FRONT ROYAL, Va. -- It must have been a harried parent trying to cope while youngsters protested a long drive who invented that car game where you try to spot license plates from all the 50 states. In this the season of school tour groups and cherry blossoms, it's almost too easy.
It was a "magical place," she says, back in 1992, when her parents bought the big house overlooking the Mississippi Sound in the quaint harbor town of Pass Christian.
In a Natchez, Mississippi, gift shop I saw a sign with a dog swilling a pint. It said: "In dog beers, I've only had one." Some days I feel that in newspaper years, I'm 434 years old.
The New York Times comes to the mailbox in fits and starts, sometimes three papers a day, often none at all.
Warning: The following column contains sexist comments that might be offensive to just about everyone.
I heard about the cleverest gift ever, and -- imagine this -- it was given from a man to his wife. He presented her with T-shirts for every University of Alabama football opponent for the entire past season, before the season, so she could wear their colors and root for the Tide's opponents.
The second record album I ever owned was "In the Wind" by Peter, Paul and Mary. The first, a compilation of rock hits by various artists, including the inimitable Aretha Franklin singing "Sweet Bitter Love," one of the best songs ever sung.
I still have Albums One and Two, their surfaces scratched and covers worn.
When I was little, Stuart Hamblen's song "This Ole House" always made me unutterably sad.
Despite the lively melody and cheerful beat, the homeowner was giving up, leaving his faithful hound dog to fend for itself.
I met Herbert Block, the late, great editorial cartoonist Herblock, in Washington in the early 1980s. Maybe I should say I saw him. "Met" is too strong a word. I never even shook his hand.
THE ATCHAFALAYA SWAMP, La. -- The bridge is closed that leads over Bayou Mercier to Greg's cypress cabin, creating a circuitous detour and an even quieter-than-usual space on the edge of the swamp. I don't mind the detour.
Blockbuster books like "Wild" and "Gone Girl" get so much attention that we forget other authors are out there busting their blocks trying to sell a few stories written without murders and mayhem.
I received a couple of quietly wonderful books as gifts, and I have to share the news in case The Times neglects to review them. They deserve attention, too.
PASS CHRISTIAN -- This is Christmas week. And as Irving Berlin wrote: The orange and the palm trees sway.
Cat Island looks so close across the sparkling Mississippi Sound, I could touch it with a feather duster. Live oaks remain green and disguise the season.
FISHTRAP HOLLOW -- I walked out to the little house in the yard that stores my books. From my personal library that techie friends keep telling me is silly and superfluous, I found with no trouble my battered old copy of "Of Mice and Men." Taped and raggedy and dog-eared, it feels in my hands like life.
If Martha Stewart were in charge of heaven, it might look something like Ocean Springs, Miss., on Peter Anderson Festival days. Traffic is blocked on the main downtown streets, the smell of boudin and barbecue is in the air, clever people hold sway.
And that's a good thing.
It's been a beautiful fall day. I am healthy, reasonably intelligent, have good friends and a roof, albeit rusty, over my head. But I burrow, downcast, on my denim couch beneath a tiger throw, wondering why I feel so terrible about two football games.
FISHTRAP HOLLOW -- From the barn come the boards that serve as underpinning for my old house. They are brought to its high side and screwed into the battened cedar for the season. Warnings here are for a freeze.
McCLELLANVILLE, S.C. -- Highway 17 heading north from Charleston is the kind of funky, low-country trail I love. Roadside vendors sell sweetgrass baskets made in Gullah tradition, and late-summer flora is profuse and aquarium green.
MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- While thousands were touring Graceland during Elvis Week last month, a retired English professor from Baton Rouge sat at legendary Sun Studio and signed copies of her quiet but fascinating book.
ST. FRANCISVILLE, La. -- I've met some brave people in my life: survivors of war, politics, natural disasters -- and one heroic woman in the Mississippi Delta who lived most of her life in an iron lung.
I'm not sure I've ever met anyone braver than the beautiful and elegant Anne Butler of this enchanting Louisiana river town.
NEAR PORT GIBSON -- You can waste a lot of time trying to get others to appreciate what you see in certain people, certain places. If the beauty is less than obvious, and more of the haunting variety, it's often a fool's pastime even to try.
GREENVILLE -- The skinny teenager holds his telephone in one hand and uses the other to hitch up low-riding jeans.
"I want to tell you right," he insists. I had asked directions. We are only blocks from my intended location, he knows the place, but an opportunity to strut out a phone's high-tech features should not be wasted.
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