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I am delighted that Manhattan to Mississippi has been a hit and I am pleased to share with you this excerpt, which is chapter 1 of the book. I hope you enjoy it.

Chapter 1

Southern Attraction

“YOU‘RE MOVING TO MISSISSIPPI? You must be kidding me!” That was the response of my friends and colleagues when I announced that I’d fallen in love with a southern gentleman, after an impetuous courtship, and I was packing to move to a little town none of us had ever heard of—Ocean Springs, Mississippi, right on the Gulf of Mexico.

Those in my entire circle in New York and L.A. were in shock; they couldn’t fathom that I would leave my beloved Manhattan, my apartment in Tribeca, and my bi-coastal lifestyle. I had been a struggling actress in New York and L.A. and felt equally at home on both coasts. Now I was working full-time in the cosmetics industry and traveling frequently from coast to coast. During one of my monthly business trips to Houston I met Barbara and Jimmie Lewis, a couple I liked immediately. Six months later, Barbara said, “I have a man in mind for you.” Because I trusted them, I agreed that Barbara could give Jerry my phone number. That was a life-changing moment; it was how I eventually met my husband.

Although I wasn’t wealthy, my life thus far (June 1998) had held a measure of sophistication and glamour— Broadway shows, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the New York Philharmonic, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and other cultural events intrinsic to great metropolises. To an arts lover like me, it was an ideal existence, and I thrived on it. It would be an impossible adjustment, my companions said. I was the quintessential urbanite, and big city excitement was as necessary as oxygen for me. And I wasn’t nineteen anymore; I was a woman of “a certain age.”

“What will you do there?” my compatriots demanded to know. I was not domestic, had no interest in gardening, golf, or fishing, and I had never lived in any place smaller than a major metropolis. But I wasn’t worried about finding things to do. I looked forward to exploring another part of the country.

JERRY READ and I were married on June 20, 1998, at Green Oaks Bed & Breakfast in Biloxi, Mississippi, in an intimate ceremony with only four people attending. The day was hot and still, and not a leaf stirred on the massive, ancient oaks. But it was beautiful and sunny, with a pristine sky poised over the Gulf, a lovely setting. Jerry had arranged the wedding, and the scene was redolent of the romance of the legendary Old South. Built in the early 1800s without the use of a single nail, Green Oaks was the perfect introduction to the traditional South—an exquisite architectural piece of south Mississippi’s landscape, now part of my own personal history. On that sweltering day, we sat on the expansive verandah, with its old-fashioned swing, and “petticoat staircase” below.

I imagined nineteenth century men ascending the stairs, sneaking a glimpse of the ladies’ ankles as they floated up the facing staircase, petticoats slightly raised. At Green Oaks I sipped my first mint julep.

The day following our nuptials, our wedding party set out for New Orleans for a Sunday jazz brunch at Commander’s Palace, the white and turquoise Victorian restaurant in the Garden District. In this 1880 dining establishment, I enjoyed the best Bloody Mary I’d ever tasted. My new life had begun.

Since then, I’ve discovered much, and slowly shed my prejudices. I relinquished the provincialism of the intransigent New Yorker—an urbane provincialism, it’s true, but narrowly regional nonetheless. One New Yorker at a luncheon counter on Lexington Avenue expressed her civic pride with these words: “When ya leave New Yawk, ya not going anywhere.”

WAS MY ADJUSTMENT easy? No. Of course, I missed the newest exhibit at the Met, the evenings

at Lincoln Center, the foreign films, and the chic boutiques within three minutes of my apartment. But it was an adjustment worth making, not only because I had married an exceptional man, but also because my vision expanded.

I DON’T KNOW if there was a single moment when I let go of the homesickness and embraced Mississippi. Perhaps it was that first spring, when, amazed by the sudden appearance of fuchsia azaleas in full bloom, I walked to my front yard mailbox. A sandy-haired boy about ten years old, straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting, was lying on the limb of a tree.

Half obscured by the leaves, he eyed me with friendly curiosity. “Hi,” he said, with a winning smile, not moving from his perch. I was disarmed. Coming upon a boy in this way may be nothing special to a rural Mississippian, but I had seen meetings like this only in Frank Capra movies.

My beguilement with the quirkiness of Mississippians, however, probably happened more gradually. I was surprised that the most accomplished Mississippians hold on to their earthy qualities. Some, even as adults, retain improbable childhood nicknames such as Doodles, Tootie, Fofo, Squattsy, Sankie, and Bootsie. One unbearably hot June evening shortly before our wedding, Jerry’s longtime friend Frank Hunger was coming to New Orleans, and we were looking forward to seeing him. A Mississippi native, he is a man of many achievements, and at the time was the head of the Civil Division of the Justice Department.

Lean bodied and silver haired, Frank sauntered into Commander’s Palace, reached into his jacket pocket, and said, “Daisy, I brought you some peppers from my yard.” To my Yankee ears, it sounded like this: “Daisy, Ah brought you some peppahs from mah yawd.” He then nonchalantly extracted the loose vegetables from his Saks Fifth Avenue suit—the modest, unaffected gesture of a Gary Cooper. A lack of pretense is one of the most engaging characteristics of Mississippians.

THE SOUNDS of Mississippi captivated me, too, like the plaintive whistle of the train that passed through Ocean Springs and across Biloxi Bay in the dark of night. So this was the sound that stirred the wanderlust of young people in isolated areas of this huge country, conjuring up images they had read about.

The melodic ancient Indian names charmed me. In times long past, the Biloxi (first people) spoke of the Yazoo (River of the Dead), the Escatawpa (Laughing Waters), and Pascagoula (the Singing River). The names were delightful to my ear.

I heard the legend of the Pascagoula River. The most famous of these tales describes the last chief of the Pascagoula tribe, who had lost all of his warriors in the deadly war with the Biloxi Indians. As the only surviving warrior of the last battle, with the enemy in relentless pursuit, he led the women and children, joining hands and singing, from the Pascagoula River to the sea, preferring the honor of death in the beloved waters to the shame and horror of captivity.

Residents still claim to hear a mournful, otherworldly sound around midnight, although they can’t predict exactly when it will occur. People say it’s the song of death of the Pascagoula Indians’ souls.

THOUGH I CAN’T IDENTIFY the precise time Mississippi insinuated itself into my soul, I do know this: no matter how genuinely southerners welcome the outsider—and Mississippians are truly inclusive— you never really become a part of the South. But the South becomes an indelible part of you.



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