Do Ole Miss Grads Love Oxford More Than Others Love Their College Towns?A simple question with a complicated answer.
BY JOE ROGERS
I expected consensus and general praise for voicing an obvious truth. Things didn’t quite turn out that way.
My premise: Ole Miss grads have an abiding affection for Oxford not matched by other Mississippi graduates for their college hometowns.
And with good reason. Oxford is the kind of place that draws people even without a connection to Ole Miss. The whole Faulkner thing doesn’t hurt, of course. And Oxford manages to be both thriving and current while engagingly quaint – a neat trick.
I put this notion to the social media test. Early results were encouraging.
“I liked M.S.U., but didn’t like Starkville very much,” said a fellow Joe.
“I live here and I’ve found over the years that Oxford and the university evoke a kind of awe among a lot of folks in Mississippi and beyond,” said yet another Joe. “A lot of other people, of course — out-of-staters and State fans — just don’t get it! It’s there, though. I’m from North Carolina, and I don’t think Chapel Hill gets the kind of reverence this place gets.”
Note: It wasn’t just Joes who were of like mind on this.
“Oxford has that charm, to a degree, about it that no other city has,” said William.
“Oxford is the quintessential college town,” said Paulette.
But then, bit by bit, dissension crept in. The wrong sort of people starting making themselves heard. You know what I mean: people who disagreed with me.
“There are four in this family that love Mississippi State/Starkville much much more than Ole Miss/Oxford,” said Lisa. “And two of the four went on to Ole Miss for their graduate degrees.”
“Hattiesburg is the place for me,” said Libby, a sentiment I would have thought improbable, if not impossible. (Though I do have some fond memories of the Beverly Drive-In.) Clinton got mentioned. Shoot, Perkinston got mentioned, and I couldn’t swear to you that there even is a Perkinston, other than as a community college campus. A Georgian plugged Athens. A Notre Dame alum extolled South Bend, Indiana.
Clearly the discussion was straying off course. I tried a shift in approach with a new post, unaffiliated with academic institution: Oxford is the best place in Mississippi, I asserted, challenging anyone with a different opinion to defend the choice.
They came out of the woodwork.
“If you’re more than 20 miles from the Coast you’re in a wasteland,” said Larry, one of a number who voiced a sand-and-saltwater sentiment.
“Pasca Frikin Bozos Goula Coast,” said Mahlon. “I’ll take everything south of I-10. Y’all can have the rest.”
I’m a Coastian myself, but I find those attitudes a bit provincial. (Though I share Mahlon’s regard for Bozo’s, a seafood market cum po-boy emporium.)
There were also (some joking, I assume) plugs for Iuka, Tchula, Belzoni (“has the Pig Stand and the Catfish Festival,” Richard noted), Itta Bena, Roxie, Natchez, Panther Burn, Ocean Springs and, almost as an afterthought, Jackson.
O.K., Natchez I will concede as the No. 2 spot in Mississippi. But the others?
Nor did I find much help in a half-dozen or so of those “Best Places to Live in Mississippi” compilations that appear from time to time. None of them ranked Oxford first; three of them didn’t even have it in the Top 10. One put it at No. 18, trailing (among other spots) Hurley; another had it at No. 14, right behind Florence.
Not to knock the many fine people who I’m sure have come from or live in Hurley or Florence. But they’re garden spots only in the sense of tomato patches and pole beans.
I supposed it’s possible that my claims regarding Oxford were overstated. Perhaps Delta State graduates, for example, somehow revere Cleveland. Or Alcorn grads gush over Lorman. One person suggested she thinks “it has to do with where you had the most FUN!”
Maybe. But I suspect the explanation is more likely to be envy.
JOE ROGERS is a columnist for Oxford Magazine and The Oxford Eagle. He’s previously worked for The Clarion Ledger, The Tennessean and The New York Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @jroink.