Estelle Faulkner once famously commented on the strange quality light has in the Mississippi August. She was right. Sitting in a tent after the game, cup of whiskey in hand, one can’t help but marvel at the beauty of a late afternoon in the Grove. Perhaps it’s the alcohol, perhaps it’s the joy of finally resting weary feet, or perhaps the joy of watching Ole Miss football with friends and family.
Football weekends in Oxford are strange phenomena. On Thursday you are in class at the University of Mississippi, but sometime during the night Ole Miss descends on Oxford. Parents, cousins, relatives you have never met are suddenly in town, offering to take you out on the Square for dinner, or telling you to come by and visit their tents before the game. Then there are all of your friends relatives. Especially for those of us from Jackson, weekends bear a strange resemblance to Northeast Jackson, or Madison, or whatever suburb you happen to hail from. All of a sudden half of your church, all of your parents friends, and most of your friends parents have found their way to Oxford for the game. The university has disappeared. That spacious grove of trees in front of the Student Union is transformed into a city of tents which seems to be miles long, full of thousands of colors and patterns and people. Every tent offers a sumptuous feast, and even the most sober of parents offer you a beer to wash it down with. Girls alight in the Grove transformed from simple beauties into Southern belles, fully attired in dresses of every size and color, all of which are guaranteed to stop more than a few of the young men with their red and blue striped ties. Meanwhile the parents gather to discuss all of the gossip, as their children go off to find an empty patch of grass to throw a football around.
This festival of colors, sights, smells, and sounds surely puts any other tailgating tradition to shame, but that is not the point. The point is that the whole town changes sometime Friday morning until sometime Sunday afternoon. It stops being the University, and starts being Ole Miss. The change is not in the surroundings, but in the people. Ole Miss feels suspiciously like whatever town you came from, and is populated by a number of the same people. Regardless, though, it’s a different place. It is more than your town, it is your town and everyone else’s town, it is all of North Mississippi, Central Mississippi, the Delta, the Coast, it condenses Mississippi down to few hundred yards of green grass and trees.
By the time Sunday stumbles through the door, and the sun pounds its way through your eyes, causing pain to shoot all over your body, Ole Miss has disappeared. In the grove, a space magically enlarged for a matter of hours the day before, there is no evidence of anything out of the ordinary. You forget , sometimes literally, what happened the night before. Oxford reverts back to being the University, classes and work resume. But somewhere in the back of your mind you long for those Autumn afternoons, when the sun slants down through the trees and lights the Grove, and you talk to an endless parade of friends, relatives, and drunkards, soaking in the simple joys and fellowship and football on a beautiful Mississippi Saturday afternoon, enrolled for once not in the University, but rather Ole Miss.