On the Beach

The end of the world is stone,
pitted with little bones, waves
going this way and that, a moon
on a pole, and Africa in the distance,
afire. I have come a fur piece.

 

Hold the “L”

In one of her wonderful Arly Hanks novels Joan Hesse has the police chief of Maggody, Arkansas declare that, “Only a Yankee would desecrate a bacon and tomato sandwich with lettuce”. Well, if not a Yankee then anyone with no reverence for the blessed combination of tomato and fried pork with a slathering of mayonnaise. What infidel would put watery lettuce in such a perfect culinary union of flora and fauna? Let the words go forth: “BLT, hold the ‘L’”.

Ukranian Cold Soup

This is kin to borscht, but a lot more accessible to people like me for whom a little bit of beet goes a long way. I’ve always been taken aback that cucumbers are so popular in northern Eurasia, which is typically all cabbage and turnips to me, but you’ll find okroshka in cuisines from the Baltic to the Black Sea. Despite its humble origins, okroshka is a colorful, appealing way to serve fresh summer vegetables.

Combine 2 cups diced lean cold meat (chicken, ham, beef, or fish), 2 cups diced cucumbers—use farmers’ market or “English” cucumbers, not those bloated, watery things in the supermarket—2 cups diced boiled potatoes, a small bunch of minced fresh dill, and one chopped bunch of bruised green onion. I usually peel the cucumbers but not the potatoes Add a diced boiled carrot and a couple of chopped or very thinly sliced radishes. If you have a beautiful right-out-of-the-garden tomato, slice it, drain it, dice it and throw it in. Everything should be in small pieces; think of a Nordic gazpacho. Boil six eggs, chop the whites, and add to the mix. Mash the yolks with a half cup of sour cream or yogurt, and mix with a cup of buttermilk. Add dairy mix to other ingredients along with two or three tablespoons of a Dijon or brown mustard. Add more buttermilk—kefir, if you happen to have some on hand—or rich (preferably jellied) broth and sour cream in parts to make a thick soup. Salt to taste, stir in the juice of half a lemon, and refrigerate for at least an hour or longer. Longer is better. Serve with garlic toast and sour cream. Keeps in the refrigerator for 3 days.

The Cherry Hill – Poplar Springs – Reid Community in Calhoun County, Mississippi by Monette Morgan Young with Introduction by James M. Young

Monette and Tom Young named me James Morgan: James, after both my uncles; and Morgan, my Mother’s maiden name. My parents and my two sisters and I grew up in Calhoun county in north central Mississippi where our ancestors have lived for almost 200 years. I went to three different high schools in the county since Mother had to move about to work as a nurse after my father died unexpectedly in 1946. After earning an engineering degree at Mississippi State and a commission through the Air Force ROTC program, I was called to active duty immediately and became a career officer, spending 28 years before retiring as a Lt. Colonel. My last active  assignment was in northwest Florida, and I have lived here ever since.

Mother was born in 1915 and was a lonely only child, her little brother having died shortly after he was born.  She grew up on her parents’ isolated small farm in the hills on the edge of the Reid Community in northeast Calhoun county. An early settlement in this area had been called Cherry Hill but it had vanished by the time Mother was born. This area included rich farmland in the Skuna River bottom area and smaller farms in the hills south of the river. The white settlers here were primarily of Scots, Irish, Welsh, and English heritage, coming mainly from Virginia and the Carolinas and traveling through Alabama and Tennessee to get here as the Chickasaw Indians were forced to move to Oklahoma in the 1830s.  Most of these arriving families were large, as were needed to raise the crops and cattle needed for basic living. As the number of settlers increased, churches were organized and the small amount of community social life here revolved around Rocky Mount and Poplar Springs Baptist Churches organized in the mid-1800s.  Schools were small, one-roomed, one teacher, even in the early 1900s.  Monette’s mother Eula was one such teacher at whatever school in the area needed her. During the school months she and Monette often boarded with a local family and got back to their home only on weekends.

Mother loved to read and to listen to older family and friends tell their stories about their growing up days in the 1800s.  High schools were beginning to be established and she attended one year at the county Agricultural High School at Derma and then finished her high school at Vardaman, boarding with a local family there.  Vardaman High School is where she met Tom Young and they married while both of them were still teenagers. They began their married life in Vardaman and their three children were born there.  Tom died unexpectedly in his sleep in 1946 shortly after returning from WWII service and Monette began working to support her children. She became a Licensed Practical Nurse in a small local clinic and eventually moved to Memphis to get a better position.

Her interest in the community and people of her youth continued and was intensified in her middle years. Some of her older kinfolk were also living in Memphis and she began to work with them to learn and document all that they remembered about Reid and the families there. She used the library facilities in Memphis for her research and corresponded widely by phone and mail with folks who had lived in the Reid area or who had information about that area that they would share. She, her cousin Clarence Morgan, and her grandson Jesse Yancy III walked through many of the graveyards where ancestors, kinfolk, and childhood friends were buried. She taught herself to do genealogical research and was one of the charter members of the national Murphree Genealogical Association, her mother’s family line.

Her handwriting was hard to read (she said it was because her mind was so much faster than her writing), so she bought a typewriter and taught herself to type. However, most of the letters she sent me were handwritten because she knew that I could easily read them. Over the years she had occasionally sent me information about our family history and genealogy, but in the 1980s she began to send much more. She said that I might not be all that interested in the history of our family and the community where she grew up, but that my children or grandchildren might.  I was impressed by what she was sending and, as my interest grew, I realized that, with a little editing, this material would make a great book.

I began that task as a surprise for her next birthday. It took a while for me to type all that she had sent. I used an early early form of word processor that was available in  my job and worked at this after hours and on weekends. After I got it all typed, I went through and rearranged the material into logical groupings and added a few photos and maps and a comprehensive index. I also included a census of the Poplar Springs Cemetery which had been created by her cousin Clarence and his family. She had added a significant amount of genealogical information to this census and it seemed to fit perfectly as an appendix to the book.

I put the information about the families of the Reid area, the history of the community itself, the importance of the Poplar Springs church, and her memories of the community life in the first part of the book.  In the second half, I put her detailed memories of her daily life as she was growing up on the small farm during the time of World War I and shortly afterwards.

She was delighted with the book and said that if she had known what I was going to do she would have added this or that and she would not have said this or that.  So I revised the book to make those changes and gave her the original and several copies, keeping a couple for myself.  She suggested that it be titled “The Cherry Hill – Poplar Springs – Reid Community in Calhoun County, Mississippi”.

Over the following years as people heard about the book, she made about 100 photocopies of it which were provided, for the cost of copying, to anyone who asked for one.

Mother died in February 2000 in Jackson, MS, where she had moved to be near her daughter Barbara. Her funeral was in Vardaman, and I was surprised at the number of people who attended. Many told me that they had not known her, but loved her book and wanted to pay their respects.

A few months later, I updated the book into a second edition to include a few additional changes and a few corrections that she had mentioned, and had 200 copies professionally printed. Copies were donated to the libraries in Calhoun County and to the Mississippi collections at Mississippi State and Ole Miss.  The other copies were sold for the cost of the printing.  When those had been sold and I found that people were still asking for copies, I made it available through Amazon.com for the price of printing plus a small royalty fee which is donated to the Calhoun County Historical and Genealogical Society. I also made it available for download at no charge as a PDF from several places on the internet.

From reviews and comments that I’ve received from librarians and readers, this book has become a unique and well-regarded resource for information about the history of this part of north Mississippi, of the Reid and Poplar Springs area, and of the people who settled there. It turned out to unusual in the amount of detail it provided about those times and places.  One person who bought the book from Amazon wrote: “If you come from this area, it is a must have. I often use this book for reference. Many references to my ancestors among the area. The writing is very easy to read and enjoyable. It is like sitting listening to my grandmother or mom tell stories of the past.”

The Cherry Hill – Poplar Springs – Reid Community in Calhoun County, Mississippi by Monette Morgan Young

Mama Mills’ Chili Sauce

This recipe comes from my friend Jerry Bullard. He is among the few people in north Mississippi who not only appreciate the culinary heritage of our area, but are preserving and practicing it as well. This recipe is from his great-grandmother, Tempie Mills.

Chili Sauce by Mama Mills

This is a long cook recipe (8 hours). I cheated and ran the ingredients through a meat grinder, but Mama Mills had to do this by hand with a knife.

24 ripe tomatoes washed and decored
12 large onions peeled and quartered
10 hot peppers
1 cup sugar
1 cup vinegar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
4-5 cloves garlic mashed
1 tsp cinnamon or nutmeg

Add all ingredients to a large heavy bottom or cast iron pot and bring to a boil. Now the work begins; simmer until very thick, stirring most of the time. This will take several hours. If you burn this it is junk. When cooked, have sterile canning jars and lids ready, fill jars and process in boiling water canner for 15 minutes. Good stuff!

An Olympian from Calhoun

In 1936, with the world on the brink of war, Olympic games were held in Berlin, where Reich Chancellor Adolf Hitler was to stage a celebration of his rise to power and a confirmation of the Nazi ideal of Aryan racial supremacy, an ideal that was shattered by African-American athlete Jesse Owens, who won four gold medals in the track and field events. Among Owens’ teammates that year was another gold medalist, a native of Calhoun County, Mississippi, who rose to a commanding position in track competitions at Louisiana State University, dominating the 400 meter hurdles around the world throughout the 1930s and offering equal competition in the 400 meter flat race.

Glenn “Slats” Hardin, was born July 1, 1910 near Derma, Mississippi, a small town in the southern half of Calhoun County, Mississippi. The family moved to Greenwood when Glenn was in the 2nd grade, and there Hardin became one of the most outstanding athletes of his generation, earning his nickname “Slats” because of his long legs. He began competing in state track and field competitions during his junior year. The Jackson Clarion-Ledger reported in May, 1930 that “the tall blond boy ran the 220-yard hurdles in 25 flat. The old record was 25.6. He stepped the quarter-mile in 50 and the half-mile in 1:59, slipping 5 seconds off the latter record.” According to observer Fletcher Oaks, “He was a tall, lanky, long-legged boy. There was a guy I went to school with in south Mississippi, Jack Burnett. Jack had won the 100-yard and the 220. Hardin had won the hurdles and the half-mile. They both competed in the quarter on the second day, and while Jack ran a good race, he was no match for Glenn. Burnett had to run hard, but Hardin was just loping out there, with the easiest–looking stride, just like a deer running.”

Hardin, to the chagrin of athletics at both Ole Miss and MSU, attended Louisiana State University, which dominated the old Southern Conference in track during the late ‘20s and early ‘30s. While at LSU, he won four NCAA individual titles, the 440 in 1933 and 1934 and the 22-yards low hurdles in the same two years. Hardin was a member of the LSU Tigers outdoor track and field team that won the school’s first ever NCAA Championship in 1933. In 1935, his senior year, he finished second in the hurdles at the NCAA championships to an Ohio State runner with whom he would compete in Berlin. That runner was Jesse Owens. Hardin qualified for the 1932 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, where he finished second in the 400 m. hurdles in 52.0 but was given credit for a world record when the winner, Bob Tisdall from Ireland, knocked down a hurdle, an error that in those days disqualified a performance for world record consideration. Hardin lowered the record to 51.8 in the 1934 AAU championships and then bettered it to 50.6 during a meet in Stockholm later that year. That record would stand for the next nineteen years.

Hardin along with Owens qualified for the Olympic team at the trials in Randall’s Island, N.Y. in 1936. Owens was certainly a good bet to win his three individual events—the 100, 200 and long jump—in Berlin, and Hardin was close to a sure thing for a gold medal in the 400 hurdles where in the final of six runners, Hardin drew the outside lane. U.S. Teammate Joe Patterson, running from the inside, went out so fast that he was actually ahead of Hardin at the half-way point despite the difference in the staggered start, but in the third 100 meters, Hardin surged past Patterson and entered the final straight one meter ahead of John Loaring of Canada. He held the lead to win the gold at 52.4.

Hardin retired from athletics after a failed effort to organize a professional track circuit, married in 1937 and settled in Baton Rouge, never finishing his degree at LSU. He worked for the Ethel Corporation and his wife taught high school history. In the late 1960s he began to travel for the state overseeing voting machines. His second oldest son, Billy, was also an NCAA champion hurdler for LSU in the 1960s and made the Olympic team in 1964 for his dad’s event, the 400 m. hurdles. Glenn Hardin died in Baton Rouge, 1975.

 

Family Ties

Dear Janice,

It’s been just hot as hell here lately, and the tomatoes have been making like I’ve never seen. Hugh says it’s because you gave us those hose to tie up the plants. He said they’re flexible and they don’t cut into the stem like string would. He doesn’t know I found some in the bottom dresser drawer in the spare bedroom, but I wanted you to.

Your devoted sister,
Doris

Visiting Jackson

In this short excerpt from his Journals, artist and naturalist John James Audubon, who knew the older cities of the state on the Mississippi well, describes his only visit to Mississippi’s new capital city on the Pearl.

May 1, 1823 – “I left the bayou on a visit to Jackson, which I found to be a mean place. The hotel atop the bluff was the lowest sort of dive, a rendezvous for gamblers and vagabonds. Disgusted with the place and the people, I left and returned to my wife in Natchez.”

Contemporary visitors echo Audubon’s impressions; Anthony Bourdain called it a “ghost town.”  Jackson is still a mean place, in every sense of the word, crippled by petty avarice and racial tension.