September 17, 2020 10:33:19 AM
Slim Smith - [email protected]
For a day or so, it looked as though Hurricane Sally would touch down on the Mississippi Coast. By Monday, the storm had already entered the gulf and seemed to pause there as if deciding which direction to take.
This is not uncommon. Hurricanes can be fickle. In 1985, Ann Jermyn, my college roommate's sister, upon hearing that Hurricane Elena was headed for the Mississippi Coast, left to stay with her boyfriend in Panama City. By the time she had arrived there, the projections had changed, this time indicating that Elena would come ashore in Florida. So she drove back to Biloxi. The hurricane came ashore in Biloxi in the early-morning hours of Sept. 2, 1985. We all blamed Ann for that.
On Wednesday morning, Gov. Tate Reeves praised God in a tweet that the hurricane ravaged Alabama and Florida instead of Mississippi because, well, that's just the kind of Christian he is.
Hurricane Sally's path reminds us that no matter the eventual landfall, anytime a hurricane enters the Gulf of Mexico, Mississippi suffers, if hurt feelings qualify as storm damage.
As Sally sat in the Gulf playing eenine-meenie-minie-moe and national news outlets made their landfall projections, the 44-mile stretch of the Mississippi Coast went unnamed, misnamed or overnamed.
One source, in its list of states that might be in the path of the storm, identified them by postal Abbreviations: LA., FL., AL and ...MI.
MI is the abbreviation for Michigan, of course. Fortunately, Sally did not hit MS or MI, praise God.
Another map placed Pascagoula in Florida. Another source, perhaps determined to make sure Mississippi was not omitted, labeled both Mississippi and Alabama as "Miss."
Then, of course, there were the obligatory projections that Sally would make landfall somewhere between Mobile and New Orleans, which -- while true enough --harkens to another grievous insult when CNN identified the area as "the landmass between Mobile and New Orleans."
That happened eight years ago, and Mississippians are still much aggrieved. There's even a Facebook Group named "The Land Mass Between NOLA and Mobile." that is "liked" by 54,214 people, including 150 of my "friends."
I get the strong impression that every time a hurricane rolls up on the Gulf, there is a sizable population that is just waiting to be offended.
But we don't always have to wait for a hurricane for that. Wednesday, during her press briefing, Kayleigh McEnany, President Trump's press secretary, commenting on the Big 10 Conference's decision to resume football, congratulated Big 10 states. Reading a list of the Big 10 states identified by postal abbreviations, she congratulated Mississippi, but not Michigan. So in comes Mississippi State and Ole Miss and out goes Michigan and Michigan State.
It's no small irony to note that McEnany's father, Mike, played football at Mississippi State in the early 1980s.
So you can see why Mississippi sometimes feels like the Rodney Dangerfield of states.
Although I may be putting my credentials as a loyal Mississippian at risk here, I've never been offended by these inevitable mistakes.
There are two reasons. First, some sense of proportion is necessary. Southerners should obviously be expected to identify Mississippi and its location, but people in other parts of the country shouldn't be held to the same standard.
For example, I'll bet that half of the people in Mississippi can't distinguish between Vermont and New Hampshire, although it is a simple task for a New England grade-schooler.
Second, I know from painful personal experience that there are some advantages to ambiguity.
There was a stretch there where I would have been more than happy if I had been hard to locate. I'll just leave it at that.
For a lot of people, Mississippi is like Antifa: They have some vague sense it exists, but can't say exactly where.
I'm happy to dwell in quiet obscurity on the theory most of the time when Mississippi attracts national attention, it's not a good thing.
If Michigan winds up taking the fall it suits me just fine.
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]