers as well. Bayou Cora Farms discovered a frozen seed leftover from a grandfather. They germinated it to find an heirloom variety of corn dating back to the 1800s. When ground, the corn morphs into grits with the unique flavor of days gone by. Like all great chefs, Briand changes the menu seasonally. Seared Jumbo Scallops are the only dish enduring on the menu since day one. These dry scallops are not soaked, giving them a distinctive texture. Creativity rules the day with new dishes gracing the menu. Fisher’s prides itself in not owning a freezer, making sure everything is super fresh. In the pastry department, Johnny says they are “artists.” The mixologists focus on a beach theme – keep it refreshing. The Marina Mule combines Birmingham’s golden ginger ale, Buffalo Rock, with Mississippi’s Cathead Honeysuckle Vodka for a light summertime taste. A certified wine sommelier consults with guests in both restaurants selecting from an extensive wine list. Fisher’s is a restaurant divided by menus, not management. Upstairs resembles a fancy living room with dinner hours 5-11 p.m. seven days a week. Downstairs is Dockside, which serves a casual marina menu for people just exiting boats or coming by with the family. Fisher’s Upstairs takes reservations, and you can call ahead for Dockside. Dockside is open for lunch and until 11 p.m. on weekends. It also serves a Sunday brunch. Johnny insists on perfection in both restaurants. He works hard to smooth out the small details that can impede on a good experience. The volume of the music should be right and the temperature not too hot or too cold. Waiters are trained regarding food allergies so they don’t have to take the proverbial walk back to talk to the chef. Johnny invented Lulu’s famed allergy menu when he worked there and remains sensitive to
minimizing the doubt and inconvenience that can come with a potentially severe food reaction. “We struggle to make sure that nothing hampers the experience, from the parking lot to dessert. We try to remove all of the obstacles through preparation,” says Fisher. For catering, Fisher’s offers an Argentinian grill, cooking right in front of the salivating guests, often on the beach. Whole fish is a popular request. Johnny originally journeyed to the University of South Alabama to play baseball. After graduating, he waited tables to figure out his future. Instead of swinging at pitches, he landed on the opening team of House of Blues in New Orleans. “I fell in love with food so I made a career out of it,” said Fisher. With a successful track record, the food industry loved Johnny back. He believes his success comes from always treating people right. Then, every opportunity opens a new door and leads to something new. “Things happen after that,” he says, like a marina owner asking if he can create a new restaurant.
“I fell in love with food so I made a career out of it.” Johnny Fisher DeSoto 39
exploring destinations } watermelon festivals
Sweet, Juicy Fun! By Cassidy Broadaway. Photography courtesy of Water Valley Chamber of Commerce, Cave City Watermelon Festival Committee and watermelon.org
For many people, summertime equals relaxation, vacationing and enjoying refreshing eats and drinks. All this merriment, however, comes with the price of hotter-than-pleasant temperatures. In the South, though, we combine it all together in a way that makes it enjoyable for everyone: hence, watermelon festivals! DeSoto 41
Who knew so many towns would claim fame for the luscious red fruit? In northeastern Arkansas, Cave City boasts of having “The World’s Sweetest Watermelons.” Just east of Tupelo in Franklin County, Alabama, small-town Russellville claims to be “The Watermelon Capital of Alabama.” Water Valley also flaunts its watermelons during one of the South’s top-rated festivals. Luckily, for those who love this sweet fruit, or just love music and good times, nearby festivals are scheduled throughout summer. Here are a few of our favorites: “Searching for Lost Melons” Cave City, Arkansas Cave City Park is the destination for this year’s 38th annual Watermelon Festival from July 27-29. West of Jonesboro and approximately two-and-a-half hours from DeSoto County, the Cave City festival certainly has something for everyone. Enjoy live music, a Saturday-morning parade, a car show, the 5k Melon Dash, a kid’s fishing derby, a kid’s wet zone, watermelon games (including The Watermelon Selfie Challenge,) and, of course, endless melon and other great foods. First held in 1980, the event was comprised of a parade and a few vendor booths with the primary vision of encouraging viewers to support local merchants. The one-day festival also crowned its first “Watermelon Queen” that year. Now the ensemble starts as early as mid-July for the natives with a softball tournament, “The Lost Melon Search,” as well as “The Amazing Watermelon Race.” The celebrations conclude in late-July with a free three-day festival. For hometown folks, the event serves as a reunion and homecoming for many former residents. Don’t miss the special music on Friday evening as country favorite Backroad Anthem takes the stage at 8:30 p.m. On Saturday night, award-winning country artist Daryle Singletary will also perform on the Main Stage. For more information on the entire event, visit cavecitywatermelonfestival. com.
at the Civic Auditorium with a music festival. Arts and craft vendors will set up early Friday, and air-conditioned trolleys will run between the city park and downtown for festival goers. Water Valley is conveniently located near Oxford, Batesville and Grenada, approximately a 30-minute drive from each of these towns. For more details about the carnival, visit watervalleychamber.info/watermelon-carnival-2. “Weighing In and Spitting Seeds” Russellville, Alabama The 37th Annual Franklin County Watermelon Festival will be held Aug. 18 -19 in Russellville, in northeastern Alabama. Jam-packed with fun, the festival will offer two days of continuous music, entertainment, arts and craft vendors, a 5k run, an antique car and truck show, a tractor show, festival foods, a bike ride and endless amounts of free watermelon. Among the contests will be the Best Dressed Melon, Most Unusual Melon, Best Tasting Melon, The Largest Melon, and also a Seed Spitting contest. Previous year’s winners for the largest fruit weighed in at 193 pounds and 185 pounds, backto-back years. Originating in 1981, this free admission festival typically draws more than 20,000 people in just two days. Russellville is just over an hour’s drive east of Tupelo. So, if watermelon is your thing, what better way to say goodbye to hot summer days than a carnival filled with delicious treats, entertainment and fun music? In the South, that is what we do best.
“Boosting Morale with Watermelons” Water Valley, Mississippi The Water Valley Watermelon Carnival on Aug. 4-5 is a big one! In fact, the Southeastern Tourism Society has named this to be among the Top 20 festivals in the South. Gearing up for its 48th year, planners estimate approximately 20,000 people will attend the free event that is spread out across the city. Gaieties will include games, contests, arts and craft vendors, a street dance, a free 3K walk/run, an antique car show, festival foods, live music and even fireworks on Friday night! Local favorite Oxford All-Stars is just one of the many bands scheduled to perform. A barbecue cooking contest is scheduled on Saturday, and attendees will be able to purchase sample plates. The carnival originated during the depression when the city wanted to boost morale of its residents whose spirits were downed from the economy. First occurring in 1931, the festival continued for nine years before stopping during World War II. It was reinstated in 1980 and has thrived ever since. Today, the event serves as a mini-homecoming for its natives. This year’s carnival kicks off on Thursday evening DeSoto 43
on the road again } natchez, ms
z e h c t a N ssippi Missi
9:00 Have breakfast at Natchez Coffee Company. Conveniently located downtown, this local favorite offers breakfast and lunch. Enjoy a coffee or expresso with a fresh baked beignet, breakfast sandwich or omelet. 10:00 Head to the corner of Canal and State Streets to catch a guided tour by Southern Carriage Tours. The horse-drawn carriage will take you through the streets of historic downtown while the guide points out places of interest and tells the history of Natchez. 11:00 Shop Main Street downtown. Pick up a unique gift at Darby’s, buy local art at A Gallerie or try Natchez-made pepper sauce at D’Evereux Foods. There is something for everyone! 1:00 Cotton Alley Cafe is the perfect, charming spot to grab a bite for lunch. The menu offers an extensive list of salads, sandwiches, burgers and daily lunch specials. 2:00 A visit to Natchez would not be complete without touring some of the beautiful antebellum homes like Dunleith, Melrose, Monmouth Historic Inn or the must-see Longwood. Many of the homes are open year-round, but be sure to check the days and hours of operation before visiting. 4:00 Visit the Old South Winery for a tour and tasting. Since 1979 the Galbreath family has been making a variety of wines from Muscadine grapes, native to coastal Southeastern USA. Sample the Natchez Rouge, Southern Belle or Miss Scarlett. 6:00 Dinner at King’s Tavern. Located in the oldest building in the Mississippi Territory, circa 1789, the tavern serves hand crafted food and cocktails. Enjoy a delicious wood fired flatbread like the brisket with caramelized onions and horseradish cream or the shrimp with smoked tomatoes. Add a salad or appetizer along with a mouthwatering dessert. Open Thursday - Sunday. 44 DeSoto
To plan your visit:
visitnatchez.org cottonalleycafe.com oldsouthwinery.com kingstavernnatchez.com Make plans to attend the Natchez Food and Wine Festival, July 28 - 30. This year marks the “Sweet 16” for the festival, one of Natchez’s most popular annual events. This year is special because it’s also one of the Mississippi Bicentennial events. Indulge in the finest food, wine and craft beer from regional chefs and restaurants while experiencing great entertainment. To purchase tickets or view the schedule of events, visit natchezfoodandwinefest.com.
Here is a list of other great annual events to experience! February Natchez Literary & Cinema Celebration March and April Spring Pilgrimage March Natchez Powwow May Natchez Festival of Music Adam’s County Sheriff’s Office Annual Rodeo September and October Fall Pilgrimage Cotton Pickin’ & Ginnin’ October Great Mississippi River Balloon Race November Natchez Antiques Forum Angels on the Bluff Cemetery Tour November and December Christmas in Natchez
greater goods } picnicking
1. Tag Living Melamine Dinnerware, The Wooden Door, 6542 Goodman Rd. Olive Branch, MS 2. True North Dip Chiller, Paisley Pineapple, 6542 Goodman Rd #115, Olive Branch, MS 3. Swig Wine cups, 6542 Paisley Pineapple, Goodman Rd #115, Olive Branch, MS 4. Scout Bags, Paisley Pineapple, Goodman Rd #115, Olive Branch, MS 5. Big Tom Bloody Mary Mix, Cynthia’s Boutique, 2529 Caffey Street, Hernando, MS 6. Drink Bucket, Ultimate Gifts, 3075 Goodman Road E, Southaven, MS 7. Mississippi Cheese Straw Factory Snacks, Ultimate Gifts, 3075 Goodman Road E, Southaven, MS 8. Collegiate Serving Pieces, Mimi’s On Main, 432 W Main St, Senatobia, MS 46 DeSoto
1. Picnic Plus Carriers and Totes, Mimi’s On Main, 432 W Main Street, Senatobia, MS 2. Lampe Berger Paris citronella candle, Bon Von, 214 W Center Street, Hernando, MS 3.Travel size acoustic guitar Sweet Lorraine’s Guitar Shop, 2521 Caffey St, Hernando, MS 4. Savvy Gourmand Dip mixes, Cynthia’s Boutique, 2529 Caffey Street, Hernando, MS 5. Picnic party supplies, Merry Magnolia, 194 E Military Rd, Marion, AR 6. Fringed towel & Vera Bradley tote, The Pink Zinnia, 134 West Commerce Street, Hernando, MS 7. Gho’s Southern Trash snack mix, Commerce Street Market, 74 W Commerce St, Hernando, MS 8. Coozies for men and women, The Bunker, 2631 McIngvale Rd #106, Hernando, MS DeSoto 47
Happy th 200
Mississippi! By Alex Jacks. Photography courtesy of Alex Jacks
To celebrate Mississippiâ€™s abundant past and prosperous future, communities across the state will be honoring the stateâ€™s 200th birthday in different ways this year. Visit Mississippi, a division of the Mississippi Development Authority, partnered with the Mississippi Humanities Council to distribute grants throughout the state for local bicentennial celebrations across Mississippi. DeSoto 49
The DeSoto County Museum hopes to highlight the unique past and notable figures of the county’s communities through its traveling exhibit, “Taking Our History to the People.”
Brian Hicks, the executive director of the DeSoto County Museum, will help host events taking place locally from July to December. “We have created a traveling history exhibit that will be transported to four cities within DeSoto County,” Hicks said. “The exhibit will highlight our communities unique past and notable citizens.” The goal of the DeSoto County Museum’s traveling exhibit, “Taking our history to the people,” involves educating the public in a non-traditional setting by bringing the knowledge to them, Hicks said. The traveling exhibit will make multiple stops in four major DeSoto County cities — Southaven, Olive Branch, Hernando and Horn Lake, Hicks said. “We’re going to stay in each city for two-to-three weeks, but move it to different libraries and schools within those cities to reach more people,” he said. “We’re probably going to do a little celebration at each site.” An array of historical artifacts pertinent to DeSoto County will be featured on interchangeable panels in the exhibit. Hicks plans for the exhibit to touch on each major historical event that affected DeSoto County from its formation to the present. “We’re going to have things going back to the early days of our county — kind of the birth of our community,” he said. “We got a little bit later start than the Southern Mississippi counties, so our beginning starts approximately in the 1830s.” Early settlement documents, maps and photographs of each community will be featured in the exhibit, along with artifacts from the formation of the major cities, Hicks said. “Folks love to see what was here years before they were here,” he said. “That is why as part of our celebration of Mississippi’s bicentennial, we wanted to take the museum out to the communities.” As the archeologist of the museum, Hicks is looking forward to sharing the history of DeSoto County and Mississippi with his fellow community members. He said his favorite part of history to share involves Native American heritage and the early settlers. “This concept is to bring awareness to our own history,” he said. “That’s the biggest thing that we want to be able to showcase — what has gone on in our community over the last 175 to 200 years. DeSoto 51
We want to share how we got started, the unique story of each city, and highlight the birth of our communities.” Following the exhibit’s scheduled travels, Hicks said its panel portion would be set up in the permanent DeSoto County Museum in Hernando and used for special events throughout 2018. The permanent museum tells the history of DeSoto County from the beginning to the present, highlighting the early settlers, the county’s namesake, the Civil War, veterans, African-American history and famous DeSoto Countians, he said. Visitors will be able to view the traveling exhibit in DeSoto County or the DeSoto County Museum for free. For more information about visiting the DeSoto County Museum or its traveling exhibit, visit desotomuseum.org. Bicentennial Culminates with New Jackson Museums The climax of Mississippi’s bicentennial celebrations will be the opening of the Museum of Mississippi History and the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum in Jackson on Dec. 9th. Celebrations will include ribbon cuttings for both museums, a gala, music and programs for the public free of 52 DeSoto
charge, according to Mississippi Civil Rights Museum Director Pamela Junior. “The Mississippi Civil Rights Museum will feature eight galleries of history, starting with the years leading up to the Civil Rights Movement and then the 30 years of the movement,” she said. “The museum really shows that everybody has a light that shines differently, and that’s what makes Mississippi special.” Museum of Mississippi History Director, Rachel Meyers, said the museums will be like nothing the state has ever seen or experienced. “The Museum of Mississippi History is 20,000 square feet,” she said. “Overall, it is a huge amount of information. The size and scale is unlike anything in the state.” Meyers’ hope is that visitors will find things within the museums that are familiar, but also learn about things that are different, too. “We are excited for the day to finally come,” she said. “The point of these celebrations was to remember the past and plan for the future. By opening these museums, we are making history. This is how we will remember celebrating Mississippi’s
bicentennial — by lifting up and honoring our history.” Visit Mississippi Director Craig Ray hopes the bicentennial will provide an opportunity for everyone to learn about the state’s rich history. “In addition to being the birthplace of America’s music, we are also the hospitality state,” Ray said. “Whether you come for the live entertainment, the food or the community, we hope you will take with you a renewed interest in making Mississippi the best it can be—and probably learn something you didn’t know in the process.”
Our Angels Above By J. Eric Eckard. Photography courtesy of Navy Times and U.S. Department of Defense
Whether youâ€™re a fan watching from the ground or a pilot inside the cockpit, an air show involving the Blue Angels is powerful, dramatic, and intense. Words simply do not do justice to the event.
Crew chiefs for the Blue Angels, the Navyâ€™s flight demonstration squadron, set off to launch jets during a practice demonstration at Naval Air Facility El Centro, Calif., Feb. 27, 2016. The Blue Angels are conducting winter training before kicking off the 2016 show season. Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Daniel M. Young.
“There’s literally nothing like it,” said Robbie Schrock, director of administration for the Santa Rosa Island Authority, which sponsors the annual Pensacola Beach Air Show. “It truly is indescribable.” For Lt. Tyler Davies, a Blue Angels pilot since 2015, performing vertical rolls at 15,000 feet is beyond description. “The feeling is indescribable,” Davies said. “To be one of the select few to wear the prestigious Blue Angel flight suit carries a sense of accomplishment and service to country.” The Blue Angels are scheduled to perform again at the Pensacola Beach Air Show, slated for July 8 at Gulfside Pavilion at Casino Beach. This year’s show, which falls so closely to the July 4 holiday, is dubbed the Red, White and Blues, Schrock said. “We’re really excited,” she said. “There will be other acts, but we know that most people are here to see the Blue Angels.” Visitors don’t have to wait until the official show to catch a glimpse of the U.S. Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron, the formal name of the Blue Angels. On July 5, the six Blue Angels pilots will soar above the Gulf of Mexico, familiarizing themselves with the show area. Then on July 6-7, the Blue Angels hold rehearsals in the air before the formal show on Saturday. “New this year are the Leap Frogs, the Navy S.E.A.L. parachute team, jumping onto the beach,” Schrock said. Plus civilian performers, including Gary Ward, Julian MacQueen, Skip Stewart, Kevin Coleman, and pilots from the Redline flight team, will be on hand to show off their flying skills during the event. “We call this our favorite holiday of the year,” Schrock said. “Everybody’s spirits are high. Everything is so patriotic. It’s just amazing.” A 2012 report indicated that the Blue Angels air show generated an additional $2.1 million in spending in the Pensacola area during the four-day event. In 2016, officials estimated that more than 250,000 people visited Santa Rosa Island during the air show. Schrock said it’s hard to get an exact number because one side of the island has a toll, and the other doesn’t, so exact numbers are elusive. DeSoto 57
The Blue Angels, Marine Corps’ C-130 Hercules, affectionately known as “Fat Albert,” flies over the Silent Drill Platoon at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz. Photo by Staff Sgt. Oscar
“And we have an incredible amount of boat traffic,” she added. The Blue Angels formed in 1946, and the elite flying team has performed in front of an estimated 250 million people worldwide since then. Last season, Davies was the narrator for the shows, so he spent a lot of time interacting with the huge crowds that came to see the Blue Angels. He said it was amazing to see the reactions to the shows. “The demonstration inspires so many people in so many different cities and states, and I loved being able to talk with the crowd during the show and explain how difficult it is to fly an F-18 but make it look so effortless,” Davies said. For the Blue Angels, the Pensacola Beach Air Show marks a return home, of sorts. During the winter months, the squadron trains in California for the upcoming show season. This year, the season started March 11 at El Centro, Calif., and the Blue Angels worked their way east, performing at various sites throughout the country. In all, the schedule indicates the Blue Angels will perform at more than 30 shows for approximately 11 million people this year. By the time they reach Florida in July, they’ll be at their home base at Naval Air Station Pensacola. “During our winter training in El Centro, Calif., we train six days a week with multiple flights each day.” Davies said. “Slowly, piece by piece, we put the demonstration together.” But a Blue Angels training regimen is more than just practicing flight maneuvers. To be able to pull off many of their complicated aerial acrobatics, the pilots must fly without G-suits, which regulate blood flow in fighter pilots to keep them from losing consciousness. “We are required to work out six days a week, concentrating on the core and legs that allow us to combat the G-forces placed on our bodies during the demo,” Davies said. “It is an eye-opening experience to pull Gs without a G-suit, but working out daily allows our bodies to be conditioned for pulling Gs.” The Blue Angels fly the F/A18 Hornet, a $21 million aircraft built by McDonnell Douglas. It can reach speeds of Mach 2, twice the speed of sound. But during the show, the pilots’ top speed typically is about 700 mph, just a little less DeSoto 59
than Mach 1. Each pilot has a designated position on the flying team, including the team leader, opposing solo, lead solo and others. This season, Davies is the opposing solo on the team and will perform the highest maneuver during shows – a series of vertical rolls at 15,000 feet. But Davies said there are plenty of drills that get him excited. “There are a series of diamond and solo maneuvers, and then we finish with all six jets together in the ‘delta’ formation,” he said. “I particularly like the “Loop Break Cross” maneuver. It is where all six jets break up, fly six different directions and try to cross directly over top of each other. Very difficult, but very rewarding when flown correctly.” Davies, who joined the Navy 17 years ago, earned his wings in 2010. Two years ago, he joined the Blue Angels, the oldest U.S. flying demonstration team. “We don’t consider ourselves the best, we consider ourselves representatives of an outstanding Navy and Marine Corps,” Davies said. “Representing our U.S. Navy and Marine Corps brothers and sisters who are deployed around the world (is what makes being a Blue Angel special). “They sacrifice quite a bit, and anytime we can demonstrate the pride and professionalism of the two services through our interaction with the public and through our aerial demonstrations, it is an amazing feeling.” Schrock said the air show truly is an exhilarating experience. “It’s hard to put into words,” she said. “You really have to come out and see it.”
Meet a Blue Angel Pilot The National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola has a viewing area for visitors to watch the Blue Angels team practice on most Wednesdays. Following the practices on July 12, Aug. 9, and Sept. 6, pilots visit the museum to answer questions and sign autographs. For a complete practice and show schedule, visit blueangels.navy.mil/show.
Boutique Bound By Karen Ott Mayer. Photography courtesy of tnvacation.com, The Aluvian, moderndaytripper.com and vanillaextract.me
Often, the names resemble a Gatsby-esque type of creation or harken back to a 1950s sensibility. Nonetheless, the Southâ€™s boutique hotels may no longer be relegated to only the most wellheeled travelers despite the very nature of the word boutique. Traveling across the South in search of todayâ€™s boutique hotels can be an adventure in style, and even, affordability. From Chattanooga, Tennessee, west to Hot Springs, Arkansas, these individual operations reflect a growing trend to create overnight stays that promise to engage and satisfy the most curious traveler.
The White House Hotel- Biloxi, MS
The Dwell Hotel - Chattanooga, Tennessee
The Waters - Hot Springs, Arkansas
By definition, these hotels are either independently owned or part of small hotel groups. Certain amenities like restaurants are common. Craft beers, luxurious pools, swanky bars, and inspired owners make these hotels as much as about lodging as the experience. Located in historic buildings, the architecture and restorations of some of the South’s finest old beauties give these hotels double the appeal. With many located in large cities or concentrated in urban settings, discovering a boutique hotel near small towns or outlying areas can be an added bonus. Before packing your bag, consider a few of our Southern favorites...which soon may be yours, too. The White House Biloxi, Mississippi Nothing says the South like the Gulf Coast. And here, The White House gleams as bright as a summer sun on the white sands. Its story, moreover, is as captivating as the property itself. When young couple, Walter and Cora White, purchased the property in the late 1890s, they soon found themselves in an awkward position. While her young lawyer husband worked, Cora entertained countless friends and family at the large house. Tired of the endless cooking and cleaning, she decided to charge anyone who wanted to stay. Half of the folks never showed up again! And that was the start of what would become a 100year journey for the property. The property eventually fell into disrepair and sat vacant until James S. Love III purchased it in 1989 with a vision to restore it to grandeur. Today, the stunning property commands views of the Gulf. Guests can spend a hot afternoon in the plush Cora’s Restaurant & Bar buried in the deep red upholstery sampling from a list of 40 wines. The 76-room hotel can accommodate every bride’s dream of a wedding near the beach. Ironically, the hotel retains its name, The White House, not due to the stark white color but because Cora White built a hospitality legacy that lives on today. whitehousebiloxi.com The Dwell Hotel Chattanooga, Tennessee Here, it’s time to put on the glam and be inspired. Opened in 2016 by owner Seija Ojanpera, the Dwell Hotel embodies DeSoto 65
Epicurean Hotel - Tampa, Florida
swanky glamour with bright colorful fabrics, sleek furnishings and retro vintage re-done. Set in the heart of downtown Chattanooga, the hotel is convenient to shopping, eating and entertainment. With only 16 uniquely styled rooms, the historic property built in 1909 boasts another fascinating history. Prior to the hotel, the actual site was home to a Civil War fort. Today, this cool vintage space also includes the Terra Mae Restaurant which doubles as an event venue and the Matilda Midnight bar. Matilda Midnight is the perfect place to order a signature cocktail like the Hanged Man, made with Chattanooga Whiskey. If that sounds just a little too risky, maybe it’s an evening for The Lovers, a drink made with tequila and basil. www.thedwellhotel.com The Waters Hot Springs, Arkansas A newcomer to the crowd, The Waters is located adjacent to Hot Springs National Park. An Ascend Hotel Collection Member, The Waters offers travelers a walkable alternative to the famed Arlington. Across the street from Bathhouse Row, the hotel opened in 2017 after extensive renovation to the historic streetside Thompson building. Sleek and modern, this boutique hotel boasts 62 rooms on four floors. The Avenue restaurant led by chef Casey Copeland joins a growing list of local dining options highlighting craft beers and more sophisticated menus. thewatershs.com 66 DeSoto
The Alluvian Greenwood, Mississippi A gem of the Mississippi Delta, everyone knows the bar and lobby at The Alluvian serve as a lively heartbeat of the surrounding rural lands. Live music or a local pianist can often be heard on the weekends when the crowds swell. Partnering with the famed Viking Cooking School, the hotel offers cooking classes for couples, groups or individuals. Located across the street from the hotel, the venue for cooking classes adjoins the hotel’s full-service spa. Art adds a unique touch throughout the hotel. Black and white landscapes, photography and oils depict the life and scenes of the region. Dining is easy. Open since 1938, Giardina’s Restaurant just off the lobby reminds guests of yesteryear with vintage tiles, wood and glass. Dine in one of 14 very private booths to experience a Delta tradition at its finest. thealluvian.com Epicurean Hotel Tampa, Florida Foodies beware. Once you’ve discovered Epicurean, it’s quite possible your palate will be changed forever. As much a culinary destination as a boutique hotel, this urban sleek beauty can be found in the heart of Tampa’s historic district. With all the usual offerings for guests like events, weddings, and dining, Epicurean takes everything to a new level. How many hotels feature a real patisserie with macarons and exquisite cakes? Or an extensive wine cellar? Staying at
The Alluvian - Greenwood, Mississippi
Epicurean is pure gastronomic indulgence. epicureanhotel.com 21C - Southeast Louisville, Kentucky and Bentonville, Arkansas Along the lines of a boutique chain, 21C combines the world of museum art and lodging -- all in one. Founded originally in Louisville, Kentucky, the small chain now features seven hotels with an eighth on the way. Each property centers on curated art, exhibition and event space, and many are located in restored historic properties. In Bentonville, Arkansas, 21C was built to complement to the nearby worldclass Crystal Bridges Museum of Art. And the best part: 21C features pet-friendly rooms so even Fido can enjoy the art. 21Cmuseumhotels.com One more...Coming Soon!
Set to open next year, The Edwin Hotel will add another luxury boutique experience to the Chattanooga scene. To keep abreast of this opening, visit theedwinhotel.com DeSoto 67
homegrown } artisan popsicles
Cooling Off with Artisan Pops By Cheré Coen. Photography courtesy of Pop Brothers and PoPsy in Tupelo
It’s hot in the Deep South, but three groups of entrepreneurs have found ways to make summer a whole lot cooler. Artisan popsicles are the rage these days, frozen treats lifted to a new level of icy goodness. The fresh fruit pops and crème combinations on a stick provide the sweet, frozen relief like those of yesteryear, but in innovative, creatively delicious ways. And some don’t add substance to waistlines. Take MEMPopS in Memphis, helmed by Emily and Chris Taylor who saw a niche in the market after visiting an artisan pop maker in Birmingham. “Chris said, ‘Gosh, we can do this,’” Emily Taylor
related. “People love popsicles. There are very few people who are unhappy when they get a popsicle in their hands.” The duo started with a pushcart, selling a variety of artisan sweetness at festivals and special events. As the business took off, they expanded their popsicle fleet, then opened a brick and mortar shop on Ridgeway Road in East Memphis. Their second shop opens this month in Memphis’s Crosstown Concourse. MEMPopS rotates its flavors with the seasons, more DeSoto 69
fruit in summer, more creams in winter. Even though strawberry is the most popular pop, don’t expect a plain menu. They serve innovative flavors such as Mexican chocolate, pineapple agave ginger, blueberry maple, Arnold Palmer and Reverb coffee dulce de leche, incorporating Reverb Coffee of Memphis. Much of what goes into MEMPopS hails from surrounding areas. “We try to use as much local fruit as we can,” Taylor said. Over in Tupelo, owner Chance Beck and manager Demi Grimes also look to the farms of Mississippi and surrounding areas for their PoPsy Popsicles, combining fresh fruit with cane sugar for their fruit pops and real cream and milk from Brown Family Dairy in Oxford. “We try to stick with organic, natural ingredients,” Grimes explained. “All of our fruit-based pops are essentially fresh fruit and organic cane sugar.” PoPsy Popsicles serve up standards, but love to experiment with tastes as well. There’s the peanut butter banana for Elvis Festival in June, chocolate pops for Valentine’s Day and other seasonal flavors such as blueberry cobbler for summer, pumpkin cheesecake for fall and divinity with pecans for the holidays. 70 DeSoto
“Our flavors change pretty frequently,” Grimes said. “We’re constantly adding flavors and taking away flavors.” The duo has been selling popsicles out of pushcarts at festivals, ball games and at Fairpark, in addition to private parties. They moved into a storefront last month on Main Street in Tupelo. “It’s really expanded to the point where we need more space,” Grimes said. PoPsy popsicles can also be found in numerous cities throughout north Mississippi, such as Oxford, Baldwin and Greenwood. Shannon and Octavio Arzola spent the last decade traveling the country for their work in the restaurant business. The constant moving wasn’t bad when the children were in college but when the kids wanted to return home to Gulfport and the company announced they would be sending the couple to Nashville, Shannon put her foot down. “I said, ‘Can we please move back home?’” Shannon recalled begging her husband. “He said, ‘If we move home, what will we do?’ I said, ‘Let’s do the pop thing.’” The couple and Shannon’s brother, Chuck Kelly, had spotted an artisan popsicle maker during one of their moves. Octavio, who hails from the Canary Islands and has a culinary
background, said he could do better. “That started a fun conversation between my husband, myself and my brother who is a foodie,” Shannon said. They practically quit their jobs on the spot, bought equipment from South America since popsicle materials are hard to find in the U.S. and started experimenting in the commercial kitchen at the Lynn Meadow’s Discovery Center for Children in Gulfport. They made their first batch in April 2015, then began selling Pop Brothers popsicles around town in pushcarts. In June 2015, they opened their first store. Today, they also have a store in Ocean Springs and sell their product throughout Texas, parts of Louisiana and the Mississippi Gulf Coast, thanks to an appearance on “Billion Dollar Buyer.” The reality show introduces entrepreneurs to billionaire Tilman Fertitta, who owns Landry’s, and he decides whether to carry their products. Pop Brothers made the cut. “It was stressful but a good experience, and forced us to scale up quickly,” Arzola said. “I knew we had the right thing to make it work — price, climate. It literally has blown up.” Stores offer about 50 flavors ranging from berries and cream and Oreo cheesecake to exotic fruit flavors such as star fruit from the Philippines, Jack fruit from India and Brazil and
mamey from Cuba. There’s even “pooch pops” for dogs, which the Arzolas claim are “extremely popular.” Want to learn more and check out flavors of the day? Visit the websites: mempops.com facebook.com/Localfrozentreats popbrothers.com
southern gentleman } tying flies
The Flies Have It By James Richardson. Photography by Brian Hale, James Richardson and Orvis
Behind every big fishing tale lives a promise. In fact, that promise of a catch begins even earlier in the minds, hands and tackle boxes of every fisherman. It begins with bait. For many, tying flies nearly rivals the fishing itself, becoming both a meditation and a tradition over time. Fly-fishing flies are available commercially, of course. But a fly fisherman usually winds up tying his own flies somewhere along his career. Many take up fly tying to cut costs. Others want to increase their involvement in the sport. Regardless of the reason, tying flies is an integral part of the whole sport of fly fishing. Fly tying is the process of making an artificial lure or fly in order to catch fish. Normally, thread is used to secure different feathers, fibers, or fur onto a hook in such a way that it
imitates some form of fish prey. Learning to tie one’s own flies not only helps save money, but it is also extremely satisfying. Brian Hale of Lakeland, Tennessee, has caught various kinds of fish using a fly rod and reel. He also ties his own flies. He has caught bream, crappie, bass, catfish, and, of course, trout with his hand-tied flies. “Trout fishing is mostly done with a fly rod and reel,” Hale said. “There’s plenty ways of fishing for trout with a spinning rod or whatever, but most people fly fish.” DeSoto 73
Quite a bit of work goes into making flies, which can be a time-consuming process. It requires some basic equipment, a fly pattern to follow, and the right materials for the particular fly pattern. “They have patterns where you do eight, 10 or 12 different materials on a single fly,” he explained. “One of mine has rabbit fur, then marabou (a downy feather), rubber legs of a couple different colors. Then beads. Finally, I add flash – a material that attracts the fish’s attention – underneath and tie two hooks together.” Fly patterns are the instructions required to create a certain fly. They specify hook size and type, the materials and colors needed, as well as the sequence to be followed. Thousands of possible fly patterns are available. General pattern types include dry flies, wet flies, nymphs, and streamers. A dry fly floats on the surface of the water. A wet fly is used just below the water’s surface. The nymph is one of the stages of insects such as the mayfly. And a streamer is fished by casting the line out into the water and pulling the fly line in short jerky pulls. “There are streamers which are just longer flies. Fly fishermen will use streamers for salmon fishing up north,” Hale explained. Hale’s favorite flies are tiny ones that are representations of a sow bug – an aquatic version of a roly-poly. “It doesn’t really curl into a ball but is flat. I’ve caught fish on the ones I’ve made. I’ve fished for crappie with my flies and I’ve caught trout.” When fishing for bass, Hale uses a fly with a drop-shot rig, a line tied to a hook with a trailing leader. At the end of the leader is a weight. When fished, the weight is at the bottom, and the hook and bait are suspended above it. “In bass fishing, drop-shotting has become very popular. It’s a finesse fishing technique,” he said. “Basically, you use a small worm on a hook and then tie the hook on the line on the tag end.Then you tie a weight onto the tag end. It’s typically deep, clear water fishing.” Hale said the technique works in shallow water, also, but the idea is to suspend it right off the bottom. Typically, fishermen will watch for fish on the depth finder and where there’s a fish, they will drop it straight down and stop it right on the bottom near the fish. And if they hold it right above the fish, on the depth finder they can actually see the fish come up and get it. “You can fish for anything with flies. Saltwater fish. Freshwater fish. Bass. Bream. Catfish,” he says. “Fly-fishing is fun, but even more fun is catching fish with the flies the fisherman himself has tied.” Orvis, the store synonymous with fly fishing, gives free lessons on fly-fishing and fly tying. Nearby locations include Memphis and the Jackson area. Orvis Retail Store 1000 Highland Colony Parkway, Suite 9019 Ridgeland, MS 39157 Phone: (601) 856-5347 Orvis Retail Store Laurelwood Shopping Center 4556 Poplar Avenue Memphis, TN 38117 Phone: (901) 767-3592
southern harmony } rocky top turns 50
Tennessee Tune By Andrea Brown Ross. Photography courtesy of Jennifer Carter
Memphis may have Elvis and the blues. And Nashville claims fame to being the home of country music, but East Tennessee has bragging rights to one of the most recognizable tunes in mainstream culture. Practically a battle cry for the football fans of the University of Tennessee Vols, the popular, “Rocky Top” turns 50 in August. Perhaps surprisingly, this toe tapping “hillbilly” anthem, was written in about 15 minutes by classically trained violinist, Boudleaux Bryant, and his wife and co-writing partner, Felice Bryant. Coming off the heels of a successful decade of hits such as “Bye Bye Love,” “Wake Up Little Susie,” and “All I Have to Do is Dream” performed by the Everly Brothers, the Bryants had provided songs for artists in a variety of musical genres. While in the Smoky Mountains working on songs for the artist, Archie Campbell, Felice had a request of her husband. Gary Bailey, general manager of the Gatlinburg Inn, explained the magic that happened in their favorite room, room number 388. “Growing weary of writing such sad songs, Felice encouraged Boudleaux to write something upbeat and fun,” Bailey said. “After finishing writing ‘Rocky Top’ Boudleaux asked Felice the famous question, ’Can we get back to work now?’.” The Osborne Brothers recorded it later that same year, but the song would gain even greater popularity when recorded and released by Lynn Anderson in 1970. Within a few short years, it began being played during University of Tennessee football games. “Rocky Top” became the fifth state song in Tennessee in 1982. “While Tennessee has several state songs, ‘Rocky Top’ has been one of the most wildly popular and easily recognized songs,” said Cindy Dupree, director of public relations with the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development. The song has been performed by several artists through the decades and continues to be an audience favorite in live performances.
The Bryants would go on to receive several awards in the music industry including being inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame as well as dozens of Billboard Music Industry awards in different musical genres. They would also move to their beloved Gatlinburg in the late 1970’s. Boudleaux passed away in 1987 and Felice in 2003. And for those die hard Tennessee fans, or others who like a little history in their travels, room 388 at the Gatlinburg Inn is still available for overnight lodging. Owned by the family that built it in 1937, the popular inn has some modern updates, but guests still feel like they’ve stepped back in time. Lined in the hallway to the rooms are pictures of famous hotel guests from years past. Guests will also see memorabilia related to “Rocky Top”. Today, in an effort to continue their region’s musical tradition, Gatlinburg hosts an annual songwriting festival in August. This year’s event will take place Aug. 16 - 20. “It’s a fun festival in downtown Gatlinburg. There’s free live music in the streets, song competitions, workshops, and the like,” explained Marci Claude, public relations manager for the Gatlinburg Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It’s a great time to be in Gatlinburg!” And who knows, perhaps another songwriter or songwriting team will be inspired by the beautiful mountains and create a piece of music that will appeal to fans for decades to come.
in good spirits} jack danielâ€™s peach sour
A Ducky Tradition By Charlene Oldham. Photography courtesy of The Peabody Memphis
What began as a booze-bolstered practical joke has since been transformed into a tradition set to celebrate its 85th anniversary next year. The Peabody Hotel’s Grand Lobby fountain first hosted ducks in 1933, when the hotel’s general manager, Frank Schutt, and a friend returned from a hunting trip, enjoyed a few nips of Jack Daniel’s and set their live duck decoys -- which were legal to use at the time -- swimming. “The next morning, their practical joke had backfired,” said Anthony Petrina, manager for the Lobby Bar and Peabody Corner Bar. “The staff and guests loved the ducks swimming in the fountain and insisted that the general manager let them stay.” Ever since, the historic Memphis hotel has hosted five North American Mallards. Edward Pembroke, a former animal trainer turned bellman, inaugurated the twice-daily traditional march down the red carpet to the fountain in 1940. Pembroke went on to serve as the Peabody’s duckmaster for 50 years. In 2013, to commemorate the connection between the hotel’s ducks and the Tennessee whiskey that helped inspire their introduction 80 years earlier, The Peabody Memphis sent one set of fowl to retire where the whiskey is made. “We retire our ducks after just three months working here at the hotel,” Petrina said. “Normally, the ducks go to the local family that raised them to be released back to the wild, but this team got the unique privilege of retiring to the beautiful Jack Daniel’s Distillery in Lynchburg, Tenn.” And the connection between the distillery, which celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2016, extends from ducks to drinks, with the hotel’s bars featuring Peabody Select Single Barrel Tennessee Whiskey. “Specifically, our team makes excursions down to the distillery a few times a year to sit with the master distiller and taste the barrels they have available,” Petrina said. “From those, we choose the best barrel that will mix into our signature cocktails and the best barrel to be sipped on its own.”
The Peabody’s two top Jack Daniel’s cocktails are the Peabody Old Fashioned, made from the hotel’s selected sipping barrel, and the Jack Daniel’s Peach Sour, made with the mixing barrel, which is generally crisper and cleaner than the whiskey picked to be sipped solo or in a simple, classic Old Fashioned. Here, Petrina shares the hotel’s Peach Sour recipe: The Peabody Signature Jack Daniel’s Peach Sour 1 ounce Jack Daniel’s “Peabody Select” (or your own selection, of course) 3/4ounce Peach Schnapps 3/4 ounce White Peach Puree 1 ounce Fresh Lemon Juice 1 ounce Simple Syrup “Build everything into your shaker, add the ice, flash blend with two or three slow shakes, and pour into a large rocks glass. Garnish with amarena cherries and a peach slice if you have any left. We’ve moved to using some great peach slice jelly candies in recent months and our guests have been loving it.”
exploring events } july Independence Day Celebrations: July 1 Columbus, MS - Fireworks on the Water July 2 Cedar Hill Farm Hernando, MS - Fireworks on the Farm July 3 Horn Lake, MS - Fireworks display & Festival July 4 Southaven, MS - Fireworks at BankPlus Amphitheater Olive Branch, MS - “Celebrate Your Independence” Fireworks & Festival Hernando, MS - Fourth of July Celebration & Fireworks Memphis, TN - Fireworks Spectacular at Mud Island River Park Jackson, MS - Mississippi Family Fest & Fireworks Natchez, MS - Fireworks over the Mississippi River Oxford, MS - Celebration & Fireworks at The Grove Tupelo, MS - All-American City Picnic & Fourth of July Celebration
professors and students from Mississippi State University and the University of Southern Mississippi brings to life paintings at the Lauren Rogers Museum. Students researched and then recreated garments, which are displayed next to the paintings that inspired them. For information call 601-649-6374 or visit www.LRMA.org. Art Across Mississippi Through May 2018 Mississippi Museum of Art Jackson, MS Twelve Exhibitions, Twelve Communities. The Museum shares art from its collection with venues across the state. For information call 601-960-1515 or visit www.msmuseumart.org. In The Park After Dark July 1 - Captain America Civil War July 15 - Jungle Book Latimer Lake Park Horn Lake, MS Join Horn Lake Parks & Recreation Saturday night, after dark, this summer for free outdoor movie night “under the stars.” Bring your lawn chair, blankets and picnic baskets. Alcohol not permitted. Concessions will be available. For more information, call 662-342-3468 or visit www.hornlakeparks.com.
Vicksburg, MS - 4th of July on the River Tishomingo, MS - July 4th Street Dance Downtown Belmont, MS - Fireworks & Movie in CC Shook Park
The Taylor Swift Experience Through August 13 The GRAMMY Museum Cleveland, MS The Taylor Swift Experience gives visitors and fans an in-depth look at the 10-time GRAMMY®-winning artist as a singer, songwriter, musician and producer through personal photographs and home videos, interactive experiences, handwritten lyrics of Taylor’s top-charting hits, and iconic performance outfits. For more information, call 662-441-0100 or visit www.grammymuseumms.org. “Who, What, Wear?” Through October 22 Lauren Rogers Museum of Art Laurel, MS A collaboration with fashion and theater design 80 DeSoto
Live at the Garden Summer Concert Series: Boston July 1 Memphis Botanic Garden Memphis, TN Order tickets online or at the box office at 901-5764107. Gates open at 6:30 p.m. Come early and get your picnic spread on the lawn or purchase your food from vendors offering tempting Garden treats. Call ahead and pre-order food from one of the caterers. Upgrade your lawn ticket for reserved seating at the box office the day of the show. Sorry, no pets or recording devices. Visit www.liveatthegarden.com for more information. Journey July 5 BankPlus Amphitheater at Snowden Grove Southaven, MS JOURNEY will be performing all their classic hits like “Don’t Stop Believin’,” “Any Way You Want It,” “Faithfully,” “Wheel In The Sky,” “Separate Ways” and more. As part of the C SPIRE CONCERT SERIES at BankPlus Amphitheater, Journey will be joined
by special guest, ASIA. Tickets can be purchased at BankPlus Amphitheater box office 662-892-2660, www.ticketmaster.com or call Ticketmaster at 1-800-745-3000. For additional information, visit www.bankplusamphitheater.com. Down on Main Summer Concert Series July 13 - Heath Green & The Makeshifters/Papa Mali Fairpark Amphitheater Tupelo, MS 6:30pm For more information visit tupelodownonmain.com.
Book Signing with Darden North - “The Five Manners of Death” June 27 TurnRow Book Company Greenwood, MS 5:00PM After a construction worker unearths a human skull on the campus of the University of Mississippi dating to the 1960s, an older woman’s desperate attempt to erase history counts down the five ways to die in Darden North’s new thriller. For more information and to reserve a signed copy, visit www.turnrowbooks.com or call 662-453-5595.
30th Annual Slugburger Festival July 13 - 15 Historic Downtown Corinth, MS Slug Voice, Miss Slugburger Pageant, World Slugburger Eating Contest, Live Music and More! For more information call 662-287-1550. DeSoto Family Theater Presents “The Music Man” July 21 - 30 Landers Center Theatre Southaven, MS The Music Man follows fast-talking traveling salesman Harold Hill as he cons the people of River City, Iowa into buying instruments and uniforms for a boys’ band he vows to organize - this despite the fact he doesn’t know a trombone from a treble clef. His plans to skip town with the cash are foiled when he falls for Marian the librarian, who transforms him into a respectable citizen by curtain’s fall. Tickets are $15-$30. Purchase tickets at LANDERS Center box office 662-470-2131 or www.ticketmaster. com. Natchez Food & Wine Festival July 28 - 29 Natchez, MS Experience one magnificent event after another with culinary enthusiasts from all over the region. You will find yourself constantly surrounded with some of the region’s most prominent chefs and restaurants, and indulged in the finest of food, wine, and entertainment. Make reservations right away to attend this unforgettable three-day event. For more information visit natchezfoodandwinefest.com or call 601-660-7300.
reflections} going home again
Going Home Again Story and photography by Mary Ann DeSantis
In 1948, a young Pennsylvania woman stepped off the train in downtown Laurel to visit her roommate’s family. She didn’t suspect she would soon meet her future husband at an old-fashioned July 4th picnic. Almost 70 years later, that woman – my mother – told me she knew Laurel was a special place the moment she arrived. In fact, she was incredulous that I even questioned why this small southeastern Mississippi town was getting so much recent attention. When I graduated from Laurel High School, I was anxious to see the world. In those days, it never occurred to me that eventually my heart would ache to return to my hometown. The trips became less frequent after my Laurel-native father died and my mother moved to Florida in 2001 to be near my sister and me. Spurred on by the recent “HGTV Home Town” series set in Laurel, I was anxious to learn if “the City Beautiful” had really changed. I wanted to see Laurel through the eyes of a tourist, and not so much as a returning native. After all, novelist Thomas Wolfe had already figured out that “attempting to relive youthful memories is doomed to failure,” in his classic book “You Can’t Go Home Again.” Founded in 1882 by Midwestern lumber barons, Laurel has always been known for its magnificent turn-ofthe-century mansions along wide boulevards emanating from the city’s center. The larger historic homes, for the most part, weathered Laurel’s lean years better than the historic downtown district and certain outlying sections. “Urban renewal in the 1970s almost killed us,” Judi Holifield, executive director of Laurel Main Street, said during my recent visit. “No one could park downtown because they tried to make the streets into covered pedestrian walkways.” 82 DeSoto
Indeed, I recalled the large metal roofs that hung over Central Avenue like chicken sheds. My grandfather groaned about them and eventually stopped driving downtown as did many other Laurelites. Stores closed and buildings fell into disrepair. When I visited Laurel 20 or so years ago, there weren’t many reasons to go downtown. Today’s downtown Laurel is much different. The metal roofs are gone, and the brick-paved streets are filled with motorists once again. Replacing empty storefronts are designer facades touting a new bakery, a butcher shop, restaurants, boutiques, and home décor stores. A new brewery has opened in the former radio station. A downtown park and boulevard honor native daughter and opera singer Leontyne [ EDITOR’S NOTE: Leontyne is spelled correctly] Price. Even more surprising are the high-end loft apartments above those onceboarded up stores with waiting lists to rent one. I walked throughout Laurel exploring everything the revitalized city had to offer. At the end of the day, though, I returned to one of my high school favorites: Phillips DriveIn. Despite Wolfe’s warning, I wanted to find some nostalgia. Called PDI by locals, the eatery is known for its soft-serve ice cream and possibly the best burgers in Mississippi. Founded in 1948 – the same year that Pennsylvania girl came South – PDI looks like it always has with a walk-up window and metal outdoor tables. As I devoured my feast, I couldn’t escape the revved-up engines noisily circling through the parking lot trying to get my attention. Some things, of course, never change. Laurel native Mary Ann DeSantis is the new editor-at-large for DeSoto Magazine.
A cool issue dedicated to hot entertainment and a celebration of Summer.