Water Valley

For my first entry into the Laurel Mercantile Daily Journal, I thought it seemed fitting to talk about raising my son in a small town. As we welcome Helen, I wanted to share some of my favorite moments from raising Tom Otis, my five year old, in Water Valley, MS. I hope you will follow along monthly as I share here frequently, everything from small town living, running my own business, design, travel and more… 

Our town is around 4000 residents and just twenty minutes from Oxford, home to Ole Miss and William Faulkner. I grew up in Oxford, but moved when I was nine. I found myself back in the area in 2005. After moving around from big city to big city, I sought out the comfort and pace that a small town brings. I craved the feeling that Oxford brought to me as a child. I wanted a place where I got away from traffic in my everyday life, where I knew my neighbors, kids could be heard running and playing in the summers, cost of living was low, and old houses were being saved rather than torn down. It was also important to be no more than an hour and a half from a larger city and airport, because traveling is also a big part of my life. With Memphis just one hour and twenty minutes away, and Oxford so close and growing so fast, Water Valley checked off all the boxes. 

Seven years later, Tom Otis was born. From the beginning, my husband Sean and I took him on strolls through the woods, giving him a sense of peace with the nature around him. We used the woods as an outdoor classroom for him, talking about the birds we saw, looked for bugs under fallen trees, found animals tracks in the mud… everyday was an adventure. We called it the trails.

Now, he’s five and half and we walk for hours on the trails, all at different times of the year. We watch how the same tree looks throughout the year, how water levels change, we notice what different bugs are seen season by season. 

Aside from the nature that small town living affords us, it has become clear to us that others are seeking our small town too. When I moved here, there were three kids on my street. Now, just 13 years later, there are twenty-four children on our street alone.

All are friends and in the summer, you can often hear pure joy echoing through the neighborhood, flowing in from someone’s yard. Tom Otis’ best friend’s yard connects to ours and his mom and I often wonder what their tree forts will look like, how their friendship will grow, or what they will be like as teenagers, still connected by a yard. When we wander the two blocks down to Main Street, Tom knows just about everyone we pass. He runs into school friends at the grocery store, while getting milkshakes from Turnage Drugstore, or even at the post office, all with in walking distance. I do love the small town life that Water Valley has given us so far. It’s an easy way of life, but as I mentioned, traveling is also important to us. Teaching Tom Otis about different cultures that he might not find here is also high on our priority list. I’ll share more about that next time…. 



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. 

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.