I admit it to only a few; I love the town of Oxford, MS. When I learned the Mississippi USTA tennis tournament would be held there, I jumped at the chance to join a team and go. After all, I could play tennis, eat great food and maybe meet William Faulkner. I accomplished all three.
To be candid, it can be difficult to like the town where an SEC rival school is located. Some would say it is sacrilegious. Still, Oxford is one of the South’s smaller communities that has gracefully matured yet remains unscathed by the progress of time or liberals; at least for the moment. More importantly, the town showcases a beautiful square filled with fine food, fine clothing and fine books. To pull a quote from the movie, Field of Dreams, “Is this heaven?” No, it’s Oxford.
I was fortunate to have my seventeen year-old son and thirteen year-old daughter with me. I don’t want to think about it, but this may be the last time I can coerce both into tagging along with their dad on a road trip.
Although Ole Miss (The University of Mississippi) isn’t on his college “short list,” my son scheduled a campus tour Friday morning while my daughter enjoying a taste of freedom by milling around the square, filling a couple of hours window shopping and eating yogurt as a pre-lunch appetizer. Ah, the advantages of youth.
My tennis team had a 9:30 a.m. match at The Country Club of Oxford, and I was impressed by the club’s new tennis facilities, especially the accommodating staff led by head teaching pro, Maria Moya. After a grueling two-hour singles match which I dropped in a close, third set tiebreaker (3-6, 6-3, 10-12), I was ready to indulge in a hearty plate of carbohydrates and protein on the square in Oxford.
All was not lost because I made a new friend in my opponent, Brian Herrington, an attorney from Jackson, MS. I definitely want a rematch Brian!
There are many outstanding restaurants in Oxford, yet in my humble opinion, any trip to Oxford’s town square without a “meat and three” meal at Ajax Diner is incomplete.
While I maintained some semblance of discipline and rejected the Country Fried steak smothered in brown gravy, my son did order this amazing southern delicacy. Unfortunately, he devoured every bite before I could beg for one taste. Nevertheless, my half-order of a fried shrimp Po-Boy with fries satisfied both my hungry and need for carbs.
The Inn at Ole Miss
I’ve walked by this hotel many times when tailgating in the grove at Ole Miss. The hotel is operated and owned by the college’s alumni association and I was impressed with the courteous staff and our two-room suite. Anyone traveling with two teenagers can tell you it’s nice to have an extra space and I highly recommend you consider this property if staying overnight in Oxford.
Located in the old Leslie’s Drug Store, this restaurant is part of the group owned and operated by legendary southern chef, John Currence. It’s one of my go-to places when I’m in town for a football game because the food is excellent and it’s a great place to people-watch on the square.
The fried-green tomatoes we ordered for our dinner appetizer Saturday evening was outstanding and my son was equally impressed by his shrimp, crawfish and grits entree. My daughter and I opted for lighter fare and her steak salad was excellent. Hats off to our server Edward to his recommendations and taking great care of us.
Walking the Oxford Square
I never tire of wandering aimlessly around the town square and seeing how much Oxford has grown over the years. Part of me wishes the growth around the square would slow down a little. The town square is a tremendous asset that gives Oxford its charm and historical significance.
Two places I never miss while in Oxford are the gentlemen’s clothing store Hinton and Hinton and Square Books, without question one of the best, if not the best, independent book stores in the South. And for our southern belles looking to shop for the latest fashions, you won’t be disappointed either.
On Meeting Faulkner
No spoken or written paragraph on Southern literature would be complete without mentioning William Faulkner. The esteemed author lived in Oxford most of his life and even served as the town’s postmaster for two years before he was terminated for reading on the job. It’s a safe bet to say that separation worked out pretty well for both parties.
Between my Saturday tennis matches I wanted to carve out some time for the kids to see Rowan Oak, Faulkner’s antebellum home and grounds.
As extroverted as some of us may be at times, all writers have a need for solitude when working and Faulkner found his retreat on this wonderful property. Grandiose on the outside yet simple inside, I wanted to soak up the historical significance of the house and tree-lined estate.
“Writing is a solitary job – that is, no one can help you with it, but there’s nothing lonely about it. I have always been too busy, too immersed in what I was doing, either mad at it or laughing at it to have time to wonder whether I was lonely or not lonely. It’s simply solitary. I think there is a difference between loneliness and solitude.” – William Faulker
I was determined to ask the tour guide about the pantry. I had read where it was off limits to the public but I wanted to see the simple black rotary phone and the multiple numbers written in pencil by Faulkner and his family on the white walls. Lucky for us, the pantry is now open and part of the tour. Of course I did feel a little old telling my daughter the phone on display was just like the one I remembered in my grandmothers home. It was nice to have something in common with William.
There’s too much to describe about Rowan Oak in this writing and I highly recommend you reserve at least an hour or two to tour his historical home. It might be one of the few historical sites you visit that looks like the occupants just stepped out for a minute.
I love the South. That’s why I started this website. I wish Faulkner was alive today so I could sit outside with him and talk writing over a bottle of Four Roses. A brief visit to Oxford will suffice – at least for a while.
“My own experience has been that the tools I need for my trade are paper, tobacco, food, and a little whiskey.” – William Faulkner