A Virginian Heads South
Taylor, Mississippi. This was my first foray into the South. The real South. The South which identifies itself as culturally southern. Not the South of Miami or New Orleans or any pretty coastal Carolina town. I was going to Faulkner’s South, a place as foreign to me as snow-buried Sweden. What a strange thing to feel I had been reared “southern” in rural Virginia, only to realize my experience had been acutely “Virginian.” It’s funny the effect that travel can have on a person’s sense of self.
Virginians aren’t yankees. They’re just aristocrats.
The purpose of my trip to Mississippi was to act as plus one to some prodigal son, returning to his hometown of Tupelo for a friend’s wedding. At the reception I explained to another guest the sense of irony I felt, how even though I grew up in the traditionally defined South, Mississippians must take me for a yankee. “No, Virginians aren’t yankees. They’re just aristocrats,” the guest replied. I received this correction with immense pride, unwittingly reinforcing the stereotype.
Despite the difference in “southernness,” I did find some common ground primarily rooted in a deep love of good-tastin, not-so-good-fer-ya food. Growing up, weekends in the fall and spring in Virginia’s piedmont were defined by tailgating at steeplechase horse races. For me this was an excuse to indulge in a salty feast of Virginia ham biscuits, buttermilk fried chicken, and deviled eggs from picnic tables gaudily decorated with a stuffed fox or some other “aristo-taxidermic” vermin.
The prodigal son and I visited Oxford the day before an Ole Miss football game. Preparations for the crowd of tailgaters were underway in the wooded Grove, where there seemed to be a trashcan for every tree. I could only imagine what the scene would be like the next day, throngs of drunk Ole Miss fans, enthusiastic good-ole-boys and well-groomed girls who had planned their perfect outfits weeks in advance. It really was hard to imagine, since every girl we saw on friday was sporting an asexual uniform of oversize t-shirts and athletic shorts. But the Southern woman’s reputation for gussying up precedes her, so I was confident the female student body had no problem transforming into beauty queens over night.
We couldn’t stay in town to watch the festivities, nor would I be able to flesh out my comparative study of Southern tailgates, so we did the next best thing and visited Taylor Grocery, an institution of a restaurant sitting at the apex of an oddball artist community nine miles from Oxford. There we forked in fillets of thickly crispy catfish, tender fried okra, sweet creamed corn, and briny bacony green beans, with faces bent over our paper plates to ensure we never missed a precious morsel in the all-too-long journey from table to mouth.We rebalanced our salted tongues with bottomless sweet tea and a shared bowl of juicy peach cobbler à la mode.
Taylor Grocery is open Monday through Friday for lunch, and Thursday through Sunday for dinner. A lunch plate with choice of meat and two veggies runs around $7. Iced tea included. For the menu and more info: www.taylorgrocery.com