Why Oxford Will Always Be Home

Four years ago, Oxford, Mississippi, was just a city I knew nothing about. I couldn’t even tell you where it was. Now, I call it home.

Rachel Campaneria (right) and her friends on game day

My whole life I was raised in the same town, went to school with the same people… year after year after year… Don’t get me wrong; I love my hometown friends. But, I was yearning for a change.

After high school graduation, I moved to Oxford, an unknown territory without a single soul I knew. The small Southern town was completely foreign to this Florida girl.

When I first came to Oxford in 2014, I had no idea what I was doing. Yet, I jumped in feet first.

All my friends from home were going to the University of Florida or Florida State University together, but I didn’t want that. I wanted to experience life outside of my comfort zone. So, off I went, having no idea this move would not only impact myself as a person but how I saw others.

During freshman year move in, I was greeted by so many different people from so many different places, all going through the same thing as me. The Southern charm of the red brick buildings, the warmth of the sun and smell of azaleas, and the strangers that smiled and said “Hotty Toddy” as they walked by helped to melt my anxiety and surround me with a feeling of acceptance. Suddenly, I didn’t feel so alone anymore. Weeks went by, friendships were made and my floor mates soon became some of the greatest friends to treasure, even to this day.

Campaneria’s freshman year floor mates.

I went through recruitment and joined a sorority, one that I love with all my heart. Yes, people say this all the time, but I really mean it. Joining a sorority in college has helped me grow as a woman and educate me on proper things in life. But, most importantly, it has taught me the value of friendship, the value of diversity – that even though we are each unique, from different states, countries, ethnicities or religious beliefs – we are all there for each other with an unspoken bond of sisterhood that helps to ease the pain from being so far away from home. But even then, Oxford slowly began providing its own sense of home for me.

Oxford, although small, is full of beauty. Having grown up in the Sunshine State surrounded by water and ocean breezes, moving to Oxford was certainly an adjustment. Yes, there is Sardis Lake, not the Atlantic Ocean by any stretch of the imagination, but nonetheless it still provides the same sense of tranquility and peacefulness a Florida girl yearns for. We all grow and adjust to our surroundings and begin to see the beauty of the environment we are in. There is also a place I go with beautiful statuesque Oaks and a historic mansion and trails that almost take you back in time. They call it Rowan Oak. Countless times, I have found myself taking long walks there, feeling comfort, peace and answers to many of the struggles that a young collegiate has running through her naïve mind.

Then, there’s the food. You can’t live in Oxford and not like the food. This is Southern at its best! From “chicken on a stick” to “Sinfully” delicious gourmet cookies, grilled cheese sandwiches at midnight, breakfast fit for a king, elegant cuisine, endless crawfish, grits upon grits upon grits and the best sweet tea you can imagine, Oxford has it all. And it’s always served with a huge grin, a “Howdy, y’all” and Southern hospitality that is uniquely its own. But when I feel homesick, I go to Ajax Diner on the Square. They have the best home-cooked meals, like meatloaf and mashed potatoes… just like my mom makes. It’s meals like these which remind me of home hundreds of miles away.

Oh yes, the Square… some drive through it, or around it I should say, but don’t. You must walk the Square to get the old-time hospitality and charm of its history. Besides, this is where we, as students, proudly hoisted the goal post after walking two miles from the stadium the night we took down Bama. That night will live on forever in my mind. I was there. I lived it.

Which brings me to the fall, that time of year when all of Oxford is game day ready. It doesn’t matter if you went to Ole Miss, go to Ole Miss or dreamt of Ole Miss… Oxford IS Ole Miss during football season! Everyone, young and old, has their game day attire on, red and blue fills every store window, school flags proudly hung from upstairs porches, banners in front lawns, and chants of Hotty Toddy being sung down red brick pathways. Oxford comes to life on game day. The beautiful Grove, the tents, the people: one cannot fully appreciate college football game day unless one gets to experience Oxford’s own. The crystal chandeliers and red and white checkered tablecloths, bow ties and starched shirts, high heels and dresses, pearls and baseball caps, bone china and plastic cups… the Grove is tailgating at its best. With thousands of my closest friends dressed in our finest attire, walking under hundreds of Oak Trees, cheering on the Rebs as they pass through the Walk of Champions, chanting my school’s “Hotty Toddy” chant as loud as we can and then locking the Vaught right before we watch our Rebs play, these are memories I could never forget.

It is these memories that I have experienced in Oxford these past few years that I will treasure dearly after I graduate. I can tell you all about the first time I ate a crawfish, the late-night runs to Papa John’s my freshman year, the endless spring parties covered in thick red clay, where I was standing when we beat Bama, storming the field after we beat Bama, studying in the Grove during spring time, having snowball fights in the Grove when school was canceled for a week, oldies night at Funkys, Double Decker weekend… and through it all, the many friendships that have prospered because of one common thread: The love of Oxford, a town that opens its arms to thousands of young souls each year and helps them find themselves in a home away from home.

Making the decision to come to Oxford was a huge step in my life. It is where I grew, away from my comfort zone. It is where I became a young woman. I made lifelong friendships and experienced things I couldn’t have anywhere else. Oxford is the place I grew up. It is where I came of age and made personal achievements that will forever alter my perception of life. Oxford is more than the place I chose to go to school, it’s the friendly people that say “y’all,” it’s that feeling of family on game day, it’s the unfaltering Southern charm with porch swings and sweet tea. And because of all this, Oxford will always be a place I return to years from now. It will forever be in my mind. It will always be home to me.


By Rachel Campaneria, an intern for HottyToddy.com. She can be reached at racampan@go.olemiss.edu.   

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