Q. I'm new to Mississippi, and everybody talks too damned much. You ask someone a question, and you can't get them to shut up. Whatever happened to "yes" or "no"? — New in Town
A. You're right about that because I've lived in this state all my life, except for when my daddy was in dental school and we lived in Memphis, when they had streetcars and big department stores downtown, and the Peabody hadn't fallen into disrepair so it could be brought back better than ever; and then I lived in Louisiana for two years during the Korean War—they call it the Korean Conflict now, but then it was the Korean War—but Daddy didn't get to go to Korea—they sent him to Fort Polk, La., instead, and I had to leave my friends in Indianola and go to the second and third grades in DeRidder. So I know just what you're talking about. In Memphis, when my mother and I got on the streetcar—we didn't have a car—I would ask the driver, "Does this streetcar go to Goldsmith's where Santa Claus is?" And he would answer "yes" or "no," depending on which streetcar it was. And in DeRidder, I asked my second-grade teacher, Miss Fike, if I could be excused, and she said, "No," and that's why I never did like her after that. But all the time I've been in Mississippi, nobody has ever answered a single one of my questions with just yes or no. I think it's because people in Memphis and DeRidder—and I think probably everywhere else—are just simple-minded. If that teacher hadn't jumped to conclusions, but had tried to find out if I really needed to be excused right that very minute, it would have saved both of us a lot of trouble. But here in Mississippi, people realize you need to understand the context before you can deal with the issue at hand. I guess you could say we're just more complicated. And I'm glad of it.
Manning Mania, Explained
Q. A woman from Michigan, a good friend of mine, doesn't understand why people here get so excited about the Mannings playing football. Can you help? — Puzzled on Congress St.
A. The whole history and psychology of the state of Mississippi is wrapped up in this one. Even William Faulkner weighed in, when he wrote that the past is not dead; it's not even past. I'll try to make it as simple as I can.
1. Mississippi—white Mississippi—was on the losing side of the Civil War (and black Mississippians were on the losing side long before that), which has contributed to our state being such a crazy, whipped-down place.
2. Mississippi people love football stars and Miss Americas, because that's something we do better than just about anybody else, and so we get a chance to show off to the rest of the country.
3. The glory days of Ole Miss football were the 1950s and early '60s when Johnny Vaught was the Ole Miss coach and two Ole Miss coeds—Mary Ann Mobley from Brandon and Linda Lee Mead from Natchez—were named back-to-back Miss Americas.
4. Johnny Vaught was still coaching at Ole Miss in the late 1960s when a kid from Drew came to play football: Archie Manning.
5. Archie brought the glory back to Ole Miss, although (or maybe because) he would scare you to death by going way back behind the line of scrimmage and scrambling around all over the field before he decided what to do. And then just when you thought he would be obliterated right in front of your very eyes, Archie would find a receiver in the end zone or slither through a little hole and run all the whole length of the field for a touchdown himself. And then Ole Miss beat Tennessee—in 1969, was it?— after the Tennessee fans had made fun of Ole Miss and Archie, calling him "Archie Who." Then Archie became the quarterback of the New Orleans Saints, a team located in New Orleans but is really Mississippi's team because they are whipped down, too.
6. Then Archie's son Peyton had the audacity (and the perspicacity) to play football for the University of Tennessee instead of Ole Miss, but now he plays for the Colts, so he's OK—especially because his brother is a star for Ole Miss this year and being promoted for the Heisman.
Now, I hope you won't mind a little unsolicited advice: Do not consider a serious relationship with this woman unless she knows what happened at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge on Halloween night in 1959.
And that's the truth.
Mail to PO Box 2047, Jackson, Miss., 39225, or fax to 866/728-4798 (toll-free). Include name and daytime phone number, although it can be withheld.