Special little places: Mississippi memories

Promoted from our community blogs

[Manasteel88 has stories about some down-home memories in Mississippi with grandma, casinos, and The Wizard of Oz from last month’s bloggers wanted. Don’t forget about this month’s prompt, New Year’s evil ~Strider]

I grew up as an only child to two hard working parents. My mother and father started a business in the rockin’ ’80s, but the savings and loan crisis crippled my city for years and made my parents constantly pivot to try and keep afloat. They didn’t last long together as a couple, but they were able to work alongside each other for a number of years after. Eventually, though, they went their separate ways as my father left to go back to work as a sales rep across the state.

While my dad was out on the road most of the year, my mother worked on keeping the business afloat while raising me. It was a real struggle for a lot of years, but they managed to rebuild their lives. Since my father was off on the road so much and my mother was working long days, it was hard for them to find a place for me once school was over with. Summer meant I needed somewhere to go.

After my grandfather died, my grandmother, feeling nostalgic, moved down to Ocean Springs, Mississippi where she grew up. She had purchased a lovely four-bedroom house on the bayou that moved her closer to where her sister was and away from where Grandpa wasn’t. As active as she was, she was still alone in this large house. So every summer that I can remember, we would pack up our periwinkle minivan and head out to Ocean Springs for a visit. Eventually, this became a regular thing not only for me but my other two cousins as we would all pour in from afar to hang out at Grandma’s house.

Mississippi would become our special little place.

Everything I can think about as far as hobbies I enjoy come from this gnat-filled little oasis of the south. I caught my first fish off my grandmother’s dock, which then decided to hop out of the bucket and flop itself back into the bayou as soon as I got the hook off. I learned how to drive a boat using a dingy down the canals leading to Gulf Hills. I learned to sail at the Ocean Springs Yacht Club. I have since forgotten nearly everything I’d learned, but at some point in my life, I could technically claim that I was a sailor. I camped with an old property we had that would let us explore some of the backwoods of the swampland.

More importantly, as it relates to this site and its affiliates, I became a gamer, a film connoisseur, an anime junkie, and learned to love figures or whatever it is Tomopop supposedly does. From the beginning of the trip I would pack up my Game Boy with Tetris, Super Mario Land 1 and 2, and a plastic bag full of batteries and proceed to kill the next six to eight hours of the road trip huddled as close to the window as I could get trying to let in as much light as possible in a time where backlit screens were something out of science fiction.

We’d arrive, unload, hug, kiss, and sit down and eat some of my grandmother’s cooking. While the adults were all getting along and talking business (or whatever it was adults did at the time), I would get up, load my plate in the dishwasher, and go off to do whatever it is a kid could get away with. Now usually this would be to run outside and cause chaos. However, if you’ve ever been down on the bayous of Mississippi at dusk, you’ll find yourself eaten alive by gnats as soon as daylight starts thinking about running out. So as it reached that point in time after the long trip, I would be stuck inside either watching a movie, reading a comic book, or playing a game.

If you ever met my grandmother, you would know that she was a lover of the arts. She was huge into films, dioramas, artists like Arthur Anderson, and politics. I bring all this up because while she and the adults were talking politics on the couch in the living room underneath an Arthur Anderson print, we were delegated to playing video games in the little game room she created out of with the Super Nintendo she bought for everyone to use one Christmas. Now mind you this wonderful woman had only bought one game with it and it was The Wizard of Oz and I’m almost positive she bought it so she could have the free poster inside. As a lady from Kansas, that woman loved that film. Fortunately, the Super Nintendo came with Super Mario World, because The Wizard of Oz sucked.

Which was fine at the onset as I could get my affairs in order, but when the other two arrived, it would slowly devolve into chaos.

While Super Mario World is an amazing game, when you bring three kids together who grew up playing Chip and Dale Rescue Rangers, you kind of need to get them out of the house before The Wizard of Oz gets thrown at somebody. Fortunately, we had a bevy of choices around the Mississippi gulf coast.

The quickest thing to do was to load us up into the Buick and hop over to the rental store. There was a bit of strategy in play as one kid would pick up a film for the group while the other two debated on a multiplayer game. This worked out a lot better than it should have as one of us would just get distracted by the Street Fighter 2 cabinet up front while the others shopped. I can remember this one time I did decide to pick up Chrono Trigger for us for the week. While it literally changed my perspective on what a game was, I ruined the first week of summer for everyone by unwittingly choosing a single-player RPG. It was worth the trouble, though.

If that wasn’t on the agenda, we went to see a movie in Biloxi after a few hours of swimming. Grandma would get some shopping at the mall and we’d stop and see a flick. This was back before the AMC had 23 theaters per cineplex. If we wanted to see something, it had to either be at the mall in Biloxi or at the mall in Pascagoula. We’d have to open up the newspaper to see where in fact we were going. The mall in Pascagoula had a small arcade right outside of the theater and a four-person X-Men cabinet in the theater which was kinda neat. The Pascagoula mall, however, wasn’t quite as nice as the mall in Biloxi which had a decent-sized Sears, so that took some begging. The Biloxi mall had a small theater across from it and if we weren’t nightmares, we could go the back-roads and stop by the comic book shop on the way home. I learned to play Magic at this shop. My cousin learned Warhammer. I was able to grow my love of comics here with my Aunt who would buy a few books for herself while she was in town. She’d often leave some books behind and I’d sneak in and read what she grabbed while she was away. Let me tell you, I was wayyyy too young for Sandman.

The best case scenario for everyone involved however was if the parents were sticking around for a few days. One of the biggest things Biloxi had going for it were the casinos and as a kid, there was nothing more awesome than tagging along with the adults for a trip to the casino. Back in the heyday of ’90s arcade games, the Grand Casino was king. This arcade took up a massive part of the hotel’s floor space and was loaded with Virtua Fighter, Street Fighter vs. Capcom, Tokyo Wars, Soul Edge, Revolution X, Metal Slug, and so many great games. We would be sent in with $20, which usually meant 45 minutes of game time for me and 30 minutes for my cousins. If the adults got lucky, though, well the money trickled down and we’d get our cash reserves refilled. I shouldn’t forget that there was also Boomtown Casino, which did a decent job with its arcade, but nothing compared to the Grand. The slots were a bit looser though so we’d see some bigger payouts. Any cash we were left holding after these trips would go into our comic book fund.

These were a few of my childhood memories of my summers. We’d either be swimming, at some aquatic-themed camp or having the time of our lives being the dorkiest three kids in Mississippi. While I have a profound hatred of prismatic power suits after having to watch Power Rangers: The Movie in theaters a whopping five times one summer when my youngest cousin was in love with it, I also remember trading my copy of Pokémon Red for Blue with him after we beat it together with the following summer. We were dorks and this was where we were at our best and worst.

I struggled with trying to centralize a topic for this theme as I’m old and don’t really have a place anymore that I could call special. My romanticism may be gone now, but I do have a fondness for the awesome summers I had with my grandma and my cousins. The best arcade on the planet, where my Grandmother would treat us all to a fancy lunch or dinner after, moved locations and became so small as to be practically worthless for any kids looking to kill time. The AMC toppled the little Biloxi theater when they moved in and eventually the arcade shut down in Pascagoula. The movie rental shop where she let us run amok closed down after a Blockbuster moved in across the street. As I grew older, the things I remembered most slowly started changing. Then Hurricane Katrina hit.

My grandmother moved out of Mississippi after Katrina to go back to sunny California and I haven’t been to Ocean Springs since. She passed away a few months back and I guess I have these, along with a lifetime of other memories, to remember her by. Thanks for sharing my nostalgia about that special little place she made for us in Ocean Springs, Mississippi.

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