A Love Letter to Memphis: Joyce Peterson

A Love Letter to Memphis: Joyce Peterson
Joyce Peterson and Ripley enjoying a walk along the Mississippi River.

Dear Memphis,

You had me at, “Hey, y’all!” When I moved here 25 years ago, you instantly felt like home. My heart was yours. And you had a lot competition for my affection.

As a TV brat (my mother was in the news business), I’d lived on both coasts and many cities in between including Boston, Washington D.C., Baltimore, Tampa, Portland, Green Bay, Chicago and Cincinnati. But no city spoke to my soul, no place convinced me to throw away the moving boxes and stay awhile, until I met you, Memphis.

Your people accepted me as one of their own, invited me into their living rooms every day, trusted me to tell their most important stories right from the start. That time, early in my career here, when I cried on-air while reporting the deaths of two children, your citizens didn’t mock me or crucify me. They called the station to make sure I was OK. You had my back, Memphis, and I will always have yours.

You do get more than your fair share of criticism, it seems. Time Magazine once referred to you as a decaying, backwater Mississippi River town. Dr. King’s assassination at the Lorraine Motel, the scars of the civil rights struggle, the decline of your downtown... it all took a toll on your psyche. Even when the New York Times described you as a “battered but resilient cotton capital,” you didn’t quite believe in yourself. But I did, Memphis.

And look at your downtown now! The Peabody Hotel was rebuilt into the South’s Grand Hotel, one of the finest in the nation. Watching the Peabody ducks walk the red carpet to their fountain is a cherished event for tourists and locals alike. It’s also become an annual tradition for our family to take pictures in front of the massive, beautifully decorated Peabody Christmas tree.

Nearby Beale Street, once rundown and forgotten, is now the most popular tourist attraction in the state of Tennessee. And the National Civil Rights Museum is a glorious testament to strength and resilience, a cultural institution revered around the globe.

And Memphis, I’m so grateful to you. Because I live and work in the Bluff City, I’ve been afforded the opportunity to meet civil rights legends like Dr. Benjamin Hooks, Rev. Billy Kyle, Maxine and Vasco Smith, Rev. Jesse Jackson, even Nelson Mandela. It’s one thing to read about history, but to be able to sit down at a table and talk with the history makers face to face is truly a blessing and I’m a better person for it.

The same can be said for your rich, music heritage. I saw B.B. King perform five times before I moved here. So imagine my excitement when I got to interview him before a show at his namesake club on Beale! Legendary Sun Studio founder and producer, Sam Phillips, was an absolute delight to run into at parties. Elvis’ best friend, George Klein, always had a smile and a kind word for everyone. Jerry Lee Lewis still rocks the room today. And I often tell the story of meeting Isaac Hayes for lunch. Memorable doesn’t begin to describe my encounter with Shaft!

So let’s talk about what an incredible sports town you’ve become, Memphis. The Grizzlies have played here for nearly 20 years now. How time flies! I remember the anticipation when the team first arrived in 2001, and the controversy over building a new arena for them. The boys in Beale Street blue have been making buckets in FedExForum since 2004, and I consider myself lucky to have witnessed the GNG era of Zach Randolph, Tony Allen, Mike Conley and Marc Gasol. It was a magical time in Grizzlies basketball and in your modern history. And like you, this new, young Grizz squad will grit and grind its way to success again.

A short walk from the NBA arena is AutoZone Park, one of the prettiest stadiums in Triple-A baseball. And your team, the Memphis Redbirds, is the defending national champion. So cool, Memphis! Soon, they’ll share the stadium with Memphis 901 FC, your new soccer team. And you’ll hear even more cheering come from Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium when the Memphis Express, your new Alliance of American Football franchise, takes the field. Your football stadium, by the way, looks fantastic after millions of dollars in upgrades. It’s fun to cheer on the Memphis Tigers there during the fall, and the team’s winning records and post-season bowl appearances just keep stacking up.

Watching all those sporting events makes a girl hungry, and Memphis, your restaurants offer some of the tastiest food in the country. You’re known for your BBQ, you cook a mean fried chicken, serve up a delish bacon glazed doughnut and don’t get me started on your soul food. My taste buds thank you, Memphis. My waistline...not so much.

But that’s OK. I can take a long walk along the Mississippi River with my beloved Golden Retriever, Ripley, to work off the calories. I like to park at the Bass Pro Pyramid, another fabulous addition to your downtown, Memphis. The observation deck offers stunning views! Rips and I will travel south from the Pyramid down to Big River Crossing on the Harahan Bridge. We cross over to Arkansas then back to the Tennessee side before returning to the Pyramid. It’s about a seven-mile walk round trip, and if we time it right and catch the sunset...that’s perfection! No better sunsets than on your riverfront, Memphis.

An evening stroll around Hyde Lake at the newly-renovated and expanded Shelby Farms Park is another fave workout option. I always see lots of joggers, bikers and kayakers out there. Few people realize Shelby Farms is a larger urban green space than Central Park in NYC! And props on your ever expanding Greenline, Memphis, connecting the park to many of your neighborhoods. You now have so many bike paths, with more on the way, including the Hampline in Binghampton. Most impressive!

I look forward to traveling the Greenline this spring when the azaleas and dogwoods are in bloom. It’s when you look your most beautiful, Memphis. The cherry blossom trees at the Botanic Garden are a must-see, as are the tulips at the Dixon. And when the weather warms, the Memphis Zoo calls my name. Feeding the giraffes is on the bucket list the year, and the hubs says he wants to do it too.

And speaking of my husband, I must say, Memphis, you broke the mold when you made Ron Childers. He’s born and raised here, and loves you as much as I do. He embodies the Memphis can-do spirit and shares your charitable, giving attitude.

We both look forward to celebrating your 200th birthday with a special Memphis in May dedicated just to you! Tom Lee Park will be packed for the Beale Street Music Fest and the sweet aroma of pork will fill the air during the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest. It will be the party of the year, if not the century!

Memphis, I often say you are the biggest small town in America. Everyone knows everyone, even in a city of 600,000 people. I dig that about you. And you are also a gritty, little city. You toughed it out to become a magnificent gem on the Mighty Mississippi. Your future is as bright as the new LED lights on the I-40 bridge. I’ve enjoyed the ride this far, Memphis. Can’t wait to see where you take us next!

All my love,

JP

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