We used to love going to the Cal-Stanford Big Game in November. With friends and Stonecrest neighbors we loaded into a large bus with food and refreshments. The trip down to Palo Alto or Berkeley was spent with jokes, good cheer and football stories of the past. It was a divided but friendly group dressed in school colors of either red or blue and gold. We had a great time and always looked forward to that day in November.
I always thought these games were the best. But different parts of the country have different ideas. It all depends on where you were from or the school you attended. In Napa, the “Big Game” means a Napa-Vintage football game.
My husband, who went to Yale, says that “the Game” is the Yale-Harvard game. No question about it. He remembers snow or rain, long scarves, white handkerchiefs waving, and Grandpa’s old raccoon coat. He doesn’t remember tailgating since he didn’t have a car as a student and New England weather in November was always iffy.
But after our visit to a football game at the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) in Oxford, Mississippi, we realized, no one can rival the South for a football tailgate party.
We parked the motor home at a well-known Mississippi truck stop for breakfast on a Saturday morning. We found its name in a book on great road houses given to us by Jim and Sue Fogarty. Jim was a law school classmate. I was gorging myself with my favorite Southern breakfast of biscuits and white gravy, so good going down but I always feel awful later. Philip was reading the local paper while enjoying his breakfast.
He noticed that there was a football game that afternoon in Oxford. Ole Miss was playing the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. He asked if I would like to go to the game. I thought it sounded like fun. We finished breakfast and hurried back to the RV and started north for Oxford. My husband has a bit of a kinship as his mother’s Trotter family is from Mississippi and his grandfather went to Ole Miss law school.
When we arrived at the campus, a golf cart with two men met us. They were there for spectators arriving by RV and led us to the grassy parking area for motor homes. They waited for us to change into our best clean jeans, T-shirts and baseball caps. As they drove us to the field we learned that this was their homecoming game and we might have trouble getting good seats. As it turned out, we were able to get two tickets on the 50-yard line from a student selling his tickets. The whole process was incredibly easy.
We were guided to our seats and started to take in the sights and sounds of this football pageant. I was looking around at the students and alums in the stands and noticed everyone was dressed up. This was not just any old game. No jeans could be seen. All the men were in slacks or Dockers. Women wore dresses or skirts, and some wore low heels. The young ladies were very wholesome and attractive. I could understand how many Mississippi native daughters have won the Miss America title.
I started to crouch down in my clean T-shirt, feeling very out of place. Philip didn’t seem to care. He dressed in jeans at Yale games and laughingly said something like, “If it was good enough in New Haven, it is good enough in Oxford.”
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There was a young woman sitting a few rows in front of us who really stood out from the crowd. She must have been a graduate of Ole Miss and maybe a cheerleader in her day. She was totally enjoying the game, letting out a few Southern yips and yelps and drawing attention to herself. She was pretty with her thick blond hair piled high on top of her head. But the most noticeable thing about her was that she was wearing the Confederate flag as a long, flowing skirt. She was either a Southern patriot or making a statement (or both) depending on your point of view. I was a bit surprised as I had never seen a flag used as a skirt, especially that one.
After the game, we wanted to see Ole Miss Law School. Of course, the building was closed but we knew that Grandfather Alden Percy Trotter attended this law school. He served in the Army during the Spanish-American War and World War I before he practiced law in San Francisco in the 1920s. It was a special moment for Philip as he walk the area and imagined his grandfather going to school there. However, to me the best part of the afternoon came next.
As we left the law school, we walked through the large grassy quad shaded by tall trees. This is where the tailgating parties were being held. Now the term tailgating used to mean serving food off the tailgate of your car but not at Ole Miss.
Tailgating at Ole Miss was Southern opulence at its highest as these Southerners held nothing back. I imagine each family had their assigned spaces for generations. Each separate party display was better than the next. I can imagine that there was a lot of competition. These little private areas had borders of ribbons, chairs, tents or green potted plants. Tables had white lace tablecloths with silver trays and dishes filled with delectable Southern food with pecan praline cookies for dessert. Many had servers to wait on you. Full bars were to the side with a bartender to pour your favorite Southern drink. The hired help was at attention with white napkins over their arms, just waiting for their guests.
The men in their white linen suits were standing around smoking cigars and talking football. The women were lovely in their light summer dresses. We enjoyed wandering around among them but were never noticed by anyone because we were invisible.
Little did they know of our Mississippi roots. Philip’s great-grandfather, Alpha Peebles Trotter, was a cavalryman in the 5th Mississippi during the Civil War. Philip’s great-grandmother Ida Barlow Trotter lived near Vicksburg during the Civil War and her published story about those “damn Yankees” has gone down in history.
I didn’t care. You see, I am from the North. My great-grandfather was one of those “damn Yankees.”He was in the German-speaking 23rd Regiment of Wisconsin Volunteers. Private Gottlieb Wedige was on the other side during the battle for Vicksburg. That is how it was then, family against family. But Philip and I have put those ancestral differences behind us and learned to coexist for 48 years. That’s America, the great melting pot.
Maybe one of his Trotter cousins was standing there in a white suit smoking a cigar or was a matriarch wearing a summer frock enjoying her party. We will never know.