Last Thursday, we did something we’ve never done as a family.
Took a right-hand turn off I-20 in Jackson, Mississippi.
And if you are not now hearing Alabama singing, “In Jackson, Mississippi” from Merry Christmas Dixie then we cannot be friends.
Once we exited I-20 (which might just be the most beautiful three words in the South), Lucy (Google maps) routed us down Highway 49, a sweet four-lane highway right through Star and Piney Woods and Mendenhall, Mississippi on the way to our overnight stop in Mobile, Alabama.
If it were up to me, we’d drive all back roads on every road trip. I adore anything off the beaten path. Or, maybe, back to the path before the interstates came to be.
But these days, anything off I-20 feels “back roads.” If we have to stop at a traffic light, even if we’re on a highway, it’s an upgrade over those miles and miles of hunting for state troopers and 18-wheelers passing one another.
Road trips never fail to redirect my heart back to a humble position of gratitude. Whatever the stress and chaos held in the preparation, the drive heals and soothes in my restless soul.
And a summer storm helps.
I am grateful for four-lane highways through small Southern towns.
Grateful for the green grass on either side. Not the same deep, Kudzoo green of Alabama grass but the slightly brighter green, with a touch of yellow, of south Mississippi feels sweet and soft. A carpet of green for miles.
Grateful for hills dotted with sixty-year-old houses and tree-lined dirt roads leading right up to their back door. Homes built before the interstate and filled with generations of people grateful for a roof and big front porch.
Grateful for every small town’s little church. Mostly small chapels, some brick, some painted white siding. All with at least a small cross on the roof. As I drive by each one, I can almost hear my Mamaw singing, “Oh victory in Jesus, my Savior forever,” as off-key and joyous as ever. Made me want to give each door a homemade wreath.
Grateful for restaurants where I can eat without getting sick. Honestly, I would much rather find a local, hole-in-the-wall joint for some fried shrimp or fried chicken or fried pork chops. But that’s not an option for me. Eating gluten-free and thus pain-free is more important than experiencing something unique.
Grateful to witness dark storm clouds rolling in over those green carpeted hills. Summer rainstorms pop up almost every afternoon in the deep South. The air gets too thick and has no option but to come back down to us.
Grateful for the warm, sweet smell of that summer rain pouring inside the car. The rain smells different in the middle of Mississippi than it does in the middle of a suburban city with 152 times the people of McLain, MS (population 427). I miss that heavy scent of hot rain hitting the thirsty earth.
Grateful for safe travels through those storms.
Grateful the rest of the cars on the road slowed down and gave each other plenty of space.
Grateful for road trip playlists shuffling through along the way. The Beatles, Dad’s Tribute, College Retro, 80’s Favs, and Worship. A long drive doesn’t feel complete without Paul Simon and Paul McCartney and The Police.
Grateful for roadside produce stands and boiled peanuts sold by old men next to flea markets.
Grateful both Dr and I say “boiled” and not “bawled.” Even though I adore the Southern pronunciation, it was a pleasant reminder we are both city folk. Also, we aren’t out of things to talk about after almost 20 years together.
Grateful for elementary schools and high school football stadiums built for 200 people and community baseball fields smack in the heart of the city.
Grateful for hometown meat and three restaurants and the fifteen-year-old kids proudly earning a paycheck bagging groceries at the Winn Dixie and distinguished ladies visiting their hair salon twice a week wearing their pearls and wedding rings bought long ago.
Grateful for old family friends who opened their home to us.
Grateful for SEC baseball on their TV.
Grateful to catch up on families and hug necks and watch my kids show off their truly delightful personalities.
Grateful for comfy beds and fluffy towels and sweet green grapes for breakfast.
Grateful for all the memories of Labor Days and Auburn football games and tailgates running through my head and heart.
Grateful for sunny mornings and the cheers of our miracle kiddos as we crossed into Florida.
Grateful for the promise of new childhood memories nestled next to the treasures of my own childhood memories.
Grateful to a good, good Father who gives and provides and protects and never, never, never overlooks a single detail of our lives. Including how much His daughter loves a slow, steady road trip on a Southern highway, just how much she adores the smell of a summer rain, and how much she needed the rest old, dear, childhood friends provide.