I grew up in a place where the world moves just a little bit slower and the air always smells of salt and heat. A place where “Gone fishing” is an acceptable reason for closing a business because it’s understood that sometimes the only thing you can do is get on a boat and head to Horn. I’m from a place where wind-blown, dirty hair and sandy skin is indicative of a day of the best therapy you can imagine.
It’s New Orleans mixed with Fairhope and Mayberry and a tiny bit of Jackson that we wring out each year at Mardi Gras. It’s getting the question “Why don’t you sound like you’re from Mississippi?” and having to explain that the coast isn’t quite what you hear about the south. It’s spending weekends on the water, longing for summer no matter what time of the year it is.
It’s bringing new people home, that first semester of college or when you’ve been gone thirty-something years. The understanding that everyone you know would be just a little bit better after eating a Tato-Nut. It’s the strength of community you find in the midst of tragedy. Strength that comes with rebuilt homes and lives every half-a-century. It’s feeling tragedy deep and hard and understanding that it’s not you against the world but that you’ve got a tribe behind you in your darkest moments. It’s being there for people, through prayers and fundraisers and tears.
It’s a love of the water that gets in your blood. Not even the people or memories quite draw you home like the need to feel sand beneath your toes and feel the tingling of skin drawn warm and red after a day in the sun. It’s turning on country music as soon as you hit I10 and the wind that rushes through your hair as you ride that boat or jet ski further and further from land.
It’s the smile that comes over your face when people not from the coast talk about the dirty water and lack of waves. It’s the understanding that there is really something much more precious beyond the beaches. Something that you miss out on when you simply throw your towel out and bake in the sun in Destin or Gulf Shores. That our waterways are what makes us special. The bayous and rivers. The islands and sandbars. Neighborhoods that might look like anywhere else in America but hold secrets in their backyards like a warm watery Narnia yearning to be explored.
It’s something about coming home for festivals, crawfish boils and your little brother’s high school homecoming, driving first down the beach before turning the car toward the neighborhoods—because somehow the sand and saltwater is just as much home as the buildings ever will be.
It’s a lifestyle, not just a location. Filled with loving people well through food and entertainment. It’s where your parents are and, if you’re lucky, your grandparents, cousins, aunts, and uncles. It’s the most beautiful place in the world and the place you’d never move back to—until you’re thirty-five with kids. It’s unlocked front doors and riding your bike to the farmer’s market downtown. It’s festivals every weekend and crawfish boils all spring. It’s small town life with the big town amenities just far enough away across bridges and down interstates.
It’s big trucks that pull boats and convertibles for little ladies with deep tans. It’s taking time. To smell the saltwater and laugh with old friends. It’s the secret gem at the bottom of that landmass between Louisiana and Alabama. The beautiful set of towns just down Hwy 49 from Hattiesburg and Jackson. Just east of New Orleans.
It’s Ocean Springs and Biloxi and Gulfport and Pascagoula. It’s the Mississippi Gulf Coast and it’s home no matter where the postman brings my mail.