Seldom do I sit down to begin a column thinking, “How am I going to keep this under 900 words?” This time, that was the case. You see, we recently returned from a visit to my wife’s hometown in Mississippi, and my head is crammed with enough material to write a short novel, working title: “How to Survive in Mississippi for Dummies.”
I could write a three-part series about gun ownership in Mississippi and barely scratch the surface. I used to jokingly say that if the zombie apocalypse hits, I was loading up the kids and driving to Virginia to live with my wife’s brother, who is former military and armed to the teeth. After this visit, my new plan is heading to Mississippi, where being armed to the teeth is considered ill-prepared.
As I discussed with an uncle our mutual interest in Civil War relics, he promised to show me his prized cavalry sword. I joked that edged weapons would be a handy fallback if they ran out of ammunition at some point. Suddenly very serious, he assured me, “Oh, we won’t be running out of ammunition.” I just nodded and tried to keep from visibly gulping.
My wife had assured me that firearms were just a way of life down there and that gun safety was literally taught from birth because you had one in every room in the house. So it really shouldn’t have been a surprise. Still, the .357 in the bathroom was mildly startling.
I learned quickly that, despite similarities like being the only states with three sets of double letters in their names, Tennessee and Mississippi have a lot of differences.
For example, in Tennessee, if you own a home worth $150,000, you insure the home for $150,000 and the contents for maybe $50,000. In Mississippi, if you own the same home, you insure it for a $150,000 and the contents for $200,000 so you can replace the firearms. (Given the volume of ammunition on site, I suspect fighting a house fire differs in Mississippi as well.)
In Tennessee, we complain of too many banks and pharmacies. Mississippi has a reasonable number of both, but enough deer-processing facilities to rival Starbucks locations in New York City.
In Tennessee, when a beloved member of the community has overbearing medical expenses, we put out a jug at the local convenience store for donations. In Mississippi, they get the local convenience store to raffle off a 9-mm pistol with laser sites and combat grips at $5 a ticket, and because a Mississippian can never own too many guns, in no time at all, they have raised enough money to cover medical expenses plus a few weeks off from work to recover afterward.
In Tennessee, you lock your doors. In Mississippi, you pray over the body of the poor soul that makes the mistake of walking in uninvited. The good news is that the odds of finding someone who is not welcome into a Mississippian’s home are about as good as those of winning the Powerball.
My wife knocked on the door of her childhood home occupied by folks that had never met me and only vaguely remembered her from 30 years ago and not only were we invited in, but we stayed for an hour talking and were hugged and encouraged to come back upon departure.
I learned about leaving doors unlocked the first night we arrived. We stayed in the lodge at a summer camp my wife attended in 1984 where they rent out guest rooms when not inundated with hundreds of energetic kids. With lodging not being in great demand, we had the entire place to ourselves: Multiple bedrooms, a huge dining hall, a kitchen, and a lovely great room with a massive fireplace, surrounded by couches, chairs, the requisite mounted deer heads, and huge windows overlooking a lake with docks, canoes, and a sand beach. It was perfect except for one thing – no functioning locks on several exterior doors.
I expressed a joking concern over this to some of the family and was assured that we didn’t need locks in Mississippi, but if I felt more comfortable, I was welcome to borrow a gun… or two.
I declined but slumbered fitfully the first night between nightmare images of Jason Voorhees emerging from the lake, dripping with water and ill intent, and Jack Nicholson placing his head squarely through freshly axed holes in our door and greeting us with “Here’s Johnny!” I quickly realized how foolish I was being though. Jack wouldn’t have needed to axe the doors – just turn the knob!
Perhaps the most glaring difference between our hometowns is that driving through my wife’s reveals that literally every business bears the name of someone who grew up there and whose family is known and respected in the community. Like me, you may marry into the Nail clan and dine in at Nail’s One Stop for a fantastic home-style dinner – but don’t expect a family discount. That would include half the population since everyone can recite their lineage back through the pre-Civil War era.
We retain some of that in Sevier County, but this piece of Mississippi remains unscathed by corporate America, and folks live as they please without being told by some executive in a distant, lavish office what their next purchase should be at the local megastore. It resembles today what the best of America looked like 50 years ago, and I am fairly envious of the true freedom they still possess.
Don’t get me wrong. I love and adore Sevier County, and my roots are strongly established here, but I find myself looking forward to the next trip to Mississippi. Who knows? I may even take them up on the multiple kind offers to teach me to hunt snipe.
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© Michael L. Collins
*Originally published in the March 23, 2016 edition of the Mountain Press under the name A lot of differences between Tennessee and Mississippi.