By Mickey Howley
My mom drove up from New Orleans for the Fourth of July weekend. It’s a 330-mile drive, the Valley is 300 miles straight north of NOLA and it is a trip she makes about once a year. The rest of my immediate family visits a lot less frequently. I’m okay with that. They usually show up if there is a hurricane in the Gulf motivating them.
For my family, Missis-sippi is not so far a distance, from downtown New Orleans you can be crossing the state line in 45 minutes. My brother Tom lives near Rigolets Pass, at the very eastern tip of the city, a mere 10 miles from Hancock County. He sees the sun rise over Mississippi every morning. He can be in Bay Saint Louis quicker than he can get to the French Quarter.
So for the most of the family the concept of “Mississippi” seems very close, but as we know here in the north, it is a pretty long state. I think my mom gets it, unlike the rest of the family, the difference that the state is not all one homogenous place. She really seems to have a fascination with the terrain and landscape here in the hill country.
It is not all flat. The highest point is not a levee. That’s all very different for her. It is not as humid either, despite what you might think and feel. This last weekend proved even summer can be downright delightful weather-wise.
I think the other reason she likes it here, other than the people and the place are pretty friendly, is cotton. She worked as research chemist specializing in cotton fiber technology for the United States Department of Agriculture at the Southern Research Laboratory in the Lakeview section of New Orleans. She was there, with just a few pauses, from the time she graduated from college in 1957 to 2010. As you might imagine there aren’t many cotton fields in New Orleans or in south Louisiana in general. But there are cotton fields here, right outside of Water Valley—some in the town—and she always likes to see the plants in the field and how they are tended and treated. She is a trained observer, that’s what scientists do, they make one move and observe the results. So I’m always curious to hear her talk about what she sees in town.
Water Valley usually gets visitors the way my mom came here. A family connection of some sort brings them here. Last week at the Farmers Market—by the way the tomatoes are rocking—there were people visiting from Dallas. They had family here also. But what has changed in just the last few weeks is folks visiting without a connection and showing up not for a festival or event. Just coming.
A big tour bus was on Main Street. A group from Jackson visiting Oxford, but making a side trip here. Had heard about the Valley. So if you meet visitors downtown ask them what they notice. Now don’t go getting all Law and Order detective on them, but try to understand why they came. They’ll often give you an insight to your town that might never have occurred to you.