Savoring the Differences, North and South Poles
- by Rheta Grimsley Johnson
The full moon rose over the movie screen deep in the pines at Mississippi’s last operating drive-in theater. The movie was forgettable, the night was not. It was almost chilly, and I thought about the many virtues of Iuka, my home for the half of the year I’m not in Pass Christian.
My two homes in two places are as far apart geographically as you can be and remain in Mississippi. Draw a diagonal line from the extreme Southwest of the state to the tiptop Northeast and you’ve roughly traced the seven-hour route we drive to get from pole to pole.
The towns also are as far apart culturally as you can find and remain inside Mississippi. Hill Country people are reticent, suspicious of newcomers. There is an enchanting if insular innocence.
Across the Bridge
In the hills we wear our tee-totaling on our sleeves and hide our bottles in the car trunk. On the coast we mix a Bloody Mary at the drop of an olive.
I miss the Pass when I’m in Iuka, and Iuka when I’m in the Pass. It’s a nice problem to have. If I had to choose between them I’d be miserable either way.
On the coast you have art galleries and constant festivals and fresh shrimp off the boats. You have the Mardi Gras. Up here you get bona fide bluegrass and river cat and no traffic or mosquitoes. There’s only one traffic light in the entire county of Tishomingo.
Proximity to New Orleans on one end, comfortable distance from any interstate on the other. The ocean, the Tennessee River. Salty, fresh—contrast.
I haven’t had the air-conditioning on in the three weeks we’ve been back in the hollow, a definite plus. On the other hand, my coast friends gathered to watch the full moon rise over the Sound last week and I wasn’t there.
Reminds me a little of those old Batman serials from the 1940s. In a blink and a Batmobile, Bruce Wayne changes from his playboy clothes to his baggy superhero tights. I’m the same way. I can go from “coast casual,” whatever that is, to my lawn-mowing, brush-burning jeans in an instant. I also can handle pretty well the mental adjustment that goes with it.
Nobody’s the wiser on either end.
Because of slightly cooler temperatures and lower humidity and acres of grass to cut, we spend our summers in Iuka. Because of slightly warmer temperatures and fresh citrus and a good spot for the Christmas tree, we plan our winters in the Pass.
The only problems are minor and mostly to do with poor memory. “Didn’t we have an extra bottle of Steen’s syrup?” one of us will ask. “No, that was on the coast.”
“Did you bring the birthday present for Richard?” “Nope, I thought you packed it.”
Things you want are always at the other Pole. It’s fortunate there’s a Wal-Mart at either end.
I spent the day with young charges at Tishomingo State Park last week. We hiked through the rock out-croppings and walked across the old swinging bridge. Cabins made by the Works Progress Administration still sheltered campers. The hardwoods held a hint of the fall that will color our world here soon. When those leaves drop, it will be time to head south to the evergreen world of live oaks and palmettos.
I swore to myself on that day I’ll be content wherever I am, North or South, savoring the differences and enjoying what’s at hand. For what you’ve always heard is unfortunately but probably true: you can’t be two places at once.
She writes original monthly essays for The Cleaver from her home across the bridge in Pass Christian where she spends roughly half of each year. The rest of the time she lives in Iuka, Miss., in an old farmhouse in a cold, dark hollow. Rheta's books are available at Pass Books and Bay Books, as well as through national booksellers.