Readers of Not Without My Father can’t forget Miss Ethel Banta, doyenne of Natchez, Mississippi’s Hope Farm. When I grow up, I want to BE Miss Ethel. Few people could unseat her near the apex of favorite people I’ve met.

During my Trace Corridor book tour, MTM and I went out of our way to see her in Natchez.

Any trip to Natchez is worth the effort. When the Trace was booming, Natchez was one of the richest cities in America. Set on bluffs high above the churning Mississippi, one can spend a weekend or a week touring mansion after mansion after mansion.

Mealtimes are a tough call. “Do I want Cajun? Or soul food? Or Mexican? Or do I drive out to Mammy’s Cupboard for an, *ahem*, eclectic dining experience to be found only in The South?”

Miss Ethel first told me the story of Mammy’s Cupboard.

“People used to come from all over to eat under the skirt of that Mammy doll. But civil rights came along. The South had to adapt, and Mammy’s adapted along with it. I still don’t understand why they changed that Mammy doll into an Indian, though…….”

Miss Ethel beckoned us by phone. “I’ve got my flu clothes on, but come on over!” (Flu clothes: a black velour tracksuit and pumps.) She met us at the door and exclaimed, “Why, MTM! You are a HANDSOME man!”

He worshipped Miss Ethel for an hour.

But nothing beat our photography session. “Let’s stand here in front of my portrait…..oh, that’s a terrible idea, isn’t it? Showing how old I look now?”

“You look amazing, Miss Ethel.” MTM snapped and snapped. “But you need to smile.”

Miss Ethel 1

I put my arm around her, flu clothes and all. “I know how to get her to smile.”

And I uttered those immortal, picture-posing words bestowed upon me by the great Nathalie Dupree.

“Sex sex sex sex sex.”

Miss Ethel 2

When Miss Ethel finally stopped laughing, she sputtered, “You got every take with my mouth open, and I don’t care. I’m going to stand on my front porch in my hoop skirt during this year’s Pilgrimage, and every time somebody asks for a picture, I’m going to cozy up next to them and say sex sex sex sex sex! Priceless! I can’t WAIT!”

I can’t wait, either, Miss Ethel. I may have to trek to the Natchez Pilgrimage this year to see you shine.

The Natchez Spring Pilgrimage runs from March 7 – April 7, 2015. You can find out more about it HERE.

What are you waiting for?

NWMY mastheadGet your copy of Not Without My Father: One Woman’s 444-Mile Walk of the Natchez Trace everywhere, and get started making a memory of your very own. In Natchez. Or anywhere.

Be inspired to Make a Memory!

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