HomeLatestA Grand Summer Tour of the Mississippi Delta

A Grand Summer Tour of the Mississippi Delta

by Candace Echols

Car window view by Candace Echols

I remember a time not terribly long ago when my fourth child was fresh and plump, a Southern baby with perpetually pink summertime cheeks and seersucker bubbles. My husband Jim worked a regular weekday schedule, and we had no access to a pool except for the one I bought off the shelf at Target. It was hot as blue blazes, and the kids and I had hit our limit. I packed up the van on a Monday night and Tuesday morning, Jim kissed us goodbye. 

“We’re going to see the Mississippi Delta,” I told the children. “That’s where Nana was born.” My husband’s mother was from Hollandale, Mississippi, and she said things like “sugah” and “waw-tah.” The backdrops and characters that made up her stories were unlike anything I had experienced in my own 1990s suburban upbringing, but I knew they were real and true because they mirrored the memories of other Delta natives. From all I had heard, it was a place packed with mystery; an area filled with charm. The word on the street was the Delta had all but died. I wanted to see for myself what was left. Because the Mississippi Delta of bygone eras was quite clearly rich in storytelling, robust with good food and filled to the brim with strong connections with nature. But it was also a culture heavily weighed down with a complex and awful history. 

As a region, it’s a fascinating study. 

Shaw, Mississippi

Peacock Cottage by Candace Echols

As a home base, I can’t say enough about this teeny tiny cottage set smack in the middle of the Delta. At one time, “Peacock Cottage” was part of another house. If I remember correctly, the owner of the house offered this sunroom surrounded by lovely windows to anyone who wanted to come and get it, which farmer Lars decided to do. Lars and his wife share a home that is set back off the road, surrounded by tall crops and out of view for any passersby. Peacock Cottage sits just behind their home and just next to the largest residential built-in swimming pool I have ever seen. Lars offered my family an off-roading ride through the 10-foot-tall crops in his old farm truck, which transported us from “serene-mother-and-four-dear-children” to “adventure-seekers-of-the-highest-order.” He taught us all about farming in his home state of Mississippi and also how farmers keep an eye on the sky in search of rain clouds I never would have noticed as a civilian. No National Geographic show could have rivaled our off-roading tour, and no AirBnb could have offered a better Delta-esque experience than Peacock Cottage. 

Cleveland, Mississippi

One morning, we drove from Shaw over to Cleveland, where Delta State University is located. Jim’s parents met at Delta State in the middle of the last century, so it was fun to see where their romance began. Strolling around campus helped us to work up an appetite, so we made our way to Delta Meat Market. Chef Cole Ellis has done all sorts of impressive things from Charleston to Nashville, but moved back to his hometown of Cleveland and opened this place on Cotton Row. Since then, he’s been a semifinalist for the James Beard “Best Chef South” award. What I’ll tell you is the atmosphere was as welcoming as somebody’s grandmother’s kitchen, and the lunch was so fantastic, we couldn’t imagine a need for dinner just a few hours later. From there, we hit the Martin and Sue King Railroad Heritage Museum, a delight for all five of us. 

Mound Bayou, Mississippi

Owning a piece of McCartys Pottery is a rite of passage for many Southerners. But there’s another story of another family that is pretty fantastic—but not as well known. The Woods brothers, Peter, Joseph, Arthur and Sandy, all worked for McCartys Pottery in Merigold, Mississippi, as young men. Eventually, they took what they had learned from their mentors at McCartys, added it to what Peter had learned as a business major at Delta State and overlaid that with his willingness to sell his home to finance the whole endeavor. They opened Peter’s Pottery in Mound Bayou, Mississippi. Out of the gate, the business took off and, since then, they have actively sought out ways to bless their community as well as the next generation of their own family. Theirs is a robust Southern story with themes like faith, family and fortitude that issues an invitation to everyone passing through the Delta who wants to know the area better. 

Indianola, Mississippi

Credit: The Crown restaurant by Visit Mississippi from Flickr Creative Commons

After World War II, Tony Roughton came back home to the U.S. and settled in Mississippi. With him, he brought his new wife—an English woman named Evelyn—whom he had met abroad and fallen in love with. In an effort to marry her native English life with her new life in the Mississippi Delta, she started The Crown, an antique shop and cafe in Indianola. The Crown has now expanded and includes Taste of Gourmet, through which the Roughton family is producing over 40 food products for their customers to take home and enjoy. Having lived in England for two years myself, I thoroughly enjoyed the atmosphere at The Crown. If you’ve ever been to Sally Lunn’s in Bath, England, then you’ll immediately have a context for the vibe at The Crown. It’s not everyday you can take the equivalent of a transatlantic trip just by driving to the heart of the Mississippi Delta. But the fine people of Indianola have been doing that for over 40 years, thanks to the long and lovely marriage of Tony and Evelyn Roughton. 

Dundee, Mississippi

Kathryn’s on Moon Lake almost shut down for good several years ago. Thankfully, John Mohead stepped in and saved it. Otherwise, where would sun-kissed Mississippians go after a day spent waterskiing on the water or jumping off the dock? How would they see all their old lake friends who have come to the lake to get away—but not too far away? The red checks in the gingham tablecloths coupled with the candlelight, low ceilings and friendly voices make Kathryn’s feel cozy and welcoming, like a true home away from home. The food is just right after a lake day—plenty filling, but not too heavy. If you don’t bump into any old friends at Kathryn’s when you first arrive, not to worry. You’ll have some new ones by the time you head home.

Moon Lake

In 1935, David Cohn wrote, “The Mississippi Delta begins in the lobby of the Peabody Hotel and ends on Catfish Row in Vicksburg…If you stand near its fountain in the middle of the lobby, where the ducks waddle and the turtles drowse, you will see everybody who is anybody in the Delta.” As a native Memphian, I have spent many an afternoon in the Peabody Hotel lobby, but until the summer when the heat drove us out of town to someplace with a pool—anyplace with a pool—I had never actually seen the Delta with my own eyes. Having now visited, I can’t say it is any cooler than Memphis in temperature, but they certainly know how to handle the heat. Six days a week, they jump in waw-tah. And on Sundays, Delta natives wear seersucker.

Candace Echols has written for Garden & Gun, Southern Living and other magazines. She also writes a weekly column for The Daily Memphian newspaper.

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