It used to be that Mama driving with me in the car was always headed in the wrong direction. She'll tell you quick I've been a critic of her driving skills almost since I learned to talk, constantly challenging her inner sense of positioning on the globe and her knowledge of the highway system.
Last month's super full moon reminded her again of the morning she had driven us across the state to Natchez for a visit with her next-to-the-oldest sister, Alma, and her family. I had been asleep on the back seat of the car, being one of those folks blessed with the ability to eat, read, and/or sleep at any spot in a vehicle without a hint of motion sickness. That morning the bright full moon was still on the horizon and we were headed towards it, the sun rising through the back window on my shoulders. To a child, the moon and sun don't appear in the sky together without something being wrong. I completely ignored the sun and knew we were headed the opposite way we needed to go! Natchez was west of us, I astutely told her, my own keen sense of direction already having developed an authoritative opinion in me. "Yes, it is," Mama replied. "But we're going EAST!" I wailed, "There's the sun, can't you see that sun, Mama?" She reminds me it took the moon setting, completely disappearing from the sky, before I was convinced she might possibly know how to get to Aunt Alma's house. Mama likes that story. She tells it as often as there's a full moon.
A couple of years ago I rented a car and drove to Natchez, joining my cousins for the Great Mississippi River Balloon Race. The wind was gusty the entire weekend, causing the races to be canceled one after another. That didn't matter a whole bunch. We were having a mini-family reunion with more cousins from farther east of Mobile Bay, all of us together having a grand time regardless of the lack of hot air balloons in the sky. Ginger and I went to the big flea market across the river in Vidalia where I found a beautiful green with white hobnail Vaseline glass pitcher in pristine condition - for $10.00!!! Leon Russell played the concert Saturday night, an incredible performer and performance with his long white hair as free flowing as the river not two hundred yards from him.
If you've never been to a Mississippi River town you need to take a road trip due east or west to the nearest one. I stood at the bluff upriver from Natchez Under the Hill and watched the wide river roll, the Father of Waters from which urban legends spring; the story of men being swallowed whole by giant catfish as large as Volkswagons that lie on the the bottom of the river, waiting for unsuspecting divers to swim into their mouths is ever passed around the South like the Gospel. The river is fairly wide at Natchez and I can't imagine riding across it in a boat, much less swim it, those waiting catfish keeping me far away from the water. I heard the sound of a calliope being played in the distance and wondered if my ears and the river were playing tricks on me. There is no riverboat at Natchez.
That cool October Sunday morning of the Balloon Race weekend, I watched the sun rise waiting on cousins to awaken as the oldest town on the river slowly stirred. I felt hypnotized by the volume of never-ceasing water as the shafts of sunlight struck the trees on the west bank of the river in Louisiana and descended them to illuminate the river. The horn from a tugboat pushing barges reminded me the chicory coffee was getting cold in the styrofoam cup, its loud blast breaking the child-like wonder felt at having seen something for the first time ever. It was a timeless moment recorded in memory. I wanted to stay but couldn't; needing to get back across the state in time for church.
Maybe it's because I was lost in thoughtful revery at witnessing our closest star rise above the horizon on the Mississippi River but I smooth made a superfluous turn at McComb and ended up on Interstate 55, almost to Louisiana before realizing it. Mama would giggle and hee-haw if she ever found out about it. I can imagine her telling me I've never been able to get to Natchez and back. Next time I'll rent a car with GPS. And make sure there's no full moon...