This year I’m ready for Natchez blooms

Published 10:35 am Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Suzy is the social butterfly of the family.

She’s never met a stranger, and she has a God-given knack for making friends.

She’ll approach anyone in any situation.

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I’m more reserved, quieter. I don’t easily meet new people, and would rather just hang back and let the butterflies do the greeting.

The theory that dogs look and act like their owners just doesn’t apply to us. Yes, Suzy is my dog.

And we make for a good pair.

The duo is at its best on warm sunny days when we hit the pavement of downtown Natchez for a long walk.

Suzy — who views this time as her chance to convince every stranger on the street that she is the best dog in the world — literally forces me to meet new folks. She tugs and pulls and whines and yaps until I walk close enough for her to greet her new best friend.

Saturday alone we met two folks preparing to be in the Black History parade, a whole crew of Natchez city employees waiting to man the parade route, a handful of children, a family doing yard work, a pack of Yorkshire terriers and their owner, three tourists and a horse.

My dog is a politician in an election year, remember.

And as Suzy was vying for votes and I was giving directions to tourists seeking the Natchez Mall, something dawned on me.

I’m ready for Pilgrimage. Excited, even.

After three years in town, I now easily see the importance of March and April to Natchez.

During my first year in town I was confused by the mass of hoop skirts, azaleas and color-coded hours tours. The second year, I merely hated the increased traffic and the drivers turning the wrong way down the one ways. Last year was a haze because of new job duties at work. This year, however, I’m ready.

I want to see the hoop skirts and smell the azaleas. And I now know the town well enough to give accurate directions each time Suzy and I get stopped on an afternoon walk. I’m willing to dine in downtown restaurants during the off hours to make way for the tourists at lunch and dinner, and I think I finally understand the rotating daily tours well enough to explain them to passersby.

But most importantly, I’m ready to see the life in this town. Cash registers will ring and bing, hotel parking lots will overflow, restaurants will run out of gumbo.

Natchez will bloom.

Three Spring Pilgrimages are enough to teach anyone that Natchez needs tourism. This town will be more alive from March 10 to April 14 than it is any other time of the year.

But I’m convinced not enough of us locals will sit up and take notice. I’ve been guilty. For those of you not living downtown, working for a restaurant or running a bed and breakfast, it is easy enough to carry on with life, Pilgrimage or not.

As residents we are surrounded by the antebellum homes every day, and they don’t look much different in March.

But they are different — they are full of people.

Pilgrimage touches every part of town, and everyone has a chance to get involved. Stores surely see higher sales, churches stand the chance of bigger Sunday morning crowds and with tourists from all over, teachers have a chance to share the world with their students in our own backyards.

Hospitality comes naturally for us all, whether we are walking our dogs or leaving the grocery store, so no worries there.

But what could Spring Pilgrimage be like if we all got excited? What new ideas could we dream into fruition? How much sweet tea could we serve?

Whether your role is letting your over-exuberant dog lead you to meeting tourists on the bluff or whether you’ll be pulling all nighters at the B&B, it’s time for us all to get ready for Pilgrimage — this year’s and all the ones to come.

It is, after all, our life.

Julie Finley is the managing editor of The Natchez Democrat. She can be reached at 601-445-3551 or