By the time we arrived at Margaret's Grocery just outside of Vicksburg, the rain had graciously subsided. As soon as I emerged from the car I was instantly in love with the vivid colors and unabashed sentiment of the place and had a ball walking around taking pictures of every little nook and cranny. My insistent poking around didn't manage to turn up any signs of life, but since it was late in the afternoon on Xmas eve, that hardly seemed surprising. I'd just about finished taking all the pictures I wanted when a car pulled up carrying a gentlemen who made his way directly to the front door of the grocery. He greeted us warmly as he passed and proceeded to knock on the door loudly. After several failed attempts at raising an answer, he whipped out his cell phone and called the inhabitants to let them know he was standing there. “I came to bring you a present - I'm on the front porch!” he told them. Not long afterwards, the door creaked open and the nice gentleman disappeared inside. I could hear him engaged in quiet conversation with someone whom I guessed was probably the Margaret of Grocery fame. After another short while, the door opened quietly and out sidled the Reverend H.D. Dennis. As he walked up to me, he grasped my hand warmly, elbow and bicep, and cried out in the loud clear calculated voice of a preacher “Welcome my white sister!” I responded enthusiastically, in kind, whereupon the good Reverend sat himself down on the porch (only after indicating I should do the same) and proceeded to work to enroll me in the fable of his amazing life. His complicated narrative marched slowly and steadily forward, with the progress interrupted from time to time by giant narrative backward loop de loops that would land the listener some years prior to the point where the story had last left off. This prompted multiple retellings of the same incident, each iteration varying only slightly but distinctly. After a while, I figured out that you could listen to it like a symphony, the same melody repeating over and over again, progressing toward an end, but measured with repetition of the theme in slight variations. Mark, meantime, was not nearly so amused by all this as I, but he had already starting poking around the yard to entertain himself and seemed to be perfectly content.
After many heartfelt goodbyes with the Reverend and Mrs. Dennis, Mark and I got back in the car and drove. And drove and drove and drove. We whisked on out of Mississippi and trudged across Louisiana, more than ready to be home but still a fur piece away. Shortly before midnight, we crossed the border into Texas - a boundary made painfully distinct by the disparity in highway budgets in the two states. We hadn't been driving long when out of the corner of my eye I spotted a sudden profusion of lights - all colors, zillions of them! I shouted out, "Whoa, whoa, WHOA!!!!" Mark, accustomed to these sorts of outbursts, calmly and expertly pulled to the side of the road so we could make our way back to the wonderland of lights. It turned out we had stumbled upon the best holiday trail of lights I've ever seen. The trail snaked a long way through a gorgeous grove of pines, weaving back and forth through the trees, zigzagging past spectacular displays covered with thousands and thousands of tiny lights. It was soothingly silent since it was nearly midnight on Christmas eve and few other people were about. The only sound besides an occasional hidden speaker droning holiday tunes along the trail was the frosty wind gusting through the pine boughs overhead. It felt like a a dream, really.