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WILSON: Wanderlust 2020 tour part six: Welcome to Miss Monetta’s Cottage

The best parts of my “tours” are that I usually have no idea where I am going, what I am going to do, or where I will rest my weary head. However, in the interest of transparency, my stay at Miss Monetta’s Cottage in Collinwood, Tennessee was not the result of fortuitous serendipity — it was a small part of a larger plan, and had rumbled around in my noggin for several years.

I first stumbled upon the Natchez Trace Parkway during a business trip to Jackson, Mississippi. It was easily accessible, not far from my hotel, and I wondered aloud, “What’s this all about?”

Succumbing to boredom and my most basic instincts, I headed off on an afternoon drive. Travelling northeast from the nearby entry point, part of the Trace follows 12 miles of the 105-mile shoreline of the Ross Barnett Reservoir, the largest drinking water source in Mississippi. I was intrigued by my scenic and relaxing cruise up river, and enthralled by my view of the sunset across the long expanse of water as I returned. It was not much more than an hour diversion from my hectic schedule of meetings and discussions, but that was enough time to decide I needed to learn more about this new discovery.

Unlike my usual adventures, traveling the Trace required some planning. As part of the National Park Service, there are no billboards, no highway markers indicating the next Cracker Barrel is just one mile ahead, and absolutely no interchange villages filled with an overabundance of gas, food or lodging choices. The Trace is 444 miles long — a long way to drive when you aren’t sure where the next gas station or hotel will be. Therefore, I had already done my due diligence and knew I could find comfortable lodging at a quaint cottage in Collinwood.

Miss Monetta lived in the same town for much of her life. Larry and Diane Butler lived down the street and, as with many good southern folks, looked after her until her passing at the glorious age of 110. They continued their caring ways and looked after her aging daughter until, sadly, she too, passed away a year later at the age of 90. The Butlers inherited the tiny cottage, fixed it up as an homage to Miss Monetta, and made it available to road weary travelers. That evening, I experienced an unmatched level of overnight hospitality.

During the check-in process, we chatted in the living room of the tiny home. It was, essentially, a conversational primer about life in their neck of the woods. Mrs. Butler told me about the plethora of churches that were a mere walking distance from my night’s abode, and also shared that she attended the Freewill Baptist Church on the “outskirts” of town. Collinwood is only 4 blocks in any direction and the “outskirts” were not too far away.

Since I was in the thickest part of the Bible belt, at 7:30 p.m. on a Sunday evening, I was concerned that my meal options were quickly fading. I politely interrupted and asked where I could get a meal. Mrs. Butler scowled as she asked me if I was planning on “having a beer” with my meal. I assured her that I don’t drink beer, but (knowing her affiliation with the Freewill Baptist Church) chose to keep quiet about my poison of choice being vodka. I got the sense that Collinwood was a “dry” town, and I was not about to taste alcohol that particular evening.

To his credit, Mr. Butler must have seen me as a lost and confused Yankee, unfamiliar with the power of multiple satellites, linked in geosynchronous orbit above the Earth’s surface, relaying information about where I was and how I could get to other locations. Taking pity on me, he drew a map to the only restaurant in town, and cleared away any additional confusion by expertly explaining his carefully drawn map.

“Drive two blocks to the 4-way stop,” he slowly began (making sure I could keep up). “Turn right and go a mile and a half. Meme’s is on the left.” He gave me an assuring smile as he added, “There’s a sign out in front. It says, ‘Meme’s.’”

For this, I needed a map backed up with verbal instructions. However, not just any map. A map that included the Freewill Baptist Church, just down the road a piece from Meme’s.

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