BY JIM DEES
A recent column in a neighboring newspaper lamented that Oxford was no longer a “charming small town.” The writer even added, “it’s getting kinda sad and gross there… something incredibly special in Oxford has been lost.
“Oxford had it all and then they blew it.”
Among the offenses listed were more traffic and people (“I don’t know who they are or where they come from or why they are there.”) late-night student drunkenness (“students throwing beer bottles off balconies into a crowd”) and spiraling real estate costs (“People [in Oxford] are jealous of my mortgage payment.”)
Well, the writer is certainly right. I ran into friends on the street the day before the article came out and they were perfectly charming. By the next day, after reading the column, I saw those same people again and, well, they’d become sad and gross. They couldn’t spell charming.
That Oxford has become over-grown and isn’t the same quaint small town generations have loved has been an ongoing complaint for 20 years or more. One hears it from multiple quarters: personal conversations, social media and yes, even newspaper columnists.
It is undeniable there is more traffic in our little burg, particularly in the fall. Likewise, real estate prices aren’t for the faint-hearted. And certainly the student population at Ole Miss increases every year raising the possibility of an increase in, uh, bad decisions.
In the wee hours of a football weekend, ugly scenes occur. The writer described getting off of her restaurant shift at 3 a.m. and encountering a coed so impaired as to be unable to stand.
While Oxonians acknowledge such incidents, plus the high prices and dearth of mom and pop shops on the square, I can’t agree that Oxford has “blown it” or become “sad and gross.” As the song says, “Don’t tell me this town ain’t got no heart. You just gotta poke around.”
So I poked around.
As I write this, bright orange pumpkins cover the entire the lawn of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church. Children can be seen scrambling among them, searching out their favorite. Even an old grouch like me is heartened by such a sight.
On a recent visit to Larsen’s Cash Saver I saw a modest card table set up with two senior volunteers quite busy, helping their fellow citizens register to vote. I hung around a few minutes to take in the scene: There were people of all ages and races, toddlers to dodderers. Some standing in line, waiting their turn. Nobody in a hurry. It gave me a shudder of happiness for our community.
A few weeks ago I attended an event at Rowan Oak, the beloved antebellum home of William Faulkner. There were strings of Edison lights strung over the crowd giving the evening a festive feel. There was live music under perfect blue skies at sunset. There was even cake as it happened to be Faulkner’s 119th birthday.
Walking down the street afterwards, one reveled in the quiet of a Sunday night. I thought about the “Oxford walking man,” the slender African-American gentleman who ambles far distances across town. If you avoid the hills, Oxford is a fine walking/biking town.
Then there are the leaves on a certain gingko tree on Madison Avenue. They all turn electric yellow, almost in unison. Standing proudly on a western corner, the tree gets one last daily blast of sunlight on late autumn afternoons. The light that rips through those leaves produces a glow that would give an atheist pause. At some point, the leaves will all drop simultaneously, leaving a mound of gold on the ground; a painting sprung to life.
Yes, dear old Oxford has, and is, suffering growing pains. When I first came in 1978 there was still a blacksmith shop operating on the Square. There were so many trees you could hardly see the courthouse. There were cars but it didn’t really reach the threshold of “traffic.” You could rent a house without sticker shock and still have money left over to go to the Square and act the fool.
Times change, towns change, life its ownself changes. But in my humble opinion, Oxford has weathered its storms gracefully. It is still a beautiful town with a heart and soul. It still has the ability on certain days, in certain ways, to project a little magic in the air.
We haven’t blown it. Our town isn’t sad, and it isn’t gross, though I personally have my moments.