A newcomer is surrounded by people in-the-know. The back road to Taylor, campus shortcuts to the movies, where to find peaches in Pontotoc—these are second nature to Water Vallians. They know what’s what in this world and gently point out my errors. “It is bush-hogging, Miss Dixie. Not bush-whacking.”
As a stranger, I accept my place in the pecking order of not knowing, and have learned to bear correction. I now say tag, not license plate, crank, not turn over, butter beans, not limas. However, I do find fried chicken from the gas station, fried bologna in a sandwich and fried okra as a side harder to embrace.
During the heat of summer, a car pulled in at my house and its in-the-know driver told me to water my poor zinnias, they looked near dead. But I had watered them—morning and night—and the water ran right through, forming puddles at my feet.
While raking leaves from the tall pecan trees and stuffing them into big black bags, Miss Linda Shuffield came riding by. “Ma’am,” she said, “we don’t do that here. Let the wind carry them down to the ditch.” I look out at the lingering drifts of dried leaves frozen into shapes of winter, still waiting for the promised ride on the west wind.
However, it has been said that every dog has its day. And mine may have come in the guise of frigid temperatures and a bit of ice. At last, I might have moved, if even briefly, to the top of the pecking order, I am at last the one in-the-know.
It started with socks. Reports of cold toes found me one-clicking an order to Amazon.com for Smartwool. New friends received tissue-wrapped insulation, a northern knowing that synthetic fibers will fail you during a cold snap.
Then there is the truth of gloves. No, no, no. Wear mittens when walking, thumbs tucked under, warmth shared and contained. Wrap your neck right up to your ears in a wool muffler and not a knife of cold will find you while walking from Lafayette Street to the Sonic and back again.
After wrapping your neck, wrap the outside water faucet in twists of a small towel and anchor in place with a thick-oven mitt before covering with a pail. Take warm sea-salt baths, then slather with rich Shea butter cream to keep the skin from itching in the night. Fill a humidifier and send a trail of steam into the air to moisten the nose.
Of course, man does not live by running water and warm toes alone. The winter soul also requires care.
When schools close, bake your mother’s recipe for cookies and munch warm from the oven for an all-dessert lunch. Keep a few sprigs of fresh evergreen in the living room, and look out the window for a glimpse of winter’s red sky at dusk and a sliver of lingering crescent moon at dawn.
Stack CDs or vinyl records you haven’t played in ages and as night moves in, pick one. If it is Earth, Wind and Fire, dance a boogie across the living room; if Brahms sonatas, quietly reflect. When the music ends, simmer a savory soup and bake a skillet of cornbread for supper. Lastly, call a child, a new Water Valley friend or an old New York beau and laugh out loud about the news of the day and living in seven-degree Mississippi.
And that is winter wisdom brought to you by, at last, an in-the-know New Yorker.