Tandem, An American Love Story

Later, we talked to a couple in a fifth-wheel camped next to us. They have a solar powered RV. They spend all winter in Florida or Arizona without paying camping fees because they don’t need hookups. They have sold their home in Michigan and built a pole structure on the property to house a few possessions, and the RV. It also has a large family room with kitchen and bath. They sleep in the RV. This home is also off-the -grid. Very ingenious people. They are not the first we have met using this concept, just the first who have managed to avoid the power company.

Moved the clock back last night; getting dark early.

It rained all night and is still at it this morning. Our neighbors say it is supposed to rain all week according to the radio.

We rode back to the old town site of Rock Springs to take pictures. The sullen weather complemented the Spanish moss and old stones. On the way back down the trail, we found a new color photograph on a fence post. It was of a woman playing piano; a professional looking publicity photo.

I remembered the teen couple in the church, the girl playing piano. Was the picture of her in the future? Was it there, in the rain, on the fence post, for us to see? Why?

The lines between reality and fantasy blur in the land of cotton and Spanish moss, and towns long dead.

We rode south in the rain.

A few miles down the road, we saw a cyclist coming toward us. We waved, she waved, and then rode on. Others appeared through the mist. One of them wore a bright jacket that looked like an STP jacket (Seattle to Portland bike ride). We looked again. It was an STP jacket! We stopped her. She lives in Seattle and works for Microsoft. Her name is Lindale@microsoft.com. Actually that is her email address, we forgot to get her full name. Linda was riding the Trace with a commercial bike tour company. They were staying in bed and breakfasts and were fully supported. Linda said she was hoping to get away from the Seattle rain. Sorry Linda.

Port Gibson was supposed to have wonderful ante-bellum homes. The bike tourists had stayed in one that had been converted to a bed and breakfast.

Linda related that the woman who owned it said she had only recently been able to talk about the Civil War and what it had done to her family. Apparently they had lost most of their wealth, although the family had retained the home.

Port Gibson

After we left Linda, we decided to ride into Port Gibson. We rode past all the ante-bellum homes and churches and then turned our attention to what is always never far from our minds. Food.

We looked in vain for a nice little cafe for a late breakfast. Finally we asked a man on the street downtown, (which doesn’t look ante-bellum or wealthy at all) and he said we could get food at “Our Mart”. We figured it was only a grocery and were prepared to eat Twinkies for breakfast, but there were three tables and a grill.

As soon as we sat down we knew why the place was named “Our Mart;” the us implied, was not us pale skinned folk. Everyone was Black. At first the cook ignored us, I suspect she was waiting for us to leave as soon as we figured out we were not in a White restaurant. Wrong. Our appetite for food is only exceeded by our curiosity about people.

After we placed our order at the window, we read Ebony and listened to the man at the next table tell himself humorous stories. We knew the stories were funny because he laughed long and loud after each. We wished he would let us in on the stories, but we couldn’t understand a word he said. Later another man came in who had some horrible accident that cost him most of his teeth and immobilized his jaw. He tried to talk to us, but was also very difficult to understand. He punctuated his sentences with an unmistakable step-and-fetch-it head bob.

With these diversions we enjoyed our eggs and sausage and grits, for me, and bacon and pancakes, for Claire. When I went back for seconds on coffee, the cook asked what I took in my coffee, I answered, “nothing, I’m black.” Oops. That brought an incredulous stare from the old cook and a smile from the young one.

The ante-bellum homes a couple of blocks away were built by their slave ancestors, and they’re not all that much better off now. But the White folks were once very rich. At one time in the last century, half the millionaires in America lived in this part of the Mississippi. Cotton riches, lifted up on the broken backs of Black people, irrigated with the sweat of Black people. No wonder they weren’t too friendly to us.

We saw three live Armadillos today. They must like being out in the rain. We stopped and I managed to sneak up on one from behind, with the camera, while he was occupied digging grubs. When close enough, you can hear them making little grunts, sort of like a tiny pig. A tiny happy pig.

Halloween day, Zippy was trick-or-treated by a class of adorable kindergartners in downtown Natchez. Actually, they just stood and stared at him, and us. Some things are just too complex and strange for kindergartners to process. They looked at Zippy, then at us, then at their teacher for reassurance. She was smiling and talking to us, so it must be okay.

Their teacher stopped to talk when she saw Zippy. She has always wanted a tandem, and was obviously enthralled by our trip. I couldn’t take my eyes off the beautiful black faces and little black hands peeking out of outrageously bright costumes, clutching their little trick-or-treat bags, standing quietly all in a row. I bet the merchants gave out lots of candy that day—who could resist?

In the same location we were helped in our decision about where to go in Louisiana by a very well dressed couple who knew the Cajun country well, particularly the restaurants. This town is very friendly. It is supposed to be a great town for ante-bellum homes (and it is) but we are more interested in the people.

We rode down beside the Mississippi river and were amazed to realize that it has been exactly three months to the day since we crossed the river a few hundred miles north in Muscatine, Iowa. The river is beautiful here, and busy, with long lines of barges going up and down.

We stopped at the National Park Service ante-bellum mansion, Melrose. The house is huge. Even the outside kitchens and slave quarters are huge. There was a great deal of wealth here.

The displays got into the family structure, including the paternalistic attitude toward the slaves. They make a case for there being real affection between the owners and slaves. I’m sure that is true. Humans are humans, despite the economic forces that often make some humans enslave others for profit.

The wealth that was here is mute evidence to the plenty that the many can produce for the few if subject to absolute authority. At least in an agricultural economy. I think the Park Service did a good job of walking a thin line between going too easy on the institution of slavery and condemning the local’s ancestors too stridently.

The grounds are beautiful; huge spreading oaks cover as much as a quarter-acre. Expansive lawns are scattered with all manner of exotic blooming trees and shrubs. Blossom scent was strong in the warm humid air. It’s different here, the air, almost viscous, palpable, it is a dimension to be felt, moved through and experienced. The dry Western air rings clear like a cold bell; this Southern air comforts like a bowed string bass.

Seen around; a book, prominently displayed in a motel lobby, with the title, “The South Was Right.” It purports to prove that the North was legally in the wrong when it invaded the Confederacy. Some people will here will never let go of the privilege their ancestors enjoyed.


Tandem, An American Love Story — 3 Comments

  1. Thanks for the memories, and the update on your own adventures. That last few days back to Sequim was bitter-sweet after more than a year on the road. We’ve never been the same; a good thing.

  2. What a marvelous and beautifully descriptive article about a simply amazing woman – Karen Landis. I’ve had had the serendipitous experience to create and nurture a friendship with Karen after I underwent a hip replacement and three hip fractures and realized I needed to request the local “Meals on Wheels” service. And of course, if she didn’t have enough on her plate, Karen serves the Chino Valley community two days a week by delivering meals to people in my circumstance.
    I loved Karen the first moment I met her. And when we started chatting I knew I had met a soul mate. I’ve been looking all my life for a role model, a hero, an amazing example of humankind. I don’t know if she realizes what an outstanding example she is of a strong, independent, intelligent, talented woman. Sometimes as women, we have a dentency to undervalue ourselves. But Karen, I want you to know you are the real deal. You are just so beautiful in your authenticity. And I a so appreciative of the value you have added to our environment by caring for the land and the animals under your watchful care. Your abilities and strength simply boggle my mind. And thank you for your loving service to me these past four months. You rock girl!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.