I’m coming to you today from my hotel room in Greenville, Mississippi, where the view out my window — once you overlook the roof of the casino just below — is of the wonderfully swampy Mississippi delta region. Over the tops of the cypress trees, I can just see the braces of a brand new bridge spanning the Mississippi River. And while it was a seasonably cool 65 degrees when I left Maryland on Monday, it’s still hovering in the mid-90s, making me wish I’d packed something other than long-sleeves.
I’ve spent the past few days visiting the locations where Jim Henson was born, and where he and his family lived, on and off, for the first decade of his life. A sense of place is very important to me in biography, and I wanted to make sure I stood where Jim might have stood as a boy, saw what he might have seen from the front porch of his house, knew where his father worked, and learned how far it was to the local movie theater.
And don’t let anyone tell you that Southern hospitality is a thing of the past. It may be a remnant of a long-gone era, but it’s still very much embedded in the way they do things in the delta region. I met with town historians and longtime residents who showed me newspaper clippings and photos, steered me through the local elementary school, and who willingly piled into their cars and drove me around. And every one of them invited me to dinner (or suppuh, as they so wonderfully say it here), extended an invitation to stay with them, asked me to “sit a spell,” and pressed on me personal possessions they thought might help in my research. All in all, a memorable — and incredibly productive — trip. I’ll be back.
I’m now getting ready to pack up and make the two-hour drive back to Jackson. I love long drives, and I love listening to local radio. To my complete and utter surprise and disappointment, I’ve been unable to locate a blues station anywhere on the radio dial. Incongruously, then, I drove into the delta region listening to Men and Work and Night Ranger on the local 80s channel. But I’ll keep trying.