Members of the club
It has come to be my humble opinion that river voyages are not made for tuxedo wearers, mountain climbers, or big game hunters; they are for people who want to visit different cultures and experience other worlds with like-minded adults. I must say this though, it does seem like other people don’t always cotton to us Mississippi folk right off the bat. When that happens, I find myself defensively thinking, “I don’t care two hoots and a holler what they think.”
But, on the other hand, there can be good reasons we seem to be sometimes ‘beyond the pale’ and for the most part I tend to agree with something Willie Morris said, “Mississippi is not a state. It’s a club.”
But that’s not always the way it is.
Cruise mate Edrie Royals and I were happily bonded to our Jackson friends, Margaret Vise, Carol Kirkland, and Ann Barksdale on a Danube River cruise but they were late for dinner our first night aboard the Viking Jarl. Unfamiliar with the seating arrangement, when two other couples waved us over to their table, Edrie and I joined them. Right off the bat we hit it off. She and I had fun with and were comfortable around four people from Ohio, John and Diana, Jim and Deb.
I don’t know whether it was luck or providence that they invited us to sit at their table but that was the beginning of an ongoing friendship.
“Where are you from?” John asked when we joined them.
“Mississippi,” Edrie answered.
“I’ve been there,” John said. “More than once.” A look of nostalgia crossed his face.”I came with a church group after Katrina.”
“He signed on for some of the heavy cleanup that needed to be done,” Diana said.
The two of them looked at each other, then John tilted his chin as if giving his wife permission to continue.
“John was a building contractor, he and several other people loaded into a truck and headed south.”
“I made three trips to Mississippi. I came with the United Methodist Committee on Relief, Umcore. When a call was put out to our congregation, a short time later 10 to 12 people from our church loaded into a truck.” John pushed back in his chair, his eyes and thoughts in another time and place. “We headed south.
That was the first of three trips.
“Our first time I worked with a man named Bobby. Umcore set up a trailer for us. Because the snoring was so loud that whole rig shook like it was going to roll on down the road.” The corners of his mouth tipping upward John laughed. “Needless to say, I slept outside.
“My next journey was some months later.”
“My husband left home and family back in Ohio in heavy snow.” Diana took a steadying breath. “Things weren’t going so well for us at that time, his own family was struggling. But we both felt the need and the call.”
“ I stayed at a bed and breakfast in Ocean Springs. And oh, I do remember—-Shedd’s Barbecue and Blues Joint’.” Unconsciously he licked his lips.” The best barbecue I’ve ever had.”
He lifted a palm and pressed it against his forehead. “The third time down we worked to rebuild a demolished church that had been across the railroad tracks in D’Iberville. They had a woman pastor. Our church back home later donated a piano to them.”
A change crossed John’s face. He folded his hands on the table as if he were going to lead a prayer. “Everyone was very appreciative we had come.”
“You and your group blessed so many, in so many ways,” Edrie said.
“We were thankful to be there. It probably did more for me than for you. I found Mississippians to be a very kind, very grateful people.”
Edrie and I are writers and we found out that Jim, a very noted anthropologist had written a book on humanity and cultural anthropology, now in its 11th publication. (to us fellow authors this was very impressive)
When I mentioned to Edrie that I had checked on June Cleaver, my little old lady dog who was sick when we left home and was now doing mostly okay, Diana spoke up.
“I have a dog,” she said. “Our Willie. She’s a sweet, 11-year-old lab mix and she walks with me every morning. Willie’s petrified of thunder and the vacuum cleaner.” She leaned forward. “She barks at anyone who comes to the door, even John and me. She is very tolerant of children - most of the time.” A dreamy look came over Diana’s face, “But, Willie,” she spoke in a husky voice, “she keeps me in line.”
A quiet fell over the table. I heard the sounds of water as waves gently nibbled the boat.
Like a ship under sail, over after-dinner drinks our journey had moved forward as my cruise mate and I discovered we connected with these Ohio folks in many ways.
Shall we gather at the river.
Once again I thought of what Willie Morris had said about Mississippi.
“Welcome to our club, Diana and John, Deb and Jim,” I whispered.