South of Little Rock, the truck in front of me sideswiped the branches of a tree and I found myself driving through a haze of green pollen. The calendar showed early April, but having your car covered in pollen is a June ritual in New Jersey, my former home. I enjoyed this right of spring and cleaned my windshield often on the drive to Mississippi. The topography flattened, to miles and miles of farm land in southeast Arkansas. The fields had been plowed and were ready for cotton. It was a thinly populated area and try as I might, I couldn’t find a place to stop to eat beyond fast food, which I pledged to not eat on the trip.
I drove Route 65 from Pine Bluff, Arkansas into Louisiana where it connected to Interstate 20. Farms gave way to plantations, county signs to parish signs, country music at every push of the seek button on the radio to Blues and Jazz; I was in The Delta. I stopped at the Louisiana State Cotton Museum before crossing the Mississippi River. I was the only car in the parking lot, but it looked open and I ventured on as I was interested in learning about cotton, the white gold of the south. The visitor center was in the home built for the plantation foreman. Civil War photos of the President and his Generals were displayed prominently on the buffet; Lincoln and his guys on the right side and Jefferson Davis and his guys on the left side. The other buildings included a chapel, commissary, sharecropper house, cotton gin and museum in the barn. In the gin house, the cotton gin was a huge machine that when operated was loud, hot and dangerous for the slave who had to check the cotton balls as they exited. The barn was full of dioramas including a stack of jeans taller than me to demonstrate how many could be made from one bale of hay. It was in the Museum that my guide explained that all the workers on the site are prisoners on day-release. These men were pleased to have the privilege and proud to be caretakers of the site. They did a good job.
Before leaving, I went into the sharecropper house, it was tiny. And as I drove through the next towns of Lake Providence and Tullalah, I found many similar houses dotting the roads, most in awful condition. The poverty and unemployment were palpable. The nicest buildings in town were the local city hall/police station and the fast food restaurants.
I tried to shake the mood these towns had left me with as I drove across the Mississippi River and into Vicksburg. When stopped at the Welcome Center I discovered that I had water slowly dripping into interior of the car. The mat at my feet was wet and below it the carpet was soaked. UGH! Spilled water from my bottle? No. Problem with the air conditioner? I don’t think so. In consultation with my hubby, he on a computer, an appointment at the Toyota dealership in Natchez was set for the set morning.
I drove the last hour with the A/C off and the windows down just in case. I took the Natchez Trace Parkway for the last 40 miles and what a good decision. The National Park Service maintains this All-American road which was built by the CCC in the 1930s. A two-lane, no truck road that makes you feel that you are driving in an advertisement for a car. Wildflowers were abundant and at times the trees made a tunnel to cruise through, what a lovely entry into the lush State of Mississippi. I choose to have dinner at the Magnolia Grill with views of the River, riverboats and the bridge to Louisiana. I order local favorites; jambalaya eggrolls and a pork tenderloin po’boy, which is like a hoagie/sub/grinder. Thunderstorm storms were expected by 8:00pm that evening, but when I went to sleep around 11:00pm, still no storms. I had avoided them yet again.