One of my now former students who is originally from up north recently posted something on Facebook speaking of how in the space of four short years, Oxford had stolen her heart. I had a similar experience, many years earlier.
I first came to Oxford for graduate school, on a whim, in July of 1995. My first trip here was to meet with my advisor, register for classes, and find a place to live. Coming from Atlanta via the old Highway 278, I had to come through downtown Pontotoc to get on Highway 6 to Oxford. At the intersection of Highways 9 and 6, I saw a storefront which read “24 Hour Tanning Bed and Bail Bonds.” I was comforted by the knowledge that should I ever run afoul of the law, I wouldn’t have to worry about being pale for my court date.
Following my lunch meeting with my advisor, I drove my cobalt-blue ’92 Geo Metro to the Square to meet with a real estate agent in order to find a rental property. I was impressed with the quaintness of the Square, especially the Spanish-style wrought-iron columns and balconies on the southeast side, reminding me of New Orleans.
I arrived in the waning days of Oxford’s two icons just south of the Square: The Hoka and The Gin. I remember watching “Showgirls” with two of my female friends at Ron Shapiro’s famous joint. I once went with my french horn teacher to lunch there instead of having our last lesson of the semester. I don’t remember what I ate, but the cockroaches left us alone.
The Gin was legendary, and was the hub of student nightlife. I recall enjoying crawfish boils on their back patio. On a more raucous evening, I broke up a fight between two drunk guys I didn’t even know. They were both yelling and posturing, but it was clear to me that they were both looking for a way out of the confrontation, which I provided when I got between them and pushed them both away. “Back off!” I said, thinking to myself, “This might not be the best decision of my life,” since they were both much bigger than me. However, my initial hypothesis proved correct when they scurried off in opposite directions as fast as the confrontation had developed.
After I finished my residency, I found work in Colorado. I came back after my first year out there to finish my coursework during the first summer term of 1998. When the term ended at the end of June and the time came to return back west, I became overwhelmed with sadness. I knew that I would likely never return other than the occasional visit. I must have circled the square seven times before finally proceeding up North Lamar towards Highway seven.
In the five years that followed, I came back as often as I could. The drive from Colorado to my parents’ house in Georgia gave ample excuse to layover in my favorite city, I later moved to North Carolina, where I had gotten a job at a small private college. I liked it there. I lived in Chapel Hill and was content to stay there the rest of my life. Then fate reared its head and I learned of an opportunity back in the fair city that had stolen my heart eight years before.
The Gin and the Hoka were mere memories at that point, but the charm and warmth of this small town still had a grip on me. Thirteen years later I’m still here, with no plans to leave any time soon. Who knows? Perhaps I’ll purchase a plot in the city cemetery, just to be safe.
Bill DeJournett is a musician and freelance writer based in Oxford. He can be reached at email@example.com
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