The Mississippi Delta in November was dull and lifeless. The vast, barren farmlands, murky cypress swamps and harvested remains of industrial-sized cotton fields had met their seasonal decline. As dusk descended and I neared Metcalfe, faded signs, rusty corrugated-tin roofs and ramshackle shotgun shacks became more prevalent. The temperature dropped and fog began to fill the unseen bayous along the road.
Miss Murray, a great-grandmother and the matriarch of Metcalfe, greeted me in the kitchen at Town Hall when I arrived. In her hair net, apron and bright hospital scrubs, she beamed with southern hospitality and extended her grandmotherly arms. My trepidation about my volunteer vacation evaporated instantly as I helped Miss Murray prepare dinner for the rest of our team.
Eager for a full experience and trying to outrun the dawdling southern pace, I greeted the early morning fog on the Horseshoe Bayou on my daily walk to Little Lamb’s Daycare. My time at the daycare was the “work” I did before meeting the rest of the team for a day of playground maintenance and work in an after-school program. Every day as I entered the building, I was greeted with cheerful chatter and sing-song little southern voices singing a chorus of “Gud Mooornin’, Miss Kaaara.” Thelma was busy preparing breakfast, so the children craved my attention as much as I craved theirs. With bright, hungry smiles they pleaded, “Miss Kara, Miss Kara… read me a story… help me with this puzzle… please, ma’am?” Their soft hands touched my bare arm, rested on my shoulder and patted my hair. The love in their eyes and their white, toothy smiles were the landscape that I sought.
Miss Murray hugged me as we said good-bye at the end of my week in the heart of cotton plantations and the American South. We both cried as she said, “No sooner ‘n y’all git here ‘n y’all be leavin’ agin.” Our tears were proof that I had achieved my goal – experiencing the culture of the Deep South through its local people.