Soul Sessions Podcast: Mary Rooks
On today's show, Mary Rooks is a mom of four who once had her sights set on being a geologist in Alaska.
But her husband's family ties to the City With Soul led them back to Jackson, where she's become a sought after photographer and founder of a resource for moms, JXN Motherhood.
Note: Soul Sessions is produced as a podcast first and designed to be listened to. If you are able, we strongly encourage you to listen to the audio, which includes the emotion and inflection meant to be conveyed by human voice. Our transcripts are created using human transcribers, but may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting.
Paul: This is Soul Sessions, conversations on culture from Jackson, Mississippi. I'm your host, Paul Wolf, bringing you a look at the people, places and events that make us the City With Soul. On today's show, Mary Rooks is a mom of four who once had her sights set on being a geologist in Alaska. But her husband's family ties to the City With Soul led them back to Jackson, where she's become a sought after photographer and founder of a resource for moms, JXN Motherhood.
Hey Mary, thanks for being on Soul Sessions.
Mary: Good to be here.
Paul: I'm happy to have you on to talk about resources for mothers, especially now that we're here in the holiday season, but also to talk about how you got to Jackson. Can you give me a little background on that?
Mary: Yeah. Wow. Yes, so got a geology degree, nothing against Jackson. Just didn't have plans to be here. And then I ended up meeting my husband who anchored me here to Jackson. So I did work for MDOT for a little while, but geology wasn't the same in Mississippi. Then I ended up having a child and I thought my kid as everybody does, was super cute. So I took a million pictures of him and then we lived in Austin, Texas for a little while, and obviously everything is pictures there and I started to slowly develop this love for photography on an iPhone. Friend of mine, Jackson. That's the thing, everybody's so giving generous, wants the best for everybody. So a friend of mine is like, "Hey, you need to be a photographer." She puts a camera in my hand. I mean, the rest is history. I've been in love ever since.
Paul: I love that story. You have Midstory Photography here in Jackson. And if you've ever seen any of Mary's photos kind of out in the wild, she has a style, she has a look. You say, that's Mary's work. Mostly families, but landscapes too. We've seen your photos in lots of different places.
Mary: It kind of describes me. I have a lot of different interests, so it was so hard. You hear all those business coaching. You need to really find a vein and stick to it. I can't. It's impossible for me. I love too many things. There's so much beauty and that looks all sort of different ways. So yes, landscape. I've always loved architecture. I studied architecture for a minute in college, and so I do interiors for some really great, well, you've seen. Elvie's, Cultivation Food Hall. We have so many good interior designers here in Jackson. So I've ended up, I love interiors, but families, I can't stay away from families. I always say I'm never taking another family shoot. I'm just doing commercial work, but I can't stay away from it.
Paul: Now, what I really love is that you took something you really are passionate about, which was geology, and then found something else you were passionate about and found a city to do it in. You said you lived in Austin for a while. Must have been a great experience there.
Mary: Absolutely wonderful. The food, landscape. There's an endless amount of things to do. Music, culture. It's got it all.
Paul: But then you get drawn back to Jackson, Mississippi, partly because of family, but partly because, I don't know, how do you put your finger on what brought you back?
Mary: People think I'm crazy. Until you felt Jackson, you can't understand it really. I think it's that just taste that just lingers. You can't get rid of. You can't stop thinking about it no matter how much you want to. I kept telling myself. You're in Austin, Texas. This is where everybody's trying to move. You're here. Why do you want to go back to Jackson? But yes, it's the people. It's the friends. Gravity just kind of pulls you back. We try to go away and I feel like so many of our friends have lived different places and it's just we gotten pulled back to Jackson.
Paul: One of those things about being in a larger city is you start to see the things around you that fulfill you and the things that fulfill your friends and serve a purpose, resources if you will. And you came to Jackson and looked around and said, maybe it's all kind of under our noses.
Mary: Yeah. At first, I told myself, man, what? Everything seemed a little bit easier to get to in Austin with resources for medical or I mean just anything, things to do. It felt like, oh, Austin has more going on. And then I got here and I got that itch to go and find the things to do it. I mean, you just have to look for it. You got to talk to people. You got to look for it, but it's all here. And some of it, yeah, it's right under your nose. You just got to set your eyes down below you and just look.
I feel like we get caught up saying Jackson is so behind, and we're just like, we just need to wake up. We've got it going on. We have the best museums. I mean, people come here from Austin, from New York and they love it. Our children's museums, that's what I love. People who you would expect are from New York City. They've got the best of the best. Then they come and they check out our children's museum and they're blown away. And it's that and everything else, like the food. We've got it. We've got it. People, we just have to build the confidence back up in our city to believe it. We really do have it all.
Paul: As a mom of four, you were looking for things to do with your kids, and you found things you've posted on social, and people have said to you, "Where is that? What are you doing? How did you manage that?" And you started a group called JXN Motherhood. Tell me more about that.
Mary: Yeah, JXN Motherhood. So JXN Motherhood. It started with my personal account and like you said, people were asking, "Hey, where are you? Like, did y'all go out of town?" No, we're at LeFleur's Bluff State Park, Mayes Lake, that area. There's some landscape people don't even have never seen before. They don't believe that we have it and just you can look along the Pearl River. There's some good hikes, swampy areas just right here. You can go straight from the concrete to the woods. You wouldn't even believe you're here. You can actually camp there. [The] skate park [is] on Mill Street. But yeah, so I was like, okay, people don't know these things are here. I got to share this, but I'm also, I'm going to move this off my personal thing.
So I started it, a couple people followed it and then honestly after just a couple months, there were over 1,000 people falling along just because moms really, we need things to do. We do have those things to do. It's just that bridging that gap that there seem to be this gap from all the great resources that we have and the moms that need those resources so they can get out and do and enjoy being in Jackson.
Paul: We're in that holiday season right now, Mary, where the parents do have the kids at home and I don't know, maybe after a few days or so, it might get a little claustrophobic, a little like, "We've got to get out of the house for a little while!" So what is your recommendation for the kids over the holiday season?
Mary: There's the Children's Museum. There's the par,k the new playground, which is wonderful. We've got the Natural Science Museum, which sometimes I feel like people forget about, which I appreciate because we have it to ourselves a lot of the time, and they have indoor space. The aquarium. Kids just love it. I mean, my oldest to my youngest, they can all enjoy it. And then you can also go outside.
Then you've got Mayes Lake, which I feel like is another just totally underrated place to go. You have to pay a couple bucks for your vehicle to get in, but once you're in, there's so much. There's a playground, there's the lake, you can fish, you can camp, do the trails. A great way to get everybody outside. And so I know the first couple days everybody home, it's great to enjoy each other. Definitely get out and do because if you don't, you will go crazy. You can't go wrong with that. The Ag Museum as well. They do great demonstrations and it's super fun. They've got airplanes, the trains, model trains. The art museum downtown, Civil Rights Museum. And downtown, man: I love downtown.
Paul: So as a mom of four kids, three boys, one girl... a couple of restaurant recommendations where you feel good about taking the family?
Mary: The Pig & Pint, always a win because there's something for everybody. It's outdoors again, but if it is rainy, they've got an indoor space. They've got Jenga, a life size Jenga, hula hoops, space to run around, chalk. The Bean: they actually have food. I feel like a lot of people just think coffee, but they have great food. They have a living room in the back or downstairs they have a patio. So that's where we love to go 'cause we can, my husband and I can have a conversation or friends, and then the kids are kind of occupied with the sandbox down there. And of course Mayday Ice Cream is always great. Even Elvie's in the morning is great, a good spot for kids if you got the type that can stay contained. We like to go to Elvie's and they're kid-friendly as well.
Paul: I feel like this whole interview has been a love letter to Jackson, but I always have to ask, what makes Jackson so special to you, Mary?
Mary: Well, I know you hear it probably every time you ask the question. The people. The people, the people. The culture. But the connections, the soul. I mean it's in the name, the soul. You just don't get it. It's just deep and rich. I want to give you a different answers because I know you hear the people all the time, but that's it. But also the things to do. I don't think there's a shortage of it. It's beautiful to your eye, to your ear. I mean, in the conversations, there's just the beauty of Jackson.
Paul: She's a mom of four, geologist turned photographer and the founder of JXN Motherhood. We'll put links to all of your work and to JXN Motherhood in our show notes. Mary Rooks, thanks so much for being here today.
Mary: Thank you so much for having me.
Paul: Soul Sessions is a production of Visit Jackson. Our executive producers are Jonathan Pettus and Dr. Ricky Thigpen. To learn more about our organization and mission, head to visitjackson.com. I'm your host, Paul Wolf. We'll see you again for season three in January here on Soul Sessions.