Welcome to Mississippi
By Richard E. Noble
We were hobo-ing our way through Mississippi. We stopped to enjoy the view from the banks of yet another beautiful Mississippi lake. While we sat on this giant boulder enjoying the scenery and wondering where they ever found a rock this size in Mississippi, a young man pulled up in a dilapidated pickup truck. He grabbed his fishing gear from the bed of his truck and strolled up beside us and started fishing. We chatted for a bit and then decided to hit the road once again. As we walked away the young man said, "Well, welcome to Mississippi. Have yourself a good time here and ya'll come back and see us again sometime."
When we got back to the van, I mumbled to the wife somewhat sarcastically, "Who the heck was that guy - the grandson of the guy who owns Mississippi?"
Being raised in an inner city slum, it would never occur to me to welcome a stranger to my hometown. I certainly would never suggest to anybody that they return. My goodness, that would certainly be adding insult to injury. Nor do I ever remember having the feeling expressed in the song "New York, New York what a wonderful town!" I never felt ownership of my area of the country. This kid in Mississippi felt that he was Mississippi. He was a roving, unappointed ambassador for the State of Mississippi.
In a K-mart parking lot in California, a lady came to her car that was parked next to ours. She smiled at us and said, "I love your orange juice." She had noticed our Florida license plate and felt the need to compliment us on Florida orange juice. I felt like saying, "Yeah, well pick up a gallon on me next time you go to the grocery store. When you get to the cashier, just mention my name – everybody in Florida knows me." What the heck is this lady talking about - she loves my orange juice! Here was another one of those who felt because a person lived someplace, they owned that place.
This nice lady then proceeded to invite us to follow her back to her home where she said that we could camp in her driveway and met the whole family. She explained that she and her family did a lot of camping and traveling and they had always wished that somebody would extend to them such an invitation.
Once again my city slicker background said, Is this broad nuts? We could be Bonnie and Clyde or two serial killers. It also occurred to me that she could be a member of the Manson killer family or one of them people-eating kind. Sure, why don't you join us for supper? Yeah right! Here she is inviting two strangers she just met in a K-mart parking lot to come back to her home and meet her family? What am I missing here?
Next we were at a campground in Michigan. We were cooking our breakfast over a wood fire. A camper who was camped up on a rise above the lake spotted us. He came wandering down to speak with us. He was fascinated by the fact that we were using wood to cook our breakfast. I showed him the bundles of wood that we picked up before leaving any campsite and strapped to our spare tire. We did this to save on Coleman fuel. He thought this was the greatest idea since sliced bread. He left and returned an hour or so later with his wife.
"Hey, hop in the car. We will show you around our town."
We climbed into the back seat of the vehicle and went on a tour of his hometown.
He took us over to see his parents. His mom and dad cooked us all breakfast. Then we went driving all over heck seeing the sights and meeting more of his friends and relatives.
I must admit, I have never felt this sense of ownership anywhere that I have ever lived. I still don't quite understand it but I know I liked the feeling when people bestowed this welcome on me. I remember every instance from my travels where this happened.
As a result of these experiences, every time I now meet a stranger, I become an ambassador. If they are from a foreign country, I welcome them to my country - just like I own the place. If they are from out of state, I welcome them to Florida and wish them an enjoyable stay. If they are from someplace else in the State of Florida, I welcome them to Franklin County and tell them to have fun. I do this not because I now somehow feel that I own America or Florida or Franklin County but simply because I remember the good feeling it gave to me when other people performed this rather strange ritual.
The next time you meet a stranger passing through, try it. Every time I do it I suddenly feel like I am the mayor of America or something. It is strange but, I don't know, it gives me a kick.
Richard Noble is a freelance writer and has been a resident of Eastpoint for 30 years. He has published 5 books. They are all for sale on Amazon.com. If you would like to stock his books in your store or business he can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.