By Martha Scott Poindexter Guenther
As many of us plan for the new year, it is often with a sigh of relief that we put the past year behind us. For me it always depends how I fared that year. 2018 was a great year for me, and the main reason it was such a fantastic year is I came home many times to visit my family and friends throughout the year. This time spent in Mississippi was wildly indulgent compared to past years.
Home? It’s a bit funny that I still call the Delta home as I have lived in the Washington, DC, area for twenty-nine years this January. I left home when I was only twenty-three to work for Senator Thad Cochran. But Mississippi is home, specifically the Delta, and my Delta roots are strong. My parents along with my extended family reside in the Delta along with many of my lifelong friends.
I am often asked where I am from because after anyone has spoken with me for more than a second, they can usually detect my Southern accent. Once people discover I’m from Mississippi, they usually ask from where in Mississippi. I am usually skeptical that the said person knows anything about Mississippi because most tell me they have only passed through the state! But I never give my town—it is always the “Mississippi Delta.” This warrants more questions of which I am pleased to oblige with more Delta speak.
Many think it’s a bit odd I have kept my accent after being gone so long. I owe it to working with Southerners for many years in the US Senate, fellow Mississippians and Georgians. I rarely think about my accent unless someone makes a comment or I am teased about my pronunciation of a random word. When I worked with colleagues from across the country, they noticed how I sounded more Southern after returning from Mississippi. I always bring a bit of home back with me!
In December, I was home for over a week at Christmas. My family is a bit unusual in that we actually enjoy spending time with each other! Every Christmas the Poindexter family holds a Christmas Eve party. The tradition began with my great grandparents hosting the annual holiday party at Hollywood, their family home in Inverness. It has been held continuously for over seventy years. My parents along with my three aunts and uncles rotate hosting it in their homes now.
My three sisters and I along with our individual families (seventeen in all) descend on my mother and father at Christmas staying in my parents’ house and a smaller guest house behind it. My nieces and nephews never want to miss the Christmas Eve party—it is about seeing all of the cousins, mind you second and third cousins removed, and their great aunts and uncles.
The Mississippi Delta is beloved by my nieces and nephews. Reasons abound when I ask them what comes to mind when they think of the Delta. Their grandparents are at the top of the list, of course, along with spending time with family. It’s the family traditions we have established over the years, with the Christmas Eve party at the top of the list.
Recently my husband, Robert and I went to an anniversary party in Alexandria, Virginia, where we met a couple who also live in Alexandria. The wife greeted us by introducing her husband “Chess,” a name which I noted for its unusualness, short for Rochester. As the conversation progressed, they asked where we were from originally. Chess and I were delighted to discover we both hailed from the Delta. We had never met each other in all the years we had lived in the DC area. As we began to play the game of “Do you happen to know…?” our spouses drifted off as we discovered many common friends.
Chess mentioned two things that registered with me that night. First, you have to be from the Delta to truly understand the Delta. (His wife grew up in Boston; my husband is from Florida.) Secondly, only your dearest friends and family can draw you from a more pleasant climate (they summer in Rhode Island) to visit in August! If I can find any reason to visit home, I will do it unless it is in August! I confess a very special occasion with my dearest friends and family is the only draw for me in the heat of the summer. We all know that the Delta can be a conundrum for those who have not grown up here; although others who relocate to the Delta usually fall for it because it is such a welcoming place.
As for 2019, I already have a trip planned home this January to celebrate a special occasion with one of my nieces. As I continue to sketch out the year, the plan is to make 2019 just as great a year as 2018, so I better get to planning many more trips home to the Mississippi Delta.
Martha Scott Poindexter Guenther grew up on May Day Plantation in Morgan City. After graduating from Mississippi State University she moved to Washington, DC where she has held many positions on Capitol Hill. In 2014, Martha joined Bunge North America as Vice President, Government & Industry affairs. She now lives in Alexandria, Virginia, with her husband, Robert Guenther.