The essence of Mississippi: its people


A few months ago, my friend, a talented writer and Mississippi expat living in New York, announced his plans for a return trip home. He asked his readers and FB buddies for suggestions as to where he should go and what he should see. “What represents the essence of Mississippi?” he asked. I thought about it for a while and finally put in my two cents. Here’s my answer:

 I’ve just finished reading your column about the essence of Mississippi and your celebratory road trip. My guess – you’ve already received more suggestions than you can handle. So, a few more won’t do damage, even if you can’t drive to any of them.

The essence of Mississippi is buying a ripe watermelon, plump yellow peaches, or a mess of greens from the bed of a rattletrap pickup parked on Highway 49 below Hattiesburg. Boiled peanuts too.

Sipping Jack Daniels on the front porch of somebody’s cabin at the Neshoba County Fair.

Picking fruit from Aunt Allie’s beloved fig trees on her farm out from Tylertown.

Driving across the broad fields of the delta as the sun rises and the cotton is starting to come up.


Stopping when a funeral procession passes, doesn’t matter who, what religion or race. As well as knowing there’s nothing shameful about a cemetery in the middle of a cow pasture.

Standing on a cliff in Vicksburg to see mud brown water churn in an enormous river, our river.

Making a bend-over-the-sink sandwich from white bread, a thick layer of mayonnaise, and backyard tomatoes.

Showing your kids where the bootlegger’s shack used to be.

Knowing the difference between field peas, lady peas, and crowder peas as well as green and speckled butter beans. (English peas? Never heard of ‘em)

Seeing electric pink azaleas bloom in the spring.

Driving the last five miles before you reach Gulfport and the salty aroma of the Gulf drifts into the car.

Without a doubt, our state has wonderful things to see and do; but for me, the essence of Mississippi is its people. It is experience, memories, childhood friends, kindness and generosity of heart, acknowledging the dark side of our past, burying it, and moving ahead. Remembering the bright side of our past and keeping it in our hearts.

Averyell A. Kessler is a native Jacksonian living in Fondren.


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