Old and New Converge
by Deborah Fagan Carpenter
Once a thriving town on the Illinois Central Railroad line, when the train repair shops relocated in 1930 and mechanization took over farming, Water Valley, Mississippi, like so many small towns, was frozen in time. The population of under 3,000 remained static, and in the ensuing years post railroad, Water Valley yielded to the status quo, and indeed, nothing in the small town evolved except the deterioration of its structures.
Change doesn’t always come from within, and that has never been truer than in Water Valley. In the early 2000s, fresh, new eyes fell on the little southern city, and thus began a slow, but significant, resurrection of Main Street, which spilled over to the rest of the town, including the residential areas.
The charming, but decaying, community held one noteworthy draw — inexpensive, mainly unaltered-since-construction, real-estate. The outside innovators, who hail from nearby Oxford, New Orleans, Washington, D.C., and other parts of the South and the country, saw the value in the beautiful, old buildings, and began buying, and in most cases, reinventing them. Not only were the downtown and residential properties reasonable, but by doing much, if not all, of the renovation themselves, the investment risks for the buyers would be potentially less catastrophic, should the ventures not pan out.
Nobody’s making a fortune here, mind you, but the owners of the businesses in downtown Water Valley — new and old owners alike — have rearranged their priorities so that they are doing what they love. Main Street is a blossoming business center that has once again become the nucleus of the town — in no small part because the citizens vetoed the erection of a Super Wal-Mart in the area — but also due to the level of energy and enthusiasm the restorations have launched. The retail operations in this small town are supporting each other and putting most of their money back into the pockets of the residents. There’s a real sense of community in the town, and the old businesses are operating happily alongside the new ones.
The reimagined buildings have sparked new vitality into the town. Mickey Howley and his wife, Annette Trefzer, a professor at the University of Mississippi in nearby Oxford, turned an old drugstore into Bozart’s Gallery, an art gallery that features the work of regional artists. A barbershop is now another art studio, Yalo, short for Yalobusha, the county in which Water Valley resides. A building that was once Hendricks Foundry & Machine Shop, now on the National Registry of Historic Places, is today Yalobusha Brewing Company, who brew — what else — Yalo Beer. (The company offers four year-round beers and several seasonal offerings.) Crawdad Hole, a popular restaurant that offers Cajun and Creole food, was once a gas/service station.
The business that regularly draws, not only Water Valley residents and people from the surrounding area, but often tourists as well, is the B.T.C. Old Fashioned Grocery. The operation sells locally sourced vegetables, Billy Ray Brown’s Pasteurized milk, and ice cream made from the milk, locally made desserts, casseroles, and a variety of spices, teas, coffees and some staples that aren’t carried by the local grocery.
B.T.C. owner, Alexe van Beuren, says, “I’m not a big shopper, and yet food strikes me as one of the few things worth spending money on. I adore selling food, which I discovered nine years ago when I had an heirloom tomato and baguette stand at our local farmers’ market.” Dixie Grimes, once a chef at an upscale Oxford restaurant, came on board and built the café side of the business, called appropriately, The Dixie Belle Café, and according to van Beuren, “The cafe has proved to be essential to keeping our doors open.”
The Dixie Belle Cafe Menu
The Gandhi quote, “You must be the change you want to see in the world” was the inspiration for the operation’s name, a code that Alexe and husband, Kagan Coughlin, exemplify in their day-to-day pursuits. When they bought the once stately department store building that now houses B.T.C., it was in such disrepair that a developer was about to level it in order to salvage the bricks. Coughlin, while working full time at a lucrative job, gutted and did all the renovation of the huge space himself — upstairs and down — at night after he finished his “day job.” He has recently thrown his entire energy into buying and restoring other buildings on the street, including one, The Blu-Buck Mercantile Hotel that has several small apartments that overlook a ready-made mural . In one of his efforts to give back to the community, Coughlin collaborated with Glen Evans to establish the Base Camp Coding Academy, which offers free computer training to local kids.
The Blu-Buck Mercantile Hotel balcony overlooks the storefront ruins-turned mural
Some businesses survived the many lean years in Water Valley to provide the backbone upon which new businesses have been created. The Mechanics Bank has been in operation for 124 years, the North Mississippi Herald has been publishing for over a 100 years, and Turnage Drug Store is currently run by the fourth generation and has been operational for 111 years. It’s a wonderful old drug store, complete with a beautiful, functional soda fountain, as well as a pharmacy and the usual “drug store stuff.”
The National Main Street Association, which has approximately 1,500 towns nationwide in its membership, has been instrumental in the revitalization of the town. Mickey Howley, director of the Water Valley Main Street Association, says that people in the little town are excited about what’s happening and they want to participate in its growth.
Everyone recognizes that it is in the best interest of all for the businesses to succeed, so they collectively strive to help and promote one another. The town now has a new identity and a “sense of place” as a result of the ingenuity, spirit, and cooperation of old and new residents. Farmers and College Professors alike are working and playing alongside each other in a community that has embraced change. Southern unity at its finest.
B.T.C. Old Fashioned Grocery: https://btcgrocery.com
Yalobusha Brewing Company: http://www.yalobrew.com
Bozarts Gallery: www.bozartsgallery.com/
Yalo Studio and Gallery: http://www.visitmississippi.org/events-and-points-of-interest/yalo-studio-and-gallery-27257
Blu-Buck Mercantile: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Blu-Buck-Mercantile/1647602432194326
Crawdad Hole: https://www.facebook.com/crawdadholewatervalley/
Turnage Drug Store: https://www.facebook.com/TurnageDrugStore/
Base Camp Coding Academy: https://basecampcodingacademy.org
Photos: Deborah Fagan Carpenter
Ode to Billie Jean
by Gary Wright
“There is nothing in the world like the devotion of a married woman.
It’s a thing no married man knows anything about.”
American Country music has no counterpart anywhere in the world. Its father was folk music and its mother was the blues, with just a little bit of sassy hillbilly and bluegrass music thrown in. It initially attracted working class Americans, with lyrics about hard times, drinking, partying, loving, not going to church, going to church, and losing a loved one. By the 1950s it had become America’s favorite type of music. Country music gave rise to many early super stars, as it took to the road and played in honky-tonks, county fairs, and radio stations.
Many instances of apparitions of departed country singers have been recorded, including Patsy Cline, Jim Reeves, Johnny Cash, and Buddy Holley. Due to performances at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Hank Williams, Sr. — in his afterlife — has been dubbed “the Phantom of the Opry.” Loretta Lynn owns the tiny town of Hurricane Mills, Tennessee, which has been the site of many apparitions and other supernatural occurrences. Elvis is frequently seen at roadside cafes and in supermarkets.
Especially intriguing, are the stories about those stars who died under tragic, even mysterious circumstances. There are many of those, for country singers seem to be given to living and dying under dark stars. As the words of Faron Young’s song imply, “I’m gonna live fast, love hard, and die young.”
Coupled with the intertwining of his life and death with that of Hank Williams, there are few circumstances that can match the foreboding and eerie dreams that Johnny Horton had of his own death. John LeGale Horton, the country super star, was born in 1925 and died tragically in 1960. With such songs as “The Battle of New Orleans,” “Springtime in Alaska,” and “Sink the Bismarck,” Horton enjoyed tremendous success. But, he lived his entire adult life fully believing that he would die young and violently because of the actions of a drunk man. Throughout Johnny Horton’s short life, he harbored an intense enthrallment with spiritualism and the supernatural, sharing his belief in the great unknown with his close fishing buddy, Johnny Cash. There are even stories of the two hypnotizing each other or trying to reach Hank Williams’ spirit at séances. Horton eventually became so convinced that a drunk person would kill him violently, that he even practiced driving in a ditch as an evasive maneuver to avoid a drunk driver. Horton’s manager, Merle Kilgore, often told the story that occurred about six months before Horton’s death. Horton gave him his guitar and said, “I’ve got the feelin’ Ol’ John’s not gonna be around much longer, and I want you to have this.”
On November 5th, 1960, Horton’s worst nightmare came to pass. He had just finished playing at the famous Skyline Club in Austin, Texas, the same club where, seven years earlier, Hank Williams had made his last performance. After he finished playing, Horton would not go into the club’s bar, for fear that some drunk would start a fight and kill him there.
The next day, Horton, his bass player, Tommy Tomlinson, and his manager and songwriting partner, Tillman Franks were driving back to Shreveport, Louisiana for a planned fishing trip. With Horton behind the wheel, near a railroad overpass on Highway 79 near Milano, Texas, his Cadillac was hit head-on by a drunk man in a pickup. Franks suffered head injuries; Tomlinson’s legs were badly fractured, and one eventually had to be amputated. Horton died on the way to the hospital. The drunken driver, James Evan Davis, suffered a broken ankle, and later pleaded guilty to ‘intoxication, resulting in a fatality.’
We’ve all seen accounts of people who present coincidences and similarities in the lives and deaths of our presidents Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy. Interestingly enough, there is a similar list of coincidences in the lives of Hank Williams Sr. and Johnny Horton.
While driving in his Cadillac near Milano, Texas, Johnny Horton heard of Hank’s death on the radio, eerily, on the same stretch of road where he would die in 1960. Both Hank Williams and Johnny Horton played their last shows at the Skyline Club in Austin. Hank was on his way to his first show in a month, a club date in Canton, Ohio, when he died in the back seat of a Cadillac; Johnny Horton was driving a Cadillac the night of his death.
Hank Williams and Billie Jean Williams
At the time of his death, Hank was married to a beautiful young woman named Billie Jean Jones. Country music star Faron Young had introduced Hank to Billie Jean, as Young had been a former boyfriend of hers. Before meeting Hank Williams, Billie Jean had a brief affair with Johnny Cash while Cash was married to his first wife, Vivian Liberto. For both Hank and Billie Jean, it was a second marriage. They had been married barely two and a half months when Hank died of drug-induced heart failure in the wee hours of January 1, 1953. Nine months later, in September 1953, Billie Jean Williams married Johnny Horton. It was his second marriage, and would end with his death seven years later. It was said by at least one reporter that both Williams and Horton kissed Billie Jean on the same cheek the last time she saw either of them alive.
Johnny Horton and Billie Jean
Faron Young shot himself on December 9, 1996. He died in Nashville the following day and was cremated. His ashes were spread by his family over Old Hickory Lake outside Nashville at Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash’s home. At last count, Billie Jean Horton was still living in a nursing home in Louisiana, an 83-year-old lady with striking memories that only few of us can imagine.
Were the souls of Johnny Horton and Hank Williams somehow interrelated supernaturally, through the person of Billie Jean Jones? Consider the undeniable facts, then sort through mere coincidences. Can spirits intertwine? Or, as F. Scott Fitzgerald said in his prize winning novel, ‘The Great Gatsby,’ “We beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
Old’ Hank’s Carr
by Gary Wright
“Everything is so random there must be a pattern.”
As the sun was rising on New Year’s Day about 65 years ago, a beautiful, shiny blue Cadillac pulled up the Hill, West Virginia hospital in the cold winter darkness. The driver, just 18, was very fatigued and very frightened. The passenger, barely 29, was very dead.
The driver, Charles Carr, was a freshman at Auburn University and had been hired at the last minute by Hank Williams to drive him to a performance in Canton, Ohio. Williams, who had been plagued since childhood with spina bifida, a painful malady of the spine, had been addicted to pain medication for years. In his later years he had commenced to augment his addiction with copious amounts of beer and whatever hard liquor he came close to. In addition to morphine and booze, Hank regularly took a dangerous sedative, chloral hydrate, to sleep. He was in a lot of pain and felt that in his medicated state he needed a designated driver.
The exact cause and time of the death of country music’s first superstar remains much of a mystery. Carr had stopped the vehicle some miles before the hospital when Hank had gone silent in the back seat. He stopped and, upon checking, found that Hank was unconscious. Roaring into the hospital, Carr pleaded with the attendant, “Give Hank something to bring him around.” But even a cursory exam revealed that Hank Williams was indeed, dead. The exact cause of death will never be known, for no autopsy was performed and no toxicology tests were run.
“I’m so Lonesome I Could Cry”
Hank’s new Cadillac was one thing he cherished more than just about anything. When Carr got behind the wheel of Williams’ convertible Cadillac, Hank’s career and soon enough, his life, was in a meltdown mode. He had been barred from the Grand Ole Opry for drunkenness, and demoted to the Louisiana Hayride, a definite step backward. He was now back to playing the very honky-tonks and dives he had just graduated from a few years earlier. Recently divorced from his first wife, Audrey, he had remarried to Billie Jean Jones, but was currently staying at his mother’s downtown Montgomery boardinghouse.
Williams was riding around in his beloved 1952 Cadillac with his stage suits, guitar, and other items he thought would be needed on a short tour through Ohio and West Virginia. During the tour, soon after the two drove across the West Virginia state line, Carr stopped at a gas station to fill the Cadillac’s tank. At that time, Carr noticed that Williams was passed out in the back seat. When he checked on him, Williams’ body was unresponsive and becoming rigid. Likely dead, the 18 year-old, terrified Carr raced to find the nearest hospital.
It’s unclear what killed Williams, but we do know that he drank often on the tour and had asked his doctor that night to give him a shot of morphine before he left Montgomery to help with his back pain. The sleep aid, chloral hydrate was never found, so, it is presumed that he took that chemical some time during the trip. Chloral Hydrate is the main ingredient in a “Mickey Finn.”
Charles Carr at the graves of Hank and Audrey Williams in 2007
They had planned to fly from Knoxville, Tenn., to Charleston, but poor weather canceled the flight and Williams canceled the concert. At a Knoxville hotel, Williams summoned a doctor and received two more morphine shots, along with some vitamin B-12, according to Carr. The Cadillac in which Williams’ body was found, the car he used on that final tour, is now preserved at the Hank Williams Museum in Montgomery, Alabama. It is the centerpiece of the museum, which is also filled with memorabilia and portraits and more.
Charles Carr died at 79 in 2013, forever known as the Carr that drove Hank’s death car. Carr went on to complete college, serve in the U.S. Army in Europe, and become a successful businessman and family man in Montgomery. He shunned all the limelight connected to him driving Hank Williams’ death car. Carr’s father was a friend of the Williams family, and prevailed on his son to drive Hank on that fateful tour from Montgomery to a New Year’s Eve show in Charleston, West Virginia, and then to another concert scheduled for Jan. 1, 1953, in Canton, Ohio.
Hank Williams knew his destiny from a very early age. He always wanted to be a singer and a song writer. He wrote over 700 songs and more than 100 were hits and have been recorded by some of the biggest names in the business. Ol’ Hank wrote songs about the bible, about getting drunk, about losing a loved one, about walking out on a loved one, and about every other sad and lonely issue you can imagine. Some of his issues, you can’t even imagine. His songs still make you laugh, sometimes they make you cry and sometimes both at once.
Ol’ Hank had spent most of his life clawing his way to the top, and, when he finallyachieved it, he threw it all away and spiraled to the lowest depths. One thing, though, about his songs; they are genuine, for he lived every minute of every word in his songs. The last song he recorded, perhaps not coincidentally, was
“I’ll Never Get out of This World Alive.”
Photo of Charles Carr at the graves of Hank and Audrey Williams in 2007 (AP Photo/Montgomery Advertiser, Julie Bennett)
Is there a more magical place?
Deborah Fagan Carpenter
Guilty! Sometimes I buy books from Amazon, and sometimes I read on a tablet. Hey, it’s fun to anticipate the arrival of a book in the mail, and then to rip into the package with excitement when it’s finally delivered. And, it’s pretty cool to be able to decide in the middle of the night to buy a book, and with one click, have it appear like magic on my tablet. Nothing, (for me) however, can compare to the feeling of walking into an enchanting bookstore whose shelves are brimming from top to bottom with imagination and information; wandering endlessly, reading the descriptions of book after book; examining inspired cover after cover; and then, exiting with a bag full of amazing stories waiting to be revealed. For a book lover, a bookstore, particularly an intimate, charming, locally owned one, is like a candy store for a sugar-loving kid.
Could there be a nicer place than a bookstore? The very first bookstore that I remember shopping in was on Canal Street in New Orleans, sometime during 1967. Although I can’t recall the name, and I don’t know if it’s even still in operation, being in that shop remains one of my fondest memories. For me, the energy in that room was profound and magical.
Can small, locally owned bookstores survive, or, at least co-exist in the digital world? Well, that depends somewhat on the ingenuity, creativity, passion, and perseverance of the owners—with perseverance topping the list. But, chiefly, survival is firmly in the hands of the community itself. There’s a bond of like-minded folks amongst shoppers at small bookstores, and, if enough readers in an area value that experience and feeling of connection, along with the assistance and guidance provided by the staff, there’s a chance of co-existence.
The staff members of small bookstores love books, and, they live for questions about them. While it’s certainly convenient and economical to shop for books on-line, nothing can compare to the personal attention offered by the knowledgeable owners and staff members of small bookstores. They’re almost always avid readers who love to discuss books, to impart little-known facts about authors, or to make suggestions when you’re not quite sure what you’re looking for. Sometimes, they get to know their customers so well that they’re aware of their reading preferences, and can, with reasonable confidence, suggest a new author or book for them.
Clearly, there’s no chance that independent stores can compete with the prices or inventory of Amazon, and they aren’t in the business of matching prices with them either. But, the one-on-one assistance that’s always available at bookstores can more than compensate for the difference in costs, and, books can be ordered from physical stores just as they can on-line, and often, if not usually, arrive the next day.
Square Books, Oxford, Mississippi
Mississippi, widely known to have produced some of the finest writers in the literary world, currently boasts a gratifying number of flourishing independent bookstores as well. Not surprisingly, college towns regularly support bookstores, but the support is much broader than merely students. Square Books in Oxford, a good example, is well-known nationally, and it’s so successful that they’ve been able to maintain Off Square Books, which sells lifestyle and leisure books, along with used and bargain books, and Square Books, Jr. for younger readers. Off Square occupies space in a unique building that’s available for rent for special events, which is obviously one of the means the owners of Square Books use to generate revenue. But, the original Square Books is the cornerstone of the operation, offering an endless variety of books.
Turn Row Book Company, Greenwood, Mississippi
One of the survival tools for bookstores is to have small cafés—or at least coffee bars—as part of the everyday operation, and that’s always been the case at Turn Row Book Company in Greenwood. The simple menu of paninis, sandwiches, salads and light desserts, not only offers the store’s customers a place to relax and enjoy a quick lunch, but it’s a great meeting place for friends, which of course brings people into the store.
Turn Row Book Company, Greenwood, Mississippi
The beautiful bookstore on Howard Street, once a department store, also houses an upstairs gallery of works by regional artists. But the shelves downstairs are well-stocked with not only a solid collection of books by Mississippi authors, but a broad selection of novels in varying genres, including children’s books. The headquarters for Viking Range is located in Greenwood, so, cookbooks are naturally a staple of the shop.
It’s not uncommon to run into an author at a small bookstore. On a recent visit to Turn Row, I was told that, occasionally, visiting writers, particularly a couple of well-known Mississippians, will, time permitting, visit with aspiring writers, giving them encouragement and direction. Not a personal touch one is likely to find on-line.
Turn Row Book Company doesn’t have to look far to find an author to encourage new writers though. The owner, Jamie Kornegay’s first novel, Soil, has placed him firmly on the list of outstanding Mississippi writers. “Mississippi has done it again, given us yet another brilliant writer,” said Tom Franklin, author of Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, about Kornegay.
Turning Pages Books and More, Natchez, Mississippi
If you want a book signed by an author, an independent bookstore is the place to find it. #1 New York Times Bestselling Author, Greg Iles, hasn’t forgotten the Mississippi stores that helped him launch his career, and even though his publishers set up a grueling tour for him when he has a new release, he gives generously of his time to them. Turning Pages Books and More, in his hometown of Natchez, is naturally on the list of stores where he always does a signing, and they maintain a full inventory of his novels.
The newly released Mississippi Encyclopedia is giving the state’s independent bookstores a fresh, new enticement to help bring in new readers. The comprehensive look at Mississippi’s people, places, history, literature, art and architecture, music, politics, religion, and folklife is being introduced at independent stores all over the state, including Turn Row Book Company in Greenwood and Lorelei Books in Vicksburg. Senior editors of the collaborative work will be on hand on June first and second respectively to sign and discuss the project that began in 2003.
Lorelei Bookstore, Vicksburg, Mississippi
Independent bookstores regularly host similar events that not only bring community residents together, but add “texture and character” to the area. Mississippi-born writer, Polly Dement put it beautifully when she wrote: “A community’s cultural life is its soul, and where independent bookstores can be found, they are at the heart of the community. As long as we pull books from the shelves of bookstores, whether to stretch our minds or make us laugh, we can rest assured that our communities are growing along with us.” The author of Mississippi Entrepreneurs wrote that passage specifically about Vicksburg’s Lorelei Books, but it easily applies to most locally owned bookstores.
I, for one, will continue to shop for books on-line from time to time, and I’ll continue reading on my Kindle—on and off—too. But, as the Lorelei Books’ website once stated, that won’t replace “books of paper and ink, sold in a brick-and-mortar bookstore, by human beings.”
Photos by Deborah Fagan Carpenter
ME OH MY—JAMBALAYA!
by Deborah Fagan Carpenter
Mardi Gras! It’s the South’s great party!
A prelude to Ash Wednesday and Lent, Mardi Gras originated in Europe, but it began in the U.S. in—still under debate—either New Orleans or Mobile. (In Louisiana it’s actually a legal holiday.) Although religious at its foundation, the celebration is enjoyed by even non-Catholics, and consists of several weeks filled with masked balls, costumes, elaborate parades, beads, libations, and of course, food.
At the top of the celebratory food lists are Cajun and Creole favorites like red beans and rice, gumbo, King Cake, and jambalaya. We’ve had several posts on some of these from our own Southfacin’ Cook, Patsy Brumfield: “Make a Cake like a New Orleanian” and “Red Beans and Rice by Patsy Brumfield” http://porchscene.com/2016/01/15/make-a-king-cake-like-a-new-orleanian/ , http://porchscene.com/2014/03/13/southfacin-cooks-red-beans-rice-by-patsy-brumfield/, and a gumbo recipe by John Besh in Holiday Dinner a la New Orleans” http://porchscene.com/2015/12/21/holiday-dinner-a-la-new-orleans/. Today’s post takes a look at Jambalaya, which I’ve previously never prepared OR eaten, I don’t think, but it was a great Sunday afternoon endeavor and a delicious dinner.
Jambalaya is definitely a Louisiana dish, strongly influenced by the French and Spanish, consisting of a variety of meats and often seafood, but always rice. It also includes the “holy trinity” of onion, celery, and green bell pepper, and optional garlic, which I included in my execution of it. There are multiple ways to season it, and sometimes it includes tomatoes, and sometimes not. It seems that the farther away from New Orleans one travels, the less likely it is to incorporate tomatoes. As the crow flies, I’m 358 miles from New Orleans, however, and I used them in my version. (Chef’s prerogative)
2 Tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil, butter, or vegetable oil
1 pound raw chicken (I used white meat because it’s what I had, but dark meat has more flavor)
½ Pound or less Andouille sausage (I used Bradley’s sausage because it’s what I had.) Read about it in this article: http://porchscene.com/2014/01/16/oceans-of-inland-escapes-by-deborah-fagan-carpenter/
About a pound of large shrimp or crawfish (optional)
Two large cloves garlic, chopped (optional)
One large yellow onion
One green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
Two celery stalks, chopped
Two tablespoons parsley, chopped
One jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely chopped
Several green onions, chopped
About a tablespoon of thyme (I used fresh, but use less, if it’s dried)
Salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
A couple of tablespoons of Cajun seasoning OR a combination of three teaspoons salt, freshly ground pepper, ¼ teaspoon cayenne, ½ teaspoon chili powder, 1/8 teaspoon cloves, two whole bay leaves, ¼ teaspoon dried basil, 1/8 teaspoon mace
One cup long-grain white rice
One small can chopped tomatoes
Three cups chicken broth
In a substantial eight quart pot, brown the chicken over medium-high heat. (About five minutes) Remove the chicken and add the sausage, cooking for several minutes. Remove the sausage and add all of the vegetables, sautéing for several minutes. Add the chicken and sausage back into the pot, along with the remaining ingredients, except the shrimp, if you’re including them, which go in the last couple of minutes before serving. Cook covered on very low heat for about 45 minutes, and turn up at the end for enough time to turn the shrimp pink if you’re using them. Serve with baguettes and salad.
Aside from a bit of vegetable chopping and slicing, there’s not much to this dish, so if you’re in the mood for a little Mardi Gras fare, give it a go!
(If you’re in Memphis, and you don’t want to go to the trouble of making a King Cake for dessert, pick up some Mardi Gras cookies from Frost’s Bakery in Laurelwood!)
All photos by Deborah Fagan Carpenter
Mobile Mardi Gras à la Joe Cain
By Gary Wright
Often, things are not as they seem;
usually, but not always, more so than ever
Joseph Stillwell Cain, Jr.
October 10, 1832–April 17, 1904
Widely known as the father of the rebirth of Mobile’s Mardi Gras, Joe Cain is a celebrated son of Alabama. Following the Civil War, Mobile, Alabama was still in the throes of reconstruction and very much under the hated jack-boot of Yankee occupation soldiers and money-hungry carpet baggers. The conspiracy theorist generals of the Union occupiers feared that Southern sympathizers were secretly planning to overthrow the Union government in the South and reinitiate hostilities. Mardi Gras celebrations were about the only source of gaiety for Mobilians, and the Mardi Gras partiers carried their roles to the extreme, particularly the secret societies which made up the life blood of Mardi Gras. The Yankee overlords, ever fearful of conspiracies, cabals, and free thinkers thought that the masks, the secret handshakes, and similar frivolities of the Mardi Gras were the hotbed of the imminent hostilities. Thusly, the Yankees outlawed all Mardi Gras parades, meetings, parties, and activities.
There was little for Alabamians to celebrate during those hard times of scalawags, scam artists, and cruel northern overlords. The one thing of mirth and merriment had always been Mardi Gras, and now even that was prohibited under threat of imprisonment. On ‘Fat Tuesday’ 1867, Joe Cain, in an unplanned and uncoordinated fit of pique, simply appeared and paraded through the streets of Mobile. He showed up—some say in a high state of inebriation—dressed in an improvised costume depicting a fictional Chickasaw chief named Slacabamorinico. The choice was an ill-concealed insult to the occupying Union forces, in that the Chickasaw had never been defeated in war. Joe was joined by six other Confederate veterans, parading in a decorated coal wagon, playing drums and horns, and the group became the “L.C. Minstrel Band,” now commonly referred to as the “Lost Cause Minstrels” of Mobile.
Joe Cain and his compatriots had to get liquored up to march, knowing they faced certain arrest. However, in that first parade, the Union soldiers, carpet-baggers, and Mobile citizens looked on in wonder and laughter as ‘Old Slac’ and his minstrels marched down Government Street and turned left onto Royal Street, ending up in a bar. Although that first parade after the Civil War may have seemed comical and unpretentious, perceptive Mobilians realized that this was history in the making and that ‘Old Slac,’ in his unpolished manner and drunken stupor, had put one over on the unaware Yanks. Secret societies, which quickly grew in number, were instantly born to plan for a Mardi Gras parade the following year. 1868 produced an even larger parade, and in succeeding years, it grew substantially.
Mobile had little hope for gaiety and fun while suffering under the heel of the jackboot by the occupiers. With little else to brighten their plight from occupation, the planning and organizing for Mardi Gras went entirely underground and took up the Mobilians’ entire year. Outwardly, the secret societies were made to look like nothing but a drunken party. Inwardly, it became a serious and expensive business. Mardi Gras had been 150 years old when it was abruptly canceled by the Yankee occupiers in 1865, and it had always been part of the fabric of Mobile society. Now, under Joe Cain’s guidance and ‘Old Slac’s,’ command, it resumed its rightful place as the centerpiece of Mobile’s formal and, at the same time, gaudy, culture.
Had the secret societies put as much effort into planning hostilities against the Union authorities as they did in planning their drunken parties, they might have succeeded in reconquering their homeland. However, much to the delight of the occupying Northern government, all the activities of the Mardi Gras societies was as it seemed—one big, drunken party. In their attempt to ferret out the conspiracies, the Union government spent lots of time, money, and effort in penetrating these societies. But, it is impossible to prove the unprovable, and most of the Yankee spies eventually joined the secret societies for real and became some of the best of party-goers.
As the years passed, ‘Old Slac’ became a permanent fixture in the Mobile parade, and is now an integral part of the festivities. When Joe Cain died in 1904, the drunken revelers couldn’t bear not having him in the parade. Quite naturally, and in the right sense of Mardi Gras, they knew Joe wouldn’t mind a good party. So, they dug him up from his grave behind the Mobile Public Library on Government Street and paraded him down the avenue in a wagon pulled by two mules and followed by a bevy of black-clad female mourners, each claiming to be “Joe Cain Widows.” The Sunday before Fat Tuesday has become a permanent tribute to his memory. Now known as “Joe Cain Day,” the entire day is dedicated to his memory, irreverent partying and merriment providing his legacy.
For moral, not to mention sanitary purposes, city officials quickly put an end to digging up ‘Old Slac’ every year, and on Joe Cain Day the Mobile Police Department still guards his grave to ensure that Old Joe stays put. However, a team of horses and a “borrowed” coal wagon parade his ceremonial remains through the City, followed by, you guessed it – his ‘merry widows,’ wailing and lamenting his passing. Usually fueled by liquor, his widows sorrowfully and loudly celebrate his passing in shrieks of wailing and lamentation while sporting outlandish black, widow-like dress.
Joe Cain, a celebrated son of Alabama.
Revelers outside Joe Cain’s former home during Mobile Mardi Gras
Mardi Gras image is licensed under CC By 4.0 — linked to Travel Southern Comfort board on Pinterest
Black and white of Joe Cain is licensed under CC By 4.0 — linked to the Encyclopedia of Alabama
Float image is licensed under CC By 4.0 — linked to Wikimedia
Reveler image is licensed under CC By 4.0 — linked to Wikipedia
by Joseph N Goodell
As if being led by the hand through a looking glass into this wonderland of Mississippi, Richard Grant’s masterful Dispatches from Pluto genuinely involves a reader into his story. I had no more than finished Mr. Grant’s prologue than I judged that my involvement would be better served by visiting his “discovery” before I proceeded on to Chapter 1.
The straightforward way to get there from my home in Madison would have been via I55 and MS16 through Yazoo City, north on US49E past Eden, then left on Bee Lake Road (just over the Holmes County line) to the row crop processing operation, an economic hub which is Pluto, Mississippi. But there’s no pizazz or adventure in “straightforward.” Better to risk losing my way along rural byways through protean landscape and tiny hamlets with their resident dramatis personae.
So, from MS16 I turned north on MS433 through Benton, past the school and fire station, onto a slow-w-w but scenic length of road being resurfaced, which really did not need resurfacing, (The streets of Jackson, victims of relentless traffic above and Yazoo clay below, really do. Go figure.) and, into Midway—presumably, mid-way over the pine-forested high country between the valleys of the Big Black and Yazoo Rivers.
Midway is a confluence of five roads and a congregation of nondescript, randomly arranged structures in need of a facelift. The one where I stopped—for a map check and restroom—seemed to be a sort of automobile repair enterprise. The proprietor, a Mr. Congeniality of authentic affability, was kind enough to accommodate me. “A right turn outa my place, then less ‘n a q’rter mile to a left on Eden-Midway Road an’ y’r on y’r way t’ 49E.” (For the other he cheerfully offered “that patch o’ weeds out b’hind m’ barn yonder.”)
We parted company with thanks for his time and hospitality from me, an earnest “Y’all come back” from him. The bright day was early fall, Mississippi at its finest. The road curved gently downward through the forests, under a crystal blue sky, past the two churches of Pierce Crossroad, onto the flat, unbroken expanse of Mississippi’s Delta—the “South’s South.”
One of my neighbors had claimed Eden as her childhood home… when quaint, lively, and picturesque might have described it, and when the train might have stopped there. Now, every one of the residences was in weary disrepair; a few looked deserted. Three miles north lay Bee Lake Road, marked only by a hint on my MDOT highway detail. A major project was underway to elevate 49E over the railroad, where fatalities had claimed too many who had assumed that the right of way was theirs.
People should, but may not appreciate MDOT and its myriad projects. MDOT, however, appreciates its own. With a festive spirit, the large crew was celebrating a dinner spread out on makeshift tables: fat burgers from a grill, a tub of hot corn on the cob, trays of coleslaw, mashed potatoes, and a choice of cold drinks. I was welcomed by this fraternity—but not to the feast—as the wayfarer which I was.
They confirmed that yes, I was on Bee Lake Road and that Pluto was a short drive further west along the “ox-bow” of Bee Lake, an artful, nearly enclosed series of curves, 100 times longer than it was wide, and embracing about 4,000 acres of alluvial farmland. Pluto, though smaller than Eden, was clearly more prosperous, consisting of several residences positioned around Bee Lake and sustained by corn and soybeans this year, cotton in others.
I was greeted, although guardedly and more formally than I was in Midway, by an individual of evident competence and authority. After my apology for “trespassing,” to which he nodded an acceptance, we passed some time chatting up Pluto, the prosperous farming, and Richard Grant, who had featured him in a few dispatches. He knew the family of a respected Jackson cardiologist who owned a considerable measure of rich acreage nearby to the north, and, also the lead character, resembling him in both appearance and manner, of Gerard Helferich’s documentary, High Cotton—Four Seasons in the Mississippi Delta. Two native Mississippians who loved the rewards, the risks, and the hard work of raising cotton, who “couldn’t dream of doing anything else.”
During my clockwise drive around the lake, past Gum Grove and Stonewall to Thornton on 49E, I could glimpse through the woods a few houses, with the Yazoo River just beyond, and one or two appearing as mansions. Set well back from the road, beyond a wayfarer’s reach, one likely belonged to Mr. Grant. Typical of sparsely settled neighborhoods around small rural communities, such as Pluto and likely Midway.
I curved east onto MS12 through Tchula to climb out of the Delta toward the county seat of Lexington. This city of scarcely 2,000 projected an image of struggle with economic challenge. There was a baffling mix of destitute, some areas of modest means, and a sprinkling of affluence. After spending some moments of devotion in the alluring St Mary’s Church, I moved on to the courthouse. A disappointment of poor maintenance inside, but with the lofty magnolia tree off its southeast corner and its commanding clock tower, it did render a stately presence outside.
Most of those out and about were vehicle-borne at high speed around the square, as if in an effort to hurry on. Except for the policeman, who agreeably enough, assured himself that the map check which I was into across the hood of my car, was all above board, and as I relayed to him: trying, in a futile exercise of misty memory, to locate that out-a-country-road old house where I had lived briefly in the summer of 1943.
Saturday around the Lexington courthouse, circa 1939
MS12 was a sylvan and pastoral byway to Kosciusko, where a professionally crafted museum of the General and the city ushered me onto our enchanting Natchez Trace Parkway. Late afternoon bestowed an especially pleasant, even idyllic, drive along the Trace. An ideal close for any journey, return to Madison, and back to Chapter 1.
Book image from Amazon
Hiwy 12 Google images Mile by mile plan a trip in North America
Visiting in front of courthouse on Saturday afternoon, Lexington, Mississippi Delta, Mississippi. Wolcott, Marion Post, 1910- photographer. Created/Published possibly 1939. Wikimedia Commons
Part three of The Last Slave Ship. Click here to read part two. http://porchscene.com/2017/01/09/unbroken/
A Far Cry
by Gary Wright
An 1861 federal court case, the US v. Byrnes Meaher, was brought against Timothy Meaher and John Dabey, but because there were no documents connecting them to the Clothilda, and the passenger manifest could not be located, there was not enough evidence presented to convict the Meahers. The case was dismissed. The start of the American Civil War was also an important factor in the dismissal of the case. When the Union government was replaced by the Confederate government in the South, there was no interest in pursuing such matters. With the United States reunited after the war, Union officials decided that dredging up such issues would only serve to inflame a defeated South, whom the Northerners felt were on the verge of inciting hostilities.
Cudjoe Lewis, the best-known and most vocal of all the Africatowners, was born Oluale Kazoola in the Bante region of the West African Kingdom of Dahomey (present-day Benin,) He was born into the Yoruba Tribe of that area and began his training as a warrior at the age of 14. The Yoruba vastly outnumbered the Dahomey and, as such, a state of virtual war existed between the two more or less permanently. Whenever either side lost a conflict, its survivors could almost certainly count on being sold as slaves. Kossola planned to take a wife and begin a tribal life in that fertile region as had so many others who lived and died without their names ever even being remembered. Fate, however, intervened and he was destined to begin an unimaginable journey through a life of circumstance, and his name would be written down, unexpurgated, in history. Shortly before his 20th birthday, his village was conquered by the kingdom of Dahomey. Kossola and other captives were marched to the coastal port city of Ouidah where he was held in a slave pen called a barracoon for three weeks, waiting to be sold.
The Meaher property where Africatown was originally established, was a rural area far from the town of Mobile, where the inhabitants could fish, trap animals, grow crops and live, largely unhampered by the white society. The group built shelters of whatever they found growing in the Alabama woods and swamplands, and adapted their hunting to the rich game they discovered in the area. It has, however, been completely overtaken by the city of Mobile and overwhelmed by modern society. The historic district is encompassed in Mobile city limits by Jakes Lane, Paper Mill Road, Warren Road (Bay Bridge Road), Chin Street and Railroad Street. There are only a few markers to commemorate the place, and only a few pieces of moldy paper in the archives of the Mobile Library and in the Archives of the University of South Alabama, which holds the memories of a proud race of people who resisted domination, who held their own for so many years against encroaching change, and whose indomitable spirit fought for so long to remain faithful to their heritage.
(The last remaining structure in Africatown)
Now, Africatown is little more than a footnote in the pages of history that marches unrelentingly on. After the Civil War when the slaves were freed, many of the surviving Africans who had been separated from their fellow tribesmen, found their way back to Africatown and reunited with fellow members. Back in the 1920s, it is said that over 4,000 descendants and friends of the first Africans called Africatown their home. Nowadays, though, local inhabitants are more likely to respond to the term ‘the Project’ rather than Africatown. Foul odors given off from the nearby paper mills permeate the environment, and sludge and muck have killed all the clams, shrimp, and fish that the locals used to pluck from the area bays for sustenance. The ground, itself, so polluted that even the hardy turnip will not grow. All that grows now in Africatown is despair, manifested by the fruits all too common in lower-class America: teen pregnancy, gang violence, and alcoholism among the older ones and rampant drug usage among the youth.
As the story continues to the present day, as with so many real-life chronicles, it never actually ends. Stories of people live on forever. People may be held in captivity or placed in darkness, bereft of hope, but their histories can never die. Eventually, they will return and will pick up their never-ending stories and move on, despite awful, evil damage to their bodies, their pride, and their future. But it is the stories that allow them, nay, compel them to march forward into that unknown and often unkind future.
In 1928, the well-known African-American writer, Zora Neale Hurston visited the small black suburb just north of Mobile, Alabama and interviewed an elder named Cudjoe Lewis. Mr. Lewis was interviewed by several local and national authors and scholars, and he remained passionate and vocal in trying to keep alive the story of his people and their memories. He died in 1934 at the age of 96. His burial marker reads simply, “Last Survivor.”
(The busts on a tribute to Cudjoe Lewis and a 20th century Africatown mayor were decapitated by vandals in 2011)
Progress has not been kind to Africatown. It has been left as an area bereft of hope, with absolutely no future; a far cry from the colony of promise and expectancy held so dear by those proud remnants of a disastrous war on a foreign shore, a nightmarish trip across an unknown sea, and castaway on a strange new land. But, still, it is one of the few places in America where African-Americans can remember where they came from in Africa, their lineage, and can recount their ancestral home fondly.
This story has no end for, even today, the descendants of the captives on the last slave ship to America, amid crushing problems of their modern life, recall and retell a proud heritage. These third and fourth generation offspring, when retelling memories and stories of their forebears, become vibrant and their eyes light up at such impressive stories of their people who voyaged so far, overcame so much, and withstood for so long. They have a story worth remembering and worth retelling, and it stands as testimony and tribute to the indomitable spirit of a people unbroken.
Last Structure image by Robert D. Bullard @DrBobBullard
by Gary Wright
“Unbroken” is part two in Gary Wright’s three-part series, “The Last Slaver Ship.” To read part one, “On a Distant Shore,” click here: http://porchscene.com/2016/11/28/on-a-distant-shore/
The rich, fertile savannah coastal area of West Africa became known as the ‘slave coast’ because of the concentration of slaves, easy access to navigable ports, and the recently awakened global interest in and the need for slaves. Slavery is easily definable and explainable. It is free labor. Use of free labor will always make the product—whatever product—much cheaper than that of a competitor who must pay for labor. Africa was a rich, lush continent, especially the tropical central part. There, food was easily produced, causing a large population which caused overcrowding which, in turn, lead to war. In all wars there is a victor and a loser, and, in central Africa, the losers were taken into captivity and sold to the highest bidder.
European colonies, in the 1700s, were beginning to burgeon with crops of cotton, sugar cane, molasses, and rum. These goods were very profitable but demanded huge numbers of human workers to sow, tend, reap, and transport to an ever-growing market due to the rapidly expanding industrial revolution. You see, on the receiving end of slavery, it is dehumanizing, mean, cruel, vicious, and dishonesty at its extreme worst. The prevailing thought during that period, though, was that on the other end of the spectrum, it was simply good business.
The Clotilda arrived on the West African coast on May 15, 1859, and landed with a cargo of captives, including members of the Taskbar Tribe, prisoners from recent tribal wars against the village of Tamale, Ghana, and others. Deceit and double-cross work hand-in-hand in any such nefarious venture, and, it is said that Captain Foster and his entire crew nearly fell captive to the very Dahomey Chief, from whom he purchased the slaves. Foster and his crew must have been very impressed with the large military force of Dahomey, including a fierce contingent of female Amazon warriors whose courage and tenacity was said to have had no equal. They were not selected for their appearance, rather, their size, bravery, loyalty, and fierceness. In battle, they were considered veritable killing machines.
Saved by pure luck, Captain Foster set sail for Mobile around May 15, 1860, with some 130 African men, women, and children housed in tight, cage-like quarters in the hold of the Clotilda. During the five-week voyage, due to unsanitary conditions and starvation rations, some twenty African souls died, and their bodies were unceremoniously tossed overboard to ever-circling sharks. Many experienced sailors declared sharks could smell a slaving ship.
On Sunday, July 8, 1860, some 52 years after the United States had abolished the international slave trade, the Clotilda, captained by shipbuilder William Foster, sailed into Mobile Bay with 110 African men, women, and children between the ages of 5 and 23 on board. Life was soon to take a turn for these people and the Meahers, far different than they, or anyone, could have expected. For life, unlike a story, cannot be scripted, planned, or written; it must, and it will play out like the unwinding of a spinning top, moving here, spinning there, unveiling itself to its own unplanned, unrehearsed, natural design.
Federal authorities had been alerted to the illegal scheme months before, and were waiting; many say they were tipped off by the very Yankee merchants who were fearful of losing their wager to the Meaher Brothers. Captain Foster was alerted, and he slipped into a little-used docking area near what is the present-day Cochran Bridge in Mobile. Timothy Meaher arrived at the port in the morning’s wee hours and took charge. He transferred all the Africans to a riverboat, then burned the Clotilda to the waterline, before purposely sinking it in Mobile Bay, for it was evidence of the federal crime.
Meaher paid off Captain Foster and the crew and immediately transported them to Montgomery, where they were then paid to conveniently disappear from history and from inquiring eyes of federal officials who were investigating the matter. Meaher was able to document some 52 trips between Mobile and Montgomery during the period of the illegal slaving voyage. Thus, he was able to prove he was not personally involved.
The African slaves were distributed to those having a financial interest in the Clotilda venture, with Timothy Meaher retaining 30 of the Africans on his property near Mobile. Cudjoe Lewis was among the 30 held by Meaher. Since these Africans had been illegally brought in, they could not be legally enslaved, since clear title for them, as chattel, could not be passed. They were, however, illegally held as property and were treated as such.
These people were deposited on property owned by the Meahers, known as Magazine Point, and left to fend for themselves. Initially, thirty in number, they built shacks from materials they could find, raised food, hired themselves out to nearby farmers, and started a life for themselves. This little enclave became known as Africatown, and, over the years, it grew. When the Civil War ended, all slaves were declared free, and this little town continued to flourish as other freed slaves were welcomed. Many surviving members of the Clotilda voyage made their way back to Africatown. The residents continued to speak their native language, to observe tribal customs, to worship their gods, and to govern themselves based on their known values. Among the Africans was a man named Cudjoe Lewis, who was the last survivor of the original group, and who lived until 1935. Lewis’ African name had been Kazoola, but Meaher had changed it because he thought it wasn’t an appropriate Christian name.
After the Civil War, the elders petitioned the renewed federal government for assistance, particularly for transportation back to their native Africa. But, alas, all their requests fell on a deaf ear, and they were doomed to remain forever on a distant shore surrounded by foreign people, strange ways, and an uncaring attitude. Their only solace lay within themselves, and they told their children of Africa, a place of lush, green valleys, a place of plenty where there was little to want, nothing to fear, and everything for which to hope. As the years grew and memories faded, Africa became to them and their children an idyllic, half-remembered place which offset their present stark reality.
Cudjoe Lewis brought suit in court for reparations against the Meaher Brothers for kidnapping, illegal constraint, and for five years of wages until the passage of the 14th amendment on July 8, 1868. These charges were eventually dismissed without satisfaction to the Africans. After the Civil War, the American government encouraged freed slaves to immigrate to the developing west coast country of Liberia in Africa. Mr. Lewis petitioned the government for passage of his people to that country but was met with no positive results. Eventually, Lewis and his followers resigned themselves to being marooned along the shores of Mobile Bay, aliens on foreign soil, forever.
Slowly, over the years, their native language died out, the residents of Africatown converted to Christianity, and all became settled in present conditions. The people worked hard and saved their money, doing without all but absolute necessities, and they slowly bought land—the land they lived on and surrounding acres—until eventually, they owned their entire community.
Finally, they were relatively free. The grounds of the Union Baptist Church in Africatown holds the Cudjoe Lewis Memorial Statue, as mute testimony to his memory and legacy. Lewis, it is said, spent his entire life ‘wanting to go home.
Poster image from Pinterest board Africatown USA Mobile, Alabama, pinned by Blackman
Cudjoe Lewis image with children from Pinterest board to American History, Culture and Various Bits of Odd Related Information, saved by Elynor Vine.
Historic marker image from Pinterest board The Missing Piece of History, pinned by Cheryl Brown.
by Joe Goodell
Half an hour north of Jackson, not far from the Big Black River, the casual rolling land gives way to a succession of tall, lush hills one after another, for twelve or fifteen miles. On a quiet day, after a spring rain, this stretch of earth seems prehistoric—damp, cool, inaccessible, the moss hanging from the giant, old trees. Beyond these hills, if you follow the highway as it forks north and slightly west, the hills suddenly come to an end, and there is one long final descent. Out in the distance, as far as the eye can see, the land is flat, dark and unbroken, sweeping away in a faint misty haze to the limits of the horizon. This is the South’s South, the Great Delta.
Across this vast and flat alluvial stretch, in tune with the pervasive Blues, run slowly and circuitously the rivers and creeks, high banked, with names pleasant to hear and remember—Quiver River, the Bogue Phalia, the Tallahatchie, and the Sunflower—pouring their tawny waters into the Yazoo, which in turn loses itself just above Vicksburg in the River. When you speak of the River, though there are many, you always mean the same one, the great River, the shifting unappeasable master of the country, the feared and revered Mississippi.
And behind you, growing smaller in rear view image, but not in memory, is the one part of the world you wish was the way it used to be. Not Rome before Nero, nor London before the fire, not San Francisco nor Tokyo before the earthquakes. You would not resurrect Babylon nor Carthage; let the Leaning Tower lean, and the Hanging Gardens hang. You’d want the Mississippi Gulf Coast back the way it was before Hurricane Camille.
Along the river and the hills, there are old towns from each of which the planters with their gangs wrested from the impenetrable jungles of water, standing cane and cypress, gum and holly and oak and ash, cotton patches which as the years passed, became fields and plantations. The paths made by deer and bear became roads and then highways, with the towns springing up along them and along the rivers—the thick, slow, unsunned streams, almost without current, once a year ceased to flow at all and then reversed, spreading, drowning the fertile land and subsiding again, leaving it still richer.
And there are sweet bay and cypress and sweet gum and live oak and swamp maple closing into a wall. And like a table in the trees, the mistletoe hung up there in the zenith. Buzzards floating from one side of the swamp to the other as if choice existed for them—raggedly crossing the sky and shadowing the track and shouldering one another on the solitary limb of a moon-white sycamore.
All these became an awareness, pleasant companions along the diagonal from Gulfport to Clarksdale, US 49, across the Coast, the Heartland, the Delta. And mighty impressive companions too, company I’m privileged to keep because they are Willie Morris, and William Percy and Elizabeth Spencer and William Faulkner and Eudora Welty.
You probably recognized them because they’ve likely kept you company too, so I’m not introducing them to you, just reminding you of their presence and availability and companionship as you travel not only US 49 but also some “lesser routes” like MS 28, 27, 16, 14 and 8 and 7 which take you across the State through genuinely spectacular countryside and hospitable towns with curious names.
Or, better yet, maybe you’d prefer some un-numbered by-ways like Dry Grove Road and its handsome farms between Crystal Springs and Raymond…or, west of Madison, where the sun-brightened pastures and forests alternate, and where the Road and the Lake are both called Cavalier…or, east of Byrum where the short hop along Swinging Bridge Road ends at its pedestrians-only namesake, crossing the Pearl River since 1905 and one of just four suspension bridges left in the state…or, north of Vaughan, Possum Bend Road, which takes you to the bustling shop, the splendid product and the genial host of Harkins’ Chairs.
For a special treat some Thursday afternoon, plan a tour towards Flora along Cedar Hill Road or Robinson Springs Road where the forests, the hanging moss, and the expansive homesteads vie for your attention…then on to Bentonia where Railroad Avenue takes you to the Blue Front Café for their weekly special, the “BBQ and Blues Show.” Or for another kind of treat, a cup of your favorite brew, take Gilmer Road south, or Hopewell Road north; they meet at MS 532 in the celebrated community of Hot Coffee.
Of our five companions the sage of Yoknapatawpha County advises us that “understanding the world requires the understanding of a place like Mississippi.” But he and the others may be unfamiliar to some, so I will be pleased to make the necessary introductions, to whoever might ask me, “What is it that brings you here?”
Camille photos are licensed under CC By 4.0 — linked to www.wikimedia.com
Blue Front Café photo from http://www.bentoniablues.com/
Harkin’s Chairs photo from http://www.harkinschairs.com /
Faulkner image is licensed under CC By 4.0 — linked to www.wikimedia.com
Eudora Welty image courtesy Eudora Welty Foundation
All other photos by Deborah Carpenter
A Look at 2016
Our home—the South—is a beautiful, haunted, place that’s full of contradiction and mystery. Even those of us who have lived here for all or part of our lives have a hard time explaining it, or our mindsets about it. To help us better understand it, PorchScene is attempting to share our world with those who have no knowledge of it at all and to reveal some things to our residents that they may not know either.
Through the unique voices of our excellent contributors who were willing to put their Southern experience on our pages, we’ve tried to continue our intention of presenting the South from multiple perspectives. Here are some examples of their efforts in 2016.
Of course, it would be impossible to talk about life below the Mason-Dixon line without some mention of food. There were numerous culinary articles throughout the year, but Distinctive Diningat: http://porchscene.com/2016/05/31/distinctive-dining-in-mississippi/ by transplant, Joe Goodell, and Spring Quiche at: http://porchscene.com/2016/03/29/quiche-by-southfacin-cook/ and How to Make Banana Pudding like a True Southerner, by our own Southfacin’ Cook, Patsy Brumfield, http://porchscene.com/2016/07/05/how-to-make-classic-banana-pudding-like-a-true-southerner/ are several great ones to check out. For a humorous look at some of our food habits, there was Sometimes you Feel Like a Nut, Sometimes Not! http://porchscene.com/2016/10/03/sometimes-you-feel-like-a-nut-sometimes-not/ and we also introduced you to food historian and super personality, Michael Twitty in Southern Cuisine–A Cultural Collision, both by Deborah Fagan Carpenter http://porchscene.com/2016/09/01/southern-cuisine-a-cultural-collision/.
Gary Wright gave us some insight into our history in Fort Mims Massacre,http://porchscene.com/2016/10/10/fort-mims-massacre/Ghostsof Cahaba, http://porchscene.com/2016/09/14/ghosts-of-cahaba/Lamentable Southern History,http://porchscene.com/2016/05/23/lamentable-southern-history/and the first edition of his three- part series, about the Last Slaver Ship in ON A DISTANT SHOREhttp://porchscene.com/2016/11/28/on-a-distant-shore/. Tom Lawrence shed some light on a piece of the civil rights movement with,CLAUDETTE COLVIN http://porchscene.com/2016/03/21/claudette-colvin/, and we looked into the face of some of our current racial strife inThe Power of Reasonable Action http://porchscene.com/2016/07/12/the-power-of-reasonable-action/.
Joe Goodell is looking at the state of Mississippi with fresh eyes, and a couple of examples of his view of the Magnolia state were presented in Mississippi Boundhttp://porchscene.com/?s=mississippi+bound and THE“S” IN MISSISSIPPI http://porchscene.com/?s=the+s+in+mississippi.
For a view of some of our humanity, there was THE HUGhttp://porchscene.com/?s=the+hug by Mollie Waters and Merry Christmas, Navy http://porchscene.com/2016/12/23/merry-christmas-navy/, another good piece by Gary Wright.
For a look at our lighter side, there was IT’S FIXIN’ TO RAIN! http://porchscene.com/2016/07/27/its-fixin-to-rain/, okra, grits, and yes, ma’am, pleasehttp://porchscene.com/2016/09/21/okra-grits-and-yes-maam-please-2/, and a touching tribute in So He Built a Wall http://porchscene.com/2016/11/21/so-he-built-a-wall/.
If you missed some of these great pieces or want to check out all of our posts throughout our nearly four years, you can always log onto the home page at www.porchscene.com. If you aren’t a subscriber and want to be notified each time there’s a new article, just follow the easy subscription instructions on the site. We’re always interested in your feedback, so please feel free to send us suggestions through the comments section.
Thank you for your continued support of this Southern Blog.
Happy 2017 to “All Ya’ll!”
Merry Christmas, Navy!
By Gary Wright
“Atta boy, Clarence,” —It’s a Wonderful Life
In order to ascribe the fullest meaning to this story, you have to know that every word of the account is true. Christmas 2014 was a real bummer! It seems that everything went wrong and then piled on after that. But on the afternoon of Christmas day I found something I wasn’t looking for, in the precise place I would never have thought to look.
The holiday was first spent visiting my daughter in the Psych Ward at Mobile Infirmary, Mobile, Alabama. She had been transferred there to learn coping skills after having her right leg amputated just below the knee as the result of a long, slow war against MRSA (staph infection) in her foot. Normal visiting hours at the Psych Ward were from five to six pm, but since it was Christmas, there was a special visiting time from 12 noon until one pm, otherwise my ensuing episode would have taken place in the darkness of a moonless Christmas night.
Under the circumstance, I spent a pleasant visit with my daughter. Then, taking a shortcut home, I drove straight through one of the projects of Mobile instead of going around. I was in a foul mood. Very little Christmas spirit resided in my being, and I looked forward to tossing back a couple of bourbons when I got home. But my bad luck was holding steady, and the engine in my pick-up truck blew, sending a cylinder through the engine block.
Anxiety set in, for I was now immobilized in a questionable section of Mobile, Alabama—not the safest place to be. I called Triple A and was informed that, since it was Christmas, I had an hour’s wait for the tow truck. Here I was, Christmas Day, my truck broken down in an unsafe area of town, with my daughter in the Psych Ward—minus the bottom part of one leg.
So, as I muttered under my breath, I waited for AAA and the forthcoming interactions with citizens of inner-city Mobile, doing some serious soul-searching while waiting. Atop my head was a dirty Army ball cap, so, being a white, skinny guy, I stood out on at least two counts.
I hadn’t waited long at all when a tall, slim, black man appeared—seemingly from nowhere. He just glided into my life on an easy gait, with a warm countenance that immediately put me at ease. He casually made his way across the street and nodded a hello. “You Army?” he asked in a friendly manner, pointing to my cap.
“Yeah,” I said warily.
“Yore hat says you were in ‘Nam. Zat so?” he asked with a toothy grin.
“Yes, sir,” I replied
He responded, “I’m Navy. I spent time with a carrier group in the China Sea.”
He immediately opened up and we became instant friends for all of the five minutes that he was in my life. Veterans are that way—sort of like a huge fraternity.
“I don’t like to talk much about it in this neighborhood,” he said, “but I worked a lot in the Navy’ counter-narcotics unit. Best job I ever had.”
For the moment, his soft, likable manner made me forget my unpleasant day. I found myself thinking how lucky I was to find someone so friendly in a place where I thought only danger and peril dwelt. Since my twelve-year-old F-150 was broken down in a bad part of town, he just assumed that I was on the outs. So, he then asked me, “Do you have any use for this?” proffering a bundle tied with string.
“What is it?” I asked.
“It’s a mat made by knitting tied together Walmart plastic bags .”
I indicated that I really had no use for it.
He sized up my situation, looked at my busted truck and said, “I bought this blanket at the Mission Thrift Store just around the corner. They said I could pick out one other thing for free. So, I picked this. You don’t have to make excuses for your situation. Just take it.” So I took it and thanked him.
At that moment another citizen of the ‘hood appeared, wearing a large, heavy coat on such a warm afternoon. In this part of town you don’t look others directly in the eye so as not to ‘dis’ him, but I chanced a glimpse of this man’s dark Ethiopian face, and was answered with a sour expression and a mean set of eyes. As he took a step toward me, the Navy man moved to intercept him before he got close.
“Whatcha up to, Stretch?” asked the Navy vet.
Stretch said something which I did not understand, but I saw him reach inside his over-sized coat. I do not know what he was reaching for and I couldn’t read his face, but in his dour, hardened expression I saw indications of his intent.
The Navy man said, “Hey, you know me, don’t you, Stretch?”
“Yeah, I know you,” he replied.
“Then you know I ain’t gonna let nothin’ happen to my man, Army here,” he said pointing at me. He had given me a street name and, in so doing, had named himself.
The Navy vet repeated what he’d said, in case Stretch hadn’t heard. “You know me Stretch. I ain’t gonna let that happen to my man, Army.”
Stretch eyed Navy, then looked at me and decided that whatever he was intending just wasn’t worth it. It was clear that he respected or, perhaps even feared, the Navy man and did not want to tangle with him, at least not today. Stretch eyed the situation, clearly studying his options, and slowly removed an empty hand from his coat pocket. A look of resignation and a slight smile spread over his weather-worn face, his eyes a little softer than before.
He walked over to me in a purposeful gait and put his fist out in front of me. Apprehension filled my soul as I tried to figure out what was happening. Navy looked at me and gave a slight nod. Then I knew. I bumped knuckles with Stretch in silence, then he turned, sashayed down the street and disappeared into an alley.
“You have a good one,” Navy said to me. “See you around.” Then he ambled up the street the other way. I watched and marveled at what had just happened. I never really knew what was under Stretch’s coat and I’m glad I never found out. I didn’t fully understand what had just transpired but I understood enough. When I looked again, Navy had disappeared behind a dirty tenement.
For a long time I looked silently down the street where he had disappeared, lost in that moment. Absorbed by all my trouble and woe that Christmas, I realized how very much I had to be thankful for. For some time my thoughts were on Christmas, caring, sharing, and helping.
But at last, my Christmas reverie was harshly broken by penetrating red flashing lights and the loud diesel engine of the approaching tow truck.
The driver said, “This is a bad place in town to break down. You definitely don’t want to be here after dark. Some real bad things happen here, even in the day time.”
“Merry Christmas, Navy!” I shouted down the street, as the tow truck driver looked at me, not understanding. “Merry Christmas,” the driver said in a low breath.
“I wasn’t talking to you,” I replied.
“Ain’t nobody else around,” he said.
“Yeah there is,” I said, “you just can’t see him.”
There is truly a thing called Christmas spirit. It’s all around us and it shows up when least expected, often emanating from the most obscure and shadowy sources. They’re here among us often, though seldom perceived. They’re like guardians, angels, or benevolent beings who appear for a moment, perform their assigned task, then round the corner and disappear into thin air.
I still hold onto my dearest Christmas present ever—a beautiful mat made of Walmart plastic bags.
“Merry Christmas, Navy!”
Ornament image is licensed under CC By 4.0 — linked to www.pixaby.com
Regattas, beautiful gardens, antique holiday books, historic homes, a Dickens Christmas, drinks in the lobby of the Peabody, and Christmas bonfires on the levee—from New Orleans to Lutcher. There’s plenty to do all over the South for the next few weeks, with every city, town, and area celebrating the holidays in unique ways.
The Charleston Holiday Parade of Boats
Saturday, December 10, 2016, Charleston, South Carolina
Thousands gather along the harbor shore to view the beautifully decorated boats. The Parade of Boats event is produced by the City of Charleston and the Charleston Sail and Power Squadron.
Bonfires on the Levee
Christmas Eve, New Orleans, Louisiana
There are many colorfully imaginative traditions dating back to the earliest Cajun settlers of the regions of southern Louisiana to the west and north of New Orleans. One of them is the lighting of the bonfires along the Mississippi River on Christmas Eve. These bonfires, erected on the river levees by the keepers of this old tradition, are intended to light the way for “Papa Noël,” the Cajun Santa Claus, on his airborne journey to the area. Or, according to some sources, the bonfires may have also been a way of lighting the path to the nearest Catholic church for Midnight Mass. https://holiday.neworleansonline.com/traditions/christmas-eve-bonfires-on-the-levee/
Magic Christmas in Lights
Theodore, Alabama—Through December (Closed Christmas Day)
Bellingrath Gardens and Home is celebrating the 21st edition of Magic Christmas in Lights in 2016! The holiday tradition lets guests stroll through a dazzling display, which features more than 1,000 set pieces, 3 million lights and 15 scenes throughout the 65-acre Garden estate. In addition, the Bellingrath Home is decorated in its holiday finery and enhanced with beautiful poinsettias. Magic Christmas in Lights begins on November 25, 2016, and runs through December 31, 2016 (closed Christmas Day). Magic Christmas in Lights is open daily from 5 – 9 PM with tours of the Bellingrath Home every hour and half hour until 8:30 PM. 12401 Bellingtath Gardens Road, Theodore, Alabama
Christmas on the River…Cajun Style
December 9, 10, 11, 2016—Lutcher, Louisiana
Come out and experience a prelude to the famous Christmas Eve Bonfires: A tradition unique to St. James Parish and all the world!! Enjoy great food, live entertainment, crafts, Santa’s Very Merry Forest and carnival rides throughout the weekend. Each night will be highlighted with a single bonfire lighting!
Savannah Christmas Lights Tour
Savannah, Georgia—Through December
The 2016 Holiday Season heralds the return of the 19th Annual Old Town Trolley’s Holiday Sights Tour. Conductor “elves” entertain and amuse guests with tales of favorite Holiday Traditions and caroling. View historic homes and city squares. The tour is offered 28 nights throughout December and includes 2 stops: The historic Isaiah Davenport House and Savannah’s decorated Westin Resort with the area’s largest Gingerbread Village.
Christmas on the Bayou
Saturday, December 10—6 PM—Gulfport, Mississippi
Christmas On The Bayou is a unique event because not only do the boats decorate and participate in the lighted parade but the waterfront houses also compete to be named the Parade Captain’s Best House on the Bayou and serve as parade judges. Completely organized and presented by neighborhood volunteers and community donors, COTB embodies the Christmas spirit for all. Christmas On The Bayou is the only waterfront parade in Gulfport and gives everyone an up close and personal view of the boats. Presented by Bayou Bernard Boating Club and named one of the top twenty events in the southeast
Dickens on CentreFernandina Beach, Florida—December 8–11
Charles Dickens’ novella “A Christmas Carol,” Dickens on Centre transform downtown Fernandina into a classic English village, sure to enliven your Christmas spirit. Travel back in time December 8-11, 2016 during the second annual Dickens on Center festival in Historic Downtown Fernandina Beach, Florida, on beautiful Amelia Island. Free to the public.
Candlelight Christmas Evenings at the Biltmore
November 4—January 7—Asheville, North Carolina
From fireplace mantels draped with evergreens to towering trees festooned with lights, Candlelight Christmas Evenings offer a warm welcome. By reservation only, these special evenings have become a cherished tradition for their unique view of holiday lights, live music, and Biltmore House displaying its magnificent Christmas decorations. Your self-guided Candlelight visit also includes daytime admission to Antler Hill Village & Winery, gardens, shops, and restaurants with special holiday menus (additional cost) on the day of your evening visit or the day after. Pricing available on the website:
Great Reveal Christmas Stories
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art—Bentonville, Arkansas—December 15, 6:30-7:30 PM
View rare books with a holiday theme, from lavishly illustrated nineteenth-century Christmas carols to a copy of Grandma Moses’s limited-edition Christmas Tale from 1952.
Holidays at the Peabody
Peabody Hotel—Memphis, Tennessee—Through December
The lobby of the historic Peabody Hotel is always magnificent, but it comes alive with Christmas magic during the holidays. The public areas are decked out in amazing lights and greenery, and an enormous, elegantly decorated tree graces the main lobby. The Peabody Gingerbread Village, created from massive amounts of sugar and eggs, delight young and old alike, and High Tea is served Wednesday through Saturday by reservation. Even the ducks are in a festive mood!
All images from respective web sites
In a three-part series, Gary Wright tells the story of “Clotilda”—the last slaving ship
On a Distant Shore
by Gary Wright
“You cannot play God without becoming acquainted with the Devil.”
—Jonathan Nolan, ‘Westworld, the Series’
(Remnants of the Clotilda)
Our story begins in 1808 when the American Congress, following the rest of the civilized world, abolished the importation of slaves into the U.S. It did not make slavery in America illegal, only the importation of new slaves into America. The blight of slavery would continue on the conscience of all good Americans for nearly sixty more years until the blood of many cleansed our land of that evil. Slavery was never widespread in the north, and between 1774 and 1804, all of the northern states abolished it, one by one.
In a peculiarly perverted irony, many of the north’s businessmen, while soundly opposing it, grew rich on the slave trade and investments in southern plantations where slavery remained vital to the South’s unique economy. After 1808, the domestic trade flourished, and the slave population in the U.S. nearly tripled over the next 50 years. By 1860 nearly four million Negroes were enslaved in America, with over half living in the cotton-producing states of the South. Wealthy Americans, just like all property owners worldwide throughout history, saw slavery as an indecent institution but preferred to kick the can down the road and abolish it one step at a time. In 1820 the introduction of Africans was declared an act of piracy punishable by death.
Chapter two of our story occurred in the summer of 1858 when John Dabey of Mobile, Alabama and some other slave owners met with slave owners and shipbuilders, Timothy and his brother Byrnes Meaher. The meeting took place aboard the Roger B. Taney, a steamboat owned by Timothy Meaher as it cruised the Alabama River en route from Montgomery to Mobile. Roger B. Taney was the U.S. Supreme Court Justice who delivered the tie-breaking decision in the Dred Scott case which required all states, including northern states, to return escaped slaves whenever and wherever found. Various Yankee mercantile buyers were in town to look at the local cotton crop for possible use in their New England mills and were being wooed by Meaher for business purposes.
After several flagons and shots of the best brew that southern Alabama had to offer, talk shifted to what they thought was a growing problem: the lack of good slaves hereabouts to tend and harvest the burgeoning cotton crops. The Yankee mill owner remarked, “I could buy twice the amount of cotton presently available.”
Tim Meaher replied, “Aye, if only we had the black folks to plant and harvest it.”
“Has it nothing to do with the manner you’d be using in the growing of the white gold?” asked another inebriated Yankee as he ordered another flagon.
“Nay,” said John Meaher, “we’re harvesting a half bale to the acre on good bottom land.”
Talk of this type by men of money and power where the alcohol flows too freely, always leads to no good. That night was no exception and, before the night was concluded, the Meaher Brothers placed a $100,000 wager with the Yankee industrialists that they could outfit one last slave ship and bring in a load of black slaves from Africa, right under the nose of federal officials. A perverted sense of Southern honor was on the line, and the Yankees took the wager. As secessionist fever was spreading throughout the entire south in the 1850s, there was much talk of reopening the African slave trade, which had been outlawed since 1808. It was in this time of intrigue and saber rattling that this evil scheme was devised in the minds of such dubious and devious human beings.
The Meaher Brothers hired William “Bill” Foster to outfit their ship, the Clotilda and to serve as her captain. The Clotilda was named after Queen Clotilda, wife of King Clovis of the Franks. She was instrumental in converting Clovis to Christianity and, ultimately, the entire French nation. Ironically, Queen Clotilda is remembered for her works of mercy. Ships from Mobile plied the seven seas in those days and Foster was able to learn from other captains that that West African tribes were always fighting. He also learned that the King of Dahomey had a going price of $60 apiece for Africans captives from the Kingdom of Whydah (modern day Benin,) on the West African so-called Slave Coast.
The outline of the African ‘Slave Coast’ came slowly into view as the ship’s First Mate approached Captain Foster on the main deck. “Cap’n, me and the crew’s been talking.” Foster busied himself looking over his sea chart.
“Zat so?” replied the Captain.
“We heard talk before we left port and we been talkin’ mongst ourselves.”
“Yeah! ‘Bout what?”
“We know she’s a slaver. The Clotilda, I mean.”
“Slaving’s illegal.” the Captain answered, “Been illegal going on sixty years, now.”
Under the terms of The Slave Trade Act of 1807, importation of new slaves to the States and a violation of this law could result in the death penalty to the perpetrators. Any military naval vessel bearing any country’s flag could board and arrest any crew engaging in the transportation of slaves. Further, any merchant vessel Captain who was brave or foolhardy enough could forcibly seize a slaving vessel and claim her as a prize. Captain Foster and his crew knew what they were up against.
“Seems to me,” said the First Mate nervously, “that me and the rest of the men oughta be gettin’ more’n jist normal seaman’s wages for this trip.”
“Well, you ain’t.”
“If’n you don’t make some sorta accommodation for a slaver’s crew, there might be more danger for the Cap’n . . . .” He trailed off, stopping short of making a threat but enough so that the meaning was conveyed.
“Whoa!” said the Captain, “you better watch yourself, Matey. Mutiny is illegal.”
“So’s captaining a slaver. I don’t reckon the law would do much to a crew that mutinied on a slavin’ ship.” The First Mate spit on the deck to accentuate his point.
The Captain stood up straight and stopped his act of trying to look at the charts. He looked dead on into the steely eyes of his First Mate, who did not flinch. The Captain started to say something, but instead, looked over the First Mate’s shoulder and saw the rest of the crew and he knew that they had voted on the issue at hand. He knew it was one against all of the crew.
“I think we can reach some sort of . . . what did you call it? An accommodation.”
“Yeah, an accommodation.”
“Okay, Mate, consider you and all the crew to have doubled your wages for this trip.”
“Mighty nice, Cap’n. Consider us an, er, accommodated crew.”
Captain Foster knew only too well that an illegal mutiny aboard an illegal slaver would not be prosecuted. Any ship outfitted as a slaving ship was considered a pirate ship and could be boarded, fired on or otherwise treated as a treasonous act. Captain Foster knew that his life was in the balance from an unruly crew, his slave captives, or a navy ship from any civilized nation.
(Part two to follow)
So He Built a Wall
by Deborah Fagan Carpenter
We all know the story of the first Thanksgiving at Plymouth. After enduring a harsh year, the settlers prepared a dinner to celebrate their survival, and Native Americans nearby were included. In subsequent years, however, cordiality between the colonists and their red skinned fellow men went south—or west, as it were. Because of white man’s diseases, against which they had no immunity, war, and a greedy thirst for land by the immigrants, the Native Americans were eventually all but eradicated.
Not the least of the atrocities perpetrated by the white man was the eviction of all tribes east of the Mississippi River, as a result of Andrew Jackson’s appalling Indian Removal Act. In 1838 and 1839, all tribes east of the Mississippi were forcibly marched to “reservations” in what was then the Oklahoma Territory, and so many deaths occurred on the brutal journey, that it became known as The Trail of Tears.
In the course of that inexcusable expulsion, two young Yuchi girls living near the Tennessee River in northwest Alabama managed to stay hidden for an unknown period. Not surprisingly, Te-lah-nay and her sister, Whana-le were eventually discovered and were herded into a stockade where metal tags bearing a number on one side, and the US Army emblem on the other were hung around their necks. Ultimately, they too were forced to a reservation in Muskogee, Oklahoma, with Te-lah-nay wearing government ID tag number 59 and Whana-le number 60. Out of 55,000 Native Americans who were removed from that part of the country, Te-lah-nay would be the only one who could prove her return.
Family legend held that after Te-lah-nay’s birth, her grandmother placed her umbilical cord in the Tennessee River, giving her spiritual connection to the flowing water for life. The Yuchi called the river “Nunnuhsae,” meaning “the singing river,” because sounds they heard emanating from it made them believe a woman lived in the water, guiding them with her music. But the rivers in Oklahoma were silent. Te-la-nay longed for the river and the place of her birth, and after one winter in Oklahoma, she made the radical decision to return. “My sister is like a wildflower,” she said. “She can grow anywhere. I cannot. If I stay in this dark place, I will die.”
In an astonishing act of bravery and determination, Te-lah-nay walked 860 grueling miles on a four to five-year journey back home, guided only by the connection to the river and her grandmother’s spirit. Once there, she was of course forced to remain hidden, but she eventually married a white man and had several children. Because she died at an early age, her grandmother said she had walked herself to death. It is said that the remarkable woman had eyes that were indescribable and that her name meant “Woman with the dancing eyes.”
Tom Hendrix, who lives nine miles east of the Tennessee River, just off of the Natchez Trace Parkway, is Te-lah-nay’s great-great-grandson. Tom spent over a quarter of a century building a wall to honor her memory and her unbelievable accomplishment, after meeting a Yuchi woman who said to him, “We shall all pass through this earth, and only stones will remain. We honor our ancestors with stones.”
And honor her he did. For over thirty-five years, Tom Hendrix lovingly placed eight and a half million pounds of sandstone, limestone, and fieldstone one stone at a time, to form the longest un-mortared wall in the country, each stone representing a step Te-lah-nay took on her journey home. The entirety of the wall is a mile and a quarter long, it is the largest memorial to a Native American woman, it is classified as one of the Top 10 Environmental Arts in the United States, is cataloged in the Library of Congress, and is the only non-church structure listed among Alabama’s Top Spiritual Places. Tom also proudly points out that Rosanne Cash won a Grammy for her song, “A Feather is Not a Bird,” which references the wall.
The limestone and sandstone were found along the banks of the Tennessee River, and the fieldstone was left behind after farmers had cleared their land. To arrive at the exact weight of the wall, Tom would stop at a cotton gin on his way to collect the stones, first weighing the truck empty, and after filling the bed with one layer of stones, he’d stop on the return trip to weigh it again. He laughingly says, “I wore out three trucks, 22 wheelbarrows, 2,700 pairs of gloves, three dogs, and one old man.”
The astounding wall flanks both sides of the entrance to Tom’s property. One side follows a somewhat straight path, representing Te-lah-nay’s walk to Oklahoma and the other side twists and bends, representing her trip back home.
Today, Tom stands or sits in a lawn chair and greets each visitor with “Aglaysaha—it’s a good day.” He is willing to share as much of his great-great-grandmother’s story and as much about his monument to her as one wants to hear, and then he will invite visitors to walk through the paths, offering only this. “I have one request: look with your third eye,” he says, as he touches his heart. “This is a special place. It’s a holy place.”
Stones that look like faces comprise one section of the wall at the entrance of the area that represents Te-leh-nay’s journey home. The faces are natural holes worn in soft limestone from centuries of bumping along at the edge of the Tennessee River. They seem to say to visitors that spirits are ever present among the rocks and that this place should be treated with respect.
Surrounded by white and red oak, sweet gum and beech trees, the wall is often built around them, showing deference. Secluded alcoves are found all along the path, offering many opportunities for quiet reflection, and one of those suggests an auditorium, providing many places to sit. Red prayer ribbons are seen hanging in many of the trees, and often visitors will leave gifts of shells or feathers lying on one of the benches. Sadly, some guests also leave their trash.
The shape, height, and width of the wall changes to reflect the obstacles Te-leh-nay encountered. The height varies from four feet to six and a half or seven feet in some places.
A circular wall—a prayer circle—is built at the entrance to the other side. It is called Ishatae…a quiet place. Indicating the circle of life, it is made up of four levels of stone—expressing birth, life, death, and rebirth. Tom’s only restriction for the circle is that nothing is allowed in it but prayer.
I noticed a distinct circulation of cold air in several places as I walked through the side of the wall which represents the walk to Oklahoma. Because Tom was with several people as I exited, however, I didn’t ask him about it. But I read somewhere after my visit that another woman had experienced the same sensation, and when she inquired as to its source, Tom replied, “If all great mysteries were solved, how boring life would be.”
There is no advertisement for the Wichahpi Commemorative Stone Wall. Tom says that “if people find it, they were meant to come.”
After walking the length of the wall, Charlie Two Moons, a spiritual person, said: “The wall does not belong to you, Brother Tom. It belongs to all people. You are just the keeper. I will tell you that it is Wichahpi, which means ‘like the stars.’ When they come, some will ask, ‘Why does it bend, and why is it higher and wider in some places than in others?’ Tell them it is like your great-great-grandmother’s journey, and their journey through life–it is never straight.”
All photos by Deborah Carpenter
by Joe Goodell
The ill fortunes of Rodney, Mississippi played out like a marauding storm. There were the yellow fever epidemics, two ravaging fires, the War, of course, and later, the floods of 1927 and 2011. But the unkindest hit of all was dealt by the capricious River itself which had provided for Rodney a thriving commerce and culture. Rodney had seen the worst of times, and the best of times.
As an important river port this center rivaled nearby Natchez; in 1802 the loss to Washington was by just three votes, in a bid to become the capital of Mississippi Territory.
In the early 1870s, the River tossed up a sandbar which diverted its course two miles to the west, abandoning the city and depriving it of a livelihood. And in mirror image, the railroad selected a route well to the east through Fayette.
Despite the periods of adversity, while the river remained, and before mass desertion, the heydays of Rodney saw spectacular success. By 1860 the residents numbered 4,000. There were quality schools, thespian groups, the state’s first opera house, a large hotel, two banks, two newspapers, and three dozen or so stores and businesses along Commerce and Magnolia Streets.
There had been a settlement on the site as early as 1715 known as Petit Gouffre, setting it apart from Grand Gouffre to the north. Though not actually a gulf, it was a place where Indians, and later the Spanish El Camino Real, had found convenient for a crossing.
In 1814 during the tenure of Judge Thomas Rodney, chief magistrate of the Territory, the name changed in his honor. A year later Dr. Rush Nutt (whose son later built Longwood) established his home, Laurel Hill south of town. His development of resilient seeds and his idea to drive Eli’s gin by steam power, advanced the South’s rise toward cotton kingdom.
In 1842 General Zachary Taylor was so taken with the beauty and fertile land of the area that he purchased Cypress Grove Plantation, renaming it Buena Vista. It was on the colonnaded veranda of this home where his daughter Sarah met, and from which she eloped, with Lt Jefferson Davis.
The War was tough on Rodney, but not so harsh as to preclude some rich folklore. Following the Vicksburg campaign, the Union Navy stationed its gunboat USS Rattler at Rodney. Although Admiral Porter had forbidden the crew to go ashore, in September 1863 most of them accepted an invitation from the Union-sympathizing guest pastor at Bethel Presbyterian Church. During his service, they were stealthily surrounded, and following a brief melee, held hostage by a unit of Confederates—the only time that the crew of a US naval vessel had been captured by the cavalry of an opposing force.
The most prominent remaining building is that same Presbyterian Church, without services, but with faded pulpit and pews, a weary piano, and a set of dusty hymnals all in place. About 1830 the Reverend Dr. Jeremiah Chamberlain, an Elder of the Presbytery of Mississippi, built the church and also established Oakland College, now Alcorn State University, to the northeast. His legacy lived on at Chamberlain-Hunt Academy in Port Gibson.
Across town is Mt Zion Baptist Church, bruised by flood, but distinguished by its arched entrance and polygonal domed belfry. Sacred Heart Catholic Church, built in 1868 and a fine example of Gothic architecture, had been relocated and well preserved at Grand Gulf Military Park.
Rodney is not a place one just stumbles upon during a journey to somewhere else. It is a destination, well off the beaten path, and it requires planning plus determination to get there. The best route is from MS552, through the campus of Alcorn State. The road becomes a narrow track, unpaved and poorly marked, winding southwest through arboreal tunnels of primeval forest. It is a depth of eroded loess resembling the patches of “sunken trace” along our Parkway. The forest becomes thinner, the passage smoother, and the grade steeper down the bluff facing Rodney. It levels along Batchelor Street into “city center” and the Historic District where the visitor feels a twinge of sadness as he gazes over the broken and silent dwellings.
Those parts of both downtown and the neighborhoods which have not disappeared, remain in various stages of decay, overgrown with brush and weeds. Gravity and the grind of time have settled in, dragging Rodney down. Barely recognizable are a few homes, Alston’s Grocery, the crumbling drugstore, and a two-story brick derelict of uncertain function. There is prevailing ruin, the perception of an entirely other world trying, and deserving, to be remembered.
A handful of people still live in or around Rodney, although by decree of Governor Theodore Bilbo in 1930, it has ceased to exist as an official town.
Rodney image from Southern Lagniappe blog
Old Rodney Presbyterian Church image by Heather Ingram http://www.panoramio.com/user/3355572
Road into Rodney Image by photographer Warren Jones http://www.panoramio.com/user/5439722
Sometimes you feel like a nut,
byDeborah Fagan Carpenter
As a child growing up in the 1950s, one of the highlights of an automobile trip, was spotting the occasional roadside fruit and vegetable stand that touted “BOILED PEANUTS.” Sometimes the peanuts would be in small, paper bags alongside the beans and tomatoes and other produce in the market, and sometimes there would be a large pot, teeming with peanuts swimming in dark, salty, water, cooking on an outdoor brick fireplace. In that case, our parents would tell the owner how much they wanted, and he or she would scoop them into the paper bags.
Back on the highway with our bags of nuts, we’d crack each one open with our teeth, suck the juice, savor the large, moist meat, and then throw the empty shells out of the car window. While of course, the shells are biodegradable (not a word anyone knew back then) and would soon turn to dust, today, throwing them out of the car window would probably secure a $50 littering fine, and even at that time, was doubtless “tacky.” But the process of eating them in the car was half the pleasure, I think.
In those early days of childhood, late summer and early fall were marked by the arrival of pomegranates, muscadines, quince, and green peanuts. The peanuts were more often than not parched, but for me, boiled peanuts was at the top of the autumn snack list, and it was also something I thought all Southerners appreciated.
To my astonishment, it has recently come to my attention that not all Southerners love, or can even tolerate, boiled peanuts! The reality of this has not only made me question my own culinary judgement, but it has highlighted the fact that not all Southerners are created equal. We do not all eat watermelon, we do not all drink our tea sweetened, and we do not all love barbeque. What other problematic behavior could be lurking?
I guess that’s why God made chocolate AND vanilla. But before boiled peanut haters write them off completely, consider these facts: Boiled peanuts are a healthy snack. Boiled peanuts have more nutritional value than either raw or parched nuts because the process of boiling them draws the antioxidants from the shell, giving the boiled nuts four times the amount of antioxidants than they have raw or parched. But even better, boiled peanuts have almost half the calories of ones that are parched—90 calories per ounce, as compared to 170 calories per ounce.
You don’t have to seek a roadside stand in order to enjoy the tasty legumes. (Yes, that’s right; peanuts aren’t nuts at all, but rather, beans.) While it takes a little time and patience to boil nuts at home, it’s worth the effort for the FEW of you who like them. On a recent Sunday afternoon, I washed two pounds of raw nuts, covered them with water in a large pot, brought them to a boil, added one fourth cup of salt, and after reducing the heat to medium, cooked them for approximately three hours. After the first hour or so, I began testing them for doneness every 30 minutes, and the result was nuts that had a little “crunch” left in them, as opposed to ones that were cooked until they were really soft, as they’re often prepared.
Not ONE of my Southern friends was open to the idea of sharing the healthy, low calorie, good for your heart, protein packed, antioxidant rich, salty, but slightly sweet, delicious treats with me, and I’m sorry for their loss. Clearly, it’s an acquired taste.
Roadside Market Photo from www.pinterest.com
Raw Peanuts from Deborah Fagan Carpenter
Boiled Peanuts from Deborah Fagan Carpenter
Ghosts of Cahaba
by Gary Wright
“. . . you deadly little ghostlings . . . Mama says go back to bed!”
—Jeaniene Frost, ‘Night Huntress’
Ruins of Fort Morgan Prison
The State of Alabama came into being in 1819, after the Creek War of 1813–1814 ended and the Treaty of Fort Jackson was signed. Its capital was chosen as nearly in the center of the state as possible. A site was selected where the Cahaba River joins the Alabama River, and was smack dab in the middle of a swampy wilderness. The site was surveyed, and building started immediately. In 1820, Cahaba (Cahawba) had started to function as a state government. However, the site had been poorly chosen, as the swampy area was prone to flooding and the wetlands favored mosquitoes instead of humans. Yellow fever and malaria became common, and the place gained fame for being dangerous and a menace to health. In 1826 the legislature finally moved the capital to a place more inclined to health, finally winding up in Montgomery, where the new capital was built in the middle of a pasture atop aptly named ‘Goat Hill.’
Cahaba was abandoned but still clung precariously to an existence of sorts. Cotton soon became king in the South, and Cahaba, superbly located at the confluence of two great rivers, soon found itself the port city of the cotton growers. By 1859 the place was a boom town once again, as steamboats fought their way to the bluffs and laded a plethora of cotton bales to feed European mills of the burgeoning industrial revolution. Then, came the Civil War. The cotton economy of the South was shattered, and Cahaba, like so many of its Southern sisters, felt the economic, not to mention the cultural, impact. Cahaba’s death blow came when the Confederates seized the railroad’s rolling stock and moved it elsewhere for the war effort.
A huge cotton warehouse in the heart of the town was converted in June of 1863 into the Cahaba Military Prison. When General Ulysses S. Grant put an end to prisoner exchanges, Cahaba’s prisoner population exploded to over 3,000. Though conditions were terrible in all military prisons, north and south, Cahaba made a reputation for its humane treatment of prisoners. To be sure, the old warehouse and stockade were cramped, and food, medicine, and supplies were nearly non-existent. However, the prison’s death rate of two percent was among the lowest of any military prisons in either North or South. Of the nearly 10,000 prisoners held there during its existence, it is believed that as few as 150 perished.
The fortunes of these humanely treated and recently released prisoners of the Cahaba Prison, however, soon took a sad and tragic turn. The steamboat Sultana was carrying 2,300 newly freed prisoners to their homes from confinement at Cahaba and the infamous prison at Andersonville, Georgia, when her steam engines exploded and burned on the Mississippi River on April 27, 1865. As many as 2,000 men died in the explosion and fire or in hospital beds following the tragedy. These brave Union soldiers from the best and the worst of Confederate prisons suffered the same sad fortunes of blind fate on their way home to the arms of their loved ones. It is said, though, that even in death these soldiers were not able to find rest and redemption.
It wasn’t long after the Sultana’s explosion that reports began to circulate of ghosts of Cahaba military prison. The first report was by a couple walking near the home of Colonel Josiah Pegues, when they saw a ball of white light floating in the air ahead of them. Others, through the years, have said they saw ghostly figures clothed in tattered Union uniforms huddling together for warmth and comfort as they floated in the cool night air near the old prison remains.
All but the very foundations of the old cotton warehouse turned prison are gone. Ivy, come-along vines, and kudzu cover practically everything now creating a surreal scene of abandoned buildings, trees, and ground that are blended into one great piece-work quilt. The town, itself, is but indistinguishable from the surrounding swamp and encroaching forests. However, it seems that the pitiful figures of ghosts cling to the small bit of comfort and warmth which they found in the last refuge of humanity these prisoners were afforded this side of the great beyond. It is said that, to this day, these ghostly wraiths look for something in the next world that they found little of here in middle earth – justice and mercy.
The Cahawba site is now an Archaeological Interpretative Park. Visitors are welcome. Roam the abandoned streets of the old capital city, view the moss-covered ruins, read the interpretive signs, and contemplate Cahawba’s mysterious disappearance. Water still flows through the old ornamental well heads. Columns and chimneys mark old house sites. Inscriptions on gravestones tell the stories of forgotten people. Old-fashioned roses and bulbs still bloom each spring.
Images of chimney and Cahawba sign are licensed under CC By 4.0 — linked to www.civilwaralbum.com
Photo of ruins is licensed under CC By 4.0 — linked towww.pinterest.com
A Fair and Stately Palace
by Joseph N Goodell
“From that chamber as I fled aghast, a fissure widened and the mighty walls rushed asunder. I heard a tumultuous shouting and saw the deep and dank tarn close sullenly over the fragments of the House of Usher.”—Edgar Allan Poe
Mount Holly Mansion
No such dramatic collapse is claiming Mount Holly, as was the fate of Edgar Allan Poe’s tormented hall. But still my reference seems fitting, as I witness instead the relentless burden of time, the coarse encroaching weeds, and vandals ruin this once manor of brilliance. I cannot help but grieve for what should not be, but is. Under a pewter sky ready to weep at any moment, the atmosphere of gloom and sorrow broods of a fading future.
A splendid Italianate red brick house of thirty rooms, ornate mirrors and chandeliers, walnut woodwork throughout, a rosewood staircase, and balconies with wrought-iron railings, Mount Holly was the concept of Margaret Johnson Erwin, who lived there after 1859, and died there in 1863. Her setting among primeval trees was surrounded by an expanse of rich farm land at the shore of Lake Washington, Mississippi. To lakeside lay graceful pasture; access from Route 1 passed through iron gates, and between rows of spreading oaks.
Ms Margaret managed her estate carefully. She had fashioned a marvel not only of beauty, but of life; a suitable companion for Annandale of Madison and Ammadelle of Oxford. She hosted a steady whirl of family and guests, including Jefferson Davis and Albert Sidney Johnston. All the time with charm, hospitality, and courtesy. But after the War ownership became an intricate stream of tangled episodes. The mansion did serve with distinction as headquarters for rescue efforts during the flood of 1927. And then, following a period of decline, enjoyed reprieve during the 1990s as a comfortable inn rendered by the accommodating family of T.C. and Ann Woods.
But now isolation is the pervading spirit; desolation is evident; erosion from the elements seems irreversible enough to preclude rehabilitation. Mount Holly is unlike Windsor, whose majestic, though forlorn columns, are tended by a public trust. Unlike Waverley, whose grandeur is sustained by the devotion of charming hostess, Melanie Snow and her Dad. Mount Holly clings to its heritage, but is crumbling, alone without family lineage, and feeling the tug of melancholy’s undertow.
The wear of time is escorting this disintegrating place away from Mary Carol Miller’s “Great Houses of Mississippi” to an eternal repose in her “Lost Mansions of Mississippi.” Mount Holly belongs to the poets now. Margaret Erwin’s compilation of letters, “Like Some Green Laurel,” which quotes William Yeats in “A Prayer for My Daughter”: “O may she live like some green laurel, rooted in one dear perpetual place.”
Decay at Mount Holly Mansion
With the haunting beauty of “Al Dolce Guidami” the condemned Anna Bolena in Gaetano Donizetti’s tragic opera dreams of a return “to the dear castle where I was born” yearning for “one day of my youth, just one day of our love.”
Samuel Taylor Coleridge muses of royalty: “In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a noble pleasure dome decree; on twice five miles of fertile ground, gardens bright with sinuous rills, where blossomed incense-bearing trees; forests ancient as the hills, and sunny spots of greenery.”
And Poe’s reflections from “Zante” and “The Haunted Palace:” “… how many memories of radiant hours, how many scenes of departed bliss, in the greenest of our valleys, once a fair and stately palace.”
Photo of Mount Holly by Andrew Morang is licensed under CC By 4.0 — linked to worldofdecay.blogspot.com
Photo of Waverly Plantation is licensed under CC By 4.0 — linked to www.flickriver.com
by Joe Goodell
In Mississippi, “hot” refers to that time of year when the sun behaves as if it were a hammer, and we are its own private anvil. When nerves wilt under that horrific sun, partnering with humidity in an assault of elevated double digits. When even the soundest grow neurotic, and rational thought absents itself.
A place where we like our tea sweet and our chicken fried, where we start our summers in April, know that macaroni and cheese is a vegetable, like our porches wide, and our words long.
Where we think that y’all is the only pronoun, have made hospitality an art form, have cornered the market on charm, and believe in monograms, mason jars and mindin’ manners.
Where we swap tall tales and are always blessin’ someone’s little heart.—Anonymous
“This land, this South”
with woods for game and streams for fish and deep rich soil for seed and lush springs to sprout it and long summers to mature it and serene falls to harvest it and short mild winters for men and animals.”—William Faulkner.
A northern admirer was visiting Eudora Welty in Jackson one morning several years ago and asked, “Why are all those people headed for church?” Eudora replied, “Well, it is Sunday!”
After God had made the earth He found that there was some water left over. So he just threw it down, telling it go wherever it wanted. It formed the Mississippi River and has been doing just that ever since.
“The Mississippi Delta is big houses and abandoned shacks, endless vistas of cotton, soy beans, rice and wheat, white cotton bolls that fall from trucks during the picking season and line the highways, dare-devil crop dusters buzzing overhead, catfish ponds, half empty hamlets where black men, womenand children sit on the stoops of forlorn dwellings.”—Willie Morris
It’s Fixin’ to Rain
by Joe Goodell
The expression “fixin’ to” (never “fixing to”) is characteristically Southern, especially rural Southern, although its use has been reported in Chicago and Cincinnati.
It turns out that the term, most often used simply to indicate a proposed action, is in fact complex in origin and form. It is unique in the English language, but seems to be unwelcome in proper English discourse. It can’t be regarded as colloquial, that might dress it up too much, nor can it be dismissed as slang. And it can’t simply be replaced by “getting ready to,” etc. It is widely useful, certainly not unsavory, so likely here to stay.
Beyond indicating a personal action soon to occur, “He’s fixin’ to mow the lawn,” “I’m fixin’ to go,” or an impersonal, “It’s fixin’ to rain,” the phrase has evolved to new meanings. It can even precede a false promise or delay, such as, “I was just fixin’ to”—a likely procrastination.
There can be determination, “She’s fixin’ to take lessons,” or trouble, “He’s fixin’ to get himself arrested,” or apprehension, “’fraid I’m fixin’ to come down with the flu.” Perhaps a warning to the kids, “Y’all are fixin’ to get a spankin,” or even tax time resignation, “I’m fixin’ to be audited,” or the expectant jubilation of fishing buddies, “We’re fixn’ to catch the big one today,” and possibly some electioneering retribution, “This time we’re fixin’ to vote those self-righteous gentlemen out.”
By tone and context, therefore, the speaker can manipulate his intent over a wide range. And by evolving new forms and functions, this unique expression is thus following a universal trend in our language.
Grammatically, “fixin’ to” is a “phrasal auxiliary,” or a “quasi-modal” verb which modifies the main action verb. As such, it has been around in Southern lore since an 1820s recording of its use in everyday speech. Its exact origin, however, what compelled the original users to such linguistic structure and why it has persisted is obscure.
It has enriched our language and performs well on its own. We therefore need not burden it with too much analysis. So when will I be closing this dissertation? “Well, I was just fixin’ to.”
Rain clouds image is licensed under CC By 4.0 — linked to www.pixaby.com
Interesting Southern Stuff!
by Gary Wright
“History is not necessarily what happened but what is recorded.”
An abundance of negativity has been written about the American South. Indeed, there has been much to lament, from the Civil War to the Ku Klux Klan to ‘Jim Crow.’ But, for all the bad, there is a ton of upbeat history and many captivating narratives that shed some light on the South’s more positive side. It’s difficult to categorize, define or explain Southern culture, for it has to be lived, experienced and often endured to know it. We hear enough about our lamentable past, so let’s take a look at some of the intriguing legends, tales and significant contributions that are worth recalling too.
Petit Jean State Park
The Legend of Petit Jean
The sad but poignant legend of Petit (pronounced Petty) Jean has been told, sung and repeated throughout the South. Its roots were in the story of a young French girl who was betrothed to her lover just before he set out to explore the ‘new world.’ She couldn’t bear to be without him, so she disguised herself as a cabin boy and tagged along with her lover and his band of Frenchmen as they explored the Louisiana Territory. Because of her stature she was nicknamed ‘Petit Jean’ or ‘Little John.’ Atop a lone mountain towering over central Arkansas, she fell ill and, knowing that she was at death’s doorstep, revealed her identity and died in her lover’s arms. Petit Jean Mountain still bears her name, and it is said to be both blessed and cursed by the spirit of a mournful lover seeking her betrothed.
To this day, young lovers seeking a happy marriage trek up the steep path of the mountain to have their union blessed by the spirit of Petit Jean. It is said that in death, Petit Jean can help others receive what she did not receive in life – the promise of a loving relationship.
As a Colonel, George S. Patton, Jr. reported to Fort. Benning, Georgia in 1940 as commander of the 3rd Calvary Brigade of the 2nd Armored Division. Fort Benning is where Patton trained, learned and developed tactics which would later give him his infamous reputation. Phenix City, Alabama was just across the Chattahoochee River from Fort Benning, and many soldiers frequented the night clubs, brothels and speak-easies there. It was a Phenix City past-time to cheat, rob and beat up these soldiers, and it is reputed that Col. Patton lined up a squadron of tanks across the Chattahoochee River and leveled all the main guns toward Phenix City, threatening to blow up the town. The soldiers got a reprieve from the town gangsters when the town leaders decided it was best to clean up the town ‘riff-raff,’ at least until the war took Colonel Patton to another continent. Whether Patton would have opened fire is subject to some debate; I, for one, would not have cared to call his bluff!
Houston, we have a problem!
The South became a significant player in space exploration when NASA chose three of its major sites to be located in the South: John F. Kennedy Space Center, Titusville, Florida; George C. Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Alabama; and Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center, Houston, Texas. The major space research is conducted in Huntsville, actual launching of space craft occurs at the Kennedy Space Center, and control of space flights is carried out at the Houston facility. How can anyone forget the memorable line in the movie Apollo 13, “Houston, we have a problem!”
Painting of Robert Johnson
It’s impossible to pinpoint exactly when and where the “Blues” was born or who, precisely, invented it. Its origins were in the plaintive and forlorn music of the plantation slaves decades before it actually took form as a genre. For years it was passed down as it was performed around campfires or in front yards after supper. Sometime in the early 1930s it found its way to the honkey-tonks, shot houses and beer joints in and around Clarksdale, Mississippi where black entertainers would perform and ‘pass around a hat.’ Son House, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Leadbelly, Charlie Patton and Robert Johnson are among a few of the earliest who cast a net around what would eventually become the ‘Delta Blues.’
Ray Henderson states it so well in his lyrics for ‘The Birth of the Blues:’
“They heard the breeze in the trees
Singin’ weird melodies
And they made that, the start of the blues
And from a jail came the wail of a down-hearted frail
And they played that as a part of the blues. . . .”
This music has grown and matured over the years but it still has a visceral effect on the listener. Through the music, they experience the hard luck, misfortune and the woe of the poor, the downtrodden, and the hapless, who’s only hope, ironically, is in the sad songs they sing. This music has many offspring, including the ‘Memphis Blues,’ ‘Beale Street Blues,’ and the ‘St. Louis Blues.’ Each has its own unique sound, but all find their ultimate origin in the unique American Black experience from the Southland.
Image of Petit Jean State Park is licensed under CC By 4.0 — linked to en.wikipedia.org
Image of George Patton is licensed under CC By 4.0 — linked to www.freeinfosociety.com
Painting of Robert Johnson is licensed under CC By 4.0 — linked to www.29.media.tumblr.com via Pinterest
The Power of Reasonable Action
by Deborah Fagan Carpenter
Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it. It is a sword that heals.
—Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
After the appalling, but history making events of the last few weeks, it seemed disrespectful to publish one of our typical posts today. In Dallas, decent, dedicated police officers were brutally gunned down during a peaceful demonstration, by a sniper who had no connection to the protest. In other cities innocent black men were callously and inhumanely killed at the hands of policemen who were inadequately trained, fearful, or racially biased. African-Americans and law enforcement officers alike, are full of fear, as well as justified anger, and without a doubt, there are rational and irrational participants on both sides. Events Sunday night in Memphis, Tennessee however, offered some hope for a reasonable dialog to open—at least in this city—in order to address the ever growing volatile relationship between the African-American and law enforcement communities, and to contain the expanding gulf between the two.
On July 10, in the city in which the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was tragically ended, the leader who fostered a non-violent approach to civil rights change would have been gratified by the peaceful protest that was led by proponents of the Black Lives Matter movement. An unusually mild summer night provided the backdrop for a gathering of over 1,000 protesters—both African-American and Caucasian—who completely stopped traffic in both directions on the Memphis/Arkansas I-40 bridge. The goal of the demonstration was to invoke a conversation among the community, law enforcement, civic leaders, and BLM advocates so that that grievances on all fronts could be aired. Additionally, they wanted to make the public aware that the Black Lives Matter slogan doesn’t mean that black lives matter more than anyone else’s, but rather that they matter equally as much.
Similar events took place in many cities around the country, but the Memphis protest was carried out in a manner that Dr. King would have applauded—with civility and dignity. Marchers weren’t trying to incite incidents, and to their credit, neither was the police presence. After several hours, the protest ended on a stunning note when interim Police Director Mike Rallings, joined by other policemen, locked arms with protestors, and together walked off of the bridge.
“A basic fact that characterizes nonviolence is that it does not seek to defeat or humiliate the opponent, but to win his friendship and understanding.”
—Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
On social media and news station’s web sites, the racial vitriol surrounding the event was palpable, but on the bridge, the protesters and the police engaged in heated, but rational arguments regarding violence and lack of accountability. A legitimate objection from outside observers about the event was the inability of drivers in emergency situations to get help, but the couple of vehicles with medical emergencies were allowed to proceed through the protest crowd unimpeded.
Other antagonists cried, “That’s not civil disobedience, that’s lawbreaking!” Well yes, the very definition of civil disobedience is a symbolic or ritualistic violation of the law. Nelson Mandela regularly engaged in civil disobedience and peaceful protests against the South African policy of apartheid, and a rather notable example occurred in our own country when the Sons of Liberty dumped a confiscated shipment of the East India Company’s tea into the Boston Harbour. Civil disobedience is a way that ordinary citizens often bring about necessary change.
The striking example of non-violent demonstration led by the Memphis members of the Black Lives Matter movement and the cool-headed actions of the Memphis police force has, at least for the immediate future, initiated a conversation between the groups and pertinent community leaders. Both sides are poised—to make an effort, at least—to see through the other’s eyes.
“The aftermath of nonviolence is the creation of the beloved community, while the aftermath of the violence is tragic bitterness.”
—Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Bridge photo is licensed under CC By 4.0 — linked towww.arktimes.com
The movie, “Free State of Jones,” was released Friday. It’s bound to be a lot bigger around here than in many neighborhoods, but it’s certainly worth making a trip to the cinema to see. It’s (1) a well written, acted and directed film; (2) a fascinating bit of Americana; and (3) a myth-buster about the Confederacy being a cozy, well-connected and monolithic family.
I doubt my essay below takes issue with anything in the movie, but my accent differs from that of the film, which concentrates on the unique black-white relations of Jones countians. Mine is about the Knight-McLemore feud, but both the film and I feature the unique conditions that made Knight into what he became.
For a story as tangled, and, yes too, steeped in legend as is the saga of Jones County, Mississippi, I believe that the “historical record” is a cross road of accuracy, legend and myth.
My extensive reading includes Jenkins & Stauffer’s “The State of Jones” which, aside from primary sources, I regard as THE go-to text about the Pine Belt, Newton Knight, Amos McLemore, et al. I have visited Ellisville and the house where the Major is said to have been shot by Knight (growing exasperated by the increasingly relentless pursuit of “deserters”). I have traveled the byways of the county and believe that I have a reasonable feel for “Knight Country.”
The “Jones County Saga” is very identifiable with, and important to the story of Mississippi. …………Joe Goodell
by Joe N Goodell
A few might recognize October 5th as the anniversary date of my birth. Significant to the culture and history of Mississippi, however, 2016 marks it as the 153rd year since the violent death of Amos McLemore.
Major Amos had opposed Secession as had most citizens of Jones County, Mississippi. He was a school teacher, pastor and successful merchant in the county seat, Ellisville, as rough a town as Tombstone was to become. His people, established in the South for nearly two hundred years, served honorably in the Revolution and in 1812, and with kin, founded Meridian in the 1830’s.
But after January 1861 when the Mississippi Legislature voted to secede, Amos raised a company of infantry, calling it “Old Rosin Heels,” with himself in command as Captain. They fought valiantly in Florida, and then with heavy losses in the fearsome engagements of Perryville and Murfreesboro as Company B, 27th Mississippi Infantry Regiment.
In the meantime another “force” was developing in Jones County. Quite different from the elitist gentry of McLemore, Deason, Welborn, Kilgore and Bayliss, these were the yeoman farmers of Knight, Collins, Sumrall, Bynum, Reddoch, Walters, Blackwell and Coleman, as tough and rugged as the tall pines which they lived among. Newton Knight was a spirit of independence, an embraced member of these families, who had not identified with the newly forming Confederacy and who claimed, or revived, the sobriquet, “Free State of Jones.” But to avoid conscription, he and several neighbors volunteered as a unit to serve. And they did, with distinction, around Corinth and later at Vicksburg.
By late 1862 the Confederate army needed more resources to resist the expanding Union momentum. Certain units of Rebel cavalry raided Jones County, conscripting nearly all of the remaining men and most of the food and livestock, a “tax in kind” arrangement, leaving many women and children destitute, sometimes starving. Stories about the plight of their families filtered through to Newton, Jasper Collins and others, aware also that many “propertied” soldiers could leave the army to tend their holdings.
Severely disillusioned, even embittered, a few, including Newton and Jasper, who may have coined the term “rich man’s war, poor man’s fight,” “walked off the job,” back to their Piney Woods, to personally support their own families. They used hide-outs like Devil’s Den along Leaf River, and successfully resisted the horse soldiers ill-suited to swamp country.
General Braxton Bragg yielded to the frustration of catching and returning these men to duty by force. In August 1863 he dispatched Amos, now Major McLemore, with a small detachment and authority to offer amnesty. Likely employing his teacher and pastor skills, he convinced, over just five weeks, 119 of them of the “error of their way,” and to return to their units.
Newton Knight was not among them. Known for his hard-won self-reliance, a devout man but a fierce combatant when riled, he was regarded by the McLemores et al as a no-account and now as an ignorant bushwhacker. Newton saw them, far removed socially and politically, to be arrogant barons imposing themselves as moral and civil arbiters.
The class feud became a personal one between Amos and Newton. Warnings and threats were exchanged and Newton was quoted with “… if meddlin’ is what you want, I can stop that.” He knew that the Major lodged at the Deason house in north Ellisville, a mansion with luxurious appointments, among the surrounding rude farm houses.
On the stormy night of October 5th, Amos, with a few fellow officers, had retired for dinner and rest. As the accepted story goes, Newton eased away from two accomplices and into the house, slammed open a sitting room door and fired a thunderous blast from his double-barreled shotgun. Amos McLemore died as he fell, a gaping hole left in his chest.
Bloodstains in the floor persist to this day, and it is said that the door swings open of its own accord at 11 pm. Although no clues to the murder were found, and no charges made, Newton never denied his involvement and was never caught.
Header image is licensed under CC By 4.0 — linked to aroundmovies.com
Film image is licensed under CC By 4.0 — linked to collider.com
Image of Newton Knight is licensed under CC By 4.0 — linked to mcbridenovels.blogspot.com
Distinctive Dining in Mississippi
by Joe Goodell
The Dinner Bell/McComb, MS
I enjoy collecting restaurants. Not for any sense of ownership, but in anticipation for visiting those where I’ve never been, and for reliving the delectable memories of those where I have been. What counts is a unique ambience (we can forget the chains), the special service, the special menus, and of course the attention paid to achieving it all.
My “collection” generally discounts size, although small has an edge. There is no place for “scale.” “Up” or “down” are not factors. Coat-and-tie, rough cut, from hat-off to leave-it-on, all can be good. And I approach all respectfully, as though the entryways sense deference.
I am dismayed to learn of some which are no longer. I did, however, arrive at Clarksdale’s Madidi in time for one of their formal dinners (followed by a night cap at the rousing Ground Zero Blues Club). I tucked into the best pulled pork sandwich ever at Mercantile BBQ in Collins, and the ham and cheese omelets at Harkins Family Bakery in Canton. Sad to say that I never made it to Oxford’s Yocona River Inn, nor to every one of Mississippi’s “round table” spots. But at Walnut Hills in Vicksburg I did enjoy the company of seven others (whom I’d never met) all helping ourselves to the well prepared dishes turning before of us.
While I am still young enough to enjoy the best blues in Mississippi I must visit two of the remaining rural juke joints: Blue Front Café in Bentonia and Po’ Monkey near Merigold. Plenty of beer, although the menus are limited to burgers, and perhaps a meat-and-three meal. There is a novel sound, Bentonia Blues, and both have earned Mississippi Blues Trail Markers.
Doe’s Eat Place/Greenville, MS
Onward to Doe’s Eat Place in Greenville, to the Crystal Grill in Greenwood and to 1933 Restaurant in Ruleville for roast duck in red wine. Likewise to Gulfport’s Nezaty Café for chicken salad and bean soup, then to Hattiesburg’s Cotton Blues and Leatha’s BBQ Inn. I need to find the time and roll the miles to Cleveland’s Airport Grocery, to Woody’s in Tupelo, Weidmann’s in Meridian, Ellie’s Snack Bar in Iuka and to a shrimp po’ boy at Back Forty in Lake.
Airport Grocery/Cleveland, MS
For the jolly good times at places I have visited I’ll be returning for a Slugburger at Borroum’s Drug Store in Corinth, to Council House Café at French Camp, to Alice Café in Ellisville, and to Saturday dinner at Gibbe’s Old Country Store in Learned. On my home turf are Mama Hamil’s and The Gathering in Madison, plus Cock of the Walk in nearby Ridgeland.
Taking a month off sometime to “dine my way around the Square” in Oxford will be the stuff of dreams; I’ll start with the Creole menu at Boure’. As my travels take me through Natchez, Indianola, Philadelphia, Vicksburg and Louisville, it’ll be lunch again at Biscuits and Blues, The Crown Restaurant, Peggy’s, The Tomato Place and blackened catfish at Lake Tiak-O’Khata. Our capital city of Jackson, as you’d correctly assume, offers plenty of fine dining: Old Capitol Inn, Two Sisters’ Kitchen (southern cooking at its best), Hal & Mal’s (bowl of gumbo), Elite Restaurant, Mayflower Café, Brent’s (signature egg & olive sandwich) and my favorite, CS’s.
If you are driving through Jackson looking for Millsaps College, it’s right there across West Street east of CS’s Restaurant. The two have a symbiotic relationship reaching back to the between-classes lunch crowd. You’ll recognize CS’s for its unique four-part ambience: the place itself, the crowd, the large plates of home cooking and of course the hospitality of Pat Boland, owner-operator, greeter, maître d’ and occasional server or chef.
The architecture, well, it’s early American select, not bothering with those Greek or Old English eponyms. It’s just solidly there, waiting for you like a good friend at the Student Union. It divides into the south side large-table party room and the northern section of four-place tables and booths plus the long counter fashioned from the woodwork of a long gone hotel.
It is not clear whether there are any walls at all, or whether Pat and the original owner for 23 years, C.S. Hollingsworth, just laid all those labels, bumper stickers, cards and a few license plates up around the surrounding space. I like the one in a section devoted to our Military: “If you don’t want to stand behind our troops, please feel free to stand out in front of them.” And two catchy ones: “There are three kinds of people in the world, those who can count, and those who can’t” and “Be competent, the way to success and happiness.”
CS’s Restaurant/Jackson, MS
There are plugs for political figures of all stripes, yesteryear as well as current, praise for schools, shows, sports and naturally for the Neshoba County Fair. The collection of beer cans and bottles, smartly aligned high along every wall, represents breweries everywhere, scores of labels, scores of flavors.
The crowd includes diners from all neighborhoods and is a fashion show of business suits, military fatigues, casual and the rough shirts, trousers and boots of those who work hard outdoors. There is a mix of gender and age, all companionable and congenial. The serving staff, a blend of delightful personalities, is capable and hospitable, every one cordial and attentive.
Prominently displayed on the east wall is a hand-written menu of the day. My favorite is Thursday’s pot roast with green beans, black-eyed peas and new potatoes or macaroni-and-cheese. Buttered cornbread on the side plus a tall iced tea. Other days feature chicken, veal cutlet, stuffed bell pepper, meatloaf and lead-server Inez’s popular hamburger. Regardless of the special though, one day you will want to try the piping hot red beans and onion embracing a mound of steaming rice and edged by rounds of roasted, succulent, spicy-luscious sausage.
I recommend adding a salad with CS’s own Kumback dressing, a rich and smooth recipe more closely guarded than that of Coca-Cola. For dessert, your choice of hot oven-fresh peach cobbler or another closely guarded recipe, that exceptional peanut butter pie.
If I ever was, I’m not now chained to the Chains. Treating myself to Mississippi’s own unique dining experiences is a culinary luxury as well as adventure. But just so you will know that I can be neighborly, I have stepped across our state line for a rewarding lunchtime repast at Middendorf’s in Manchac, Louisiana, and at Jesse’s in Magnolia Springs, Alabama. Next, and soon, will be northward to Tennessee and the wealth of dining opportunities there.
Middendorf’s Restaurant/Pass Manchac, LA
Dinner Bell image from Facebook, Does’ Eat Place image courtesy Deborah Fagan Carpenter, Airport Grocery image courtesy Deborah Fagan Carpenter, Boure’ image from Facebook, CS’s Restaurant image from Facebook, Middendorf’s Restaurant image courtesy Dorsey Statham photographer, via his Facebook photo collection
Lamentable Southern History
by Gary Wright
The greatest tragedy of all is the one unremembered
On June 29, 1967, blonde bomb-shell and Hollywood star, Jayne Mansfield was on her way to New Orleans from Biloxi, Mississippi, where she had been performing at a local nightclub. With her was Ronald B. Harrison, a driver for the Gus Stevens Dinner Club, her lawyer, Samuel S. Brody, and three of Mansfield’s children in Stevens’ 1966 Buick Electra. She never reached her destination.
On a dark stretch of road, near Slidell, Louisiana, just as a truck was approaching a machine emitting a thick white fog used to spray mosquitoes, the Electra hit the trailer-truck from behind. Mansfield, Harrison and Brody were all killed in the accident. Mansfield’s children: Mickey, Zoltan and Marie (Mariska), who had apparently been sleeping on the rear seat, were injured, but survived. That Buick Electra was later purchased by a private individual and placed in a macabre touring show for a time, until it eventually disappeared, believed to have been purchased by a Mansfield aficionado who wanted her memory to rest in peace.
On August 16, 1977, music icon Elvis Presley died at the age of 42. The cause of death was covered up by his family, but it is believed that an overdose of prescription drugs caused his heart to stop. Interestingly, of all the pop and rock songs he made famous, his only three Grammy awards were for gospel music, including ‘How Great Thou Art.’ Elvis had an identical twin brother, Jesse Garon Presley, who was stillborn and was buried in an unmarked grave in Tupelo, Mississippi. Imagine if his brother had lived and there had been two of them.
Elvis Presley Birthplace in Tupelo, MS
On November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. He was shot twice and died shortly after at Parkland Hospital. Within an hour after his death, Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested for the crime. Oswald was, in turn, murdered three days later by Jack Ruby. The entire string of incidences sparked the greatest conspiracy theories in history. The notions still refuse to die.
Assasination in Dallas
Early on September 17, 1928, a storm made landfall near West Palm Beach, Florida, with winds of 145 mph (233 km/h). In the city, more than 1,711 homes were destroyed. Elsewhere in the county, impact was severest around Lake Okeechobee. The storm surge caused water to pour out of the southern edge of the lake, flooding hundreds of square miles as high as 20 feet above ground. Numerous houses and buildings were swept away in the cities around the lake, at least 2,500 people drowned, and damage was estimated at $25 million.
While crossing Florida, the system weakened significantly, but the “Okeechobee Hurricane” curved northeastward and briefly re-emerged into the Atlantic on September 18. The storm soon made another landfall near Edisto Island, South Carolina, with winds of 85 mph, and early on the following day, the system became a hurricane over North Carolina. Overall, the system caused $100 million in damage and at least 4,079 deaths. Folklorist and musician Will McLean wrote a beautiful and moving song about the hurricane entitled “Hold Back the Waters of Lake Okeechobee.”
On April 12, 1861, Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard fired on the Union Fort Sumter, South Carolina, igniting the American Civil War. Southern states had recently seceded from the Union and planned an amiable disassociation from the north. However, Lincoln and the north thought differently. “The Union must be preserved at all costs,” was the intention of Lincoln and many hard-liners of the north. Southern states demanded that the Union withdraw all its forces and materials from the South. They refused, and several Union-held forts were besieged by Southern forces. Many believe that had the South simply maintained the siege, the ‘War of Northern Aggression’ could have been averted entirely. Lincoln rejected any negotiations with the Confederate agents however, because he did not consider the Confederacy a legitimate nation, and making any treaty with it would be recognition of it as a sovereign government.
Gen. Beauregard determined that he would fire on the fort. He did so, and after two days of heavy bombardment, Major Anderson agreed to surrender the fort to the Confederates. There were no casualties on either side directly from the hostilities, but there was talk on both sides of increased aggression. Calmer heads encouraged negotiating, but when Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers to invade the South as a response, the die was cast, and the Confederacy braced for the invasion on Southern soil. That invasion came. On July 21, 1861, the first large-scale units of the Union met Southern resistance near Manassas, Virginia at the Battle of the First Bull Run.
In Pulaski, Tennessee in late 1866, a group of Confederate war veterans met and formed a group to fight northern reconstruction, and the Ku Klux Klan was born. From 1867 onward, African-American participation in public life in the South became one of the most unfavorably viewed aspects of Reconstruction, as blacks won election to southern state governments, and the U.S. Congress. For its part, the Ku Klux Klan dedicated itself to an underground campaign of violence against Republican leaders and their supporters—both black and white—in an effort to reverse the policies of Radical Reconstruction and restore ‘white supremacy’ in the South.
The birth of the Ku Klux Klan was like the birth of Frankenstein’s Monster. On paper it may have looked good to many, but in action it proved disastrous to all. Hopefully, that part of Southern history will be remembered always, so that it will never be repeated.
Photo of Jayne Mansfield com is licensed under CC By 4.0 — linked to en.wikipedia.org
Birthplace of Elvis Presley is licensed under CC By 4.0 — linked to www.elvispresleybirthplace.com
JFK assassination photo is licensed under CC By 4.0 — linked to en.wikipedia.org
1928 Hurricane photo is licensed under CC By 4.0 — linked to www.businessinsider.com
Fort Sumter rendering is licensed under CC By 4.0 — linked to en.wikipedia.org
KKK photo is licensed under CC By 4.0 — linked to www.pinterest.com
By the Bucketful
by Gary Wright
Some memories are too painful to remember,
even the first time.
The Southern Bucket List
Bucket lists are things that you really want to do before you–well—kick the bucket. In other words, things, however childish or outlandish, that you’ve always wanted to do, see, or act out before you go. Modern therapists say that acting out such long-held notions, or even thinking about them or writing them down, is therapeutic. They help you to sort or filter out the obtuse and the veneer of the world to get down to the basic fundamentals of your psyche. It’s sort of like putting a pie in the face of your worst enemy, blowing up the building where you hated to work for forty years, or simply feeling the sand between your toes.
The term and the idea behind it became popularized in American culture after the movie, The Bucket List, starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman, premiered in 2008. Here are more of my suggestions for bucket lists for the child-like, Southern red-neck in all of us. These are things that everyone can do, and might even be the better for it. Remember, it’s never too early to begin you bucket list. Also, it is never too late to start a bucket list. Wait! Scratch that last sentence.
Here, then are a few of my suggestions for the true Southern bucket list:
Watch a late summer sunset on Lake Jordan, Alabama. The sky is clouded with wispy, ghost look-alikes, painted with hues of orange, red and gold. It’s one of the sweetest memories of your raisin’. Thinking back now, I can still remember the greenery in the background of the ever-present kudzu and the entire town that it took over, causing all the inhabitants to flee for their lives. It’s said that a few were never actually accounted for. That childhood memory still brings tears to my eyes.
Watch John Boy and Billy on the radio. They can be found on the AM dial of any Southern radio putting on the Big Show. They’re two country boys who could be anybody’s cousins or neighbors—or whatever. They’re experts on practically any subject that happens to come up, and if you don’t believe me, just ask them. Their trusty side-kick, Robert D. Raiford, is truly a hold-over from Andy Rooney, with his down-home humor and ups-scale passion for his beliefs and monologues. I really doubt that these homey, artful broadcasts can actually get very far north through the Iron Curtain—er, the Mason-Dixon Line.
Dig for diamonds at Crater of Diamonds State Park near Murfreesboro, Arkansas. It is the only place outside of South Africa where natural diamonds are actually found in the wild. It consists of a 37-acre plowed field where tourists, for a modest entry fee, can dig to their hearts content for the entire day. Diamonds are regularly found and taken home by tourists, including ‘the Uncle Sam,’ which weighed in at over 40 carats. Not everyone can be that lucky, however, a little exercise, fresh air and sunshine has never been known to add misery to those lucky enough to take home a tiny bauble to show for their day’s work. Over 75,000 diamonds have been found there since its discovery in 1906. So, yes, Virginia, there really are diamonds in Arkansas.
Visit the Gullah People of coastal Georgia and South Carolina. These truly unique people are descendants of African slaves from West Africa, and many of their traditions and much of their culture and language still survive. Their food, language and customs are a mixture of Creole, Native American and their native African roots. In fact, the name Gullah is believed to originate from Angola in Africa from whence many of the slaves came. Many traditional Southern terms owe their existence to the Gullahs such as gumbo, okra, goobers (peanuts,) the Gullah religious shout, Bruh Rabbit and similar clever animal stories. Perhaps the most famous of all the Gullah gifts to the South is their manner of speaking. Its precise, though somewhat odd sound, has contributed to modern-day Ebonics.
Hear the purest form of spoken English in the United States in the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia. This dialect has been called a corrupted version of English, distorted by ignorance and time, however, just the opposite is true. It is, in fact archaic. Many of the expressions from the area could well have been the very words of the greatest English authors: Alfred, Chaucer, Shakespeare, and the men who wrote the King James Version of the Bible.
The origin of this Southern mountain dialect, as it is called by linguists, can be narrowed down to the days of the first Queen Elizabeth, with a mixture of early Scottish and even some Gaelic. Through years of isolation from the rest of civilization, because of an innate mistrust of the outside world, Appalachian people retain the speech of nearly pure and certainly picturesque English speech, culture and mannerisms.
These are a few of my thoughts on Southern bucket lists, and for more bucket list suggestions check out my previous article here: http://porchscene.com/2016/02/29/southern-bucket-list/
Lake Jordan sunset is licensed under CC By 4.0 — linked to www.pinterest.com
Gullah Proverb is licensed under CC By 4.0 — linked to www.pinterest.com
Appalachian Mountains is licensed under CC By 4.0 — linked towww.enwikipedia.com
Barbeque, Music, and Southern Made!
By Deborah Fagan Carpenter
Barbeque, Music, and Southern Made! Three southern festivals, Memphis in May International Festival, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, and Southern Makers in Montgomery, Alabama are unique and innovative southern celebrations that are hard to top, no matter where you live!
Recognized as one of North America’s leading festivals, Memphis In May International Festival originated as a salute to a different country each year, beginning in 1977 by honoring Japan. The extensive interaction with each honored country has led to an awareness of other cultures, commerce among nations, and has brought thousands of people to the city from the honored countries and others.
Two of the original events however, have become entities unto themselves. The World Championship Barbeque Cooking Contest and the Beale Street Music Festival quickly took on a life of their own, and today they literally bring participants, as well as audiences, from all over the world. Both events take place at Tom Lee Park, with the Mighty Mississippi River serving as a backdrop.
Over a million people from all over the nation and across the globe have been entertained by the likes of Stevie Ray Vaughan, Willie Nelson, John Legend, Bob Dylan, John Mellencamp—to name only a few. The 2016 Festival—April 29 – May 1—will bring in celebrated artists such as Neil Young, Paul Simon and Mavis Staples, and will host some regional, but internationally known blues artists like Luther Dickinson and Duwayne Burnside. See http://porchscene.com/2016/02/15/spreadin-the-blues/
With over a mile of wall-to-wall cooking contestants vying for a piece of the largest purse in the festival’s history—$115,000—The World Championship Barbeque Cooking Contest runs May 12–14. There’s pork to be smoked, but they’ll also be cooking up beef, chicken and seafood. Comfortable shoes are a pretty good idea if you want to cover the entire lineup! http://www.memphisinmay.org/
There’s not more authentic music, food or culture to be found anywhere on the planet than during the two weekends of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival—April 22 – April 24 and April 29 – May 1. When Mahalia Jackson and Duke Ellington joined the Eureka Brass Band to parade through the Louisiana Heritage Fair in 1970, the Jazz Festival was born. Today roughly 400,000 music enthusiasts a year, from across the nation and all over the world, travel to the Crescent City for the festival. The soul of New Orleans has a starring role in the celebration, and its spirit is contagious.
Multiple stages at the Fairgrounds Race Course, ten minutes from downtown New Orleans, host music, largely associated with the city and region. In addition to contemporary and traditional jazz, there’s blues, R&B, gospel, Cajun, zydeco, Afro-Caribbean, folk, Latin, rock, rap, country, bluegrass, and some that are a little more exotic. See http://porchscene.com/2013/08/12/a-big-bang-for-the-buck-by-deborah-fagan-carpenter/
Pearl Jam, Stevie Wonder, Bonnie Raitt, Herbie Hancock & Wayne Shorter Duo, Arlo Gutherie, Jon Batiste and Stay Human, Ellis Marsalis, and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band are only a sampling of the enormous line-up for the 2016 festival. Tribute will be paid to New Orleans icon, Allen Toussaint by artists, Cyril Neville, Davell Crawford, Aaron Neville, Bonnie Raitt, Dr. John and Jon Batiste. The late B.B. King will also be remembered by Buddy Guy, Bonnie Raitt, Elvin Bishop, Dr. John, Gregory Porter, Irma Thomas, Tab Benoit and Luther Kent.
If the mammoth list of musicians isn’t enough, it’s equally matched by the novel culinary selections. Naturally there are southern standards like fried chicken and fried green tomatoes, but only in this part of the country are you likely to find Alligator Pie, Crawfish Beignets, Cajun Duck Po Boys, Pecan Catfish Meunière or Boudin Balls.
The luscious aroma of inventive food permeates the air, joined by the sounds of the south emanating from every direction, and at the heart of it all is the underlying passion of New Orleans. It’s a blast! http://www.nojazzfest.com/
A plethora of creative skill will come together April 30 – May 1 in Montgomery, Alabama for the annual Southern Makers festival. Prodigies in numerous fields, all Alabamians, will be making music, showing original designs in fashion, art, beer, coffee, soap, food and every imaginative endeavor conceivable. The élite of the élite from all over the state are carefully selected to present southern ingenuity and entertainment at its finest. The hand-picked group of top-quality architects, artists, chefs, and more, will gather at the Union Station Train Shed to display and sell examples of their work, to give demonstrations, and to network with the other inspired professionals who are jam-packed under one roof. Over a hundred resourceful visionaries will take part. See http://porchscene.com/2015/03/24/a-festival-for-southern-makers-by-mary-dawson/
One example of the note-worthy participants in the festival is renowned home-wares and fashion designer, Natalie Chanin of Alabama Chanin. Her amazing hand-sewn garments are worn by people all over the nation, including many celebrities. http://alabamachanin.com Natalie’s concept of “slow design”—brought to life in her hometown, Florence, Alabama, but sold world-wide—focuses on using sustainable, organic and local materials and local labor, who create the fashions “in their own time and in their own way.” Natalie will deliver a two hour sewing workshop on Sunday, centering on the basics of sewing and embroidery, and participants will ultimately create their own journals during the session.
Additional workshops and demonstrations will be delivered by Hornsby Farms, Earth Creations, Central Alabama Beekeepers, Left Hand Soap, and Mama Mocha! An intriguing story telling series begins at 12:30 on Saturday, and music fills the air on Sunday, performed by RB Morris, Tim Lee 3 and Caleb Caudle. The lineup of musicians, story tellers and other ingenious participants will likely increase by the time the festival opens, so one would be wise to check their website for changes. Only in its fourth year, Southern Makers is loads of fun, but primarily, it’s a wonderful opportunity to meet some of the most creative people in the south and to experience their innovations. http://southernmakers.com/#southern-makers-1
All three of these top-notch southern festivals happen around the same time, but if you had to pick one over another, you probably wouldn’t be disappointed with any choice. There’s always next year y’all!
The Mississippi River Bridge at Memphis photo is licensed under CC By 4.0 — linked to thegryphongazette.org
Both New Orleans Jazz Fest photos are by Deborah Fagan Carpenter
The Montgomery Train Station photo was pulled from the Southern Makers web site, and is credited to Michelle Marie Photography http://www.michelleconsuegra.com/Michelle Marie Marie Photography
So . . . You Think You Speak Southern?
By Gary Wright
Whut I jist said, is whut I jist said!
In New Orleans, there are three seasons: hurricane season, political season, and football season. In certain areas around New Orleans, one doesn’t say “hello,” “hi,” or “how are you?” Instead, the universal greeting is “who dat?” That term is similar to the Hawaiian ‘aloha,’ which means just about anything the speaker wants it to mean. Bass-ackwards is a minced oath meant for the genteel folks, which I think you can figure out, meaning something very obviously and completely incorrect.
Commonly, in the Southern United States, reference to the plural of you is ‘you all’ or for the laziest of us, its common contraction, ‘y’all.’ As if ‘y’all,’ meaning everyone, isn’t enough, then ‘all y’all’ will definitely cover everyone within hearing distance. That term is sort of an overkill, not to be confused with a road kill, which we will take up next semester.
“Butter my butt and call me a biscuit!” is a southern expression used upon learning something astonishing, usually something positive. Nobody has the slightest idea where it came from, but it’s so cute, we just use it. Now, ain’t that precious?
“To crawfish,” means to backpedal or to get out of some job or responsibility, just like the old crawdad, himself, who is forever walking backwards. Many say that he motivates that way because he doesn’t care where he’s going. He just wants to see where he’s been.
Big ‘ol – means big old—as in the real thing. There are two types of’em. There’s a big ‘ol good’en, then there’s a good ‘ol big’en.”
“Chillun,” sometimes said as “chilred,” is a Southern affectionate term for children. A “Chile” is an offspring, a particularly sweet ‘chile’ is a “honey chile;” which is singular of “chillun.”
“Me-maw and Pea-paw” is the perennial term for grandmother and grandfather in the south. Over in No Hope County, Alabama, they may be pronounced “Ma-maw and Pa-paw,” ‘course that’d be referring pretty much to us white trash types, who mostly populate that county.
“Goobers or goober peas” are peanuts. They are sometimes used to refer to a simpleton-type person, especially someone from up north or one who doesn’t vote like the rest of us. (Y’all know who you are, right?) That term comes from the Gullah people of the Carolinas coastal area. Its origin is from the African Bantu word ‘nguba’ for peanut.
“Pecker-wood,” is a converted form of the national bird of No Hope County, the Wood Pecker. It refers to another Southerner, especially one who is ignorant or bigoted, or both.
A Woodshed is the place to which a recalcitrant youth is taken for a meeting with the ‘board’ of education. Neither the woodshed nor the ‘board of education’ are hardly used anymore, and has caused a serious decline in the quality of our chilluns.
A wood-pile, on the other hand, is a place you don’t want to go at all. But, since nobody burns wood anymore, we’ll just stay away from that whole subject for now. Stay with me on some of the terms, honey-chile. It’s so easy to get flusterated if you’re not thinking straight.
Yankee! – There really is no such thing as a yankee; to most of us, there are just pure-dee ‘ol damn yankees. That term usually means anybody from north of No Hope County, with a few exceptions from Virginia, like Robert E. Lee and ‘Stonewall’ Jackson.
“Fixin” means much more than repairing. It means getting ready to do something, as in: “I was fixin’ to fix dinner,” as opposed to actually doing it, as in “I was fixin’ dinner.”
A parlor used to be a fancy sitting room in a house on the correct side of the railroad tracks, as opposed to t‘other side of the tracks. Now, it means a whole host of places where a God-fearing Southerners shouldn’t oughta be, least-wise while you’re still alive, such as beer parlor, betting parlor, funeral parlor, massage parlor and sich.
The term Yellow Dog comes from the Carolinas, where most common dogs were yellow in color; therefore, considered worthless. This gave rise to ‘Yellow Dog democrat,’ meaning that you’d rather vote for a common, worthless dog, just as long as the dog belongs to the democrat party.
Cut the lights off – means to extinguish the lights. This makes a lot of sense because you do, indeed, stop the flow of electricity to the light, causing it to go out. However, we Southerners have taken it one step further, so we can ‘cut the light on’ again. I don’t pretend to know perzactly how we can ’cut something on,’ but, I reckon if you can cut it on, then you can do the opposite and cut it off, and vice versa. And, Buddy, I ain’t jist whistling’ Dixie ’bout that.
The crayfish illustration is licensed under CC By 4.0 — linked to commons.wikimedia.org
Lightbulb photo is licensed under CC By 4.0—linked to www.flicker.com
Cabin photo by Deborah Fagan Carpenter
Southern Bucket List
by Gary Wright
A few alligators are naturally of the vicious type and inclined to resent it when you prod them with a stick.. You can find out which ones these are by prodding them.
Graceland is a shrine located in Memphis, Tennessee, visited and adored by multitudes throughout the South. It is the place where The King went when he died and left this plane. The place virtually drips with memorabilia, trophies, awards and tributes of El Vis when he reigned here on earth. The sound system plays a steady stream of ‘hubba, hubba, hunk of burnin’ love,’ ‘you ain’t nuthin’ but a houn’dog,’ and hundreds of other gibberish sayings that actually are high tributes to the most celebrated son of Tupelo, Mississippi. At Graceland, one can lay eyes upon a pink Cadillac, outlandish costumes, and garish interior design, which some have called showy. The word ‘gaudy’ comes to mind for many first-time visitors. I prefer, however, to reflect that the mansion is merely outfitted for the The King.
Eat Dreamland Barbeque:
Originated in Tuscaloosa, Alabama by John “Big John” Bishop, Dreamland Barbeque is a place where one can eat real wood-smoked beef ribs. The meat is authentic and really good. Originally, “Big John” only served ribs and light bread (which is Southerner for store-bought, not home-made) only, with a drink purchased separately to wash it down with. When asked why he didn’t serve beans, Cole slaw and similar sides with his barbeque, “Big John’ is purported to say, “This is a barbeque joint, if you want beans, go to a bean store.” Well, if he didn’t say that, he certainly should have. I sure do like Dreamland barbeque.
Delight in Some Good Ole Smashed Potatoes:
Those are boiled and mashed with the skins still on. Add a few dollops of real butter, lots of salt and pepper and you have the perfect mate to Alabama fried chicken. Many dietitians will confirm that any vegetable cooked with the skin still on is much more nutritious. I am a firm believer, however, that somebody’s Maw-maw back in the olden days got a lazy streak and simply refused to take the extra effort to peel the potatoes, thereby giving rise to another old-wives’ tale.
Go to the Grand Ole Opry:
Who hasn’t adored Little Jimmy Dickens’ “May the Bird of Paradise Fly Up Your Nose,’ Hank Williams’ ‘Kaw-Liga,’ Lynn Anderson’s ‘D-I-V-O-R-C-E’ and countless other memorable songs that had a lasting impression? The Opry is truly a one-of-a-kind memorial to all the great and near-great country songs and artists which helped shape the very being of the South. Roy Acuff’s dream-come-true in Nashville near the Tennessee River is like a Mecca to all the true-blue fans of real music.
Experience a Stock Car Race:
You don’t just watch a stock car race, you experience it with all of your senses. The sights of souped-up street cars racing around an oval track churning up choking dust, for, like as not, it is a dirt track. The smell of hot dogs, pork ribs and other tasty delicacies washed down with copious amounts of RC’s, Mr. Pibbs, Yahoo chocolate drinks and Pabst Blue Ribbon for the grown-ups. The sounds of churning engines, fans screaming at their favorite drivers, Moms screaming at their kids, and the occasional curses and screams of drivers and fans whose temper unavoidably rise past flash point. Ah! The stock car race; a viable Red-neck alternative to the Friday night high school football games.
Visit the Flora-Bama Club:
It’s located in Orange Beach, Alabama and Perdido, Florida. Please note that there are not two locations; the Flora-Bama sits squarely on the state line. This is the only place in the free world where one can toss a mullet across the state line without the secret police opening a case on you. Remember, this is not a mullah-tossing; rather, a mullet-tossing. If you need further information, please get in touch with someone who cares. On busy days and nights you can take your choice of three or more bands in different settings playing practically every kind of music.
Troll for Sharks:
Troll for sharks in the ocean off the beach at Gulf Shores, Alabama. No, you don’t need to buy any bait. You simply use the most cooperative (or the drunkest) person in your group. You accomplish this by towing someone behind a boat with a tow rope, convincing the pogey-bait that you are taking him/her to do a bit of outdoor sports called water skiing. Which is, in my opinion, about the only use for water skiing.
For those not familiar, smushed biscuits are 2-3 day old biscuits mashed into a frying pan, liberally drizzled with grease and fried to a golden, crunchy, carcinogenic fineness. Throw in a piece of country-fried ham, a little red-eye gravy and a few fried eggs and you have one of the South’s best artery-hardening, scrumptious breakfasts to die for. And I do mean, to die for!
Flora-Bama photo from their website: http://www.florabama.com/
Dreamland Barbeque photo from their website: http://www.dreamlandbbq.com/default.aspx?AspxAutoDetectCookieSupport=1
Grand Ole Opry photo islicensed under CC By 4.0 — linked to www.nashvilleonthemove.com
Biscuits and Gravy photo islicensed under CC By 4.0 — linked to www.pinterest.com
Graceland photo by Deborah Fagan Carpenter
THE “S” IN MISSISSIPPI
By Joe Goodell
Katherine Lee Bates got it right. America is beautiful, as is Mississippi. Her poem describing the wonders of our magnificent country later joined Samuel A Ward’s hymn, America the Beautiful, to become a patriotic favorite.
She speaks of amber waves of grain, the fruited plain, which, of course could include cotton, corn and beans, sweet potatoes, watermelons and tomatoes. The spacious skies and majestic mountains — America, blessed with God’s grace from sea to shining sea, and of the beat for freedom across the wilderness.
Given the privilege of counseling MS Bates, I would have urged from her more about the wilderness. That which includes the varieties of forests, rich and deep, deserts of the west, and wetlands of the southeast. Inform a lady that she is as beautiful as dawn on the desert, she knows that she’s been complimented.
The beauty and magnificence of a swamp, however, eludes many observers. Perhaps a put-off is the unsavory sound of that “s” word. Like a load of compost slithering off a dump wagon onto the pile out back. Note how Atchafalaya, The Everglades, Okefenokee, even The Great Dismal of Virginia, to their credit, have discarded it.
Our very own “Cypress Swamp,” with all the features and merits of its larger relatives, could be “Tupelo-Bald Cypress Aquatic Forest.” Right away your interest and appeal to visit have risen dramatically. It lies a convenient twenty miles north of Jackson next to River Bend on the Natchez Trace Parkway. The National Park Service does a splendid job preserving and presenting to you this passport to a marvel of discovery. Leaving your own home, you enter that of others as a guest to a dazzling panorama of trees, water and remarkable animals. There is more than enough beauty to soothe a tired soul, and enough variety to stimulate a lively curiosity. It is easy to become overwhelmed by the unique harmony.
At slightly higher elevations are the oak, sweet gum, dogwood and pine. Growing in the dark water, and draped with moss, are tupelo and bald cypress being ever so slowly replaced by black willow, sycamore and red maple as silt fills in. The medley of trees is a grand structure of swallowed sunlight, silos for storing shadows, where a subtle mix of fragrances is dispensed through the soft murmur of overhead branches rubbing in a light breeze.
Best observed from a distance are a few of Mississippi’s fifty-five snake species and, of course, el lagarto, as the Spaniards called him. Best observed up close is the small stuff, the frogs (both source and subject of music), the turtles and a mini world of insects hidden among the leaves and in patches of bark.
Inconspicuously masked in natural shades of the forest you are likely to meet squirrels, rabbits, raccoons, opossum, armadillo, deer and even a beaver or bobcat, plus the diversity of birds busy in their domestic routines. Highly unlikely for now, but with increasing possibility, is the sighting of a black bear, magnificent but hardly as cuddly as Teddy Roosevelt would have you believe.
You might even speculate about what those cypress “knees” really do for their parent trees — the same ones perhaps seen by Hernando de Soto himself, driven by visions of silver and gold, but oblivious to the surrounding natural treasures essential for our survival.
Historically regarded as useless, wetlands in general were often drained to provide a range for planting. Today this practice is held to be destructive to environments critically important to the process of providing fresh water and oxygen for all life. On an ancient time scale wetlands produced our fossil fuels; on a shorter scale they are found to control floods, stabilize shore lines, counter erosion and recharge ground water.
Mississippi’s wetlands, far from being wastelands, are linked to images of southern landscape, spaces for intercultural encounters. They are lowland waterways unimpeded by mountains, free to change course, forever moving, though slowly, as a half-way world between things terrestrial and those aquatic. The shallow water, its level changing with the seasons, supports a hydrologic community of fascinating resources and life forms in progress from primeval times.
There are marshes, those tracts of low wet soft grassland without trees, and the swamps (aquatic forests), wet spongy land with trees. The estuary of Mississippi’s Pascagoula River is a seamless enchanting passage from the treeless grass and water expanse to the wetland forest, a colorful tapestry affluent with trees and shrubs, all spread beneath a bright sky dotted with popcorn clouds.
Quite opposite to the sinister and forbidding specters of literary superstition and Hollywood, or to that “marsh of the Styx” from Dante’s “Devine Comedy,” lowland waterways are vital in the “great scheme of things.” They deserve our protection and reverence alongside the majestic mountains, under spacious skies, as rightful partners of “America the Beautiful.”
All photos provided by Deborah Fagan Carpenter
Holiday Dinner à la New Orleans
By Deborah Fagan Carpenter
Christmas in New Orleans is much like celebrations of any kind in the Big Easy—scrumptious food is front and center! The unique southern city is brimming with celebrity chefs, so we decided to research what they like to serve their own families and guests for Christmas Eve and Christmas dinner.
Some of the recipes we’ve chosen are traditional holiday dishes, but some were just so enticing, that we couldn’t resist including them. All would be wonderful at any time of the year.
SHRIMP AND CRAB GUMBO
GUMBO, a traditional dish, is so versatile that it can be used as a soup course for a formal meal, or a main course for any occasion. Every New Orleans chef has his or her own version, and here we present an offering from chef/owner Donald Link of Herbsaint.
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 3 pounds medium shrimp, shelled and deveined, shells reserved
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 gallon plus 2 cups clam juice
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 2 celery ribs, chopped
- 1 large carrot, chopped
- 8 bay leaves
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 cup vegetable oil
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- 4 large garlic cloves, minced
- 1 large onion, finely chopped
- 2 celery ribs, finely chopped
- 2 cups canned crushed tomatoes
- 1 large green bell pepper, finely chopped
- 1 pound okra, sliced into 1/2-inch rounds
- 1 tablespoon chile powder
- 1 tablespoon paprika
- 1 1/2 tablespoons file powder (see Note)
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 teaspoon ground white pepper
- Shelled and deveined shrimp (from the stock)
- 1 pound lump crabmeat, picked over
- Steamed rice, sliced scallions and Tabasco, for serving
MAKE THE STOCK: In a stockpot, heat the oil. Add the shrimp shells and cook over high heat, until starting to brown, 5 minutes. Add the tomato paste and cook until it begins to stick to the pot, 2 minutes. Add the clam juice, onion, celery, carrot, and bay leaves and bring to a boil. Simmer over moderately low heat for 25 minutes. Strain the stock into a heatproof bowl.
MEANWHILE, MAKE THE ROUX: In a saucepan, whisk the flour with the oil to make a paste. Cook over moderate heat, stirring often, until the roux turns golden brown, 30 minutes. Increase the heat to moderately high and cook, stirring, until the roux is dark brown, 10 minutes longer. Scrape the roux into a bowl and reserve.
MAKE THE GUMBO: In the stockpot, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil. Add the garlic, onion, and celery; cook over moderate heat, stirring, until softened. Add the roux and cook until bubbling. Stir in the stock and tomatoes and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to moderately low. Simmer for 1 1/2 hours, until no floury taste remains; skim off the fat.
In a skillet, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil. Add the green pepper, okra, chile powder, paprika, file, oregano, thyme, cayenne and white pepper. Season with salt and cook over moderately low heat, stirring, until fragrant, 5 minutes. Stir in a ladleful of the liquid in the stockpot, scrape up the browned bits and transfer to the gumbo in the pot. Simmer, stirring, for 1 hour.
Add the shrimp to the pot and cook, until just white throughout, 2 minutes. Stir in the crab; season with salt.
File powder is made from ground, dried sassafras leaves. It is available from www.cajungrocer.com
SHRIMP REMOULADE from Chef John Besh, owner of August, Besh Steak, Luke, Domenica, Johnny Sanchez, and Borgne. A typical New Orleans salad course or a light lunch with crusty French bread. This recipe is an excellent choice for entertaining because it is almost entirely prepared ahead.
Boiled Shrimp Ingredients
- 1 onion, sliced
- 1 head garlic, halved crosswise
- ¼ cup lemon juice
- ½ cup kosher salt
- ½ cup sweet paprika
- 1 tsp each cayenne and garlic powder
- 4 bay leaves
- 1 sprig fresh thyme
- 1 Tbsp each whole black peppercorns and ground coriander
- 24 jumbo shrimp, unpeeled
Method for the Shrimp
- To a large pot over high heat, add the onion, garlic, lemon juice and the remaining herbs and spices. Add 1 gallon cold water and bring to a boil over high heat for 10 minutes.
- Add the shrimp, reduce the heat to moderate, and simmer for 5 minutes.
- Take the pot off the stove and let the shrimp finish cooking off the heat until they are cooked through, about 5-7 minutes.
- Drain the shrimp and plunge them into a large bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. When they are cool, drain and reserve, covered in the refrigerator.
- About two hours before serving, peel and devein the shrimp.
Remoulade Sauce Ingredients
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- ¼ cup Dijon mustard
- 2 Tbsp prepared horseradish
- 2 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
- 1 shallot, minced
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 Tbsp white wine vinegar
- 1 tsp each: fresh lemon juice and hot sauce
- ½ tsp sweet paprika
- ¼ tsp each: cayenne and garlic powder
- 6 cups baby arugula, mâche, or other greens
- In a large bowl, stir together all of the remoulade ingredients except the arugula and set aside.
Shrimp Remoulade Assembly
- 1-2 hours before serving, toss the shrimp with the remoulade sauce. Let the shrimp marinate, covered and refrigerated.
- Serve the shrimp over the greens.
PORK LOIN WITH DRIED FRUIT AND ORANGE CIDER SAUCE
Chef Emeril Lagasse of Emeril’s New Orleans, Emeril’s Delmonico and NOLA serves his guests this simple but impressive pork loin with a silky sauce and plumped dried fruit. It works well as a holiday meal or as a family weeknight dinner.
- 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
- 1⁄2 teaspoon cayenne
- 1⁄2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 1⁄2 teaspoons kosher salt
- One 3-pound boneless pork loin roast, trimmed and tied
- 8 cloves garlic, smashed lightly and peeled
- 1 1⁄2 tablespoons olive oil
- 4 cups 1⁄4-inch sliced red onion
- 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
- 3⁄4 cup dried apricots
- 1⁄2 cup dried cranberries
- 1⁄2 cup dried cherries
- 1⁄4 cup golden raisins
- 1⁄4 cup dried currants
- 1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
- 1⁄2 cup apple cider vinegar
- 4 tablespoons (1⁄2 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
- Mashed sweet potatoes, for serving
- Combine the paprika, cayenne, black pepper, and 1 1⁄2 teaspoons of the kosher salt in a small bowl and stir together to mix well. Set aside.
- With a small knife, make twelve 1 1⁄2-inch-deep, evenly spaced slits around the outside of the pork loin. Cut 6 of the garlic cloves in half lengthwise and insert 1⁄2 clove into each slit. Rub the pork on all sides with the seasoning mixture.
- In a 12-inch sauté pan, add the olive oil and heat over medium-high heat. When hot, add the pork loin and cook each side until lightly golden brown, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer to the crock of a 6-quart slow cooker.
- Add the remaining 2 smashed garlic cloves, the onion, and thyme to the same pan and sauté, stirring, for 1 minute. Remove from the heat.
- Surround the pork with the dried fruit. Top with the onion, then add the remaining teaspoon salt, the orange juice, and vinegar. Cover the slow cooker and cook on low until the pork reaches an internal temperature of 140°F, 2 1⁄2 to 2 3 ⁄4 hours.
- Remove the pork from the slow cooker, transfer to a cutting board, and tent with foil to keep warm. Let the pork rest for about 10 minutes before slicing.
- Gently stir the butter into the hot sauce. Remove the twine from the roast and slice the pork. Arrange on a serving platter and top with the sauce and plumped fruit.
BACON AND LEEK SOUFFLÉ
Another offering by Chef Emeril, a Bacon and Leek Soufflé, could be used as a side dish with a simple roasted meat or it could stand on its own as a main dish for lunch or dinner, served with a salad and crusty French bread.
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 cup leeks, white parts only, washed, chopped (about 1 large leek)
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 cup hot milk
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- pinch of cayenne pepper
- pinch of nutmeg
- 5 eggs, separated, at room temperature
- 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
- 1 cup grated Gruyere cheese
- 6 ounces bacon, cooked crisp and crumbled
- Preheat the oven to 400º F.
Butter a 6-cup soufflé or straight sided baking dish with 1 tablespon of the butter. Dust the interior of the dish with the Parmesan and knock out the excess.
In a medium-size sauté pan, melt 1 tablespoons of butter over low heat, and gently cook the leeks until they are tender, about 10 minutes. Set aside to cool when done.
- To prepare the soufflé base, melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter in a medium-size sauce pan. Stir in the flour using a wooden spoon and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring frequently, until the mixture begins to foam. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the hot milk. Simmer the mixture over medium heat until it becomes thick, about 2 minutes.
Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the salt, cayenne, and nutmeg; slowly add the egg yolks one by one. Set aside.
In a stainless steel or copper bowl, slowly begin to whisk the egg whites using an electric mixer on medium low speed. Once the egg whites are frothy, add the cream of tartar and a pinch of salt and increase the speed of the mixer to medium and then to medium high. Beat the whites until stiff and they form shiny peaks being careful not to overbeat them.
Add the leeks, half of the Gruyere and the bacon to the soufflé base along with 1/4 of the egg whites and mix well. Delicately fold the remaining whites along with the remaining cheese into the base, being careful not to overmix. It is fine to have some unblended whites.
- Pour the mixture into the prepared soufflé dish and set in the oven. Reduce the oven temperature to 375º F. Bake until the soufflé has puffed and is golden brown, about 25 to 30 minutes.
POACHED PEAR AND BROWN BUTTER TART
Chef John Besh loves using winter fruits in desserts and salads. This Poached Pear and Brown Butter Tart is one of his favorites, and it’s the perfect finish to a holiday dinner.
- Vegetable oil spray, such as canola
- 13/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup sugar
- Pinch of salt
- 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into pieces and chilled
- 1 large egg yolk mixed with 4 tablespoons of ice water
- 6 cups water
- 2 cups semidry white wine, such as Riesling
- 2 cups sugar
- 1 sage leaf
- 4 whole cloves
- One 3-inch cinnamon stick
- 1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
- 4 Bosc pears—peeled, quartered and cored
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 large eggs
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
- 1/2 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
- Pinch of salt
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- Preheat the oven to 375°. Spray an 11-inch tart pan with a removable bottom with vegetable oil spray. In a food processor, combine the flour with the sugar and salt and pulse once or twice until combined. Add the butter and pulse until it is the size of small peas. Lift the lid and sprinkle with the egg- yolk mixture. Pulse 5 or 6 times, until the dough is crumbly.
- Pour the dough into the prepared tart pan and press to form an even crust. Use a flat-bottomed glass dipped in flour to tamp it down. Bake the crust in the lower third of the oven for about 25 minutes, until it is golden brown. Lower the oven temperature to 350°.
- In a large saucepan, combine the water with the wine, sugar, sage, cloves, cinnamon and vanilla bean and seeds and bring to a boil. Simmer for 5 minutes, then add the quartered pears. Cover with a large sheet of parchment paper and a lid slightly smaller than the saucepan and cook over moderate heat until the pears are just softened, 25 to 30 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the poached pears to a paper towel-lined plate and let cool slightly. Cut each wedge in half lengthwise.
- In a small skillet, cook the butter over moderate heat until golden brown and fragrant, about 4 minutes; pour browned butter into a small cup. In a medium bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the eggs with the sugar, vanilla seeds, orange zest and salt. Add the flour and beat at low speed until smooth. Add the brown butter and beat the filling at low speed until incorporated.
- Pour the filling into the baked crust. Arrange all but 3 of the pear wedges on the custard in a slightly overlapping circle, with the narrow ends pointing toward the center. Trim the remaining 3 pear wedges and arrange them neatly in the center. Place the tart pan on a baking sheet and bake for about 1 hour, until the custard is golden and set. Let the pear tart cool completely before serving.
The recipe can be prepared through Step 2 and stored in an airtight container for up to 2 days. The finished pear tart can be stored in an airtight container overnight at room temperature.
We wish all of you a wonderful holiday season, filled with friends, family and memorable, delicious banquets. Bon appétit!
Streetcar photo in New Orleans is licensed under CC By 4.0 — linked to www.nola.com
All other photos were pulled from www.pinterest.com
by Joe Goodell
The wags enjoy telling it to you straight: “What’s that y’r ask’n, son?” Wh’r do th’ names f’r Mi’ssippi towns come from? Why right off them wat’r tow’rs, that’s wh’r.” Pause. Guffaw!
Such insightful wit is not reserved for just the uninitiated. It is also, should there be a lapse in conversation, the sustaining stuff of duck blinds, deer stands and barber shops.
It all started following the Revolution, when the land in Kentucky and the Carolinas gave out, or became too crowded. The Territory beckoned, offering new land for free (or nearly so, ‘ceptin’ f’r the promise ‘f a lifetime o’ contin’l risk wh’r th’ only guar’nteed ‘bundance was hard work, ‘n’ it took a lotta faith to jump from a han’ful o’ seeds to a stash o’ turnips or beans sometime later”).
These hardy folk arrived along rutted tracks through arboreal tunnels, scenic, though hardly roads, more suited to migrant bear and deer. They formed and laid down cultural rhythms in new places. They became of like minds with the land, applying their tools, as if handles, to manage its inner workings, as crows watched from high in the trees.
They adapted their own resources and ingenuity to the ways of the wilderness, a spirit of independence which President Jefferson admired, but didn’t want to allow too much of, or he might lose them as American citizens. So he found a little money to improve the Natchez Trace, Federal Road, Three Chopped Way and other byways enough to carry the mails in and out. Along these routes, there were “stands” and other spots convenient for communities strung like beads of a necklace across the ancient loess.
So became the post offices whose regulations required names, and it was they (certainly not the water towers) which were named for someone famous, or for something about the new place. Sources of research vary, as you’d expect. But if the name is absent from James F Brieger’s masterful “Hometown Mississippi,” forwarded by Elbert R Hilliard, then the place does not exist, and likely never did.
The names were largely original and unique, applied sometimes whimsically, but never thoughtlessly. Possumneck, at first The Neck, was obligingly expanded by the judge during a criminal trial, when the unruly defendants explained, “ya know y’r ‘on’r, o’er yond’r wh’r we catch all them possums.” And vixen (yep, one of Santa’s own), and Boneyard for the cadaverous appearance of its founder, and Hard Cash (what the owner of the first plantation paid for his land).
Coming along were Bloomo, Como, D’Lo (likely from “De l’eau sans potable), Gum Garbo, Knoxo, Otto, Soso (for “what’s the we’th’r like ‘roun’ here?”), Tippo, Veto (the post office vetoed all the other names submitted) and Waldo.
The newcomers paid tribute to their hardy faith with Bethany, Chapel Town, Good Hope, Hebron, Holy Cross, Shiloh, Tabernacle, Trinity, Union Church and Zion. They honored the hardy natives with Biloxi, Bucatunna, Chatawa, Choctaw, Escatawpa, Itta Bena, Natchez, Nitta Yuma, Noxapater, Pascagoula, Pelahatchie, Pontotoc, Shuqualak, Tallahatchie, Tishomingo, Tunica and Yazoo City.
Some of the early communities are featured on present day maps, some scarcely at all: Hero, Hydro, Renfro and Zero plus the curious alphabetical adventure through Appeal, Buck Snort, Camel Town, Dot, Energy, Folly, Gandsi, Hobo Station, Improve, Jug Fork, Kiln, Lens, My, Nod, Owl Hoot, Panther Burn, Quiver, Rara Avis, Success, Tip Top, Utopia, Value, Way, Yawn and Zephyr Hill.
Whynot maybe is, or maybe isn’t kin to Why Not, North Carolina, but over in Lauderdale County they tell of one old timer who became so exasperated with the ceaseless, “Why not name our post office …..,” ideas that he shouted, “let’s just name it ‘Whynot’ and go home!”
In a tiny village near Leaf River the postmaster, apparently a lazy soul, wrote “Don’t” on the line requesting, “What name does your community have?” assuming that the officials would give it a good name; they did. Hot Coffee was celebrated for its special brew, “to tempt the taste of judges or hoss swappers,” offered to travelers bound for Ellisville or Williamsburg.
One might say that the “gold standard” for a community whose name is curious and location hard to find is It, Mississippi. On Old US-51 between Hazlehurst and Wesson. It hides between the Martinsville exit from I-55 and the pastoral setting of Spring Hill Baptist Church.
Around the turn of the century on a hot summer day, a man up there mopping his brow and nailing down the last of the tin roof for his intended trading post exclaimed, “this is it!!” later on contracted to just “It.” The Alfred G “Pete” Young store, “It Grocery,” is still there next to Pete’s house, both abandoned. “K & G Grocery” and Big John McKee’s “It Swap Shop” are gone, victims of fire or time.
So take a leisurely drive through the pleasant neighborhood spread sparsely along Dixie Garden Road near Pete Young’s store. Visit with the cordial folks tending yards and gardens around their homes. Over a generous glass of iced tea they will cheerfully assure you that:
You bet, this is “It.”
Southerners Gleaning Thistles
By Deborah Fagan Carpenter
With rare exception, they are sexually abused as children — often by a family member. Shame and low self-worth have become an innate part of their being, and alcohol and drugs are an inevitable escape from that shame and the feelings of inadequacy. Because of readily accessible drugs like crack cocaine, addiction is soon to follow, and prostitution often becomes a means to support that expensive obsession. Thus is the all-to-common reason that many women find themselves on the streets, with fellow prostitutes and pimps as their only support system.
The Thistle is a common weed which sometimes appears in the cracks of those streets that the prostitutes walk. It’s a sturdy plant, and even under the harshest conditions, it often survives and produces a lovely and enchanting purple flower. A Nashville based program, Thistle Farms, originally named Magdalene has spawned a growing number of residential homes designed as a safe haven to enable women to escape the bondage of addiction, prostitution, trafficking and homelessness. These homes offer addicted and broken women the opportunity to become survivors like the Thistle, and to bloom as the beautiful flowers the universe intended.
Living Room at the Community of St Therese of Lisieux
The Community of St Therese of Lisieux is the first branch of the Magdalene system to be established in Memphis. Executive Director, Sandra Ferrell and her board, under the guidelines established by Magdalene founder, Reverend Becca Stevens, have secured enough privately funded grants to house up to three women at a time for a requisite period of two years. Stevens makes it clear that her model is not a halfway house, a recovery center, or a transitional center, but rather a home where the women live by themselves without authority. It is based on the Benedictine belief that community and love heals, and with the absence of authority the women have the freedom to grow.
No emotional growth can occur however, until the residents are completely drug and alcohol free, so the first requirement for admission is the completion of an in depth rehab program. The foundation of the home is twelve step based, and after the women leave rehab and join the community, they are required to go to 90 Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meetings in 90 days, and then are asked to attend at least five meetings a week for the balance of their residency.
For most of the women, their image of men has been distorted since childhood, and in addition to unhealthy relationships with men, they have serious trust issues with both sexes. So in spite of their attendance at AA or NA, Lisieux also requires them to attend some Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous meetings as well. Usually their participation in the gatherings at all of those organizations results in the development of healthy female relationships.
“Tattered Dreams,” by Chere Labbe Doiron
Health and dental issues are addressed immediately upon admission at Lisieux, and a long term plan to resolve outstanding court or financial obligations is initiated. For the first three months residents are required to attend intensive out-patient therapy at Serenity Recovery Center, and after completion of that program, they can either begin school or go to Hope Works, which is a personal and career development center. There they are taught resume skills, personal communication skills, and the organization guides them toward employment opportunities. If they’re lacking a high school diploma, Hope Works helps them secure their GED, and currently, two of the Lisieux women are taking a full load at Southwest Community College. No hour of the day is left unscheduled, but are filled with meetings, therapy sessions, volunteer work, counseling, daily meditation and everyday chores, so there is not time available for them to secure full-time employment, but they are required to seek part-time work if they are not enrolled in school.
Due to problems with credit, mental health issues, and drug addiction, many of the women are unemployable, so in 2001 the Magdalene program started its own company, Thistle Farms. Today Thistle Farms is not only the name of the mother ship of the organization, but the herbal company is helping to raise a large portion of the financial resources. A line of natural bath and body products are developed, packaged and marketed by the residents in Nashville, and currently the Lisieux community is training to eventually wholesale the products in Memphis. The purpose is not only to raise funds, but to teach the women marketable skills and help them learn to interact with the public.
“Reachin’ for Somethin’ Gr8ter—Reachin’ for a Better Day,” by Frank D Robinson
Prostitution has been described as the “oldest profession in the world,” but to quote Becca Stevens, “Women don’t end up on the streets by themselves. It takes a community of people and failed systems to help them get there; it takes drugs; it takes a culture that continue to think that you can buy and sell othersat no cost to the other’s well-being. It takes ignorance such as legalizing prostitution, which will do no more than benefit the men.” The prostitutes themselves have always been considered the villains in the scenario, and rarely is there condemnation or prosecution for the buyers who are perpetuating the practice. Paying for sex is often viewed as acceptable behavior, but there is an increasing awareness that it is merely another form of human trafficking.
“There but for the grace of God, go I.” Anyone could be born into a situation where sexual abuse determines the tone of life and where the stage is set for addiction, despair and yes, prostitution. Whatever the reason for its occurrence, programs such as The Community of St Therese of Lisieux are vital, not only because they help these beautiful, resilient women find their way, but because they will educate the public about the misconceptions of why they ended up on the street in the first place.
Not all of the women in these programs will make it. But some will, and those who do will provide hope and inspiration for the women who are still living broken lives in fear and desperation. Magdalene and its off-shoot like The Community of St Therese of Lisieux offer at least a few of the many desperate women who have fallen victim to addiction and prostitution to find a path to a life of meaning and purpose—they allow the flower of the Thistle to bloom.
“You don’t have to worry about changing the world,” says Stevens. “The idea of loving the whole world one person at a time is a great way to live your life. I don’t worry about big or small. I’m okay being a drop in the bucket, and I love the idea of a thousand more people with us being drops in the bucket too.
Our message is that love heals and you cannot buy and sell women. We are trying to say to the wider culture that even though prostitution may be one of the oldest forms of abuse in history, women don’t have to stay in it or in addiction for the rest of their lives.”
The art at The Community of St Therese of Lisieux represents the journey the women in the program will take — from lost dreams, to looking for something greater, to becoming a person that others envy. All the work was created by Memphis artists.
To learn more about Thistle Farms and their line of products: http://thistlefarms.org;
The photo of the Thistle bloom is licensed under CC By 4.0, on Google Images–https://www.google.com/search, linked to www.stylecraze.com
The photo of the Thistle is licensed under CC By 4.0, on Google Images-, linked to Planetqgis.org, linked to www.Planetqgis.org
by Joe Goodell
With more demand than inquiry, but with earnest sincerity, I am frequently asked, “What brought you to Mississippi?”
Late in September, the unrelenting summer sun, a hammer which regards Mississippi as its own private anvil, yielded to a bright refreshing low humidity cool, which suggested that a pleasant southern fall was finally underway. No longer a heat-index shut-in, I cruised through my handsome neighborhood in Madison, then north through Canton, host to the world’s finest flea market. I moved northward toward Vaughan, site of the Casey Jones mishap and the ancient shop of Greg Harkins’ hand crafted chairs, and on to MS 17, past the amusing sign with an arrow pointing towards “Downtown Pickens.”
Elegant churches and the court house added a gratifying rendezvous with memory in Lexington, where I had too briefly lived in 1943, and where the 4H Club was founded in 1907. Regrettably, there hadn’t been time that year for me to attend a rustic, yet stately classroom such as those in The Little Red Schoolhouse, which I’d just visited in Richland, where tall pines and spreading oaks, like sylvan sentinels, stand benevolent watch.
In Tchula, where the lakes look more like rivers, the hills give way to the rich and vast alluvial sprawl of the South’s south, the Mississippi Delta, a land which confounds a man’s sense of distance and demands the best of his skill, endurance and imagination.
Mississippi Delta Field
My journey turned towards Greenwood, past the Egypt Plantation, where in 1969, a back-hoe unearthed a mysterious glass and iron coffin with the remains of a young lady clad in expensive red velvet, perfectly preserved since the 1830’s.
Mississippi River at Vicksburg
I’ve enjoyed visiting Greenwood often, with its Blues heritage, and Cottonlandia, and the old Opera House on Front Street, and Cotton Row, where three rivers (one of these, the Tallahatchie, whose bridge is memorialized by Bobbie Gentry) become the Yazoo. On that day, the Carroll House on Market Street had become the Junior League of Jackson for the filming of Kathryn Stockett’s story. A planter, way out west beyond River Road, was gearing up his cotton picker, grateful for the no-rain forecast, which told him that his valuable crop would stay dry.
All of the exits from Greenwood could direct my odyssey to places with boundless capacity for adventure. Some of them can, and do, hold time in abeyance, and all would offer me an immersion into compelling culture: Indianola, Leland, Greenville, the River itself, Clarksdale, (and Ground Zero Blues Club) Grenada, Oxford (and its university), Vardaman (and its sweet potatoes), Tupelo, (with Elvis’ tiny home) Winona, Starkville, (and its university) Columbus, (and the Waverley mansion).
William Faulkner’s Rowan Oak, Oxford, MS
But none that day could have matched for me the enchanting moment when conscious thought absented itself. It was as if, beckoned by a wild imperative out there where the chimeric swell of “white gold” was being nibbled away in long paths as straight as six o’clock by the lumbering pickers, where I submitted to what some might call latent lunacy, but what I’d say was an untethered fascination, although expressed with a laconic, “Hey!, Y’all giv’n’ rides t’day?”
Initially perplexed, and astonished of course, my genial host and master of machines, assumed command of the moment and welcomed me aboard his John Deere Series 99 Cotton Picker for a round trip across that extensive acreage. A short stop to unload at the module builder allowed him a pause for breath in his spirited mini-course, enriched with statistics, enhanced with digressions about hard work and long hours, a saga of modern day cotton picking.
Mississippi Delta Cotton Field
So, reflecting a bit during my drive home along our magnificent Natchez Trace Parkway….. what was it, really, that brought me to Mississippi? Indeed! A fast car and a one-way ticket, that’s what.
The Welcome to Mississippi photo is licensed under CC By 4.0 — linked to Wikimedia.org
All other photos by Deborah Fagan Carpenter
By Chip Burson
For the thing which I greatly feared is come upon me,
and that which I was afraid of is come unto me.
I was not in safety, ….yet trouble came.
Job, KJV, Chapt. 3, v. 25, 26
After this lived Job an hundred and forty years,
…So Job died, being old and full of days.
Job, KJV Chapt. 42, v. 16, 17
Photographer, Tim Patton, presented me with this photo, which I believe he captured on a photo shoot trip through either Mississippi, or somewhere in the Carolinas. It is natural and spontaneous—unplanned.
I was raised, in part, on St. Simon’s Island, Georgia. In the 50’s, the old slave quarters and African American neighborhood was called, “Jew Town.” Still is. When I was about six, a powerful land storm came through and rammed into a rumbling Nor’easter coming in off the Atlantic. (The Georgia Bite, as that part of the coast is called, rarely gets hurricanes). It flatted Mr. Humdoo’s old place.
Dr. Mack, the only physician on the Island, was my father’s best friend. When we were down from Atlanta, the island was blessed with two doctors. Dr. Mack was caught land-side in Brunswick, so we went to see about Old Hum when the call came from a neighbor. He was the doctor’s fishing guide, confidant, and source of immense ocean, river, and marsh wisdom. He was dead. The house fell on him. I asked my father why we were driving so slow to get to the house, and he simply said, “Son, death is not an emergency.” He was all but silent for the entire day after that; alone in his boat out on the marsh creek. For me, this photo represents Mr. Hum’s ghost, and is saying exactly what he would have said.
Chip Burson 7.7.15
Laissez les bon temps rouler
New Orleans was our spiritual watering hole
Whenever I have a case of the blues, or even full blown melancholy, I take a ham hock and a pound of spicy smoked sausage out of the freezer and put two cups of red beans in a pan to soak. Thawing and soaking take eight hours, cooking another two, but the red beans and rice provide comfort which passes all understanding.
Red beans and rice is part of my culture. It’s also part of the culture of New Orleans, our ‘big town,’ my family’s escape hatch, our spiritual watering hole: a hundred mile journey that delivered Mississippians out of their ‘dry’ state where the sale of alcohol was still prohibited, to the amphibious city, where liquor flowed freely and the motto was laissez les bon temps rouler. (Let the good times roll). Last October I bought 10 lbs. of the red beans from the French Market and a dozen small bags of filé, the powdered dried leaves of the sassafras tree used to flavour and thicken my other edible cure, seafood gumbo.
Today while the red beans soak, I listen to the radio, read the papers, follow the news online and press the redial button. For three days my calls have been answered with a recording: ‘All telephone lines are down. Please try later.’ Last night news as tangled as the mimosa and bougainvillea of the steamy grotto gardens of New Orleans itself, began to emerge via emails: my cousin Jamie, whose flat is on Conti Street in the French Quarter was safe out in California; cousin Steve’s house between Gulfport and Biloxi is damaged, but still standing. His family fled in their camper van, and are now living in Aunt Ruby and Aunt Edna’s front drive. English friends, whose daughter, Catherine, teaches at Tulane University, report that she stayed in New Orleans until Tuesday night because she didn’t want to leave her two dogs. Finally friends drove her and the dogs to Baton Rouge, picking up another distressed dog on the way. Alive. Safe.
Every few hours I go to www.nola.com to read the New Orleans Times-Picayune, the city’s newspaper whose presses are all underwater. They are publishing online and the first article I read began: ‘No one can say they didn’t see it coming…’ That rings true. Last October, sitting in the Café du Monde eating beignets and drinking the chicory-flavoured coffee, I read excerpts from a report issued in 2001 by the Federal Emergency Management Agency warning that a hurricane striking New Orleans was one of the three most likely disasters in the U.S. (The other was a terrorist attack on New York City. I’ve forgotten the third.) But by 2003, the federal funding for flood control was diverted to the war in Iraq. In 2004, the Bush administration cut by more than 80% the funding requested by the Army Corps of Engineers for holding back the waters of Lake Ponchetrain. Meanwhile developers were being permitted to destroy wetlands and barrier islands that surround New Orleans, areas that historically have held back the surge of hurricanes.
But if a storm as Biblical in its fury as Hurricane Katrina was predictable, who could have predicted the panic, suffering and desperation, the fatal delay in establishing order, organizing shelter, food, drinking water, tents, lights, sanitation, the descent into violence and anarchy?
No one now remembers the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927, when a million people lost their homes and black sharecroppers were forced to spend months on top of a levee without adequate food, shelter or medical care. My grandfather, a Delta planter, saw the ’27 flood as a parable of ineptitude, greed and the all-encompassing arrogance of the men in power. He believed that natural disasters expose man-made injustices, wash away the foundations of one society and plant the roots of another. The world is now witness to a powerful country’s long-hidden darkness and despair, to the limits of power. They say that after this, New Orleans will never be the same. I don’t believe that America will ever be the same.
Carla Carlisle 09/02/2005
Carla Carlisle was born on the banks of the Yazoo River in Greenwood, Mississippi. Her childhood was divided between two farms: her maternal grandparents’ dairy farm in the red clay hills and her paternal grandparents’ cotton plantation in the Mississippi Delta. She dreamed of a world of paved sidewalks, and succeeded in living in New York, Paris and London before marrying Sir Kenneth Carlisle, Suffolk farmer and Tory Member of Parliament, with a thousand acres of arable land in the east of England. Within three years she had planted a vineyard, converted a 400-year old barn into a vineyard restaurant, produced a son and turned an ancient Suffolk estate into a hotbed of defiant utopianism. For twelve years she also wrote a weekly column for that most English institution COUNTRY LIFE. This piece appeared the week after Katrina.
Photo of flooded is licensed under CC By 4.0 — linked to Google Images, New Orleans after Katrina, credit: Jocelyn Augustino –FEMA
File:US Navy 050902-N-5328N-582 Four days after Hurricane Katrina
Katrina was a natural disaster that ravaged the Mississippi Gulf Coast, and a man-made disaster that devastated the historic city of New Orleans. It was an epic event, whose aftermath revealed the very best in human nature — and the very worst.
The landscape along the Gulf Coast was forever altered by the rage of the storm, as entire towns were literally wiped off the map, and New Orleans was so traumatized by the physical destruction, the chaos, and the subsequent exodus of so many, it appeared that it too, would completely perish. Katrina was a life- altering experience for everyone it touched, exposing both the fragility and the strength of a nation.
It is the tenth anniversary of that monumental event, and this week we’re remembering it and paying tribute to those who suffered at its hands.
We first present a short discourse by Joe Goodell, a Mississippi resident who, these many years later, felt the need to talk about the devastation. Later in the week, we’ll re-publish an essay by ex-pat, Carla Heffner Carlisle, written from her home in England, where she powerlessly endured the horror of Katrina.
by Joe Goodell
Sometime after John Hope’s daughter graduated from high school in 1969, she married US Representative, Jim Marshall of Georgia. Aside from that, and being an attractive and bright young lady, you’d not notice anything particularly remarkable about her.
John was a meteorologist at the National Hurricane Center in 1969, when the rules for naming hurricanes consisted of just three: female, alphabetical order, and not on the retired list. So he tossed her name into the hat, and thought nothing more about it. If she knew of her dad’s gesture, she likely followed suite and likewise paid slight attention — until August, that is, when the entire Nation was focused on, and the entire Mississippi Coast was devastated by Camille, Hope’s namesake.
Thirty six years later, also in August, when naming hurricanes was a more rule-bound process, Katrina — nobody’s daughter, wife or girlfriend — ravaged the same Mississippi Coast, also causing calamitous and catastrophic destruction and disruption to society, to the economy, and to the ecology.
The origins, mechanics and behavior of a hurricane are well documented. It is chance — a long shot really — that all of the factors required actually do combine in time and place to spawn a mature hurricane. But when one does develop, as Sebastian Junger tells us in The Perfect Storm, you have the most powerful event on earth. He estimates that all the nuclear arsenals existing could not produce the energy required to keep one going for a day or two, that a typical hurricane can encompass over a million cubic miles of atmosphere, and could provide the electrical energy needed by the United States for three or four years.
I need these ponderous statistics for just a glimpse of understanding the havoc wreaked on human souls and property by Hurricanes Camille and Katrina. But many do not; the many who were there, and who suffered in 1969 and 2005.
So, a moment of pause to remember, to recognize,
Joe Goodell, 2015
Post Katrina photo licensed under CC By 4.0 — linked to Google Images, Entrada a vivienda | www.flickr.com
Post Katrina Photo licensed under CC By 4.0 — linked to Google Images, File:FEMA – 24956 – Photograph by Andrea Booher taken on 09-19-2005 in Mississippi
An’ the livin’ is easy
Fish are jumpin’
An’ the cotton is high
Oh yo’ daddy’s rich,
And yo mamma’s goodlookin’,
So hush little baby, Don’ you cry
One of these mornins’
You’re goin’ to rise up singin’
Then you’ll spread yo’ wings,
An’ you’ll take to the sky
But till that mornin’,
There’s a-nothin’ can harm you,
With daddy an’ mammy standin’ by
Song by George Gershwin for Porgy and Bess
Altered image of girls on the pier by Sandra Summers at Lake Dixie Springs, Summit, Mississippi
All other altered images by Deborah Fagan Carpenter
Most of them were born in captivity, some third or fourth generation slaves — possessions of other human beings. Servitude was all they knew. Their skills were limited to what they had acquired while working on the farms or plantations on which they were imprisoned, and few had been allowed to learn to read. They were not only physically enslaved, but they were held captive by illiteracy. When the prospect of freedom became a real possibility for slaves in 1861 America, they were ill-prepared for the realities of life outside of bondage.
Freedom’s just another word for
nothin’ left to lose
The call of freedom far outweighed the fear of the unknown and the lack of preparedness for what lay ahead for most slaves during the early years of the American Civil War. Thousands fled their enslavement, and as northern troops moved into the South, the fugitives logically sought freedom and shelter behind Union lines. Initially, many northern generals sent the escapees back into slavery because southern law demanded it. But in May of 1861, when General Benjamin Butler learned that slaves were being used in the southern war effort, he declared the refugees “contraband of war” because they were property the enemy could use against them. This declaration caused an increase in the number of slaves fleeing and seeking Union protection
In the eyes of slave owners, the escaped slaves were simply run-aways. But after the Battle of Shiloh in early April of 1862, General Ulysses S. Grant not only proclaimed them contraband of war, he encouraged the development of a community to support the refugees in their transition into freedom. The Secretary of War had forbidden transporting ex-slaves to the northeast, and Grant was fearful that the large influx of cold, ragged and hungry escapees would disrupt his soldier’s morale, so contraband camps were a viable solution. Meeting the physical needs was foremost, but looming large was the challenge of helping them make the transition from slavery to freedom. Throughout the South, contraband camps were established, and those institutions provided the first small steps in the long road ahead for thousands of people.
Union occupied Corinth, Mississippi was home to one of the most successful contraband camps of the Civil War, a model camp that was operational for a little over a year. Located in the northern part of Mississippi, a short distance from Shiloh, Corinth had been the scene of another well-known battle. Few people however, are likely aware of the Corinth Contraband Camp that operated with impressive functionality from late 1862 until the end of 1863.
Let freedom ring
Nearly 6,000 ex-slaves began their transition to freedom at the Corinth Contraband Camp. Initially, they were put to work bringing in the remaining cotton crop to aid the government, but later they were allowed to work and farm for themselves. In the early days the refugees lived in tents, but they were eventually authorized to build their own quarters. Cutting trees in the nearby forest, they built substantial cabins, a general store and a hospital. There was also a small, rustic church, and with guidance, they laid out streets and created a small, functional village. A cooperative farm program was instituted, and the residents grew cotton and vegetables, which they were taught to market. At its height, the camp was making a profit of several thousand dollars. They were taxed, just as they would be when they were fully free, with the money collected helping the old and infirm. Missionary groups from around the country were summoned to teach reading, and by August of 1863, nearly 1,000 former slaves had learned to read through the efforts of those volunteer literacy groups.
Freedom eventually meant fighting for their own cause. Some of the men had been trained, armed and put in charge of security at the camp, and when the Emancipation Proclamation was implemented, that training effort led to the formation of a new Union regiment. The 1st Alabama Infantry Regiment of African Descent consisted of approximately 1,000 men, (So named because so many had fled Alabama) but was later re-named the 55th United States Colored Troop.
The loss of a substantial number of able bodied men was the beginning of the ultimate downfall of the Corinth Contraband Camp. Addionally, pertinent military orders and the death of some key camp people, resulted in the residents being moved to the President’s Island Contraband Camp in Memphis, Tennessee in December of 1863. The move was harsh and disappointing, and they were forced to reside in a more traditional refugee facility for the remainder of the war.
Little is left of the Corinth Contraband Camp where so many began their lives as free people. Today however, a stunning collection of bronze monuments gives visitors to the site a glimpse into the lives of the men, women and children who briefly resided there, experiencing their first taste of life outside of captivity.
Through the remarkable talent of Memphis artist Andrea Lugar, visitors are made aware of the meaningful contribution the contraband camp provided for thousands of human beings. The impressive monuments offer some insight into how the residents began their journey. The bronzes, which were cast at the Lugar Bronze Foundry in Eads, Tennessee, depict camp inhabitants performing everyday chores, once duties of enslavement, now undertaken as stepping stones toward a new life. www.lugarfoundry.com
The unfortunate demise of the camp at Corinth was one of the fatalities of the Civil War. “The black men, women, and children at Corinth had demonstrated their determination to be free, their eagerness to learn, and their willingness to work. They had patiently accepted white tutelage. But in the end their attitudes and aspirations mattered little. For as Corinth had been born of the war, so, too, it was a casualty of the war.”
Slaves were not legally considered free until the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863. For most of the contrabands, full emancipation did not take place until the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution abolished slavery in late 1865, but for thousands their road to liberation was made a little easier because of the foundation they received at the Corinth Contraband Camp.
Boundless. “From Slaves to Contraband to Free People.” Boundless U.S. History. Boundless, 10 Jul. 2015. Retrieved 10 Jul. 2015 from https://www.boundless.com/u-s-history/textbooks/boundless-u-s-history-textbook/the-civil-war-1861-1865-18/emancipation-during-the-war-131/from-slaves-to-contraband-to-free-people-707-4621/
Song lyric, ”Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose” from Me and Bobby McGee by Kris Kristofferson
Photos: Deborah Fagan Carpenter
The common good is often uncommonly bad
In every section of the country, colloquialisms are born and then passed on through the generations. The South has produced an abundance of them. Many are more prevalent in rural areas, some more widespread, but all conceived through rationale based on normalcy for the period of conception or because of a specific regional activity. Authority on southern slang, Gary Wright, explains some of the common place phrases many of us grew up hearing, providing explanations even die-hard southerners may not know.
I’m gonna kick your butt so hard, you’ll beeatin’ off the mantle for a month.
Throughout history, whenever one was to be punished, the least vulnerable and most accessible part of the body to attack has always been the derriere. In most people, that part of the body contains more mass than elsewhere, some more than others. That part of the body can more easily absorb physical blows, and there are fewer bones to break. It is more comfortable to stand up when experiencing a sore butt!
Such a blow does cause some degree of indignity, not to mention a relative amount of pain. The harder the kick, the greater the pain, and if the kick is hard enough, it would be uncomfortable to sit down. The fireplace mantle would be an ideal place, common in every household, to set one’s plate and utensils to most contentedly consume a meal.
Southern girls don’t sweat, they ‘glisten
Southern girls are so fair and delicate that they would never do such a common, dirty thing as allow sweat to break out on their bodies. Such an ordinary, unclean phenomenon simply could not happen to such beautiful, delicate creatures.
Fair to middling
Cotton is and has always been of major importance to the economy, culture and vernacular of the South. Raw cotton is graded by color. There are five colors ranging from pure white to yellow-stained. Within the color groupings there are seven grades based on the quality of the cotton fiber, ranging from ordinary to good. Right in the very middle, the very average cotton fiber is ’middling.’ The term fair to middling means that the item referred to is just plain ordinary and okay.
Puttin’ up tomatoes
Puttin’ up tomatoes has nothing to do with the altitude of the objects in question. It refers to canning vegetables by partially cooking and placing them in glass jars with sealing rings. When the vegetable cools, the space inside contracts causing an inward pull, and the ring seals, leaving a permanent inward pull. This keeps fresh air and food-spoiling toxins outside of the jar. It should more correctly be called canning, however that would not be entirely accurate, because glass jars are generally used, having replaced tin cans years ago.
“Jarring” vegetables or “glassin” them connotes an entirely different concept. This conundrum was likely faced many years ago, and the old-timers decided on a term that was not entirely correct versus one that was openly stupid.
Running around like a chicken with its head cut off!
Running around like a chicken with its head cut off, as with many common Southern sayings, refers to a real-live event. Every country boy and girl knew that Mama’s famous Sunday dinner began early that morning when Mama sent her eldest son, Billy Joe to the chicken yard with an ax to select the plumpest, “bestest” hen in the yard. She was generally the one that laid the fewest eggs (talk about incentive.) Grabbing her by the neck, he twisted very hard, thusly wringing her neck, breaking the neck bone and windpipe.
He then laid the still flopping body across the chopping block, and with one swift motion, chopped the hen’s head clean off. A strange thing occurred. Some liken it to a miracle: the chicken promptly began to walk on both feet in a wobbly, irregular circle for a few steps before giving up the ghost. Mother hen died for our sins, er, appetite!
Go sit in the truck or go cut me a switch!
A curt statement usually used by a parent to a child (at least my wife has never told it to me) issuing an ultimatum concerning what the parent perceives as bad behavior. The youngster is being told that you have one of two choices: either, shut up and stop what you are doing, or you‘re going to get a whipping with a switch that you have the privilege to cut for yourself! Not that this has ever happened to me, but if you find yourself in this situation, you should cut a switch from a silver-leafed maple. It‘s the softest one.
This town is so small, they roll up the sidewalks at sundown
Sidewalks are expensive to construct and expensive to maintain. So, it only makes sense that, if the sidewalks are not going to be used at night due to little foot traffic, then they might as well be rolled up and stored away to limit use and extend the sidewalks’ lifetime. In a town quite small, this makes a whole lot of fiscal sense. However, the labor cost would probably negate any monetary savings.
Share favorite Southernisms in the comment section!
All photos provided by Deborah Fagan Carpenter
It’s crisp; it’s delicious; it’s nutritious — it’s locally grown food. It’s unequaled in freshness, because what’s purchased from a local farmer was likely harvested that very day, or the day before. It’s an education about where our food originates, and a lesson about the bounty of each season. It’s enjoying food at the peak of its flavor, and it’s literally experiencing a taste of the region.
The Backbone of the South
Farming is the backbone of the South and a large part of the landscape of our lives. Many small farms have been operating for generations, but new farms are emerging, run by people who have left the area, and are now returning, or by “transplants” from other parts of the country who are dedicated to farming on a small scale. Josephine and Randy Alexander are two such transplants, who are successfully running Tubby Creek Farm.
As I approach the farm, Randy drives his motorized wheelchair down the dusty drive to greet me, accompanied by two adopted stray dogs, and a wild bunny that he doesn’t even notice. The Alexanders are good stewards of their land, and they have provided a welcoming environment, not only for their own livestock, but for wildlife in general. Throughout my visit, birds are happily chirping, accompanied by hens clucking, pigs oinking and goats bleating — most roaming freely, in harmony with nature.
An unusually cool, breezy summer morning provides ideal conditions for learning about the Tubby Creek Farm origin and its mission. While waiting for Jo to come in from the field, Randy gives me a brief sketch of what landed them in Ashland, Mississippi, raising animals and growing vegetables.
By the time the couple met, they had both already undergone the culture shock of moving to the Deep South from an entirely different social and environmental climate. Jo, a Maine native, came to Memphis to work for Grow Memphis, http://growmemphis.org. Randy, who originally came to the city as a radio disc jockey, was on the board for the Peace and Justice Center, and was working at the Memphis Center for Independent Living https://sites.google.com/site/mcilaction. Much of the focus for MCIL was in community and neighborhood organization, which threw the two together. They began gardening in their Mid-Town Memphis back yard, and were part of a larger community gardening program. Jo had interned on organic farms in the Minneapolis area, and had an innate sense and love of gardening.
The decision to raise Certified Naturally Grown vegetables and animals was not one they made lightly, but they knew that if they did it, they’d have to go “all in.” “Jo really wanted to do it, and I began to understand the importance of it above some of the social programs I was already doing.” 70 acres of land was purchased in 2011, and for the first year they drove down to the farm and worked it every Sunday, eventually quitting their jobs in January of 2012, to join “an amazing community of Certified Naturally Grown farms in Mississippi.” They actually began their CSA program (Community Supported Agriculture http://www.localharvest.org/csa ) that spring.
Jo rumbles up in the dusty truck at about 8:00 a.m., exiting it with several trays of just harvested cabbages and fingerling potatoes. Dumping the vegetables into the wash basins for their first rinsing, she explains that they have spent most of their time getting their systems down, basically learning on the job through trial and error, and by doing extensive research. With a degree in geology, she is comfortable with scientific lingo, and loves “figuring stuff out.” Farming provides her with plenty of opportunities to do that.
Even with his disability, Randy and Jo do all of the work, assisted by one intern. They work diligently, with little monetary reward, doing something to which they are both committed, and about which they are passionate. Jo does most of the planting and Randy does the cleaning and packing. Randy has been paralyzed from the chest down since 1992, but a lift enables him to mount the handicap accessible tractor, a piece of machinery currently out of commission and covered with clucking chickens on the day of my visit.
The animals add enormously to sustainability, and to the quality of life. In addition to providing manure, the pigs help control invasive species, such as kudzu, and the guineas also eat ticks. Unused vegetables are fed to the pigs and chickens, which helps eliminate waste. Their animals are given very little treated grain, but eat what’s in front of them and are moved around so that they can forage. The food isn’t brought to them, but rather they are brought to the food. Land that is unsuitable for farming, is perfect for grazing. With the exception of the chickens, most of the animals are contained to certain pastures, but are still allowed to roam freely. All of the animals are treated with utmost respect and kindness, even though they will eventually be processed for food. A couple have nick-names, due to unusual markings, but most are not named because of their ultimate fate.
Well over 30 different kinds of vegetables are grown at Tubby Creek, with over 100 varieties. A few varieties are less common, for example Scapes, which are the flower shoot of garlic, or green garlic. Jo suggested sautéing them in lard—yes, lard—a product which she highly endorses! She thinks animal and saturated fat gets a bad rap! “There are lots of reasons to use lard. It’s local, olive oil isn’t. It’s much more stable under high heat. Olive oil and a lot of vegetable oils cooked at high heat start to break down, producing free radicals, so you have to get anti-oxidants to get rid of those,” she explains.
My brief visit provided a vivid reminder of the value of eating locally raised food, but also of the necessity of rearranging our thought processes about what we eat, and when we eat it. “We as a society have come so far away from eating with the seasons,” Jo continues. “We walk into a grocery store, and can get pretty much anything, any time of the year. So most people don’t even really know when things should be in season. As soon as the first warm spring day hits, people are looking for tomatoes. So it’s a really big adjustment for most folks to buy strictly what’s in season. One of the biggest examples of that is: by the time the tomatoes come in, the lettuce is gone, which kind of messes with your salads and your BLTs. In the fall you get some overlap between the lettuces and the tomatoes. But in the South, that’s just the reality.”
When I asked if they thought it was conceivable that there would be a time when there was wide spread small scale farming to meet world needs, their deeply felt conviction was ignited.
JO: Not just conceivable; I think the only way we’re going to be able to feed the planet in the future, is community based, small scale, not huge macro government funded solutions. Not transgenic crops, not topped down agriculture. Not just in this country, but also in developing countries. We need community food security. We need the capacity of small communities to feed their population. We can do that here and try to show that it’s possible. I think that that’s the most sustainable model moving forward. What we’re doing with conventional Ag is constantly racing super weeds that are resistant to herbicides, and racing pests that keep evolving and becoming resistant to pesticides. It’s a never ending cycle.
RANDY: I also think large organic farms are part of the same problem because they’re still harvesting food in one part of the country, and trucking it somewhere else.
JO: We can feed all of the people in Mississippi with the land in Mississippi — no problem. Even states with larger populations could do that. But we’re not. We have the resources, as a community, to feed ourselves. It is easy to feed a whole lot of people with a small amount of land. I think there may be a time in the future when that’s the way we’re going to have to do things. We’d have to get back to a time when we ate what was in season, and eat less meat. A lot of what is grown right now is fed to livestock, and that’s the least efficient way to do things. The more efficient way is to have the livestock out on the land, eating it. Then you don’t have to plant it, and harvest it. We’re doing so much silly work because we’ve got cheap oil. And that’s not going to be the case forever.
” We’re gonna have to do things more efficiently!”
Photos of Randy Alexander and the field were provided by Tubby Creek Farm
Photos of Jo Alexander and the chickens by Deborah Fagan Carpenter
The Mississippi Delta is a unique and special place.
In my book, Delta Days: Tales of the Mississippi Delta, I quoted writer, David Cohn when he said, “The Mississippi Delta starts in the lobby of the Peabody Hotel in Memphis and ends on catfish row in Vicksburg.” The Delta is an alluvial deposit of thirty feet of fertile loam, stolen from the prairies of America’s Midwestern bread basket by the Mississippi River, and moved down south by annual flooding. The soil of the Corn Belt is now nurturing King Cotton.In the 1950s, the Delta was more than a geographical location; it was home to a unique social, political, and economic system that reflected the best and worst of our southern agrarian society.
From William Leroy Percy to Bobbie Gentry, The Delta has always had advocates and promoters, but there never has been much formal recognition for the Delta. It was in this spirit that I invited my friends from New England to join me on a trip through the Delta. The previous year they had given me the full tour of Boston and Concord, and I wanted to repay them in kind.
A trip to the Rendezvous for ribs, and a night spent at the Peabody, was their introduction to Memphis after arriving on Thursday evening. The next morning we watched the ducks parade up the red carpet, and then headed south on U.S. 61. Our first stop was in Tunica for a quick tour of the casinos, and next to Clarksdale, (Cat Head Delta Blues, Inc.) home of the blues, for lunch. After a visit to McCarty Pottery in Merigold, (McCarty Pottery/McCarty Gallery Restaurant) we pulled into my hometown of Cleveland, just in time for dinner.
There was method in my madness for dining in Cleveland. Cheryl Line, an old friend who is the former director of tourism for Cleveland/Bolivar County and is considered to be one of the most knowledgeable tour guides in the Delta, agreed to meet us for dinner. We met at the Airport Grocery in order to sample the hot tamales, and Cheryl regaled us with intimate knowledge of the Blues and Hot Tamale trails that were such an integral part of any Delta tour. (Mississippi Tamale Trail)
My northern visitors were fascinated by the Delta, but were amazed that there was no formal organization that promoted such an interesting and unique area. Cheryl replied that while that had been true for many years, things had recently changed. In 2009, the 18 Mississippi Counties that comprise the Delta had been recognized as a National Heritage Area and The Delta Center for Culture and Learning, and Cleveland’s Delta State University had been chosen to manage the Heritage Area. This was all news to me. I had never heard of the National Heritage Area program.
Official promotion of the Delta became a reality with the creation of the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area. One of 49 National Heritage Areas, the MDNHA is giving the Delta a unified voice. The Delta Center for Culture and Learning at Delta State University is the management entity for the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area. The Delta Center provides the leadership and resources needed to achieve the regional promotion goals set by the MDNHA.
The mission of the MDNHA is to foster partnerships and educational opportunities that enhance, preserve, and promote the heritage of the Mississippi Delta. It further promotes activities that will advance the understanding of the area, while ensuring a balanced and sustainable approach to development and social transformation.
Together, The Delta Center and the MDNHA develop and present programs that engage the people who live in the Delta to preserve, celebrate and share their unique place and culture.
By building a network of public and private partners who are willing to participate in a coordinated and sustainable program of economic development, The Delta Center and the MDNHA are forces for regional development and transformation. From sponsoring symposiums and cultural gatherings, to coordinating and hosting educational exhibits and meetings, The Delta Center and the MDNHA are diligent in executing their cooperative missions in partnership.
The New Englanders were fascinated by the emphasis placed on the contribution to the Delta’s economic, cultural and political development by the area’s diverse ethnic population. When we visited the MDNHA offices at Delta State, this diversity was evident, from the clearing of the virgin hardwood forests, to the cultivation of cotton. The story of black slaves, Chinese laborers and Jewish merchants was inexorably interwoven into the Delta’s heritage. Descendants of these early pioneers are today’s merchants, teachers, and political leaders.
A Jewish Synagogue situated right next door to the First Baptist Church was one of our stops in the small town of Ruleville. There was noticeable surprise when they realized that in 1950, there was a viable Jewish community of merchants, farmers, and bankers. Today little remains of a once vibrant Jewish community in the Delta.
Names like Wong, Lee, Jue and Moon appeared on the abandoned storefronts in every little Delta town we visited. The MDNHA highlights the numerous Chinese grocery stores that at one time dotted the landscape of the Delta. The Chinese came to the Delta as day laborers, and quickly made the transition to merchants. The Chinese families were fanatical about education, and in years past, Cleveland boasted a three tiered school system; one for whites, another for blacks, and a third for the Chinese kids whose parents demanded a higher standard.
On a personal note, I may have participated in the first civil rights demonstration to be held in Ruleville. In my second grade year, the City of Ruleville built a community swimming pool. The city fathers, led by the Mayor, decided that not only were the blacks going to be banned, the Chinese were also to be excluded. I had several close Chinese friends, and more importantly, my grandmother had become friends with one of the ladies in the Chinese community.
My grandmother and I marched down the street to the Mayor’s house, and she called him on to his porch and set about to give him un-shirted hell about his racial policies regarding Ruleville’s Chinese citizens. The ban on Chinese kids was lifted, and we never heard any more about the subject. As with the Jewish kids, the children of the Chinese merchants became professionals and moved from the Delta—all that is left are the storefronts of their once thriving businesses.
Doe’s Eat Place in Greenville, is the home of the best steaks in America, and is a highly recommended Delta restaurant for anyone with a culinary interest, and of course hot tamales appear on most menus. Doe’s provided us with both their delicious steak and some of the best tamales in the world. No Delta tour would be complete without a visit to the Jim Henson museum in Leland, and the battlefields of Vicksburg were a must-do stop on the trip. There was one more plate of hot tamales on Catfish Row before ending our Delta tour.
Dinner at Walker’s Drive-In in Jackson on the eve of my guest’s return home, provided the opportunity to reflect on the week. It is difficult for those living outside of the area to come to an understanding of the Delta and its complexities, but my New England friends now had a clearer perspective of the region thanks in large part to The Delta Center and the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area. Both made the cultural diversity of the Delta a reality for them, and had made all the difference in their understanding of this fascinating section of the country.
Please visit The Delta National Heritage Area web site at: http://www.msdeltaheritage.com
and their Facebook page at:
The Catfish Row photo, the McCarty Pottery Garden photo and the Mississippi River photo were provided by The Delta Center/MDNHA
The Peabody Lobby photo, the abandoned Delta storefront and the Henson Museum photo were provided by Deborah Fagan Carpenter
Carrying a backpack half her own weight, petite North Westerner, Hilary Leonard took a little Southern walk — from Savannah, Georgia to New Orleans, Louisiana. In January 2015, the Seattle, Washington resident traveled via Greyhound bus across the country to Savannah, where she began the walk of a lifetime, a journey that would not only give her some insight into the culture of the South, but would reveal even more awareness about herself. Through a series of questions from me she responds with candor and perceptiveness about the reason for the journey and how it impacted her……DFC
What prompted you to make the journey, and why did you choose that particular route?
I was first inspired to travel the South on foot while listening to an episode of This American Life in which Andrew Forsthofel presented his radio essay about walking across the United States. I was drawn in by the adventure and the way he connected with people. His time spent in the South was particularly intriguing because I had never been. I felt there was a hole in my picture of the country. Also, when considering the walk I couldn’t come up with a good reason to not do it outside of my own inhibition. I didn’t want fear to dictate my life choices. In an email to a friend prior to my trip I explained my motivation as such: “I just know that I have to do this because saying no to the opportunity out of fear is far worse than anything that could come from saying yes. To be the person I believe myself to be, the person I want to be in life, I need to say yes.”
The route itself changed throughout the walk. I started in Savannah because it made sense for my two month timeline in order to end in New Orleans, a city I’d always wanted to visit. I stuck to highways and adjusted my course occasionally as people made suggestions. I wanted to stay away from cities as much as possible because it’s harder to connect with people and find a place to camp. In the last few years I’ve done some solo bike tours — along the Washington coast and one through Europe — and even on a bike it’s easy to skip things. Walking appealed to me because it would make me slow and enable me to talk with people.
What intrigued you about the South before you arrived?
I had a romanticized view of the South. I wanted to walk beneath the cypress trees, listen to blues music, and drink sweet tea on porches every evening. I only knew the South by the stereotypes — both flattering and otherwise — and I wanted to experience firsthand what was truly behind Southern life. While planning my walk I realized how little my friends and I knew about the Southeast. I was naively under the impression that the South is always warm. Escaping a cold, gray Seattle winter for a sunny southern one seemed like a great trade.
Were any of your previous notions about the South solidified, and were any dispelled?
Prior to leaving I was petrified an alligator would attack me in my sleep. Or a snake. I’d been advised by a friend to run in a zigzag if a gator attacks; it confuses them. Luckily I never had the chance to test what people have since informed me is nuts. It was too cold for gators or snakes to show up, even when I wanted to see them.
Southern hospitality was well and alive. I was blown away by how often people were taking me in, offering me food, giving me cash, introducing me to their friends and family, and stopping to chat. I expected to camp on the side of the road a lot more often than I did.
I was surprised by how many small business owners and entrepreneurs I encountered. The mass media focuses on big corporations, and I assumed given the rural parts of my route I’d meet farmers, but I didn’t anticipate the thriving small shops, restaurants, and businesses tucked into even the most remote corners.
Were there people who were unkind to you?
Traveling with my giant backpack, people often looked at me sideways with suspicion. As soon as I would talk with them it usually put them at ease. I’d hear things like “I just thought you were homeless” which would make my stomach turn. I’d think, “what if I was JUST homeless? Would you not be kind to me?” It was incredible how quickly I would internalize people’s negative perception of me. I believed in what I was doing, but even so, being treated like a criminal affected me. It zapped the skip in my step.
I didn’t have any encounters in which I felt personally threatened. A couple of times the police stopped me and treated walking like a subversive activity. On one occasion this was an issue. My last day crossing through Louisiana a cop stopped me and would not let me continue because he claimed I was not on a designated walking path. He forced me to take a ride into New Orleans. I returned a few days later and finished walking those last few miles to the city limit.
Of the kindnesses shown you, what were the most surprising?
I was humbled by how hard people worked in contacting friends and family along my route to find me a place to stay. Leaving Georgia, I had a small army of southern mothers who would come running if I came into any trouble. They checked in with me every day, making sure I was doing okay, staying warm, and keeping dry. I’d never felt more supported.
How did you prepare yourself physically and emotionally for the trip?
Preparing myself emotionally was the toughest part because the unknown terrified me. I didn’t sleep the weeks prior to leaving Seattle. I went through periods of self-doubt and anxiety. I had no idea how people would receive me — if they would be condescending, if I’d be harmed. I read books and blogs by people who had walked across America and took comfort in their stories of humanity. Andrew Forstoefel’s blog, Walking to Listen helped me immeasurably.
I could have done a better job preparing physically because I simply didn’t train. I ordered my backpack from Ebay, and it arrived three weeks late; a mere two days before I left. When I started walking I completed about 15 miles per day with my 40-50 pound bag. The blisters were agonizing for the first few weeks and my hips and feet ached through the night. It was trial by fire. By the end of my journey I was up to an average of 20 miles a day, and the blisters were gone.
Did you ever want to say, “This is insane, I’m going home?”
Never. The first night was trying because I didn’t yet know how to talk to people about what I was doing. I had conviction, but no confidence. I called a friend back home in a moment of doubt and she advised me that I would know when it was time to go home. I felt I owed it to myself to push past fear, and by the second day, I never looked back. I learned to let go of control and to deal with issues as they came. It was difficult to trust the unknown, yet every time I did I found what I needed. Some days were harder than others, but I was enamored with walking. Walking is a simple act. Not easy, but uncomplicated relative to settled life. Being successful day-to-day merely entailed getting from point A to point B. Finding success back home is a messy process of navigating relationships, work, school, goals, chores, etc. I reveled in the freedom walking gave me to be present and live at 3 miles per hour.
What was your impression of Savannah, of New Orleans, of the Gulf Coast, and of the countryside and the small towns in between?
Savannah enchanted me. I loved how small it felt for a city. I loved the Spanish moss webbed oak trees and the orange glow at sunset. Even the paper mill smell that clung to the air had a subtle vanilla quality. I spent a few days visiting with SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design) students and I enjoyed the energy of being within so much creativity. Everyone was in the middle of an interesting project.
New Orleans was more of a conundrum. I stayed with a handful of different people throughout the city to get a feel for the different neighborhoods. The decay was both alluring and concerning. I worry about the future of the city and its residents, yet there was an indomitable spirit like no other place I’ve ever visited. I spent hours talking with strangers about the city — its infrastructure, services, renovations, and perpetual jubilance. It was difficult leaving New Orleans because I felt there was so much more to discover.
Parts of the Florida coast were isolating due to the amount of development. At times I was completely encircled by condos and vacation rentals that were devoid of community. People came and went quickly with no accountability for the area. I would traverse 10 miles — a short drive by car, but 3 hours on foot — without coming across any restaurants, businesses, or gas stations. I learned to take advantage of convenience store bathrooms where available.
The small towns were some of my favorite places because of the intimate connection with everyone and everything. I could sit in a place for a few hours and talk with four generations of family members. The history of these places is brought to life through the retelling of stories. I’d venture into town taking it at face value, but in talking with people, I’d begin to reimagine the empty lot across the way as a bustling schoolyard and the Dollar General as a lost family restaurant. I was told time and time again that in my next day’s stretch “there’s nothing there.” I never came to know what nothing looks like because I always saw something.
Do you feel like you got a good sense of Savannah and New Orleans?
I feel I only scratched the surface. I only had three days in Savannah and six in New Orleans. They were also my first and last southern cities, respectively, which affected my sentimentality towards them. I had talked about getting to New Orleans for so long, that when I did finally arrive it was like reaching Ithaca. I’d love to explore both cities more in the future.
Do you feel like you saw an accurate picture of the South?
I think my journey is better described as a study of people than a study of the South. Granted, I learned a lot about Southern culture through walking and talking with people, but there is still so much I didn’t experience. The way in which I found places to stay limited the diversity of people I encountered. On my own, I met people in coffee shops and museums, which are frequented most often by a certain demographic. When people began passing me through their social networks, it further narrowed the type of people I met — namely white, working to upper class families. The diversity of people I talked with on the road was broad, but the people I stayed with had the most impact on my understanding of the Southeast. I anticipated greater diversity, but I think the pattern that developed is telling of social organization trends. People tend to associate with others of similar backgrounds — socioeconomic, education level, race, religious beliefs. Also, many parts of the South are still racially segregated, and unintentionally, I would end up in parts that were largely white.
I also had immense privilege traveling as a young, educated, white female with a physical presence few would consider threatening. People looked at me and feared for my safety rather than the other way around. I was offered more knives than I had pockets to hold, and “be careful” was the default goodbye.
Was the experience as emotionally challenging as I imagine it would be, and do you feel like you grew emotionally from it?
I expected the journey to grow lonely given that I was traveling by myself, but the interactions I had with people made me feel unbelievably supported and connected. Rarely did a day pass without me receiving emotional support from strangers. In one instance, I was walking against a line of traffic in the panhandle of Florida when a man rolled down his window to inquire if I was on a long hike. I told him my route, and he earnestly stated “I’m proud of you.” Hearing that immediately warmed my heart. The next day I met a man sweeping outside the Blountstown McDonalds, James Cooper. He saw me and my pack, and asked where I was going. When I told him, he responded, “You’re someone special.”
The more positive interactions I had with people, the more I felt I had to keep going, and the more I wanted to keep going. I felt compelled to succeed for the people who believed in me. I’m incredibly grateful for the support I was shown. It was an immense gift and I hope to pay it forward.
Do you feel any differently about your life, people in general, or the people who are closest to you as a result of this experience?
In more ways than I could possibly write. For two full months I spent every day in a new environment. This pushed me to critically consider the limitations of my perspective and what I take for granted as normal or axiomatic. Whether I was with people or alone, I didn’t have a routine or task list to distract me. I didn’t have a closet of clothes to supplement my public identity. I got to consciously chose over and over again how to represent my identity to people through relating my personal history. This helped me discover the parts of myself I wanted to grow and the parts I could let go.
I experienced how little time it takes to make a connection with someone. I’d stay with a family less than 24 hours, but in leaving, I felt I’d known them for years. It’s exciting how many stories are out there and the diversity of life in this country. Everyone I met had interesting insights. I didn’t always agree with their beliefs, but I could at least begin to understand where they were coming from in hearing them out. I feel I gained a lot in sitting back and letting people share with me what was important to them.
You said you would possibly do a performance piece based on your journey. Can you elaborate on that a little? Are you a dancer, a singer an actor?
I’m a dancer and my goal is to choreograph a performance piece that combines dance with the recordings I collected throughout the journey using my Tascam DR100.I conducted personal interviews, recorded environmental backdrop, and also kept an audio diary. It was my first time using an audio recorder. In New Orleans I happened to meet a documentary filmmaker, Jay Miller, and we’re talking about making the performance into a dance film.
I understand that you’re in school. Where? What is your focus?
I’m currently studying at the University of Washington in the Integrated Social Science program. It’s a broad degree that incorporates courses in economics, communication, sociology, psychology, geography, political science, anthropology, ethnic studies, and international relations. I deferred for a quarter in order to do the walk.
Is there anything you’d like to say to sum up the experience?
I’m eternally grateful to the people who helped me along my way. Every small act made a difference. I’ll never be able to say thank you enough for the kindness I was shown, both by people I met and people back home.
Hilary Leonard documented her entire journey, beginning with the bus ride from Seattle to Savannah on her own blog:
For more detail on the courageous journey this incredible young woman traveled for the sake of social awareness and self-awareness, please take the time to check it out!
All photos courtesy Hilary Leonard
Please visit the October 10, 2014 article, “South by Southwest,” about southerner Mark Hainds, who made a similar walk across the southwest, following alongside the Rio Grande River.
Gary Wright continues to share his “Southernisms” with us in MORE SOUTHERN SPEAK! Please feel free to add your own favorite “southern speak” in the comments section at the end of this post. Thanks y’all!
As we celebrate our second year anniversary at PorchScene, we want to thank our loyal readers for continuing to support us as we’ve found our footing. We also want to thank the many contributors who have shared their unique voices with us and were willing to put their southern experience on our pages. For those of you who are joining us on the porch for the first time, we welcome you!
Our view from the porch is one of a South that is as diverse as its landscape. We strive to paint a portrait of our southern home through the eyes of our musicians, our artists, our writers, our chefs, our photographers, our entrepreneurs, our professionals, our mechanics, our farmers — all of the people who contribute to our reality with their own unique voices. We want to present our world from every angle.
We hope you’ll join us for our look at the place we call home. We endeavor to look at our world through many viewpoints, and we want to look at it with clear eyes and honesty. The South is a wonderful community of many different ideas and ideals, and our intention is to describe it from all its many perspectives.
We are informed by our past, but we are not all stuck there. Time stands still; time produces evolution. Some things change; some things don’t. There is progression of thought; there is a mindset that is dug-in to the past. There is widespread acceptance; there is widespread racism. There is overwhelming beauty, and there is heart-wrenching sorrow and ugliness. Similarity and contradiction stand side by side. Sometimes it requires understanding, and sometimes it deserves celebration. We are the sum of all our history and all our progress. We are today’s South.
Streetcar photo: “The St Charles Streetcar,” by hotels.com is licensed under CC By 4.0 — linked to Places I Love on Pinterest | 16 Pins on Google Images
Porch photo: Mary Prater
Louisiana Cottage photo: Deborah Fagan Carpenter
The two Phlox photos were taken by Butch Boehm at Eads Pottery in Eads, Tennessee
All other images were taken by Wolfgang Marquardt of Gardens Oy Vey in Arlington, Tennessee
(See our 2013 post: Oy Vey! Paradise in a Gulley)
Clarksdale, Mississippi: Home of the infamous crossing of highways 61 and 49, where Robert Johnson allegedly sold his soul to the devil so he could play a “mean” guitar. Today, Clarksdale is home to the annual Juke Joint Festival, where current Blues’ artists seduce audiences from all over the world with living, breathing Blues. Many southern spots claim bragging rights to the origin of the Blues, but the area around Clarksdale, Mississippi is the genuine home office, and the Juke Joint Festival offers plenty of evidence to support that claim.
It’s the 12th year for the Juke Joint Festival, and this year the event honors performers and Blues’ supporters who passed away during the previous year. Some of those include: Robert “Wolfman” Belfour, Martin “Big Boy” Grant, and Mrs. Myrtle Messenger. But it’s a pretty good bet that other Blues’ greats who had their beginnings in the area, such as Muddy Waters, will have had a recognizable influence on the musical style of some of the 2015 performers.
The Blues is the business at hand, but there’s plenty of “small town fair” activity available for everyone. Venues all over town, not the least of which is the Delta Blues Museum, provide hundreds of ways to experience the Blues. Music is at the top of the list of course, and it fills the air practically anywhere you wander, but there’s also plenty of soulful food, poignant local art, and interesting activity to add to the amusement.
Official festival day is Saturday, April 11, 2015, but one-of-a-kind establishments all over downtown Clarksdale will be open and eager to introduce you to the Delta on the days prior to and following that official day. Related festival activities will begin on Thursday, April 9, and there will also be related events on Sunday, April 12. Live music will be available all day Saturday on various stages throughout downtown, and numerous “joints” will be open on Saturday night.
Roger Stolle has forgotten more about the Blues than most of us will ever know. His establishment, Cat Head Blues, Inc. on Delta Avenue in downtown Clarksdale is unofficial Blues Headquarters, and it’s the place to find out anything you need to know about the festival—or the Blues. It’s also a great place to pick up a Blues CD or some fascinating facts about musicians and the area. Stolle, one of the festival founders, has first-hand knowledge about all the performers and venues, and is always happy to share about his passion. Likely to be “up to his blues albums” with festival logistics that weekend, he may be pretty busy when you’re there, but if that’s the case, you’ll still be provided with accurate information from any of his dedicated staff. (Cat Head Delta Blues, Inc.)
It’s completely mind boggling that small towns stuck out in the middle of cotton and bean fields could be so intriguing, but that’s just what the Mississippi Delta is. If there’s time during your visit to Clarksdale—an hour-and-a-half south of Memphis—take a little side trip another 30 minutes south to Merigold, Mississippi, home of McCarty Pottery. There you’ll get a little taste of the Delta oasis that Lee and Pup McCarty created on a city block that was once a mule barn. (McCarty Pottery) And if you happen to find yourself in Merigold—near Aligator—between 11:00 and 2:00 PM, ABSOLUTELY go to McCarty’s Gallery Restaurant on Sunflower Street. (McCarty’s Gallery Restaurant) There’s one gas station in town, so if you can’t find either the pottery or the restaurant, stop in there—they’ll know where to send you!
It’s the Mississippi Delta, it’s the Home of the Blues, and it’s the Juke Joint Festival, a festival like no other on earth. Music is the great communicator, and nothing does that better than the Blues. A musical form that grew out of pain and misery now provides beauty and connection for countless listeners. The Juke Joint Festival is the place to experience this musical phenomenon, and it’s not too late to make plans to attend!
Poster images provided by Roger Stolle / Photos by Deborah Fagan Carpenter