The Folklore Project
By Jessica Piper
You’d think that living near the beach all summer would be just what it’s cracked up to be, but you’d be wrong. You’d be wrong if you lived by my beach, in Biloxi, Mississippi, in a mattresses-on-the-floor, no-food-in-the-cabinets, falling-apart trailer in the summer of 1980. Dead wrong.
We didn’t go to the beach; we didn’t care about the beach that was within a mile via a sandy trail. The beach was where people with money and food in picnic baskets went to lie in the sun, and that wasn’t us. We were little girls of 4 and 5 years, with a daddy of about 23 years, and a mama who went out with her friends one night and didn't come home.
My daddy was young and worked construction when he could find work, but with his little income, me and my sister Jackie pretty much ate one meal a day that summer, and that meal was of an evening, after daddy came home bone-tired with a sack of something that usually left a grease stain on the paper bag.
There’s not much anyone who has been hungry can tell someone who has never been hungry. But as a hungry child, it’s all you think about, all you talk about, and all your little brain can dream about. We also centered all of our games and play around food — especially the sweets that were rarer than quarters found under the couch cushions.
Besides the ever-present hunger, what I remember most about that Southern summer were the dirty, gritty Mississippi mud pies we’d make out of cups of water, Mississippi clay, and childhood creativity. Those perfect pies and cakes — the layers of crumbled dirt, topped with a layer of clay, the black tar ganache on top of that, and a fine sprinkling of sand frosting we would pretend to gobble down the second it was done baking in the sun. Mississippi Mud Pies. The pies that would pretend away our hunger, boredom, and pain … the pies that became a symbol for that childhood summer so long ago.
You’d think, all these years later, as an educator with a framed Master’s Degree on my wall, that I might walk into any Piggly Wiggly, on any hot afternoon, and buy a Mississippi Mud Pie from the freezer section for $8.99, but you’d be wrong. Dead wrong. My Mud Pies got me through the hungriest, hottest Mississippi summer of my life, and my pies aren’t made for the people who can afford to lie in the sun with picnic baskets. They were made for Jackie and me in the summer of 1980.