Petal is many things. I have no idea how its name came into being. It sounds strange and for people who are "not from around here," I usually spell it for them.
Petal is just northeast of Hattiesburg. Most people have heard of Hattiesburg, even those outside the area. Hattiesburg is home to the University of Southern Mississippi which has an outstanding music department, is a member of Conference USA. It is a Certified Retirement Community, whatever that means and may be best known as the home of Camp Shelby, a National Guard training facility and apparently a sometime stop when you're being deployed.
Hattiesburg has good medical facilities, lots of fast food/franchise eating establishments and is home to three restaurants owned and operated South Mississippi's version of Emeril Lagasse. Robert St. John has been a favorite of ours for a long time; I have several of his cookbooks, read his weekly newspaper coulumn religiously; and eat at one of his restaurants as often as possible. Hattiesburg is on the map; Petal is a well kept secret.
Petal, with its small town flavor, seven or eight stoplights, bosts a terrific seafood market and grill. It didn't take us long to discover The Wharf! Merchants are friendly and helpful. I even found a yarn shop, after having looked in Hattiesburg and finding none. The owner/instructor is a home grown person, as is her husband. They, like so many, have lived elsewhere in the military or other work, but have come back home. Petal has a boomerang effect on its own.
Petal is particularly proud of its school system--as well it should be. It is because of this system that we chose to move here. Liz wanted the children in the system and she wanted to teach here. Almost from the beginning, we noticed the obvious support of the community. Driving by the high school complex we saw immaculate sports fields, a separate performing arts center and a semi-trailer, painted with "Petal High School Band," to haul their equipment. Not bad for a sleepy little town in a state whose schools are repeatedly on the low end of the pole.
We are constantly amazed at the level of the music program in the schools. Jacob had started band in sixth grade in Tennessee, did well, but the overall program lacked excellence. He came here, joined the marching band and was asked to play baritone sax in the jazz band--as a ninth grader. After marching season tryouts were held for concert/symphonic bands: there are two concert bands and an symphonic band which is the highest level of ability. We attended a concert Thursday to hear those three, the jazz band and two "senior projects." I was a.m.a.z.e.d!! Tommy said, "They didn't sound like any high school band I've ever heard." My reply was that I am so happy for Jacob to have this opportunity, to which Tommy said, "Now that I've heard them in this setting, I am really glad." Jacob plays second chair alto sax in the Symphonic Band and, as mentioned, is in the Jazz Band. Sarah Beth began sixth grade band in the fall and plays flute. She is first chair out of 20 flutes. (Thank you for allowing this old grandma to brag.)
As one way to show appreciation and support for teachers and staff, many of Petal's businesses give a 10% discount when they show their identification badge. Liz's badge save me thirty dollars this week on a new tire. People care about their schools!
Petal is home. I would have never purposely chosen it; I would have never thought it was a possibility. God is good! I have no doubt that He brought us here. I love the church where I attend; I love the area in the county where we live. I love the educational opportunities being afforded each one of the children and the way they have adjusted. Honestly, a year ago this time, I was torn--not wanting to stay in Tennessee without family and not really wanting to come here. God said: "Go; trust me; I will provide and care for you." I can only repeat: "Great is His Faithfulness."