We’re standing in a sitting room next to a spacious open kitchen, surrounded by pictures of hunting dogs and statues of rabbits, talking to three women as they offer us food, show us pictures and tell us stories mostly about their husbands who are off hunting at the moment.
“My grandson is going to be so upset he missed y’all,” the owner of the house tells us.
She’s taking a picture of four MSU baseball players. Not with them, but of them. Standing in her house. Still in her robe (it’s only 8:30 a.m.), she doesn’t want to be seen on camera. But she needs proof that she’d met the boys, that these four SEC ball players really were in her home.
“Do y’all hunt?” she asked. “It’s the last day of the season.”
Wes Rea immediately stepped forward. “Yes, ma’am.”
“I have to show you pictures of the buck my grandson got.”
And she showed us. It was big. Very much deserving of the praise from a proud grandmother.
“It looks surprised,” Jacob Robson said, in reference to the deer, not the grandson.
Wes scrolled through pictures on her phone (the rest of us looking over his shoulders) while she went to get the iPad for her more extensive collection.
She’d never met us, these strangers who knocked on the door of her beautiful country home on Saturday morning. But she invited us in immediately, and probably would’ve made us a full breakfast if we’d said we were hungry.
There’s something welcoming about homes around Starkville, and most homes in Mississippi towns, really. Southern hospitality is certainly part of it, but it’s a little more subtle than that. The fact that you know the door is probably unlocked, though of course you knock out of courtesy. The fact that when a truck full of strangers pulls up in someone’s driveway they look for their robe or their glasses, not a phone to call the police.
“Oh, y’all don’t take any pictures of me like this,” was one lady’s first response after opening the door.
Mississippi State’s baseball team was driving around town in groups delivering tickets to the locals who bought season tickets for the 2015 season. It’s a tradition head coach John Cohen values and has his team perform every year.
“This is a small investment of your time that pays huge dividends for us, for our program and for the university,” Cohen told the team in the locker room before they left for deliveries. “You’re giving a special experience to these people.”
Cohen made the point that if one were to draw a circle around Starkville with a 50-mile radius, 150,000 people live inside it. That number is over one million at some other schools, yet it’s MSU with all the attendance records and a new stadium on the way.
“It’s amazing how these people come out here and fill this stadium,” he continued. “It’s a family thing.”
It’s a unique experience for the people getting the tickets, and it’s an adventure for the ones delivering them. I rode with Wes Rea, Gavin Collins, John Holland and Jacob Robson on Saturday morning as they worked a portion of the South Montgomery route, Rea behind the wheel of his truck.
Our first house was actually one I knew and had spent half my afternoons after school growing up playing various games in, but unfortunately they weren’t home.
“There’s lights on,” Rea observed. “Just go in there, Bob. See if someone is home.”
At the risk of terrifying Mrs. Angie, I decided to let it go.
“We could just hoop in the driveway until they get home,” Rea suggested.
House No. 2 was a similar story.
“I delivered to these guys last year,” Robson said. “They had two wiener dogs that ran out from the garage as soon as we knocked.”
No wiener dogs today, no one at home.
At house three, we had our first winner.
“Well hello, Mr. first baseman.”
Mr. Stewart was excited to meet the guys (Wes in particular), though he needed to get a cap to wear before he took a picture. He told us he’s a fairweather fan when we asked if he’d be there for first pitch on February 13th. Not that he only goes when the team is good, though. He’s more concerned about the actual weather.
“I’ll go to every game, as long as it’s above 40 degrees.”
I’d argue that 40 is far from fair, but I don’t want to talk him out of using the tickets he now had in his hand.
At stop No. 4, the lady of the house answered the door, another robed host welcoming her guests.
“Really, you wouldn’t believe me, but I’m typically up much earlier than this,” she said.
No excuses needed for a bunch of college dudes in their sweats.
“I think my husband is out in the yard working with the kids,” she told us. “Y’all go out back and see them.”
There’s that easiness to Starkville, inviting strangers to come out back like we were friends from down the street.
One more house, this one another empty home. Or asleep, perhaps, but not answering the door either way.
By this point, we’d worked ourselves a fair way down South Montgomery, well past the city limits to places where the plots of land were as big as some blocks in town.
Here we found our final stop, three women enjoying Saturday morning with coffee and a quiet house, the rest of the inhabitants out hunting.
“Y’all come inside. It’s cold out there.”