Monday, March 26, 2012

Visiting Ole Miss at Oxford, Mississippi

The last few years, Gerald has planned a birthday treat for himself, and that is to go see his favorite softball team play on his birthday weekend. This year the University of Georgia Dawgs were playing three weekend games at the University of Mississippi at Oxford. For Georgia to win a sweep against another Southeastern Conference team turned into quite a birthday present.

We left Marion around 9 a.m. Friday and traveled down I-57 and I-55 to West Memphis to a very generous and inexpensive Shoney’s buffet bar that Gerald remembered from his trucking days. Somewhere after here, the GPS inexplicably directed us off I-55, so we saw a little different scenery than we had anticipated, and then we went into the Oxford Square down one of the prettiest city streets I have ever seen. The white and the pink dogwood and other flowering shrubs lined both sides of the street with its beautiful old houses.

Oxford Square and the surrounding narrow streets also take you back in time to a slower-paced rhythm with bird sounds more noticeable than traffic sounds. Ancient buildings have railed porches all across the fronts. The “tall” buildings with two and three floors have the same railed porches stacked on top of each other. Furniture, grills, and students sitting there gave evidence that the porches looking down on the streets are well used.

I liked passing Square Books, a famous independent book store, and I wished we’d had time to visit there and also with its two offspring—Off Square Books and Square, Jr. I am sure I could have happily spent hours in each store, but then I probably would have spent money I should not have for books our home has no more room for. So it was for the best we have those pleasures to look forward to if we go to Oxford again.

We checked into our motel near the Oxford Conference Center, and reset the GPS for the softball stadium. By this time, our son Gerry and granddaughter Tara, both on the Georgia coaching staff, were already at batting practice with the team. We quickly found the softball field on the campus, which we had heard was one of the most beautiful in the South. We enjoyed the loveliness there, which the 18 miles an hour speed signs helped us savor.

After arriving, we got quick hugs and greetings from coaches and hurried to get settled before the 6 p.m. game time. I was grateful Gerald returned to the car and collected padded seats to protect us from the cold aluminum bleachers. Despite the warm afternoon, with the rapidly falling temperature and cool breezes. we were glad we had brought jackets to add over our long sleeves, and I wished I’d stuck in a blanket.

We were relieved when we won the first game of the series by 8 to 4. We sat in the stands where we met senior Ashley Pauley’s parents and other fans who’d come the distance to support Georgia’s team. It was fun seeing Erin Arevalo and Morgan Montemayor both pitch again and Ashley Razey hit a homerun. After the win, Georgia folks were in a good mood, and Gerry hopped into our car for the ride back to the motel after we stopped briefly at the nearby Wendy’s for supper. We were ready for a very good night’s sleep after the long drive and all the excitement.

Next morning Gerald and Gerry visited at the early breakfast provided by the motel as is their habit at these kind of events. I made sure I got down to breakfast before the closing time, as is my habit. I did get a morning hug and brief visit with Gerry. Then after looking for Tara twice in the wrong room after being told two misleading room numbers, I was glad when she showed up at our room for a short visit before their day’s work continued at the ball field.

Gerald and I had time to drive around in the beautiful weather and see more of the town and the campus before the afternoon game. At two different places on campus, there were chairs and covered tables set up for outdoor celebrations of some kind; I was grateful for the weather for them also. As we drove on Manning Drive past the football stadium, Gerald explained to me that the speed limit was the jersey number of the first great Manning player Archie Manning—the father of Eli, Peyton, and Cooper Manning. I know nothing about football, but I was impressed.

Following the brochure map of the city that we’d been given at the motel, we found Rowan Oak, the home of novelist William Faulkner from 1930 until his death in 1962. Most of his novels were written there. We could have spent the afternoon there reading the posted information panels and exploring the grounds and woods, but game time was calling although we lingered until there was no time left for lunch. But the barbecue ballpark sandwich was quite satisfactory.

We really enjoyed the afternoon game with its lovely warm spring weather punctuated by occasional pleasant breezes. I slathered on sun screen and donned my straw hat and sunglasses and was again grateful for the comfort of the padded seats Gerald carried from our car. By this time the security folks and other fans seemed like familiar old friends, and we were even beginning to know the names of some of the Ole Miss players.

I was especially pleased that Tess Sito pitched, since this series was my first chance to see the junior transfer from Cleveland State. She is turning out to be an all-around team player and capable wherever she is placed. Montemayor relieved her for one inning and struck out two. Razey added two more home runs to her weekend total, and freshman Paige Wilson from Chicago, Illinois, hit 3-for-3 including a homerun that brought the game to a close with Georgia winning 9-0.

We followed the team’s bus to the celebratory dinner and enjoyed a leisurely and delicious meal on the Oxford Square lively with students in diverse dress from humorous costumes to a group of girls in formals. By the time we returned to the motel, it was time for another wonderful night’s sleep.

After breakfast on Sunday, Gerald battled the crowded narrow streets to find a parking place where we worshipped with 600 or so others at a local church and enjoyed the beautiful music there. We went straight to the ball stadium after the service to see Georgia sweep the series with an 8-0 win. This was Arevalo’s fifth complete game shutout of the season. Paige Wilson’s two hits helped secure her second SEC Freshman of the Week title. She had also been named Freshman of the Week in February after the Cathedral City Classic.

There were many great performances during this series, and we were so happy we were there. It was fun seeing the team members giving autographs and posing for photographs with the young fans who clamored for them after the game. After simmering down a bit from the winning high, everyone knew they needed to be on the road home again. We gave final hurried hugs and headed back to Illinois going through Tennesee, Arkansas, and Missouri.

At our last stop enjoying ice cream in Missouri, Gerry phoned to make sure we looked to the sky to see the unusual alignment of the moon with Jupiter and Venus. (We learned this event is called a conjunction by astronomers.) We were back at the farm by 10 p.m. and had another wonderful night’s sleep in our own bed. Tonight we watched the triple alignment of the moon and these bright planets from the yard at Woodsong.

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