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Seeing Oxford through the eyes of a big fan

By Ryan Miller

was asked if I wanted to write an article about my dad. My initial, and almost immediate, reaction was, “Yes! There is so much I want to share. I need to tell more people about my dad.” As I sat down to write it, however, it became readily apparent it wasn’t going to be easy.

How do I write about this man? How do I communicate to you who he was and what he meant to all of us? How do I do that with the space allotted for an article in a newspaper? The answer is, I can’t. I can’t even begin that daunting task. Once I realized how foolish and trivial this could turn out to be, I decided to go in another direction. Instead of me writing cliché statements, referring to stories that don’t make any sense to anyone outside our family, or place more of a spotlight on the fact that my dad is no longer here (which he would’ve hated), I decided to tell you about something that still exists; something for which my father had great love. I decided to tell you about Oxford, but through my father’s eyes. Let me share with you three regular and seemingly insignificant occurrences within the life of Capt. Max in Oxford: 1) Grocery shopping; 2) Getting a haircut; 3) Going for a walk.

Grocery shopping

Who do we encounter when we go grocery shopping? Chances are, that question looks very different depending on where you go. Dad loved to go grocery shopping because of that question. It didn’t matter whether he went to Kroger, Walmart, or the artist formerly known as Larson’s Big Star. Dad loved to shop for food. But why would a self-proclaimed introvert love to go to a place no one is ever able to escape without engaging other people? Probably because he got to see Oxford there. He would always allude to the fact that there was a story behind each cart of groceries. He loved to move through a store, aisle by aisle. Oxford’s shopping carts offer up a lot of different stories. He loved trying to figure them out by asking questions about whether your favorite spaghetti sauce had meat in it or not, or whether you preferred sliced cheese product or actual sliced cheese. He loved moving through those aisles with his neighbors, colleagues, and even strangers, because I guess he got to hear their stories and because he got to share his.

Getting a haircut

My dad would always get to Don and Dale’s early. He often beat them there. But the great thing about this regular visit was not the haircut or the conversation he would have with whomever cut his hair (although he loved that too). Anyone that goes to this particular barber shop will usually see someone in uniform; police officers, fire fighters, army, navy, cub scouts you name it. My dad would always make a point to say the same thing to anyone he saw in uniform. “Thank you for your service.” And I mean he would say this to everyone he saw. He would even tell older gentlemen who donned a veteran’s hat. Why is this significant? He loved those who served without recognition. He loved that about Oxford too. There are a lot of people who serve here, and not just in uniform. The food pantry, churches, campus, downtown, et cetera, all have great examples of service if you look closely. Capt. Max saw that. He admired it; respected it.

Going for a walk

Dad loved to take walks. He walked all over campus, town, and even through the various neighborhoods he lived in at one time or another throughout Oxford. Exercise was important to him, but more importantly, he found it to be his “thinking time.” He could let go of frustrations, solve world problems, and even came up with million dollar ideas. This all took place within 2 to 3 miles, and was probably never communicated to anyone.

From time to time he let me walk with him. Of course, I would talk most of the time with my dad making small interjections of advice or wisdom. But every now and then, he would stop abruptly. Without a word, he would stop and take a deep breath and say, “right here, right now … life is good.” As soon as he would say that, he would continue on with his walk. It was almost like he was given instructions from above to stop and marvel in where he was.

The bottom line is, we get to live in Oxford. Do we have problems? You bet. We’ve got many of the same problems that face the rest of our state and country. We have poverty. We have suffering. We have problems that are so personal and private we won’t even describe them out loud. But the fact still remains — we live in Oxford. And despite our problems, it is a pretty remarkable place. We must not lose sight of that fact. Capt. Max never did. In fact, his response to anyone who would ask him how he was doing was always the same.

“It’s a great day in Oxford.”

Indeed it is, Capt. Max. Indeed it is.

Ryan Miller is the chairman of the board for the Oxford-Lafayette Chamber of Commerce and assistant director at the Center of Manufacturing Excellence at the University of Mississippi. Reach him at rtmiller@olemiss.edu.