Pondering Divinity

God bless Uncle Daniel! If anyone can be generous to a fault it’s him, though Grandpa called it an open disposition and claimed that within the realm of reason there were people who would take advantage of such, which is how Uncle Daniel, attracting love and friendship with the best will and the lightest heart in the world, ended up with Grandpa in his new Studebaker sitting with old Judge Tip Calahan driving through the country on his way to the asylum in Jackson. From the word go Uncle Daniel got more vacations than anyone because they couldn’t find a thing in the world wrong with him, and he was so precious all he had to do was ask and he’d be on the branch-line train headed back to Clay County. Everybody missed Uncle Daniel so bad when he was gone that they spent all their time at the post office sending him things to eat. Divinity travels perfectly, if you ever need to know.

Pecan Divinity

It’s important to know that divinity, as with all recipes using whipped egg whites, is best made in dry weather. Having said that, boil three cups of sugar, one-half cup of Karo corn syrup, three-fourths cup of water to the hard ball stage. Beat the whites of two eggs  with a teaspoon each salt and vanilla until stiff. Pour the warm syrup over the whites and blend in chopped pecans. When it begins to harden drop by spoonfuls onto wax paper or spread in a  oiled pan and cut to shape.

Easy Pickled Green Tomatoes

Core four pounds small, firm green tomatoes—or not; I don’t—and cut into fleshy wedges. Pack into clean quart jars with 2-piece canning lids.

If you want to be artsy, you can throw some sliced onion or sweet red pepper, but people, when it all boils down to it, it’s all about the tomatoes.

Combine two cups vinegar with a cup of water, add a quarter cup canning salt, two cloves of garlic and a quarter cup of dill seeds. Bring to a boil. Ladle hot liquid over fruit, shake the jars to burp the bubbles, wipe jar rims, and screw on lids. Cool and refrigerate.

These will keep in the fridge for a week or so.

Cornbread and Buttermilk

On summer afternoons when the air was smoky with dust and the sun bore down like a burden, my Grandaddy Jess would walk from his store up to his house, sit on his front porch, take off his hat, and holler at  Granny Ethel in the house to bring him a glass of cold milk and bread.

So she would crumble that cornbread she always kept on the back of the stove into a tall glass, pour in enough cold buttermilk to cover not all the way but almost, stick a long teaspoon in it, bring it out to Jess, then go back to the kitchen where she had her radio.

Jess would sit on the porch overlooking his store, his field of corn across the road, his son’s house with its tumbling children on the corner, and he’d think about this year, think about last year, think about next year, and then go back to the store, leaving behind a tall glass streaked with thick milk and bits of bread.

Bohemian New Orleans

The importance of “little magazines” to American publishing, to American literature, is vastly underrated.

Usually devoted to avant-garde, non-commercial content, and notoriously ephemeral, these periodicals showcase voices that otherwise might have been lost. In Bohemian New Orleans, Jeff Weddle tells the story of one such journal, the press that grew around it, and throws in a tantalizing profile of New Orleans in the 1960s.

In 1932, a failed jewelry heist in Cleveland, Ohio, sent John Edgar Webb to the penitentiary for three years. While in stir, he edited the prison newspaper and, after his release, wrote a novel about his experience that caught the attention of Norman Mailer and led to a brief flirtation with Hollywood. Jon and his wife Louise traveled around for some years, then settled in New Orleans, in the Vieux Carré, which was a Dixie Bohemia, a haven for free spirits, musicians, artists, and writers. In New Orleans, the Webbs lived and breathed art. Lou made a living selling watercolors in the infamous Pirate’s Alley, across the street from their apartment, and Jon worked as a freelance writer and editor.

But he was passionate about creating the kind of literary magazine that would attract poets, writers, and artists to invest in the publication. After a good deal of preliminary groundwork and networking and a year of production (it was typeset, collated, and bound in the Webbs’ tiny Royal Street apartment), the first issue of The Outsider­—three thousand copies—came out in 1960.

The four issues of The Outsider appeared between 1961-1968. Each publication was hand-set, hand-cut, hand-sewn, and hand decorated. Distributed globally with the help of the B. Deboer distribution company and a network of contacts around the world, The Outsider gave a resounding voice to Beats, Black Mountain poets, Pacifists, and the Black Radicals. Its long list of contributors included writers such as Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, Jack Kerouac and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Langston Hughes, and Kenneth Patchen.

The remaining Loujon catalog consists of Charles Bukowski’s It Catches My Heart in Its Hands (1963), Crucifix in a Deathhand (1964) and Henry Miller’s Order and Chaos chez Hans Reichel (1967) and Insomnia, or the Devil at Large (1970). Crucifix in a Deathhand was the last Loujon publication done in New Orleans. The Miller books and a final, double-issue Outsider (1968-69) were published in Tucson, Las Vegas, and Albuquerque, respectively. When Jon Webb died in Nashville in 1971, Lou was incapable of maintaining the intensive production work required for what one reviewer called, “The Rolls-Royce of little magazines.”

 “The Webbs did their work with style, and people in the know understood that, while there were other good publishers, there really was no better small press operation in the country than Loujon,” Weddle says. Charles Bukowski said the magazine was “the cave of the gods and the cave of the devils … it was the place, it was in … it was literature jumping and screaming.”

Jeff Weddle provides us with a closer look at an extraordinary couple who made a powerful contribution to mid-century American literature. Bohemian New Orleans is a wonderful read, full of triumphs and intriguing possibilities. Those who enjoy this work (as I did) should also get Wayne Ewing’s film The Outsiders of New Orleans: Loujon Press.

About Limas

All butter beans are limas, but not all limas are butter beans.

Actually, it’s a lot more complicated. While lima beans and butter beans are usually thought of as two different types of beans, they are both varieties of Phaseolus lunatus (literally “moon bean”), which has a very complicated history of domestication in Meso- and South America.

During the Spanish Viceroyalty of Peru (16th-19th centuries), when limas were exported to North America and Europe, the boxes of beans were stamped with their place of origin (“Lima, Peru“), and the beans got named as such. But of course, when referring to the bean, the word is pronounced LY-mah, while the Peruvian capital is (as you all know) pronounced LEE-mah.

As a rule, large, yellow/white/speckled limas are generally known as butter beans, while the smaller, green varieties are called, well, limas. The smallest may even be called “baby” limas. However, I have been told that “they call butter beans limas up North,” which puts another spin on it.

Limas are a warm-weather crop and come into season sometime around mid-June and, with the planting of second crops in late July and early August, stay in season well into October.

Among the most popular varieties grown in Mississippi are ‘Thorogreen’ and ‘Henderson,’ both small green bush types; ‘Jackson Wonder,’ also a bush variety, is small and brown or speckled; ‘Florida Speckled’ is a larger pole variety, and the hard-to-find ‘Willow Leaf,’ also a pole variety, has something of a cult following. Butterpeas are a type of lima beans.

Fresh beans should be smooth and plump, somewhat tacky to the touch. Fresh beans should be washed and picked over for damage, dirt, or detritus, washed, and set to cook in water 2:1; fresh beans don’t need as much water as dried, and they don’t need pre-soaking. As with most beans, hambone is a classic addition, but many people use stock.

Bring beans to a boil, then lower heat to simmer and cover until beans are soft. I always use white pepper instead of black to season, and rarely use anything more until the beans are cooked, at which point they become the basis for any number of wonderful dishes.

Every summer I make baked limas in sour cream. For a pound of cooked limas with about a half cup of the liquid, add a quarter cup of brown sugar, and a cup of sour cream mixed with a teaspoon corn starch to keep it from separating. Flour will work in a pinch. Mix well. Bake in a low oven until set. This dish goes with anything at all but is open to any number of frivolous variations.

Leonard McCoy: Pan-Galactic Rebel

Lieutenant Commander (later Admiral) Leonard H. McCoy, M.D, chief medical officer aboard the USS Enterprise (NCC-1701), was born in Atlanta, Georgia, Earth, in 2227 to Mr. and Mrs. David McCoy.

He enrolled at the University of Mississippi in 2245. That year, an interplanetary gymnastics competition was hosted by the University of Mississippi and held at the Menlo T. Hodgkiss Memorial Gymnasium on the Oxford campus, where he met the Tr’i’ll Emony Dax, who was visiting Earth to judge the competition. According to Dax, McCoy “had the hands of a surgeon.”

McCoy enrolled at the University of Mississippi Medical School in 2249. While in medical school, McCoy and his friends often substituted real drinking glasses with tricklers at parties. (What fun.) He graduated in 2253.

McCoy met his future wife Pamela Branch at Ole Miss when she suffered brain-freeze from an ice cream cone. Branch wore white at the wedding ceremony and adopted the last name McCoy. She divorced him in 2255 because their professions kept them apart.

In the divorce, she acquired their house on Mars, six cars and a valuable Vulcan painting.She also received custody of their daughter, Joanna. McCoy told Kirk that the divorce left him nothing but bones (thus his nickname). Shortly afterwards, McCoy enrolled in Starfleet Academy.

The rest, as they say, is history.

A Picture of Dorian Greene

Let’s begin with the hat.

A misty rain was falling on Bourbon Street outside the Night of Joy nightclub where Our Hero, Ignatius Reilly and his mother, Irene, had sought refuge from the police after a chaotic entanglement in front of D.H Holmes. Among the bar’s few customers was “an elegantly dressed young man who chain smoked Salems and drank frozen daiquiris in gulps”.

This fop happens to be Dorian Greene, who spills his daiquiri on his bottle-green velvet jacket. When Irene calls to the bartender for a rag, he tells her not to bother and added, with an arched eyebrow, “I think I’m in the wrong bar anyway.”

It soon becomes clear that Dorian is indeed in the wrong bar. In fact, we soon begin wondering how Dorian could have made the mistake of wandering into the Night of Joy at all.

The few other customers in the bar included a man who ran his finger along a racing form, a “depressed blonde who seemed connected with the bar in some capacity, and a snarling bartender. When Irene suggests that he should “stay and see the show” (“see some ass and tits,” the blonde prompts), he “rolls his eyes heavenward,” and in their ensuing conversation—prompted, somewhat, by her insistence on buying him a drink to replace the one he spilled—it becomes obvious that “tits and ass” are the last things Dorian Greene is interested in. Irene persists in engaging the young man.

“‘That’s sure pretty, that jacket you got.”
“Oh, this?” the young man asked, feeling the velvet on the sleeve. “I don’t mind telling you it cost a fortune. I found it in a dear little shop in the Village.”
“You don’t look like you from the country.”
“Oh, my,” the young man sighed and lit a Salem with a great click of his lighter. “I meant Greenwich Village in New York, sweetie. By the way, where did you ever get that hat? It’s truly fantastic.”
“Aw, Lord, I had this since Ignatius made his First Communion.”
“Would you consider selling it?”
“How come?”
“I’m a dealer in used clothing. I’ll give you ten dollars for it.”
“Aw, come on. For this?”
“Fifteen?”
“Really?” Mrs. Reilly removed the hat. “Sure, honey.”
The young man opened his wallet and gave Mrs. Reilly three five-dollar bills. Draining his daiquiri glass, he stood up and said, “Now I really must run.”
“So soon?” “It’s been perfectly delightful meeting you.” “Take care out in the cold and wet.”
The young man smiled, placed the hat carefully beneath his trench coat, and left the bar.

The young man is not a dealer in used clothing. When he and Ignatius meet again—much later—he reveals that the hat “was destroyed at a really wild gathering. Everybody dearly loved it.” He later reveals that he goes by Dorian Greene. “If I told you my real name, you’d never speak to me again. It’s so common I could die just thinking of it. I was born on a wheat farm in Nebraska. You can take it from there.”

When Ignatius arrives at Dorian’s address on St. Peter Street to attend the kick-off party for what appears to be global gay insurrection, he discovers a three-story yellow stucco building.

Some prosperous Frenchman had built the house in the late 1700s to house a menage of wife, children, and spinster tantes. The tantes had been stored up in the attic along with the other excess and unattractive furniture, and from the two little dormer windows in the roof they had seen what little of the world they believed existed outside of their own monde of slanderous gossip, needlework, and cyclical recitations of the rosary. But the hand of the professional decorator had exorcised whatever ghosts of the French bourgeoisie might still haunt the thick brick walls of the building. The exterior was painted a bright canary yellow; the gas jets in the reproduction brass lanterns mounted on either side of the carriageway flickered softly, their amber flames rippling in reflection on the black enamel of the gate and shutters. On the flagstone paving beneath both lanterns there were old plantation pots in which Spanish daggers grew and extended their sharply pointed stilettos.

When Ignatius asks Dorian where the money comes from “to support this decadent whimsy of yours?” Dorian replies, “From my dear family out there in the wheat. They send me large checks every month. In return I simply guarantee them that I’ll stay out of Nebraska. I left there under something of a cloud, you see. All that wheat and those endless plains. I can’t tell you how depressing it all was. Grant Wood romanticized it, if anything. went East for college and then came here. Oh, New Orleans is such freedom.”

Yes, Dorian found freedom in beautiful, decadent New Orleans, as have so many thousands of gays from the hinterlands. John Rechy, in City of Night (1963) echoes Dorian with his description of the annual gay pilgrimage to New Orleans during Carnival season:

“. . . fugitives will have felt the stirring of this call to brief Freedom. New Orleans is now the pied piper playing a multikeyed tune to varikeyed ears. In those same dark cities equally restless queens, wringing from their exiled lives, each drop of rebellion, will fell the strange excitement . . . Hips siren curved, wrists lily-delicately broken, they will stare in defiant demureness from theater screen and home screens all over the country; and those painted malefaces will challenge—and, Maybe, for an instant, be acknowledged by—the despising, arrogant, apathetic world that produced them and exiled them.”

And, so, Dorian Greene. A comic exaggeration? Yes. A gay stereotype? By any standards, most certainly. Yet Dorian, in Ignatius Reilly’s New Orleans, and, as it so happens, so many other gays in the New Orleans we all know, has found the freedom to be who he needs to be. And Toole’s acknowledgement of this freedom for gays in the city he portrays provides evidence of the liberality of his genius.

Quick Summer Pickles

Slice or cube young summer cucumbers, tomatoes, or squash. Pack into a quart jar.

Mix a cup of water, about a third a cup of vinegar, and a tablespoon each salt and sugar. A little garlic is a nice touch. Stir until dissolved, pour over vegetables, and add liquid to cover. Seal and shake a time or two before refrigerating.

Let sit overnight before serving. These keep for about a week, but they’re usually gone by then.

The Segregated Landscape

Jennifer Baughn says of her seminal work, Buildings of Mississippi, that the goal “from the start was to integrate—and I use that word purposely—black and white landscapes.” In this splendid essay (presented as a sidebar on p. 313), Baughn explains how the components of Mississippi’s landscape came to reflect the divisions of the state’s closed society.

Before the Civil War, enslaved blacks were discouraged or prohibited from congregating without white oversight, and although blacks and whites interacted on a daily basis, it was in the context of owner and owned, powerful and powerless. For a brief period following emancipation this power relationship eased, but after 1896, when the U.S. Supreme Court decided in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) that “separate but equal” facilities were constitutional, all manner of places and spaces began to be segregated.

As blacks began to move to urban centers around 1890, new neighborhoods of narrow streets and alleys lined mostly with shotgun houses were developed, as for example the Henry Addition (see DR54) in Greenwood. Dense populations, limited employment opportunities, and widespread poverty characterized many of Mississippi’s black neighborhoods, even as they gave rise to an African American middle and upper class. Towns with large black populations–notably Jackson, Greenville, Meridian, Hattiesburg, and Clarksdale–often developed a separate, self-contained African American community with its own business district, hotels, churches, cultural center, schools, and funeral homes. Although often located adjacent to industrial or flood-prone areas, these districts gave African Americans relative security to form their own institutions without white interference. Because churches were one of the few institutions owned and run by black leaders, they became the anchors of such neighborhoods, but public and private schools also provided focus and space for community events.

By the early 1950s, a rising African American middle class began to embrace suburban living, moving out of the old mainstays such as Jackson’s Farish and Greenville’s Newtown neighborhoods into new black subdivisions lined with small ranch houses, such as the residence of Medgar and Myrlie Evers. By 1960 many black congregations with modest newfound wealth began replacing their older churches with new buildings. Such projects often allowed black architects (e.g., DeWitt Dykes and Clair M. Jones) to make their mark in such churches as Laurel’s St. Paul Methodist (pictured below). It was in this complex landscape of neighborhoods dotted with bungalows and shotgun houses and modern schools and churches that the civil rights movement formed and activated around the state.

St. Paul Methodist Church, Laurel, Mississippi