Oxford Town

A treasure.
Etched forever in my mind.

Some places affect me that way. Oxford is one of them. I guess you might say I'm just plain smitten with this little city. For many years I didn't know about it. Oh, I had been there when I was in high school. I had to perform a piano duo with another classmate once for school competition. At Ole Miss. It was the worst day of my life. The piano was bigger than big.You know, one of those concert grands with added keys on the bass. I had never seen anything like it in my small-town life. And the absolute lowest keys on the bass didn't play when I touched them. As a matter of fact, I remember struggling to reach that far down. The same thing must have been happening to my counterpart, because we both kept hitting those keys to try and get them to give us some sound. We just looked at each other and gave up. Later we laughed about it.That must have been fifty-seven years ago. And it was not until just the last few years that I returned to that beautiful old city and now it's like a song, I can't get it out of my mind!

Maybe it's the writer in me. It's a place I would love to be. Every day. I love the old, the new. The beautiful fragrances of moss and wood. The shops and restaurants. The University. I chose Oxford as the setting for JOAB, since it's just a few miles from Sarepta in Calhoun County. I can't wait for you to read my story. I hope I can bring it back to 1870, some six years after General Whiskey Joe Smith burned the square to the ground. Darn those Union soldiers!

I guess I was hoping some Faulkner would rub off on me. In a good way, of course. No, I don't want to write like William Faulkner. I don't have it in me. Not my style. But I do admire that he made it. And how! He was more than successful. I was so happy a few weeks ago to be there with my friends. And they had arranged for one of the best historians in the country, Jack Lamar Mayfield, author of Images of America, Oxford and Ole Miss, to be our tour guide to Faulkner's world. Jack turned back the pages of time as he told the stories of the writer and his incredible old house called Rowan Oak. Yes, he took us back. Way back. This place reeks of Faulkner lore, and I was in writer's heaven.

This is where he sat to write when he was in the house and not out and about his stables or sitting 'neath the grape arbor or walking under the giant oaks and cypress trees.The old servant's quarter sits out back guarded by an ancient old tree of some sort. In Florida we might call it a banyan tree. There's a story here. Faulkner's own.

There's a trail from Rowan Oak that takes a student through the woods to The University grounds. History was made here, and I'll tell you a lot about it in JOAB. Sorry, I can't give away my secrets yet. I will tell you that in this lovely old building called The Lyceum, the Union Army set up hospital. For both sides actually. Many Confederate soldiers died and were buried up on the hill across from the Sports Arena (not sure that's what they call it). The building with its fluted columns is Ionic Greek Revival style, built before the Civil War, and after the War stands proudly in the seat of learning. The University of Mississippi is, indeed, a beautiful campus.

A very poignant spot in The Lyceum is now a large conference room with beautiful furnishings and paintings. It was in this room that Union doctors performed surgery, removing arms and legs and such viscera as dangled from the bodies of wounded soldiers. Such a cruel war.

Whiskey Smith had no thought for the beautiful old courthouse that sits in the center of The Oxford Square. He burnt it, too!

And The Thompson House, which was called something else before The Burn. This lovely hotel was rebuilt in 1870, five years after the close of the War, and during the time of Reconstruction. Like I said, so much history in Oxford MS!

The shops of Oxford are extraordinary. We stepped in and out of so many on the square. One of our favorite stops, of course, was Square Books. Lots of Faulkner and Grisham! I could have stayed all day, all night. Sounds like another song!

And we still fly the flag in Mississippi! Some things will never change. Granted, I had to wait a bit for the wind to unfurl it. But there she is! Of course, flying beneath Old Glory. It's pretty special to celebrate our past and those who gave up their lives for the Old South.

One more thing... I understand this photo, taken at the Clarksdale signing, will be going on the wall at Philips Grocery, a wonderful restaurant on S. Lamar Blvd in Oxford (the street named, of course, for L.Q.C. Lamar, another famous Civil War and Reconstruction hero. His home is here, too).

I'm privileged to know the owner of Phillips Grocery, Emmie Lou Greene. We graduated from Clarksdale High School together, and she was my host for the Oxford signing a couple of months ago. Forever grateful, Emmie Lou!

I could go on and on, but I'll save some for later. Hope you enjoyed our little tour of Oxford. I know I did.

Good night, my friends!
Jane Bennett Gaddy, Ph.D.
Trinity, FLA


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