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Arrowheads and picnics.

The practice of picnicking might have its origins in seventeenth century France before making its way into nineteenth century America, but like many other traditions, we Southerners have our own interpretation. For instance, one would not expect cold fried chicken on a spread in Cape Cod, or crawfish under the firs on Puget Sound.

In my family, about once or twice a summer, my brothers and I were treated to a great adventure accompanied by tasty fare and a history lesson of sorts--our version of a family picnic.

Daddy was part historian, part philosopher, and all storyteller. Now, if he embellished a bit to keep us kids interested, he certainly achieved his purpose. At Battlefield Park in Vicksburg, the soldiers came alive: I could see their war-weary faces and tattered uniforms, and once I know that I heard a lonesome whistle. Other times we went to the Petrified Forest at Flora, or my personal favorite, the Indian Mounds at Pocahontas.

If you asked me today, I'd tell you the Pocahontas Mounds had been constructed as chieftain residences, not burial grounds. And the Choctaw Indians were a peaceful people who seldom waged war. But to my eight-year-old imagination, the mounds sheltered brave warriors who fought to the death against the white man's invasion.

Daddy did nothing to discourage this interpretation. "Running Water is buried right there," he'd say. And I'd mistake the glint in his eye for excitement. As Mama spread out the feast of cold fried chicken, ham sandwiches on Colonial white bread, and potato salad, my brothers and I would cautiously begin to investigate the surroundings, careful not to step on anything sacred. In my head the warriors formed a line around the mounds that I never dreamed of crossing for fear of a lifetime curse--or worse.

A little out of earshot of the parents and by some unspoken code, suddenly the hunt was on. Whoever found the neatest artifact would hold bragging rights until the next time. My brothers, one older and one younger, brought out my competitive spirit. It was the sixties, after all, and I had to prove that girls could do anything that guys could do. Digging through the gravel and dirt with unprotected little fingers and ignoring the little voice warning me of Mama's certain reprimand, I was determined to find the first treasure. I was edging toward the bed of the creek when a sudden "Woo-hoo!" pierced the forest air.

It seemed to come from the mound itself, but I shook off the spooky image and ran full speed back to Mama and Daddy. I was not to win today.

Daddy was poring over little brother's find. I stared in awe at the perfect specimen in his hand--a flat brown stone with an impressive point and the unmistakable triangular shape of an Indian arrowhead. The ultimate find. He beamed in victory, momentarily forgetting to hide his newly acquired snaggle-toothed smile. At least it was little brother and not big brother, who had way too many arrowheads, sharks' teeth, and flint stones in his collection and usually beat us to the punch in the artifact department.

"Dog No Tail Sitting is buried right over there," said Daddy. "You probably found one of his."

Hungry from our efforts, we'd gather around to eat. Full and happy, I'd lie down in the grass, cold against my skinny legs, and with eyes closed, watch the story play out as Daddy continued the saga of Running Water, who'd built these mounds, and the tragic story of how Dog No Tail Sitting had gotten his name. No finds for me today, but the stories made up for that.

Later I would come to understand that those "history lessons" were the most valuable prizes of all.

Yvonne Segrave is a freelance writer living in Waveland. She was raised in Jackson, where her brother and his coveted artifact collection still reside.
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Title Annotation:ON BEING SOUTHERN
Author:Segrave, Yvonne
Publication:Mississippi Magazine
Date:Jul 1, 2007
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