That's My Girl
It was my freshman year in college. I had just started out on, what I was sure would be, a journey that would take me far, far away from the country village in Michigan's thumb which I had known for nearly ten years. My father had recently moved to Mississippi to take a job as a project manager at an office furniture factory after years of on-again-off-again engineering jobs at auto parts suppliers in Detroit, and my mother and I were still trying to figure out how we were going to handle that. Would we move? Would I drop everything at Western Michigan University just as I was starting to get my sea legs and transfer to a university in the land of cotton and blues? What about our house that my dad had just finished restoring to its Victorian splendor?
Dad had reached the conclusion that I would really enjoy Mississippi. For one thing, it didn't have snow. In November, there was a lot of white stuff along the edges of the road on his drive to work, but that was cotton, not frost. He also figured that I was ready for a little more adventure than Kalamazoo was providing... oh, and college tuition? Way cheaper in The South. So, he invited me to travel with him back to Mississippi after the holidays and stay for a week before I needed to be back in Kalamazoo and took me on a sort of grand tour to try and convince me that Mississippi was where I wanted to be.
All week, after he came home from work, we went on little trips. We visited Oxford and checked out Ole Miss's completely gorgeous campus. We went to Square Books and he nearly had to drag me out before I spent every last dollar I had on beautiful tomes and gleaming journals. On New Years Day, we drove all the way down to the Gulf Coast, because I'd never seen the ocean before. On this blustery, cool day, I wasn't very impressed. It looked like Lake Michigan, but it smelled different. We decided to follow I-10 westward, and ate beignets in an open-air cafe. We giggled about how, if we had been back in Michigan, we'd have been eating leftover Christmas cookies huddled around a space heater.
At the conclusion of every trip, we drove past a squat little building that looked like a 19th century trading post, with a Confederate flag flying over it, and in big, black, Roman letters, "The Cavalier Shop." My dad drove past it twice every day at least... once on his way to work, and once on his way home... and every day, he just couldn't contain his curiosity, but he just couldn't go in there by himself. It tantalized him, but it also scared him. We're undeniably midwestern folks. We don't like making waves, and we don't like picking fights, and somehow, my Dad just had the suspicion that if he went into that shop by himself, with a flag for which he had no respect flying above, some sort of conflict would be inevitable.
Finally, on my last day in Mississippi, Dad asked me if I would go with him. He knew I'd been curious too. He knew I couldn't help giving the shop a long look every time we passed. So I agreed, and we drove up into the parking lot. Dad turned off the car, turned to me, took a deep breath and asked, "You sure you're ready for this?"
"Let's do it," I said, knowing full well that I was probably in for some pretty big culture shock.
We got out of Dad's lipstick red Chevy and walked up to the door. There were no other cars in the parking lot. Dad opened the door for me, and I stepped out of the bright sun and into The Cavalier Shop.
"Hey, Y'all, Welcome to the Cavalier Shop. Would you like a couple cold cokes?"
Dad and I looked at each other skeptically, but accepted. The shopkeeper went over to an antique drinks cooler and pulled out a couple classic glass bottle Coca-Colas and popped the caps off with a bottle opener. He handed them to us and we took hesitant drinks as he introduced himself and the store...
"Now, what we've got up here is the fine gentlemen's attire, in the back is the ladies' attire, and over on the other side of the shop is the Redneck Shop. Now just what brings you in today?" He asked this while eyeing my father as though trying to determine his shoulder width for one of the hundreds of dusty-looking sport coats bordering the front room. My father took this as a request for his own introduction...
"Well, my name's Jim and this is my Daughter, Tanna. I just moved down here a couple months ago and my daughter came down to visit me and thaw out a bit. We've been driving by for a while now and just thought we'd come in and browse. We're both very avid supporters of locally owned businesses." My father put his hand on my shoulder, and I smiled almost meekly and extended my hand to the shop keeper. He took my hand in his pale, bony one, and shook it genially before asking, "So, what do think of our fine state?"
"Well, it's, uh, definitely warmer..." I grasped for words...
"She's thinking about transferring to Ole Miss!" My father declared in his proud, fatherly way.
"Is she now? That's a fine school, a fine school indeed! Well, if you'll follow me, we do have a selection of Ole Miss merchandise through here..." The shopkeeper led us through the gentlemen's attire and the ladies' attire, to a small anteroom filled to bursting with images of Colonel Reb, graceful neo-Classical columns, and various Mannings in sports-heroic poses. My father and the shopkeeper kept talking, about my father's job at the factory and the shopkeeper's pleasure at more economic activity in the town, while I browsed through racks of t-shirts and piles of stadium blankets. "You know, the Rebels just won the Cotton Bowl," the shopkeeper said.
"Yes, we were watching it in Oxford," Dad said. I nodded absently while I wandered into the next room, the Redneck Shop, and happened upon a bumper sticker display. In between declarations of, "The South Will Rise Again!" and "Country Boys do it in their Trucks," were more vitriolic political stickers, including more than a few rather rude ones about our then-incoming President Obama and a few that questioned the gender identity of soon-to-be Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
"But you know, we're not really football people. Dad didn't go to either University of Michigan or Michigan State, and, well, I'm sure you've heard about how bad the Lions are..." I ventured to say.
"Well what on Earth do you watch if you don't watch football?" the shopkeeper asked.
"Hockey," I declared, thinking for a moment on my prized Red Wings poster in my dorm room and my Datsyuk jersey I'd just packed up.
"Well, I don't know a whole lot about hockey, but I know Sarah Palin likes it. Now that Sarah Palin, she's my girl."
I stopped dead with my hand upon the bumper sticker display and my father's face snapped in my direction. He knew what I was thinking. There are very few politicians who I dislike, even those whose policies I profoundly disagree with. After all, their job is to likable. My father knew full-well though, that as a feminist, I had spent the whole last election cycle trying to explain to people who couldn't understand WHY or HOW I couldn't be rooting for the female candidate. Dad was giving me that look that only fathers can give... that "I know what you're thinking, but for the love of everything you hold dear, do. not. say. anything."
So I didn't. I took a deep breath and said something to the effect of, "Yes, I seem to recall hearing that she was a hockey mom."
The moment passed. The phone rang in the other room and the shopkeeper left us to our own devices. We couldn't just walk out without getting anything though... after all, the guy had given us free drinks and done his very best to make a sale. It would be rude to waste his time, so I found a small ring with a Confederate flag on it. My friend Katy, who had lived in Louisiana before moving to Michigan in middle school, had asked me to bring something back, and I thought she might like it. I paid my four bucks, and we walked out like the hounds of hell were at our heels.
We got into the car, looked at each other seriously for a moment, and then burst out laughing.
"You should have seen the look on your face!" Dad chortled. "That's my girl!"