“Mississippi is like my mother. I am allowed to complain about her all I want, but God help the person who raises an ill word about her around me, unless she is their mother too.”
This has always been one of my favorite quotes. It resonates with me on a spiritual level, because, while Mississippi raised me, as soon as I figured out I could, I couldn’t wait to leave. And not because I hated it (well, I hated the heat). On the contrary, Mississippi is engrained in my soul. It always will be. The entire way of life is so different than that of the rest of the world, but that is what makes it so special. I wanted to leave because I knew there was more “out there.” I wanted to leave for no other reason than I believe every person should move away from home at least once in their lives (but more if you can manage it). I wanted to leave because I wanted a new experience. Mississippi was comfortable, and I’ve never really been comfortable with comfortable. Mississippi would always be there for me if I wanted to come back. But, for now, I am enjoying the life I have made outside of her. But as long as I have roots in the state, she will always be my home. And, living in a world that is foreign to me (North Carolina), that’s where my comfort lies. In knowing that while I go find myself, Mississippi will be patiently waiting to welcome me back home when I am ready.
A lot of people are quick to judge Mississippi. Is it fair? In some cases, no, but in others… maybe. My mama always said life wasn’t fair, and she was right. But what these people don’t know is that no one who was raised there has ever turned their back on Mississippi. This is because she is our home. And not only that, but we know, from experience, that there are good, educated people there. Mississippi is not her reputation. Mississippi is that quiet woman who keeps to herself in the back of the church but tends to the sick during her time off from working two jobs. Mississippi is that school custodian you always thought was dirt poor, but leaves millions to a charity upon his death.
She is a quiet force to be reckoned with.
The rest of the world will never know what it’s like to be an integral part of the normal, everyday life of a true Mississippian. And that’s part of what draws us together. When I come home, I feel welcomed. I do feel like an outsider at times because I don’t have many close friends who still live there, but the people who do recognize me from back in the day are so hospitable that it fills me with pride to be from a place with such nice people. Now, whether or not they feel the same way behind closed doors is another story completely. And I don’t really care to know which one it is. I just care that they are trying their best to be nice to me in person. The God-fearing, southern girl in me appreciates them trying to be “like Jesus.” And that’s all that matters to me.
So when I’m watching something like the Mississippi State women’s basketball team playing for the Final Four, I can’t help but swell (and maybe tear) up with pride. I’ve never been the type to be obsessed with sports. I enjoy watching them when they are on tv (I enjoy them even more when I am invested in the team that is playing), but I’m not the person you go to when you want to have an educated sporting debate. However, I can say with absolute certainty that nothing gives me more joy than seeing my home state show everyone what we’re made of.
No one outside of MS has high expectations for us. In fact, most people forget that we are even down there. So when my state brings everything they have to anything that puts them on a national level with national attention, I just want to cry with pride. I can’t help but fall in love with my home all over again when they show everyone what they are truly made of. We may be the lowest ranked when it comes to education and fitness level, but if there were a scale that measured grit and hospitality, Mississippi would be ranked #1. Go ahead, fight me on that.
It makes me truly happy to see us break through the stereotypes with hurricane-like speeds and just seemingly come up out of no where. It shocks everyone outside the MS bubble to their cores (all you have to do is listen to the announcers of whatever game you may be watching to figure this one out—they usually favor any team but the one from Mississippi, no matter how well they may be doing). But it doesn’t shock me. I knew we had it all along, and so does everyone back home.
I remember watching the lady Bulldogs this time last year. I was in a house with quite a few friends on the beach for another friend’s wedding and none of them could believe that I was “that” into basketball. But the truth was, I wasn’t that into it. What I was into was seeing my state on the map. Finally, we were being recognized for more than just something negative.
I felt this same pride when Dak Prescott got drafted. To this day people still have no idea he is from Mississippi State. I felt the same way when Malcolm Butler’s interception won the Super Bowl for the Patriots in 2015. People had no clue he was from Mississippi. And not only that, but he is from my home town! He put Vicksburg back on the map for a split second, and that is priceless to me.
You may call us bandwagon fans, but I will follow my Mississippians where ever they go (unless you’re one of the Mannings—sorry, they were just a little before my time), and so will everyone else who likes an underdog. I will follow Dak whether he plays for the Cowboys or the Patriots (please don’t make me do that, though). And you can damn well bet I’m going to be watching Malcolm play for Tennessee because not only will I get to feel the familiar pride for my home state but also for my home away from home, the city of Nashville. Nashville who welcomed me with open arms to my first permanent move outside of college. Away from all my family and friends. Nashville, who showed me how to make friends outside of school. Nashville, who treated me like the prodigal daughter when I’d only ever met her once before I moved there.
Anyway, Mississippi may have some ass-backward beliefs and policies in place, but I do believe that she will come around eventually. Like she always has. I’m already seeing a shift in the way people see education down there. Beginning with my own hometown. It makes me excited to see what the future has in store for my state. And I’ll be watching and cheering from the sidelines of North Carolina, or where ever life may lead me in the years to come.
I’m rooting for you, Mississippi. And I know a lot of other people who are as well.
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