Goodbye, Bay St. Louis!
I have had the best of all possible worlds here in Bay St. Louis—a part-time gig writing for the Shoofly Magazine and Gallery 220 and, before that, the Old Town Merchants Association. I’ve rubbed elbows with some of the most interesting people in the Bay, have developed a posse of dog-loving friends, and been privy to the deepest pool in Bay St. Louis.
It wasn’t until I began exploring a move to Albuquerque, where my youngest son, Jake, lives, that I put my finger on the source of my dis-ease here in the Bay. As I filled out my wish list of life-long learning classes offered by the University of New Mexico—the psychology of music; the science of the heart; the photographic book; self-publishing 101; writing erotica; and NIA—the sensory-base movement practice that draws from martial arts, dance arts, and healing arts—I realized that, with the exception of Bay St. Louis, I’ve lived in a university town since moving from Northern Michigan to East Lansing, Michigan—home of Michigan State University—in 1981. Central Michigan University in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan, followed, and then Baton Rouge, Louisiana, home of LSU. I miss academia.
Won’t I hate leaving Talon behind in LaPlace, Louisiana? Painfully so. But how lucky have we been to spend the first seven years of his life in such close proximity? Surely the pleasures of Bay St. Louis have been etched in his heart—think breakfasts at Lulu’s, yogurt at The Purple Banana, leisurely lunches at the Mockingbird, golf cart rides with Fahey House, campaigning with Susie Veglia, and hours upon hours of pool time. Talon and I have discovered and rediscovered the Discovery Center in Gulfport and created elaborate sand structures at the Washington Street beach. It’s been an idyllic period of Southern Slow in the life of this grandmother and her youngest grandson. I wouldn’t change it for the world.
Now, at seven, the kiddo has his own SKYPE account, and I think our relationship can withstand a separation. I want him to know that the world is big and ours for the exploring. I’d like him to marvel at a letter posted from Albuquerque, New Mexico. I want to introduce him to green chile stew and hike with his parents through Chaco Canyon.
If I can snag a job in academia—as an adjunct instructor, a classroom assistant, or a school secretary—I’ll have the academic schedule to come back and visit and to make myself available for visits, as well. This, at least, is the story I tell myself in order to make leaving possible; I have every intention of honoring it.
I moved to the Bay to recover and heal from an exhausting final year in the six-year life cycle of a federal grant designed to increase the number of high-minority, low-income college-bound Louisiana students—an opportunity of a lifetime, equally rewarding and grueling. When it was over, I needed the tranquility of the Bay, which reminded me of the little Northern Michigan village in which I spent my high-school years. The Bay has not failed me, but I am ready to move on.
I’ve donned Frida eyebrows, driven a convertible in a parade, eaten oysters at Bacchus on Tuesdays and pork chops on Mondays, enjoyed Coast Roast coffee, Second Saturdays, First Fridays at Magnolia Brewery, and Fourth Sundays at Christ Episcopal. I’ve volunteered at an arts street fair and ladled soup at the Souper Mudfest. I’ve read more Mississippi authors than I cared to—and came through it with a genuine appreciation for the work of Minrose Gwin
and Jesmyn Ward). I’ve marveled at the art of making a cocktail and studied grits and pimento cheese (even though I want nothing to do with either).
Miss Southern T. Hospitality introduced herself and opened the doors to more stunning homes than I’ve ever seen in my life. She sat me down at light-studded tables laden with stuffed artichoke hearts, boiled shrimp, crawfish etouffee—and an indescribable accomplishment of appetizers and jellies and sweet concoctions. I’ve admired enviable household liquor cabinets—who knew?—and read up on the sugary Southern tradition of baking artiful and delectable cakes (thanks, Ellis Anderson).
I’ve thought so much about what it takes to be a good neighbor since interviewing and writing about some of the best for the Shoofly’s Good Neighbor column. There are probably no better neighbors than in this neck of the woods, and yet, I am moving on. Last summer I told myself that I wasn’t going to endure another hot and humid Mississippi summer. Something in me wants to be cold again, to see mountains in my rearview mirror, and to enter a Blue State of mind.
Thank you, Bay St. Louis, for being so good to me. I am going to miss you.