When I was a kid, summers seemed to stretch out for months, days lasted what felt like forever. I’d wake up with the sun each day and spend the early morning exploring in the woods behind my house. The sun would peek through the tall oak trees, casting shadows that danced through the woods with me. I would find a fort to explore, makeshift ones. The fort might be under a bridge or dug out of a large, fallen log. I’d loop through the woods, that opened at the foot of my driveway and come out at Rowan Oak in one direction, or the University of Mississippi Museum in another direction, then make my way home on the street. Walking home slowly.
After lunch, I’d have a pick up game of kickball with the neighborhood kids on our dead end street. There were two girls in one house and two boys across the street, in another house. “Car!” one of us would shout, often interrupting the game to move out of the way, mid kick.
The rest of the days were a mixture of bike rides, book store visits, arcade loitering, city pool swimming, catfish eating, lightning bug catching, sno cones treats…. no day the same from the next. It was the childhood you’d expect from a small town. It was Oxford, Mississippi in the early 1980’s.
It was those memories of my small town that brought me back to the area in 2005. We moved out of Oxford in 1985 and I spent the next 20 years trying to find that same feeling that Oxford gave me, in countless moves. From Tampa, to Boston, to Seattle, to San Francisco, to Memphis, to New York and finally, landing in Water Valley, which is very reminiscent of what is was like in the early 80’s.
Tom is back in school now, but just before his summer break ended, he and I made a day of recreating some of the things from my childhood days there. Water Valley is just 20 miles from Oxford, so we are there a lot, but on this day, we spent it having a picnic in the park where the whole town would spend the Forth of July, swimming at the city pool, visiting the book store, walking in the woods, and lastly, we treated ourselves to sno cones.
With each spot that we stopped, I told him a new little story, bonding with him over the spots that made such an impression on me. I told him where things used to be that have since been torn down and built over, or just changed hands and made new. He kept talking about how we were on a real picnic and telling me he loved our day. I think this might be a new end of summer tradition for us. Just a good, old-fashioned day of fun.
Erin Austen Abbott, born 1976, in Tupelo, Mississippi, studied photography at the Museum School of Fine Arts in Boston, MA and at the Photographic Center Northwest in Seattle, WA. She has had photography shows in Tampa, Seattle, Boston, Memphis, Los Angeles, Oxford, MS, Charleston, SC, Basel, Switzerland, Milan, Italy, Berlin, Germany and Water Valley, MS in the years 1999- 2017.
Erin has had her work published in Esquire, Bon Appétit, Visit Baton Rouge, Invitation Magazine, Country Roads, Liquor.com, Sycamore Magazine, Southern Living, Garden & Gun, Bitter Southerner, Teen Vogue, Alternative Press, LA Times, Uppercase, and Southern Spaces. She is a regular contributor for Design* Sponge, one of the leading interior design blogs in the world, Oxford Magazine, and also on the Splinter Creek journal, where she shares monthly. She also published her first book, How To Make It, on Chronicle Books, in the spring of 2017. Erin lives in Water Valley, Mississippi, where she is currently working on her second book, running her shop Amelia, and working on various interior design jobs.