Take out your dusty antique map of the United States and hang it on the wall. Now get a dart, close your eyes, and throw it. Where did it land? Some obscure place in the Plains? Or some big city on the East Coast? Either way, you missed my hometown of Mccomb, Mississippi by a heaping landslide.
To find McComb, Mississippi on a map is to get really lucky or to simply know the place by heart. I am so glad I’ve gotten to call McComb, Mississippi home for most of my life. A neighbor will hardly ever not see me home from college when I have the chance, thanks to the memories I have gained from this amazing city.
1: McComb=Trains Plus a Beautiful Downtown
If you stand on Main Street and look up and around you, you can see the history just living in the old buildings of the city. One building reads “1898 Drug Store” and is decorated with delicate flower designs. Another stands tall and reads “McCrory’s,” reminding onlookers of simpler shopping experiences.
If you travel down the road, you will pass a now-abandoned theater where I took dance lessons as a child. Turn left and you will see stairs leading into the back of a building that gives lovers hope with a simple graffitied message: “I will love you every step of the way.” Across the street from the inspirational steps is an old advertisement for “Refreshing Coca-Cola, 10¢,” painted on the side of a building.
Down that alleyway, past the parking garage, and you’ve arrived at the McComb Train Depot, home to the McComb Railroad Museum and the Bo Diddley Pavilion (so named for the blues and rock-and-roll legend and McComb native). An old train is on display near the depot, complete with diner car, mail car, and the coolest part, the engine. Don’t forget to write your name in the dust that has collected on the sides of the cars.
2: Everyone Seems to Know Everyone
Do you have an errand to run, but you’re just having an all-around bad day? Don’t worry; as soon as you walk outside your house in McComb, Mississippi your neighbors will cheer you right up.
“Hey, Olivia! How have you been?” your elderly neighbor calls from across the street. She begins walking over. Your shopping trip has now been extended for at least ten minutes. On the way to town, you pass by many, many people, most of whom wave to you as you pass. Upon getting out of the car and during your shopping trip, genial smiles greet you everywhere you turn. The friendly cashier wishes you a nice night, and a polite gentleman holds the door open for you.
My personal encounters with the people of McComb, Mississippi have been so pleasant that sometimes I don’t want to run an errand, not because I’m having a bad day, but because I don’t want to have to put on a smile and ask everyone “How are you?” That being said, the amount of charm in my city alone could turn the worst Marvel villain into the most upstanding citizen.
3: The Azalea City
When I think of my hometown of McComb, Mississippi I think of bushes and bushes of azaleas lined up in yards and parks and roadsides. When that first southerly breeze blows in and considers staying near early spring, every single azalea bush in existence fights for the sun’s attention and blooms its heart out. Everywhere you look, there is a pop of azalea color: purple, pink, white, and my favorite, orange.
The color doesn’t last long, but it is soon replaced by sweet olive trees lining the streets. Have you ever smelled heaven? Not until you’ve taken a whiff of one of these puppies. When they’re all bloomed out, you can’t help but walk around smelling something amazing.
4: I Can’t Mention the South without Mentioning the Food
As we progress toward the summer, we enter what Southerners call “Crawfish Season.” This is the best time to get these tasty, muddy crustaceans not only because it’s cheap, but also because everybody you know is having a crawfish boil, so there’s a possibility it’s free. If you don’t get the chance to eat them while they’re in season, sorry bud, you missed out.
One day, I’m sitting on my back porch enjoying the book I’m reading and, out of nowhere, my nose gets assaulted by the smell of burning charcoal and juicy meat. I am more than jealous and I begin to question my relationship with my so-called “neighbors.” Maybe I wanted some ribs. I would have even brought the beans.
Let’s not forget Mom’s cooking. Family recipes for dressing and secret ingredients (it’s love, right?) for étouffée make everything taste so much better. And the smells…who doesn’t love waking up to the smell of bubbly sausage gravy cooked in an old cast iron skillet and toasty biscuits straight from the oven?
5: Delaware…In Mississippi
On any lazy Saturday night when I’ve already gone out to dinner with my friends and we’re trying to find something else to do besides go home, we hit the streets. The best street in McComb? Delaware Avenue. Anything you could need is a turn left or right off the main road. Hungry? Try Sonic or Fox’s. Need office supplies? There’s an Office Depot.
This past time is apparently shared by many generations of McComb natives. As a teen, my mom would “cruise Delaware” when she and her friends had nothing else to do. My teenaged dad would “go cruising Delaware” to hang out with his buddies in his car. With a speed limit of thirty and four lanes of possibilities, the night is always young.
6: My First Attempt at Delinquency (Accidentally)
When I was still in high school, my friends and I were looking for a unique place to hang out that we could make our own. We did a little exploring around McComb, and we came upon the parking garage by the train depot. Unbeknownst to us at the time, the parking garage was already occupied by skateboarders and potheads. We claimed the second level as our own and soon began making regular excursions for “real talk,” dollar store snacks, and deep metaphysical exploration.
On the Fourth of July after each of our first years at separate colleges, we met up at our spot to catch up and watch the fireworks. At the top of the parking garage, we could see almost the entirety of downtown. This included passing cars, and the police car that had obviously followed us. We watched and didn’t see an officer get out, so we were relieved…until we heard the crunching of glass and saw the flickering of a flashlight behind us. He was sneaky. We were flustered as we told him what we were doing up there: “We just heard a boom and wanted to see what it was.” We made it out alive and have found a safer (and definitely more legal) meeting place.
7: Pups and Percy Quin
Percy Quin State Park has been a happy place of mine since I was little. I’ve gone on so many fishing trips in Lake Tangipahoa, and I rode my first (and only, now that I think about it) jetski in those waters. Tent camping is so much fun; you can get a spot right on the water and away from everybody and just let go.
With its sprawling pines and endless sunshine, Percy Quin is the best place to take a stroll or ride your bike. I love to bring my furry companions with me; they enjoy it just as much as I do. The wiggles of their tiny tails let me know that they’re ready to explore.
8: The Real Happiest Place on Earth
Forget Disney World, Camp Sunshine is the happiest place on Earth. This week-long summer camp was developed to provide special needs children and adults with an exciting experience filled with friends and fun. I have participated in this camp for three years as a counselor, and I have been paired up with three different campers who I assisted and ultimately befriended by the end of the week. Through arts and crafts, horseback riding, fishing, and regular talks over dinner (all done at Percy Quin, I might add), I was able to better understand my campers as individuals rather than by their disabilities.
This camp is truly an unforgettable experience. Throughout the week, I pushed my campers to try new things, and they encouraged me to do new things too. My first year of camp, I had never sung onstage, but my camper wouldn’t sing without me standing beside her and singing along. I hate being the center of attention, but my third year, my camper was very well-known by everyone around camp; everywhere we went, a crowd of people would surround us and yell his name, something I eventually got used to.
9: Saturday Morning Yard Sale-ing
When the time comes for the monthly round of local yard sales, my mom and I hunker down; we buy a newspaper, get some cash, and plan to go to bed early Friday night. On Friday, I spend time going through the listings of yard sales to see if there is anything noteworthy. Of particular interest are books, original artwork, any sale in a nice neighborhood, and especially estate sales, mostly because Mom and I like to see how people decorate the insides of their houses. The good ones are highlighted and circled. On a good day, we’ll get up really early so we can be at the sales when they’re starting. We start with the sale that’s closest and work our way around town, crossing ads off the newspaper as we go. When we finish, we go home and share our spoils with my brother.
People try to sell some crazy stuff at yard sales. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve probably bought some crazy stuff at a yard sale. My favorite finds have been a mid-nineteenth-century kaleidoscope made out of paper, a cameo portrait that always faces west but is missing her partner who faces east, and a beautiful green bankers lamp. You never know what you’ll find in someone’s yard; one man’s trash is another’s treasure.
10: Summertime in Small Town, USA
Summer: the best time to be in McComb, Mississippi. Everyone is happy and ready for something to happen. Food is always on the grill, the sun is always out, and there’s always something to do. Whatever you’re wearing is too much because the air not only feels about twenty degrees more than it actually is, but it’s also sticky. A day-long lounge in the pool will help, but then you’ll be a human raisin. Floating on the river is the perfect solution. You can attach yourself to a raft, bake in the sun for a little while, then hop in the water when you get too hot.
The late nights of a McComb summer culminate in a campfire, roasted marshmallows, and silly card games. Good laughs with old and new friends make any evening worthwhile, but with the cacophonous sound of crickets chirping in the air, the event always seems more special.
McComb, Mississippi, will always be my home, no matter how far away I get from it. With these memories and so many others, there is no way for me to resist going back home.