I was born in and raised just outside of New Orleans; and when my sons were little, my family and I lived in the heart of Memphis. I dearly love both of these great cities. Though I may have been born in and lived most of my life so far outside the state, the fact is that Mississippi runs all through my veins. As the great Top once said (as in ZZ...): “My head's in Mississippi.” My heart is, too.
My mother and all her kin all hail from the Delta (just outside of Dundee, and when you're from "just outside of Dundee" you KNOW you're from DEEP in the country). My father and all his kin all hail from the southwest woods (just outside of Bogue Chitto, and when you're from "just outside of Bogue Chitto" you KNOW you're from DEEP in the woods).
So, when I was a kid and all my friends would go visit cousins, uncles, aunts, grandparents, and so on – most of the time they just went a few houses down the street, or they may have to drive thirty minutes or so up along the river to a neighboring parish. When my sister, Becky, and me would visit cousins, uncles, aunts, grandparents and so on – Mom & Dad would pack us up in the car and drive us back home … to Mississippi.
It was here in Mississippi – in the summer of 1984 – that I first truly fell in love. During my 11th grade year, I was certain I'd marry that Mississippi girl. But, since she lived in Tunica, and I lived a day's drive away in St. Charles Parish, Louisiana, that relationship ended within a year (though we remain good friends to this day).
Of course I did fall in love again – even far deeper – and married another Mississippi girl. Jackson, Tennessee, may be where my wife lived most of her life before she married me, but Jency was born in Biloxi.
Although my parents left Mississippi to attend Tulane University, when it was time for me to face the fact that sooner or later I'd have to graduate high school and leave my beloved high school marching, concert and jazz bands, well … there was only one choice: to join the Famous Maroon Band and live on campus at THE Mississippi State University.
I absolutely LOVED every single moment of being in the bands at State, and I became close friends with people who, though we were only together for two short semesters, played a pivotal role in my life. But, something just wasn't right.
I left after my freshman year and attended Union University in Jackson, Tennessee – a school with no marching band. I've never been able to comprehend why, in spite of all the true friends I was making via the band and the music fraternity, Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia, and how much I loved everything about State, I was still lonely, isolated, and deeply depressed for most of my freshman year here. And so, my journey took me to other universities, other graduate schools, and other states.
In spite of all of the terrific places I've been and transforming experiences I've had since leaving Starkville in the spring of 1987, I've always had this deep, unspeakable sorrow that I just couldn't manage to stay at Mississippi State.
One of the odd things about faith is … one of the most frustrating things about faith is … well, it doesn't always make sense. I do not believe in predestination or anything like that, but I do believe in the Providence of God; I do believe that God's hand moves us and guides us in ways that we cannot see, and in ways that we cannot understand.
I am still amazed that after over twenty years of yearning to have lived longer in Starkville, and to have been a part of Mississippi State University longer, I now live in Starkville and teach at MSU. My sons, who have spent most of their lives elsewhere – noticing my cowbell serving as a shelf decoration from house to house – now have their own cowbells. My wife, Jency, who has listened to me speak so fondly of Starkville and old MSU friends for over twenty years, now gets to experience it herself.
So, as I think about all the places I've lived, I can't help but recall words I often heard while living in New Orleans from an MSU grad, her name is Julia: “I just loooovvvveeeee Misssissippi, don't you?!”
And, for almost a year now, as I awake every morning in Starkville, Mississippi, surrounded by all things maroon and white, I am reminded of that famous quote from Dorothy in the land of Oz, “There's no place like home! There's no place like home!”