This past Saturday afternoon I dropped by Lisa Garner’s Love Day Pop-Up Shop at the Neely House in search for a little something for my wife and two daughters. And while I walked out with a small stack of mini valentines for my loves (thanks, Courtney Searcy!), I left being reminded of why Jackson has my heart.
As the sun began to slowly warm my skin from the cutting breeze, I realized it had been nine years since I last stood on the porch of the former Murphy Hotel. Everything that I was seeing, hearing, and smelling was like a sweet and all-too-familiar perfume. Almost nine years to the month, I had walked up the steps of the former railroad hotel with a young lady who had previously turned me down three times for a date. But that night she was willing to give me one shot. We had dinner in the ornate, high-ceiling parlor rooms, drank sweet tea, and nervously enjoying a slow, Southern supper of fried chicken and biscuits. That night was just the first of many suppers we continue to share to this day.
And as I look out east on the creaking beams to see the NC&STL Train depot, I watch as my wife and I chase our (then) two children through the maze of old railcars. Their heads rear back in laughter as their tiny, bird-boned bodies run from car to car like they’re Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. I watch as our son gleefully yanks the cotton rope of the poled train whistle, releasing the yell of the whistle far too long. Then I smirk, again noticing us staring at the ground to avoid eye contact with nearby parents, hoping he will release the rope soon.
Looking to the southeast, I can see the salmon-colored gazebo protecting Jackson’s artesian well, something that looks like the kind of place the Music Man would have commandeered for one of his community gatherings against playing a game of pool. While its 19th-century gothic design reminds you of a bygone era, it reminds me of when I drank those mineral waters for the first time with thirty other friends and community leaders through Leadership Jackson. We listened as Jackson’s storyteller and historian Harbert Alexander spoke of tales from the nearby Jackson Zoo or when Andrew Jackson stumped to a nearby crowd of 10,000. His stories that day refreshed our parched souls.
As I stood on that porch, I was reminded of what G.K. Chesterton said about the need for “practical romance” in our lives. Chesterton describes this practical romance as “the combination of something that is strange with something that is secure. We need so to view the world as to combine an idea of wonder and an idea of welcome.” There have been plenty of times when the spaces and people of Jackson have been foreign to me and my children, as I discover buildings made from handmade bricks, rusted railcars, and water from a fountain, not a bottle. But when I return again to these same people and places, they’re no longer foreign but hold a meaning and memory that transcends geography. It’s the collection of these experiences, of discovering the new and foreign, and making them nostalgic and familiar that creates the kind of city where I want to live. This is the sort of practical romance I need and, really, that we all need—to remind us just why this West Tennessee city has our hearts.
Landon Preston is a lover of his life here in Jackson. He's married to Stacy and they have three kids under six keeping them busy. When he's not taking his kids to the park, he's figuring out how to recruit people to Jackson (through his work or the Jackson Chamber), how to grow his family's small business (Simple Consignments), or how to create more spaces where he and his family can play.
Header image by Katie Howerton.