Imagine you are a drop of water that landed in the Mississippi headwaters of Lake Itasca in last week’s state of Minnesota. From there you’ll travel down the great Mississippi River for ninety days before arriving at this week’s state – Mississippi! (The river officially empties into the Gulf Coast near Baton Rouge, Louisiana) Quite the journey and quite the change of landscape along the way! So with that we big a fond farewell to the “North Star State” and head to the Deep South . This week we visit the land of The Blues, catfish and Muppets and one very odd name. My goal for the week (besides teaching the kids all about “The Magnolia State”) is for them to learn how to spell Mississippi. Mississippi is based on the French word Messipi which was borrowed from a similar sounding Algonquin word Misi-ziibi meaning “Great River”. I remember in school the correct spelling was almost a rite of passage and I have no doubt they will both be practicing all week.
I had to be careful what I shared with the kiddos about Mississippi tonight. For example, I didn’t feel they needed to know that Mississippi, based on median household income, is the poorest state in the nation. Also, for the seventh year in a row, Mississippi is the fattest state in the nation (with a ridiculously alarming obesity rate of 34.4%!) Also, while important, there are certain aspects of Mississippi history, especially its violent link to some events during the Civil Rights movement. So I decided to tread lightly because these were plenty of positives to share about Mississippi as well.
Most interesting to me is when faced with adversity, how Mississippi and her native sons combatted it. From 1817-1860 Mississippi was the leading cotton producer in the nation. But after being ravaged by Civil War, dealing with destruction of many crops by the boll weevil and devastating flooding in 1912 and 1913, cotton could not remain the most important crop to Mississippi’s economy. (Though to this day it remains within the top 5 producing states) So instead Mississippi turned to aquaculture and became the nation’s largest producer of farm raised catfish which contributes $450 million annually to Mississippi’s economy.
Another major hurdle in Mississippi history was the fight against educational segregation. In 1862, student James Meredith enrolled and was at Mississippi University only to be denied entry repeatedly. His enrollment (and opposition by Governor Ross Barnett) sparked riots on campus, during which President John F. Kennedy eventually called in U.S. Border Patrol and the Mississippi National Guard. U.S. Marshalls ended up escorting Meredith 24 hours a day during the time he attended the Univerity, which he eventually graduated from with a degree in Political Science which he used later in his political career. Though Meredith’s action made headway, it was well into the 1970’s before desegregation was achieved in many of Mississippi’s schools.
I needed to bring it back to a happy place, and what’s more comforting to a child than a teddy bear? The cuddly toy can trace its inspiration back to a 1902 hunting expedition in Onward, Mississippi where US President Theodore Roosevelt refused to shoot a bear that had been trapped on his behalf. The action inspired this political cartoon, which then inspired Morris Mitchom, who saw the drawing of Roosevelt. He created a little stuffed bear cub and put it in his shop window with a sign that read "Teddy's bear," after sending a bear to Roosevelt and receiving permission to use his name. The toys were an immediate success.
And what could be happier than the birth of a King or two? The King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Aron Presley, was born and lived his early life in Tupelo, Mississippi. The city of Tupelo has quite a few Elvis attractions. The King was no doubt inspired by the musical genre, The Blues, which can trace its roots to Mississippi. Blues originated in African American communities in Mississippi near the end of the 19th century from spirituals work songs, field hollers, shouts and chants, and simple rhyming ballads. A subgenre known as Delta Blues became popular in the Mississippi Delta area between Memphis, TN and Vicksburg, Mississippi and features instruments such as the guitar, harmonica and cigar box guitar. Another King, this one known as B.B., along with his signature guitar, Lucille, is known as one of the 100 greatest guitarist of all time. Riley B. King was born in Itta Benna, Mississippi and honed his craft on street corners playing for dimes. I’d say both kings went far…
Another Mississippi native, Jim Henson, has been bringing smiles to countless children for decades. His Jim Henson Company is responsible for the iconic Muppets! (as well as quite a few Sesame Street characters, the Fraggles, and Muppet Babies, to name just a few more) Born in Greenville and raised in Leland, (where there is a museum in his honor) Henson met his friend Kermit Scott who is believed to be the inspiration for Kermit the Frog.
Speaking of happiness, you can thank Joseph A. Biedenharn, for your ability to “Open Happiness” as the Coca-Cola slogan says because it was at his candy shop in Vicksburg, that Biedenharn first started bottling the soda. Due to the popularity of the syrup form at his candy counter, soda water bottler Biedenharn started using Hutchinson bottles to store and then distribute the beverage. He sent a case to owner of the Coca-Cola company A.G. Candler, who thanked him but told him he was not interested in mass producing bottled Coke at that time. He did given Biedenharn the OK to continue production and distribution in Vicksburg, though, which the family did. The Bierdenharn Coca-Cola Museum now operates in the location of the original candy store. (Kristi’s interesting side note, when Coca-Cola was eventually mass distributed Biedenharn retained the sole rights to produce and distribute in the area around Vicksburg.)
In addition to these warm fuzzies, I also shared with the kiddos information on Mississippi’s contributions to the medical world (believe it or not!) Chair of Surgery at the University of Mississippi School of Medicine, Dr. James Hardy became famous for the first human lung transplant and the first (and very controversial) animal-to-human heart transplant. Also significant was Mississippian Dr. Arthur Guyton While serving as Dean University of Mississippi Medical Center, writing Textbook of Medical Physiology, used by medical students around the world since 1956. The best-selling physiology book ever published, this textbook may very well be the best-selling medical textbook of any kind.
We also talked a bit about the Natchez Trace a historical path that extends roughly 440 miles from Natchez, Mississippi to Nashville, Tennessee, linking the Cumberland, Tennessee and Mississippi rivers. The Trace was originally created and used for centuries by Native Americans. Later, it became a pathway for early European and American explorers, traders and emigrants in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The Natchez Trace Parkway commemorates the historic Old Natchez Trace and preserves sections of the original trail. Its central feature is a two-lane road that extends the distance of the original Trace.
See, I told you I’d find plenty of positives to share! And if that’s not enough, you can also thank Mississippi for Oprah Winfrey, John Grisham (he wasn’t born there but he spent most of his childhood there and is an Old Miss alum), Pine-Sol, the soft toilet seat (which was invented by Mississippian David Harrison) and events that prompted the creation of Memorial Day. So lace up your blue suede shoes and join us on this week’s adventure through Mississippi!
I need to have plenty of butter on hand this week to get us through our culinary creations, that’s for sure! Everyone’s guaranteed to need to loosen the notches on their belt after we make it through this week. I started with one of the leading producers for Mississippi’s economy that I mentioned earlier in the blog, catfish. I used this recipe for Crunchy Mississippi Catfish, knowing that I would have a happy Beanie tonight. Actually, my kids have had and enjoyed catfish before (thank you National Food Project last year and National Catfish Day – June 25th for all inquiring minds!) so I knew they’d enjoy this. I paired it with this Mississippi Picnic Coleslaw (for my Noah Joe) and some Downhome Hush Puppies (Mom, I totally thought of you as I made them) Also, Mikayla and I were finally able to share with the boys the secret we had made last week – Kool-Aid Pickles! (They had to sample them earlier in the day, of course!) This treat is a favorite of school kids in the Mississippi Delta according to my "Taste of Home: Across America" cookbook. It was just fun, we had to try it out! And as and added treat - Coca-Cola in real glass bottles, a nod to Joseph A. Biedenharn! And for dessert, you can’t do Mississippi without Mississippi Mud Pie. With the heat of today this was a perfect treat to wrap up our day.
Speaking of our day, I know this blog has been all about Mississippi but you’ll notice that quite a few of today’s pictures feature trucks. Because we had “Lunch with Trucks” at the library today! We did this last year and in spite of the heat, we were thrilled to go again today. The kids had a blast. I’m not sure if every day of summer break will be this exciting but at least we kicked it off in style.
The weather is iffy for the next few days, which means we’re going to be playing it by ear. But we’re hoping to get in a Mississippi Kid Kitchen day, work on our cotton project and then either musical storytime or an outdoor concert depending on how things look in the morning. It’ll be fabulous! So until then…
Our kool-aid pickles
We used grape kool-aid
Mikayla LOVED them (Noah wasn't quite so sure)
Picking books out of a bull dozer - how cool!
He found a hidden car!
Kayla found one, too!
Kids in a truck
Hmmm, could this be her new calling?
They really liked the horn in this one
My future fire fighter
Cupcakes for D's birthday (which is officially today - love and hugs to him!)
Prepping for our cotton dyeing
We only had one major spill believe it or not
Laying them all out
Setting them out to dry - we're hoping to use them tomorrow
Mississippi Picnic Coleslaw
Hush Puppies (Grant raved about these - Mom think you need to come up and try them out!)
A Mississippi Feast
It does NOT get any better than soda right out of a glass bottle!
Mississippi (melty) Mud Pie