Beginning in 2002, my parents occasionally picked me up from school and told me we were going to look at houses. “Don’t mention it to Joan,” they’d say. She was our next-door neighbor, the one whose house we’d played innumerable games of hide and go seek. She was our most frequent guest on the back patio, of which there were many. My parents moved from our midcentury upper-middle-class neighborhood in 2004, and so did Joan–she had threatened for years that, were we to move, she’d return to Vicksburg, where she raised her children.
Since 2004, Joan has lived in a house that backs up to the Vicksburg Country Club golf course. Inside the grill and bar, there is a newspaper cutout from 1974 that shows her as the women’s division winner in a golf tournament. Then, she was raising children. Now, she golfs, takes care of her dog, and checks in on her ex-husband who lives down the street from her now.
I pull into her driveway and she walks out to greet me with a huge, “Hello!,” and a smile, and she throws her arms out for a hug. She still wears her timeless, unique wardrobe of beautiful one-piece suits, many halter-style. Her cabinets in this house, like the ones back in Jackson, are painted a feng shui crimson red. We both were sorority girls, Chi Omegas, and I recall reciting the words, “To be womanly always; to be discouraged never.” Joan was a Chi O when, in my imagination, it meant just that.
She drives me around town in her Chrysler with the good heat blazing through the sunroof. We talk about everybody in our families, what they’re up to and what we think of what they’re up to. We laugh a lot. A warning goes out that someone escaped from the federal prison here in Vicksburg. We pass a SWAT team readying themselves to infiltrate a river-side motel. We drive a loop to see if they get him.
In the evening, I am anxious to make the one hour drive back home. My parents are calling constantly, excited for me to come back to Jackson. But before I leave, Joan and I sit on the low couch in her living room — the same sofa where I watched Unsolved Mysteries as a kid and learned to fear bathing during lightning storms — and we talk about the big things. We talk about what she’s seen in her many years in Vicksburg and how the major changes in southern society were reflected in her experience there. Here is the recording, unedited (sorry).
Originally written in April of 2016.