home away from home

home away from home

Throughout the last eleven years both of our children attended and graduated from the University of Mississippi. They chose different paths – a graphic design/art major and a civil engineering degree – but each had wonderful experiences there.

We were unfamiliar with Ole Miss when we took our daughter for her first semester and left her on her eighteenth birthday to face this stage of her life alone. We had been charmed by the city of Oxford on our college visits, and the day we left her there, the owner of the card shop on the square that we had just met gave us her phone number and encouraged us to contact her if our daughter ever needed anything. We have always been thankful for the friendly people that helped our children along the way.

Throughout the years we spent time tailgating in the Grove, and experience like no other:

grove tailgate

And there was lots of time moving in and moving out, shopping on the square, and discovering the amazing culinary scene – trying out new restaurants and returning over and over again to old favorites. Many people compare Oxford to our hometown of Franklin, Tennessee, and we enjoyed the similarities and relished the differences, too.

We often seemed to go there at busy times, but the visits we enjoyed most were when Oxford was moving at a slower pace. Last spring we went one last time for a visit such as this. Our son was on the brink of graduation (which would be another “busy time” we would return for) and we wanted to some spend time with him in this place that had become another home for our children, a weekend with him in this stage of his life before real life took control of his time and of his thinking.

Oxford is definitely a literary town. Home to William Faulkner, it is well known for its signature Square Books, a wonderful independent bookshop that grabs my attention each time we go.

Square Books

(Off Square Books is an “annex” just down the street, a bit more spacious with more variety in its selections and home to the Thacker Mountain Radio show each Thursday night.  And Square Books, Jr., just around the corner, is a children’s bookstore dream.) We spent a good deal of time at Square Books on our visit, and our son even asked us to buy him a book (which we gladly did!)

As an aside, this book caught my eye and made me laugh out loud.

y'all twins

(Seriously, what would make you think they were twins?) The stories within are humorous tales of these girls who have grown up and remain in Oxford.

And when I grow up and retire, I am definitely going to Camp Square Books – how could anyone resist this description:                          Join us for four leisurely days of book camp. Enjoy literary tours of Oxford and Lafayette County, special talks, lunches and two dinners, with a signed copy of each author’s book and reserved seating at events. The visiting authors for 2013 were Bill Cheng (Southern Cross the Dog), Gail Godwin (Flora), Clyde Edgerton (Papadaddy’s Book for New Fathers), and Jeff Shaara (A Chain of Thunder). I wonder who will be there when I get to go? I can’t wait!

Square Books Camp

On this visit we finally went to Rowan Oak, home of William Faulkner. It is now owned by the University, and we had often “driven by” (or tried to – it is not as easy task as it is hidden at the end of a narrow street in a busy neighborhood). We took some time to linger among the trees, walk on the porches and in the courtyard, and consider what it was like when one of the South’s (America’s?) greatest writers lived and worked there. Even our math-minded engineering son enjoyed his visit there, too.

Rowan Oak

Back on the Square, we saw this sight:

Oxford Rooftop

How many towns (not cities) have rooftop venues? We learned that this was a law school alumni gathering – but I doubt there were any seersucker suits there since it was before Memorial Day. In my mind I could hear their Southern drawls and elongated vowels, and even from a distance we could hear the buzz of their conversations.

We stayed at the Downtown Inn, the hotel where we had stayed so long ago when we first brought our daughter to school. It is so convenient to walk anywhere downtown, right in the middle of things. This was one of the last weekends it would be open, though, as it was doomed to soon meet the wrecking ball, only to be replaced by a much nicer (and more expensive) boutique hotel, Hotel Indigo Oxford:

2012.12.21.ANTIQUE ELEVATION2.psd

And it is time for some improvements to be made. But our staying there one last time brought things around full circle.

We remembered our first stay there, during freshman orientation in 2002, when we brought our daughter so long ago. While there we thought we would be smart and decided to go ahead and book a room for a football weekend. When we asked, the clerk told us the price, which was triple what we were paying for our stay at that time. “Why? How can you do that?” we asked. His reply, with a smile, “Because we can.” Then he told us there wasn’t anything available anyway, that the rooms were booked years ahead of time, and the same people return over and over again. “How do you ever get a room here then?” we marveled. “Basically someone has to quit coming – or die,” he replied. “But there is a long line ahead of you even then.”

We wished we had longer to stay so we could eat at more places. Our family can’t visit Oxford without eating (or trying to get in) Ajax, the spicy meat-and-three diner on the Square.

Ajax Oxford

But there are so many other tempting establishments, new and old, that we never have time or hunger enough to visit all the restaurants at which we would like to eat.

Of all the charms this town has to offer, the best thing about this particular visit (and every one we have made) was spending time with our son (and at other times our daughter and son-in-law). They have all grown up so much in this little home-away-from-home. They have found lifelong friends (and our daughter met her husband) while living in this special place.

We could see that now our son has an understanding of and appreciation for life and luxuries and little things that he didn’t have when he came here. Of all the things I love about Oxford, I will always cherish the memories of the times our children spent here and the way this little town helped them grow.

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