People might be surprised to learn America’s richest city in 1800 wasn’t New York, Boston or even Philadelphia. My own Charleston couldn’t claim the crown, either.

Natchez, Mississippi beat
everyone to the money.

Situated on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River, Natchez is chock-full of mansions.

dunleith natchez trace


Some pristine. Some not. Its culture blends Cajun with Old South, uptown with frontier. On its restored riverfront, visitors can time travel while they nosh of fried pickles. They can gamble and imagine the boatmen, just over there. Dismantling their wooden barges. Stuffing their pockets with cash. Walking past ostentation with HOME on their brains.

Mansions couldn’t hold them.
Society failed to entice.

They craved open spaces, beyond porches and piazzas. At the rim of plantation lines. In swamps and forests, dirt and sky.

longwood natchez trace


The boatmen looked at the riches of Natchez, and they embraced the American Dream. They didn’t know what to call it. Yet. But they knew if they worked harder, walked further, made it home…… would one day be within their grasp.


There’s no better time to visit Natchez than during Pilgrimage. Spring and Fall. Mark your calendars. If you’re the spontaneous sort, Spring Pilgrimage runs from 7 March to 7 April 2015. Fall 2015 Pilgrimage dates have yet to be announced, but it usually runs from late September to early October. Click HERE to learn more about Pilgrimage.

No Make a Memory visit to the Trace
is complete without my books!

Not Without My Father: One Woman's 444-Mile Walk of the NatchezTo Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether LewisGet your copies of To Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis and Not Without My Father: One Woman’s 444-Mile Walk of the Natchez Trace by heading to my


Does your family show affection in bizarre ways? My dead grandmother showed her adoration by cracking my toes, usually when I napped on the sofa or was stupid enough to leave a foot on top of the sheet. One of my aunts whispered “I love you” by hacking into my self-esteem, because she didn’t want me to become cocky, my ego unmanageable.

My father likes to pinch. It doesn’t help that I have more flab than I once did. At least, since I was three. Dad used to inflict his crab-like gestures of love on my arms and legs every time he got near me. I came to view my flesh squeezed between Dad’s fingers like kisses. Or hugs. Or verbalized murmurs of how much I meant to him.

My guideson Cooper didn’t see pinching that way. He met Dad in April, during my epic walk of the Natchez Trace. On the eve of Cooper’s great two-mile-hike with me, we went out to dinner. Dad planted himself next to Cooper’s high chair and pinched him. Once. Twice. The third time, Cooper let Dad have it. If he could’ve explained his mini-meltdown in logical terms, he would’ve told Dad, “Pinching DOES NOT mean love.”

Dad and Cooper worked things out. They even became buds. (Because we women want our men to be chums, right?)

Today, Dad and Cooper, two of my rocket men, share a day. It’s Father’s Day in the States, my father’s forty-sixth Day-of-the-Dad. And it’s Cooper’s third birthday. They’re celebrating in South Carolina and New York: Dad by going to church, watching sports and falling asleep in the recliner; Cooper with a party in a strawberry patch.

I wish I could pinch them both. Maybe pop their toes. Spending time with my father near the end of his life upended my identity. I will never be the same. What started as a selfish mission to promote a novel turned into an adventure with my dad, five weeks of constant engagement and non-stop entertainment direct from the man who made me. Life tricks us into thinking it’s about the high points. The happy times. The wins. But when someone’s gone, we’d take the worst moments, if only to have a loved one back again.

natchez trace

Much like being Cooper’s guidemother made me an unorthodox parent. I may be halfway around the globe, but I spend ridiculous amounts of time finding the perfect rock for Cooper. Or combing the beach for the most unique shell. Or agonizing over which postcard will make him want to travel when he’s big enough. I won’t ever know what it’s like to be a mother, but I hope I teach Cooper and the other children in my life to see the world. To accept it. To wallow in it and embrace it.

natchez trace

Happy Father’s Day, Dad. Happy Birthday, Cooper. Thank you for being two of my rocket men.

Back to my original question: Does your family show affection in bizarre ways? Do you have a rocket man in your life?


To be continued the next day. On Mother’s Day.

My mother is steadfast. She pulled my father off the toilet in Collinwood, Tennessee, while I cowered behind the bed. “My feet hurt too much for this,” was my excuse. Almost four hundred miles of walking. Day after day.

I thought I earned the right to avoid the sight of my father’s manhood.

Mom never flinched, though. She hung with me for three weeks. Through swamps. And oozing blisters. And lots of crying.

Not to mention the crap Dad did. (Really. He spread his essence across three states.)

I started my 444-mile walk of the Natchez Trace thinking it would help me understand my Dad, but I ended it a Mother Lover. Because Mom didn’t cringe at whatever my trek dredged up.

Bloody feet.

Muscle cramps.

Vomiting and dizziness.

Not to mention how grouchy the rest of it made me.

For a decade, I wished Mom would accept who I’d become. And somewhere in Mississippi, she did. Or maybe she did before, and I refused to see it. Pain is a great magnifying glass; stupidity a microscope.

On this Mother’s Day, I hope my own mother knows how much she means to me, how grateful I am for everything she’s always been. Even when I was too stupid to see it.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.


MTM surprised me and crashed my Montreat writing getaway. A Tumblr of what that means for my writing: Andra Watkins Tumblr

Get the book even my mother loves. You know you need a gift for Father’s Day. To Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis is available in paperback and e-book formats at these outlets: Click to Purchase To Live Forever.