At the tail end of 2020—and into the New Year—I visited the small town of Lucedale, Mississippi, to meet my girlfriend’s family. I flew in last Wednesday and we drove back Saturday.
I’ve driven through Mississippi before, and was in Jackson a couple of years ago for a friend’s wedding. This time I was much further south, as Lucedale—located in George County—is very close to the Gulf Coast, and about fifty minutes from Mobile, Alabama. It reminded me a great deal of my dear South Carolina—pine trees and deciduous forests; ample farmland; small, rural communities flung across open land between larger municipalities. In many ways, it felt like my home, just with small regional variations.
For example, my girlfriend’s family eats black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day, like any good Southerner does (for them, the black-eyed peas represent good luck; for us, they represent pennies and wealth), but instead of collard greens (also for wealth—they’re the dollars), they ate coleslaw. I suspect that’s because none of her family liked collard greens, but the difference goes further: my girlfriend’s father had never heard of Hoppin’ John. For my Yankee readers, Hoppin’ John is a mixture usually consisting of black-eyed peas, tomatoes, and okra, and served over white rice. It’s good.
Other than a world without Hoppin’ John, Mississippi also had some local chains I’d never heard of before. My girlfriend’s mother kept raving about Dirt Cheap, which I think is like a Lowe’s-meets-Ollie’s that sells mostly “dirt cheap” home improvement supplies. There’s also a regional chain called Foosackly’s, which is essentially a smaller-scale Zaxby’s with clever advertising and a hilariously bizarre name. My girlfriend quickly became annoyed with my fascination with this obscure chicken joint.
One highlight of the trip was building a fire with my girlfriend’s dad. He is a man of few words, clad in suspenders, and incredibly resourceful—he maintains much of their land himself, and has built several sheds and garages. He also has added to their home, which has been in the family at least two generations, and will stay there (his mantra: “never sell land”).