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The Last Mayberry by Johnnie Bernhard

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  • The one thing that makes me stay in Ocean Springs, Mississippi is its funkiness. It just can’t be defined. The demographics are a cultural gumbo of rich and poor, shrimpers and artists, musicians and frat daddies, southern belles and hipsters, frequenting the same places, sharing their lives in a setting of ancient Oak Trees, in the middle of a Pine Savannah, wedged between salt water marshes and the Gulf of Mexico. It's salt water in the soul and authenticity of heart. It's the last Mayberry.

    I like seeing a sign in a residential yard advertising blue crabs for sale and puppies for free to a good home. I like that my neighbor has a set of plastic Canadian geese in her yard that she dresses according to seasonal holidays - Mardi Gras beads in February, bunny ears in early Spring, and red velvet Santa caps for December. For the long, hot southern summer, the geese wear mini life jackets, swimming flippers and goggles.

    I like that the Irish priest in the Catholic Church uses southern slang in his homily. I like that our mayor is a former high school cheerleader, but also a Fulbright Scholar.

    The first week I lived here I was stopped at my mailbox by a woman who wanted to know who I was. Several hours into the conversation, still at the mailbox, she told me her life story, who was married and divorced in the neighborhood, and where to get the best poboy in town. A week later she left a note and a book on my front porch. She was moving to Iowa for the writers' workshop. The book, "Beowulf: A dramatic translation" was written by her.

    I like that our Board of Aldermen cry, curse, threaten, laugh, and eat during city meetings. The worse argument was what to do with a renegade band of roosters who were frequenting night spots in the downtown area. Children had been bitten, women were getting drunk in bars and making spectacles of themselves trying to catch the roosters. Before it was resolved, the roosters were named, given a Facebook page, and cheered on by those folks who live the night life.

    I like that our Mardi Gras parades are open to anyone, including the local veterinarian who puts pets on flat bed trailers and parades them through downtown. Our Fourth of July celebration features portable BBQ grills, fireworks, and young girls dancing on the sea wall.

    At the monthly hair cutting party, where you can get your hair cut for a few pennies on the front porch of a mansion, women of all ages and backgrounds drink a lot of wine and share local news. The best story was told by my neighbor. She had the distinction of having an alligator as a family pet when she was a child. It was given to her sister by an admirer. The family raised the tyke to full scale gator. It slept in the house. Her mother was most fond of the alligator. The beloved pet was lost on a family vacation. My neighbor never blinked an eye.

    Ocean Springs, Mississippi. They say it's in the water. It's really in the cast of colorful characters who make everyday, ordinary life worth living. It's a good place to call home.

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