Biloxi Blues

My father, Walter and his friend Tom were in the Army together 60 years ago. They were stationed in Germany and did a lot of sight seeing and travel in the area of Mainz where the base was. They became best friends and kept touch through the years with visits with each other every few years.

Then the years between became longer and longer. Then health became a limiting factor.

I decided the two friends needed at least one more visit, face to face. So, I started making suggestions and hinting strongly that we needed to plan a trip. I poked and hinted until they finally agreed on a time and with a little more urging, the place was selected. Biloxi it was.

This is the story of that trip.

 

Friday.
I get up at almost normal work time and get moving, and get on the road by 8:45. I get to DeKalb by 11:30 and we go to the Junction for the fried catfish basket special for lunch. Then load everything into Daddy’s car and start driving.
Alexandria, Louisiana looks to be a good stopping place and I book a room on the fly using my Expedia app. We stay at the La Quinta and have a good room on the 4th floor. Dinner at Cracker Barrel and it was adequate but not good. Noisy night in the hotel and people kept waking me up.

Saturday
Our room turned out to be facing east and we woke up soon after the sun did. Breakfast in the lobby and hit the road again. I try to avoid interstate highways when at all possible so we went down Highway 71. Daddy said he watched a piece of that highway being built when he was a boy in Arkansas so there was a link to the past he liked thinking about. I was using a travel app, Waze, and it was determined it would get me back on the interstate at all costs, telling me to turn at every road we went by for a while and then seemed to settle into grumpy silence when I ignored it.
The road was a good choice. The traffic was light and the landscape more interesting. This was the old road from Alexandria to Baton Rouge. There were several old Greek-revival style houses with alleys of oak trees, some a hundred years old or more judging by the size of the trees.
We had to pass two tractors and one something else that stood so high in the center I could have driven under it instead of going around it.
In planning where to have lunch, a friend had recommended a place in Long Beach called Darwell’s Cafe. So I located it and got directions from Siri. We got there and found it was a hole in the wall kind of place. But it was one of those places that the locals know all about and kinda want to keep it a secret, at least until Guy Fieri came along and featured it on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. Seems they are famous for the cheese grits and I had them with shrimp and Daddy had them with brisket. Roll your eyes and groan kind of good!

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We then drove the few blocks to the beach and sat and watched the waves and water for a few minutes, then headed toward Biloxi. We had a pleasant drive down the shoreline and got to the hotel and parked to register, wondering if Tom and Jean had gotten there. We barely stood up out of the car when a van pulls up behind us and honks….it was them! Timing couldn’t have been more perfect.
We get checked in and end up two rooms apart. We visit a little bit and then start thinking about dinner. I look on my Foursquare app for a place to eat. I find a seafood place called Taranto’s and we go there, Jean and I had snow crab legs and Tom and Daddy had fun watching us eat them. Back to the hotel for more visiting and then finally, bedtime.

Sunday
I had made a woodcut with the Biloxi lighthouse and printed tshirts of it for everybody and handed them out Sunday night. They were a great hit. We wore them today. We got comments from some of the locals and looks from more.

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We got moving and took the scenic route to the beach and drove through Ocean Springs by mistake. It was a happy mistake as it was a pretty drive. We found the right road and drove down the beachfront to the lighthouse and visitor’s center where we were greeted by a couple of friendly and pleasant ladies who made the morning even more cheerful. They had an exhibit on some of the history of Biloxi and we wandered around for a while and then crossed the street to see the lighthouse. The lighthouse is one of the oldest still functioning. It is made of cast iron and has survived 18 hurricanes.

By then, lunch time is nearly here. I found a seafood place on Foursquare, the Half Shell Oyster House, and the wait wasn’t too long even though it was Mother’s Day.. Lunch was good, and the next place planned is Beauvoir.
Beauvoir was the summer home of Jefferson Davis, the President of the Confederacy. It is very well preserved, especially considering the damage from Hurricane Katrina. The storm surge was one foot above the floor with waves much higher. The ceilings are very high with ornate painted details on the walls and ceilings. It is very elegant but much smaller than you would think.


There had been a wedding the night before on the lawn and it had been partially cleaned up and then left. The flowers were still on the tables and the chairs were scattered around. I took a few pictures.


After touring the house and library we drove back to the hotel for a bit of a rest and then went looking for supper. We ended up at the Mellow Mushroom for pizza which was very good. Tom and Walter did a lot more reminiscing and funny stories were told. Back to the hotel and more visiting and dulcimer playing before bedtime.

Monday
Up and moving again, this day’s destination is Bellingrath Gardens in Alabama. It’s a little over an hour’s drive over there. An old house surrounded by acres of gardens and woods. We missed the azaleas blooming but it was still beautiful. We enjoyed a tour of the house and walked around the different gardens and had lunch and then walked some more.


We got back to the hotel about 4:30 and rested a bit until dinner time. I found a place on Yelp with seafood which is where the locals eat. Even for a Monday night, they were busy. It’s called Mikey’s on the Bayou. Walter had never had oysters, so he tried some grilled. He said they were good, but he didn’t need to have them again. Done that now. After dinner, it was too early to call it a night so Jean and I said we hadn’t had a chance to get our feet wet yet so we drove to the beach where she and I walked in the edge of the water and picked up some shells while the guys stood and talked. The sun set behind the clouds and the casino lights got bright and we called it an evening and went back to the hotel and we went to their room for more conversation and dulcimer music.

Tuesday
I had seen a museum in the visitors guide that was called the George Ohr/O’Keefe museum and thought I read that Georgia O’Keefe paintings were part of the exhibit. When we got there, it turns out, she wasn’t. It was just Ohr. He was the Mad Potter of Biloxi. We saw a number of his pieces which were beautiful. It is a Smithsonian affiliate and since I am a member, we all ended up getting in free. The architect who designed the buildings is the same one who designed the Experience Music Project we saw in Seattle.


Then lunch and a visit to one of the tacky souvenir shops where we all found something to buy. After that, there was a walking tour of the old part of Biloxi and we never did figure out exactly where it started but we visited an art gallery on the way that had interesting things.Then we parked by the beach and walked down the pier opposite the lighthouse and sat a while and watched the waves.

Then back to the hotel for a rest then dinner. I found tonight’s dinner destination on Yelp. Then off to the Biloxi Lugger Restaraunt. We detoured around road construction coming and going and pretty much had the place to ourselves. It is on the bay behind town. We got there in time to see the sunset and enjoy the second of the two best meals I had on the trip.


Some goodbyes were said and see you in the morning.

Wednesday
A last breakfast together, and last goodbyes to say. A promise of meeting again even though nobody believes it will really happen. Hugs all around and maybe even a tear or two.
It’s over now, time to head home. We have plenty of time, no hurry. So I plan a stop at Vicksburg to visit the Civil War Battlefield. It was interesting and informative and we spent a little over two hours there.


We spent the night in Monroe, LA. It seems to be Duck Dynasty country. Life-sized cutouts are in the hotel lobby. I look at them and keep walking.

Thursday
Most hotels that offer breakfast have waffle makers. The man at the next table made his waffle then took time carefully buttering it. Then spreading it with peanut butter. Then pouring syrup over it. I wondered if it would take him less time to eat it than it took him preparing it. We left before he was through so I don’t know. This is the last day traveling. It only takes us three hours to make it to DeKalb in time for lunch and I figure after all these miles, only three more hours to home so after lunch, I hit the road home. When I get home, the cat is happy to see me only for as long as it takes me to let him outside. Hubby, however, is very happy to see me. Now I have two more days off until I have to go back to work. Oh, joy.

I really enjoyed this trip, and it gave me a chance to get to know Tom and his wife who I met many years ago, when I was a kid. It gave some more time together with my dad and his brother-from-another-mother as the kids say now. Memories were told and questions were answered. Brotherhood was renewed. Some bad jokes were told and laughed over. Music was played and listened to. Good food was eaten.

And a good time was had by all.

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I have missed you

It has been too long,
My big black friend. 
I have neglected you. 
The snows and rain
Have kept you under covers. 
It’s time to light a fire 
In your belly.
I want your hot curves
to feed me again. 
Let me give you some salmon,
You give it back to me
skin crackling, blackened
into perfect goodness. 
I want to give you my ribs,
let you tickle them
with your fiery fingers
for hours,
and deliver to me
tasty bliss. 
My grill–I have missed using you! 

beans

snap
snap,
snap beans,
bowl rings as they fall,
her fingers fly
so much faster than mine
Granny snapped
how many millions of beans?
Supper tonight,
and jars on the shelf,
full of green summer flavor
to last through the winter’s dark.
snap,
snap,
memory–
of summer evenings
as a child,
snapping beans
with Granny in the front yard.
I wish i could see her again,
snapping beans,
see if my fingers
are finally
as fast as hers…
snap!

b.

7/2005

 

One of my dad’s favorite poems I wrote, every time I snap green beans, I think of Granny.