Chasing Elvis and William Faulkner, Oxford MississippiOctober 24, 2011 2 Comments
It boggles the mind. If William Faulkner and Elvis Presley had met, would they have been friends? Did they ever meet? That was the question my son asked as we traveled the deep south, enjoying Mississippi’s steamy greenery and historic sights ranging from Elvis’ birthplace to Faulkner’s home, Rowan Oak.
Oxford Mississippi – Town Square
We stayed in a nondescript but friendly Holiday Inn Express on the outskirts of Oxford, warned away from the in-town hotels which are run down at best. It’s just a short drive from the comfortable motel to the center of town where we spent most of our time strolling the quaint town square with its life-like, bench-resting statue of Faulkner himself, and wonderful book stores. A clock tower presides over the square, locals and tourists alike stroll the streets, shop in the old-fashioned department store, and eat in the eclectic restaurants arrayed around it. It’s a perfect stroll for small children, with plenty to occupy the minds and eyes of their parents.
Oxford’s population is well under 20,000, which helps the town maintain its cozy aura. Only ninety minutes south of Memphis Tennessee, the town feels a world away with its catfish frying restaurants and cheerful college vibe. Oxford is also the home to Mississippi’s vaunted University, Ole Miss.
We were there in the summer so there were no football tailgates on campus or busy student crowd; the university remains a lovely, leafy place to walk and admire the Grecian style architecture of its buildings.
Town square though can easily occupy an afternoon. Walk into Neilson’s department store. Along with the dry goods and clothing you can find a copy of a note written in Faulkner’s own hand, his annoyed response to an overdue bill send to him by the store, suggesting the billing department sue him if they didn’t like his payment methods.
The kids will be more interested in the literary lights on display in the large, welcoming children’s book shop that is a part of the Mississippi landmark bookstore Square Books. Readings of children’s books are held on weekend afternoons; Thursday evenings in an adjoining annex called the Off Square, if your children are old enough, they’ll enjoy live free tapings of a radio program called “Thacker Mountain Radio.”
Our Healthy Food Choices
It’s not only food for thought that’s well represented in Oxford however. Culinary sustenance thrives here too. There’s the nouveau Southern menu at City Grocery offering up fried green tomatoes and elegant versions of catfish. Boure features organic takes on traditional family fare like fried chicken and macaroni and cheese. Children may most enjoy the Ajax Diner, a casual place with sandwiches, soups, chicken and dumplings. And on the outskirts of town, a Sunday tradition takes place at Taylor Grocery, where catfish is served up golden brown until the fish runs out. Taylor Grocery resides inside an old general store built in the late 1800′s. The atmosphere will charm all ages, with its large communal tables, and impromptu bluegrass and country music live there on the lawn. Children run between the tables playing tag, just as they probably did a hundred years earlier. For our family’s diet – vegan, vegetarian, low sodium – we preferred the excellent Japanese food and fresh sushi at Two Sticks just off the town square. A fun, funky atmosphere with live music in the evenings makes the delicious and inexpensive Asian cuisine even more appealing for kids.
William Faulkner’s Home
When you’re done eating and browsing, it’s time to drive out to William Faulkner’s house, Rowan Oak, open daily except Monday. The kids may not feel the literary reverence of viewing Faulkner’s room, typewriter, or favorite bourbon, but they will enjoy the shady trees on the grounds and the sense of exploring a residence caught in a time warp, preserved from writing desk to dining room. The self guiding tour can progress quickly or slowly, depending on your children’s ages and interest level.
Elvis Birthplace Facility
An hours drive away is the sprawl of Tupelo Mississippi, where you’ll find The Birthplace of Elvis Presley. Guides make the most of a short tour of Elvis’ one room early home; a small church on the property gives you a peek at the place where Elvis first sang hymns. Souvenirs ranging from tee shirts to peanut butter-banana flavored chewing gum – in honor of the King’s favorite sandwich – are available in a vast gift shop. A statue of young Elvis stands on the property. A museum of sorts completes this tourist-haven: mostly housing a personal collection of Presley memorabilia collected by a family friend. There are also artifacts from Tupelo circa the time of Elvis’ birth, and two well-designed slide programs presenting life in Tupelo and a look at Elvis’ childhood. Kitschy but entertaining, and kids of all ages will enjoy listening to the Elvis soundtracks.
Ready to drive on? Put a little Elvis on your iPod or in your CD player and drive a stretch of the Natchez Trace Parkway, an excellent backdoor into Nashville, and a route Elvis may have taken himself. Maybe, as my son suggested, Faulkner and Elvis drove it together. With many scenic overlooks and interesting stops from beautiful bridges to historic farmhouses, you’ll enjoy the drive too.