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Oxford, MS: The World's Best Fried Catfish, An Iconic Town Square, and Lots More

The Tour said “Goodbye” to Laurel and headed to its next destination: Oxford, Mississippi. The first stop was a cabin we rented outside of town. It was a cool little bungalow set on 5 scenic acres. We were warmly welcomed by the proprietors: Mom, Dad, their two sons, Grandma, 3 dogs, and two cats.

As usual, we were really hungry and our good intentions to just stroll and sightsee became a search for some good southern vittles. After parking and feeding the old-fashioned meter every quarter we had, the hunt for food began in historic and bustling Oxford Square. The Historic Oxford Courthouse is the focal point of the Square. This “newer” version, which was built in 1872, replaced the original structure which burned down in 1864.

Historic buildings with brick fronts and balconies attract crowds of people for fast food and fine dining. There’s something for everyone! This eatery…City Grocery is housed in what was an old drugstore. Another example of repurposing an old building to revitalize a town square.

This independent bookstore takes up three separate historic buildings. Besides being crammed with every book imaginable, there’s also a very cool café with a balcony. A great spot to read, relax and people-watch. And the store also hosts a very popular radio show called Thacker Mountain.

We’d explored Oxford a few years ago and ate at the iconic Ajax Diner. It was so good, but we knew we should try someplace new. But, NOOOOO. There it was calling to us: The Ajax Diner…game, set, match! We had to go there again. There’s absolutely nothing pretentious about the Ajax, which has been over-feeding and making people happy for more than a quarter century. The Ajax has a “Cheers” feel about it where locals and visitors gather to chow down on massive quantities of incredible home style Southern food.

Our favorite menu item is their fried, cornmeal-encrusted catfish (NOTE to our dear friend and fishing expert Dan K: “Ya gotta figure out how to catch this fish and make this dish!”). It’s truly OMG delicious! For sides, Bart got beans and rice (with hot sauce), jalapeno corn bread, and – in a nod to healthy eating – steamed broccoli. Rorie had the same, except for turnip greens (flavored with bacon) and a cucumber-onion salad. It’s healthy because it’s protein right?

Needless to say, after the day’s drive, a leisurely stroll, and filling our bellies, we were tired and headed back to our cabin for a great night’s sleep. The next morning, we decided to burn off some calories and walk the campus of Ole Miss (University of Mississippi). We’ve been on many beautiful college campuses including UNC in Chapel Hill and UVA in Charlottesville, and the bucolic splendor of UM is right up there with those places in terms of charm. Stately old buildings including the Lyceum line the streets of the Ole Miss campus.

Ole Miss had a major imprint on American history: On September 30, 1962, James Meredith - with the protection of the National Guard and U.S. marshals - became the first African America to enroll at the University. A plaque on campus outside of the Lyceum commemorates the event.

Like at many major colleges and universities, football at Ole Miss is a BIG DEAL and it has the stadium to prove it. Bart assumed all the entrances to the stadium would be locked, but after some stealth investigating, he somehow found one that was open. He was able to walk right into the cavernous facility that holds a mere 65,000 fans. While not as big as Ohio State or Michigan’s 100,000-seat arenas, it’s still impressive. Bart saw a team football lying on the ground and thought about taking it as a souvenir. But, then the idea of being led away in handcuffs brought him back to his senses. And, there was absolutely no guarantee that Rorie would bail him out of jail.

While leaving the campus, Rorie spotted a sculpture that really grabbed her attention. It’s called The Mentor. For her, it really symbolized the idea of what the college experience ought to be for everyone.

A trip to Oxford wouldn’t be complete without seeing the home of world renowned author William Faulkner. It’s called Rowan Oak and sits just outside of town.

Walking the grounds one can easily imagine friends and family gathering there to discuss the events of the day and have a hot toddy on the verandah.

Faulkner’s primitive Greek Revival style home, which was built in the 1840’s, was an inspiration for much of his work for over 40 years. The servants’ quarters, smokehouse, small stable and post oak barn still stand on the beautiful grounds. These towering Rowan oaks provided a canopy of shade for visitors arriving in horse drawn carriages.

What a jam-packed and awesome day! Next up: Headed to the small town of Clarksdale in the Mississippi Delta, birthplace of The Blues.

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