For my last morning in the Magnolia State, I started by trying to go to the Faulkner home at Rowan Oak, but it was closed for a private event. Most likely, something to do with football. Planning on leaving Oxford, I had done about all I needed to do, except to meet with the Director of Graduate Studies. As written before (but bitterness desires repetition) four days prior, he had my schedule. One day prior, he had my confirmation of arrival. Yesterday I had stopped by the department twice, his office, and still no response. This morning I gave up, and went to a bookstore to pick up a pin.
There was nothing going on there, and the people inside were pretty friendly, probably because it was so slow. I asked about local beers, which I always bring back, and one of them recommended a store, where I meant to go anyway. In 2012, back in the days when Cody Conner was still alive, a man came through Dempsey’s in Fargo one Thursday. He was from Mississippi, and showed me all sorts of pictures of Oxford and the football team and the like. He wife was from Fargo, so he was up visiting, but he gave me his number and told me to look him up if I was ever in town.
Six years later I did, and he seemed pretty unsurprised, which was fine with me. I went there and got some supplies, mainly some beers and a few local things, like some jellies made with fruits with strange names, like “Mayhaw”, that I hadn’t heard of before. I didn’t get the pickled pig’s feet though. I figured I’d just eat a hot dog if I wanted some and spare myself the hooves.
I found the owner near the coolers, and we chatted for awhile. He was real nice, and pretty friendly, like I remembered. We took a picture for his wife. He asked if he could put it on Facebook, but I was still pretty camera shy. Probably shouldn’t be though. He told me to let him know how the application goes, and we shook hands and I bought my stuff and left. Later I ran back and left a business card. It seemed like a good time to do it. Mississippi was somewhat redeemed for me.
The last place I stopped was a liquor store I happened to see on my way out. My brother, who once he decided to occasionally drink, only would drink scotch and other expensive drinks. Since his birthday was coming up, I managed to find some high end bourbon-whiskey brewed locally, and got a bottle for him. I can be stingy, but not of gifts. I like to think that it makes up for other flaws.
I left Mississippi as the traffic began to reach a level that is usually seen in big cities at rush hour. I had driven around Oxford, which did look like a beautiful small town, the university excluded, bought some beer, tracked down some local whiskey for my brother’s upcoming birthday (he started drinking later than most, and decided to drink only high end booze) and left. I wanted to reach Fayetteville by nightfall, and Fargo within a day. Partially this was the fact that I had somewhere to go. My oldest professor, who started me on the path of folklore way back when, was popping out of retirement for a new book and I didn’t want to miss it. Partially this was because I was cheap and didn’t want to stay any longer than I had to.
I checked my email around twelve-thirty. Still no e-mail from the English professor I had written. I put the phone down, turned on music, and left. Hotel rates would be a killer anyway. Sometime around four-thirty, in a gas station outside of Little Rock, I would find an e-mail from the secretary in the English department saying that he was busy, but I could meet with a PhD candidate. Not that I wouldn’t have if I was there, but I had no illusion about what happened or any regret about my decision: I was snubbed, plain and simple. That was when I said my final goodbye to that program.
I passed cotton fields as I headed on rural roads going west. Later I was told that they marked what was left at the end of the year, and were probably just the leftovers from the main crop. Even the most run-down houses had columns in front of them, and small towns with a stoplight or two and a railroad track made up the rest. I sort of wished I had time to stop into one, but did not. I crossed the Mississippi again, a narrow, two lane bridge that seemed like it stretched a mile above the river. Once again, I thought of the little trickle near Itasca and the slow moving swamps of Minnesota. That was still my river, I suppose, although it had the feeling of someone you knew and hadn’t seen since in preschool who grew up. And subsequently became a Navy SEAL.
Arkansas didn’t differ much from Mississippi at first, except that there were less towns. I went down a truly bizarre two lane-road, where it seemed the bumps, instead of being evened out, were just paved over, making a smooth but uneven drive. The sunniness of Mississippi disappeared, and it went from overcast to dark. Somewhere around Little Rock it started downpouring, and never really cleared up until Fayetteville. I mostly listened to “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?” on repeat and thought about what I was doing out here anyway.
The lowlands made way to the hills, and soon I was in the familiar Ozarks. The rain lessened enough that puffs of clouds rose throughout the forest, making it look like something out of a folktale. Massive bridges dramatically plunged across the trees and mountains, and I went through tunnels and by overlooks. Finally, in sights of my destination, the end of the front appeared, and an orange glow marked the sunset.