Harmontown: On the far shore
The problem is that there is no good way to get to Harmontown unless you are already there. If you happen to live in the small community in the northwestern corner of Lafayette County, nearby yet separated by a beautiful but unbridged body of water, it is almost easier to get to Memphis than it is to get to Oxford. Yet there it sits, on the far shore of Sardis Lake.
Of course everyone in the county is familiar with Sardis – it’s crappie and bass fishing are renowned. William Faulkner sailed his homemade sloop, Ring Dove, there and threw parties on a houseboat – another DIY project. Eudora Welty came up from Jackson to take the tiller on its waters as well.
The lake was also home of Ole Miss’ legendary official, unofficial “Shrimp and Beer” party during Dixie Week. A party so raucous that it was eventually killed off by its own exuberance. The students still come to be sure – just not in one teaming 9,000-strong mob.
Less familiar to those who live and work around the university is that patch of native soil on the far side of Sardis. Who lives there? What do they do? Unlike Oxford, the community’s favorite son is not a literary figure, but blues singer and guitarist R.L. Burnside – and let’s face it, that counts for something.
Driving around the lake, honestly, is a bit of a pain. What you will find is a place that in many ways is the polar opposite of the modern Oxford, which of course, is exactly what makes the trip worth taking. It is quiet, more hushed. You are more aware of being in the Hill Country than you are in the, say the Grove, and picnics on the far shore will surely never involve candelabras and fine china.
Which is not to say that you can’t get a good meal. Give a call to Eddie and Wanda Howell, who run the Holiday Lodge. Be warned this is not a bucolic version of The Square. The Holiday Lodge is not chic. The place looks like it fell out of the early ’70s with that “candy counter-under-the-cash register” décor and a sometimes-working jukebox. It does, however, have some wicked good catfish; and why are you so concerned with looking chic anyway? The Holiday Lodge also boasts “cabins/rooms for rent, bait, gasoline, RV park, and new flushable bathrooms w/showers.” Flushable bathrooms – what more do you need? And, for the record, you don’t really need your smartphone.
If you are looking for water sports, nature or something that is just unplugged, you don’t have to hoof it to Destin, or the Ozarks – just point the car north and stop before you are all wet. If you are feeling adventurous – and life can be pretty lame if you aren’t – take the time to drive around the lake.
In the halls of county government, there have been persistent rumors of a plan to build a causeway across the lake – maybe, maybe not. What is certain is that whatever the status of the project, it’ll take a while. There is still some time to be avant-garde by heading to Harmontown and eating some catfish or shopping at Lakeside Market before that happens. You’ll want the bragging rights.
What makes Harmontown and the far shore of Sardis so compelling is not just that it is so different from life in a university town, but because it is so far and close at the same time.
By Richard Murff, Twitter @rjmurff
Photos by Gaetano Catelli