An Olympian Illumination

Light in August is in many if not most ways Faulkner’s darkest work, dealing with driven madness, grueling toil, alienation, miscegenation, murder and castration, and the title has inspired a great deal of speculation. Some consider it simply a reference to the distinctly onerous nature of sunlight in a Mississippi August;. others would have us understand that the title refers to the light cast by Joanna Burden’s burning house. Then there are careful readers who point to Reverend Hightower’s observation of “how that fading copper light would seem almost audible, like a dying yellow fall of trumpets dying into an interval of silence and waiting” while scholars with a regional bent so note that the phrase “(to be) light in August” is a Southern slang term for pregnancy, concentrating on Lena Grove.

Yet the story that would eventually become the novel, started by Faulkner in 1931, was originally titled “Dark House” and began with Hightower sitting at a dark window in his home, but after a casual remark by his wife Estelle on the quality of the light in August, Faulkner changed the title, and some time later the author affirmed this luminous inspiration: “…in August in Mississippi there’s a few days somewhere about the middle of the month when suddenly there’s a foretaste of fall, it’s cool, there’s a lambence, a soft, a luminous quality to the light, as though it came not from just today but from back in the old classic times. It might have fauns and satyrs and the gods and—from Greece, from Olympus in it somewhere. It lasts just for a day or two, then it’s gone…the title reminded me of that time, of a luminosity older than our Christian civilization.

Ice Cream Bread

Versions of this recipe have been bouncing around a lot recently, most of them praising its fool-proof simplicity, but as with such recipes—and one with two ingredients is about as basic as they come—the devil is in the details. Most versions call for 1 ½ cups of self-rising (“hot rise”) flour and a pint of melted ice cream—which make make a soft, sticky dough rather than a batter—baked in a standard 8×5 loaf pan at 350 for 45 minutes, but I’ve found that the recipe makes a much better presentation when baked in a 5×3 (16 oz.) loaf or a similarly-sized spring-form baker at 350 for only 35 minutes. I’ve also found that you must use a very rich ice cream such as a French vanilla or (as in this case) a butter pecan and that LuVel works just as well if not better than Ben & Jerry’s, but you must let the ice cream melt slowly on the kitchen counter or in the refrigerator overnight; don’t put it in the microwave or it will be “flat”. These cute little loaves serve six adults easily, slice into eighths for kids, and while a dollop of whipped cream might seem more appropriate, I don’t think a scoop of vanilla ice cream is redundant at all.

An Afternoon with Stan and Joan

In March, 2017, Joan Didion published the notes of her jaunt forty-eight years ago through Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi in a slender book, South and West (Knopf). We’ll take a much more in-depth look at the book in a later entry, but first let’s focus on the passage in which Didion meets with the legendary “Voice of the Rebels” Stan Torgerson, in Torgerson’s home town of Meridian, Mississippi.

Bear in mind as you read that the month is June, the year is 1970. Nixon is in the White House for his first term. The nation as a whole is in a somewhat less turbulent mode after the riotous Sixties, but no section is more complacent than the South, where the key word had become progress. This passage is in essence an examination of the ongoing homogenization of the South as seem through the eyes of a transplant from the upper Midwest (Torgerson) and told to a visitor from California. At times Torgerson sounds like a one-man chamber of commerce espousing racial harmony, social equality and industrialization. When Stan says, “We’re not as inbred as we used to be” he’s referring not (necessarily) to genetics but instead to the influx of people and ideas from outside the South; when he says “we don’t wear crinolines any more” he’s telling Didion that Old South is gone. But though he says, “If there were elm trees hanging over the street it would be very midwestern,” as they drive through residential Meridian, the issues of race and poverty he discusses are those of the South.

This section from Didion’s work appears here in its entirety not only for the more compelling reason that it needs to be read in toto to grasp its exhaustive effect on Didion and to understand more fully Didion’s comments in context—particularly the last line—but also on a somewhat sentimental level because those many of you–as I do–remain familiar with Torgerson’s voice from his 17 years on air with Ole Miss sports might recollect his voice in the cadences of the quoted passages.

 

When I called Stan Torgerson for lunch at his radio station, WQIC, and asked him the best place to lunch, he said Weidmann’s, “but it wouldn’t win any Holiday Magazine awards.” In fact it had, and was not a bad restaurant, but everyone in Mississippi begins on the defensive. “I’ll be the biggest man in a green shirt to come through the door,” he advised me. He was, at lunch, wary at first. He said he didn’t think I knew what I was doing. I agreed. He refused drink, saying he wasn’t in New York City. Stan Torgerson came out of the cold North (Minnesota, I think) and headed to Memphis, where he went into broadcasting. He worked in Miami, and then, for a year, in San Diego, living in La Jolla. He felt ill at ease in La Jolla—his neighbors kept to themselves, had their own interests—and he wanted to get back south. His son had won a football scholarship to Ole Miss. He was worried about his children and drugs in California. “Excuse me,” he said, “but I just haven’t reached the point where I think pot is a way of life.”

When the black radio station in Meridian came up for sale he bought it. He also broadcasts the Ole Miss games, something he began doing when he was in Memphis. “That’s right,” he said, “I own the ethnic station, WQIC. In its thirteenth year of serving the black community here.” He programs gospel and soul, and reaches 180,000 in several Mississippi and Alabama counties, the thirty-second largest black market in the country, sixty miles in all directions and forty-three percent of that area is black. We serve a major black market, program soul music and gospel music, but what does that mean? A month ago in Billboard there was a survey pointing out that the Top 40-format stations are playing basically soul. Jackson 5 with ‘ABC.’ ‘Turn Back the Hands of Time,’ that’s Top 40 but it’s soul. Once in a while we throw in some blue-eyed soul, like Dusty Springfield with ’Son of a Preacher Man.’ We don’t play rock because our people don’t dig it. We don’t play your underground groups like the Jefferson Airplane . .. We have goodly reason to believe that ten to fifteen percent of our audience is white; some of the phone calls we get in the afternoon for dedications, they’re definitely white voices. We get thirty-six percent of the audience.”

He said I was probably wondering why he came back to Mississippi. “I came because I dearly love this state. I have a son—he’ll be a senior this fall—playing football at the University of Mississippi.”

He pointed out that Meridian was timber country, hill country. Pulpwood is the backbone of the agricultural product. He pointed out how progressive Meridian was: its three new hospitals. “In most southern cities there is a much stronger tendency to old-line money . . . Southern retailers stayed in business privately, home-owned, until very recently. In most cases the retailer has just begun to feel the competition from the chains. There’s the greatest business opportunity in the country right here in the South . . . We don’t have a McDonald’s in a city of almost fifty thousand people, don’t have any of these franchises here yet. You give one corner of one intersection in Jackson, Mississippi, or you give me the whole ball of wax right here in Meridian, I’d take the whole ball of wax and I’d put a McDonald’s on one corner, a Burger Chef on the other, a Shoney’s Po’ Boy (sic! jly) ‘cross the street . . . “

His voice kept on, weaving ever higher flights of economic possibility. “There is and must be,” he said, a “continued turning to the South by industry. The climate is certainly one reason. Another is that the South wants industry and is willing to give a tax advantage to get it. Another, of course, is that there is a relatively low level of unionism in the South. Lockheed assembles tail sections here and ships them to California for assembly . . .

“Atlanta is the magic city for the young around here, across the whole social spectrum . . . The great migration out in the past ten years has been black, they get these glowing letters, and of course they’ve got relatively liberal welfare programs in some of the northern states . . . No doubt, too, there appears to be greater opportunity in the North.”

More on the progressive nature of Meridian: “Our radio station has probably got as fine a list of blue-chip clients as any in town, black or not. We’ve got all four banks, and anyone in retailing who’s interested in doing business with the black—the black’s dollar is very important. The minimum wage was probably the most important thing to happen along these lines, and then food stamps were a good dead, I would say they added millions of dollars to the economy.”

“We are in a transitional phase. There’s a tremendous push to education on the part of young blacks. The schools here are completely integrated. Of course, neither you not I can change the older black, the forty-year old, his life patterns are settled.”

“Ole Miss has its standards to keep up. As more and more blacks get an educational advantage, you’ll see blacks at Ole Miss. There’s a feeling among some black leaders that because these kids have not had advantages they should get some kind of educational break, but basically what has to happen is the standards have to stay up and the people come up to meet them.”

We were driving through town at night, and Stan Torgerson interrupted himself to point out the post office. “There’s the post office, the courthouse where the famous Philadelphia trials were held, the trials for the so-called Philadelphia deaths.”

“If there were elm trees hanging over the street it would be very midwestern,” Stan observed as we drove through the residential district. He pointed out his $29,500 house, a two-story frame, “twenty-eight hundred square feet, with magnolia, dogwood and pecan trees.” He pointed out Poplar Drive the “Park Avenue of Meridian, Mississippi, all the houses built by the old-line families.”

Fervently, he kept reverting to the wholesomeness of life in Meridian. His daughter, who would be a high school senior in the fall, had “her sports, her outdoor activities, her swimming. It’s a quiet, pacific type of living, which is one of the reasons I wanted to come back down here. The kids are taught to say ‘sir’ and ‘ma’am.’ I know it’s very fashionable to poke fun at the South, but I’ll pit our slum area any day against the slum areas where the Cubans and Puerto Ricans live in Miami, Florida, and Miami’ll lose.”

Meridian is the largest city between Jackson and Birmingham, and there is a naval base there which means a great deal to the community. At apartment buildings largely inhabited by the navy there are cars with plates from all over the country.

Some random social observations from Stan Torgerson included: most of the local children go to college within the state, at Ole Miss or Mississippi (sic jly): the other country club, built with federal money, has a membership which includes “assistant managers of stores and some navy people’: most of the subdivisions in Meridian feature “custom houses.” Torgerson paused dramatically, to emphasize the versatility of the new blood in town: “A fabric store.”

I asked if some of the children did not leave, and he allowed that some did. “Nothing here for the kid with an engineering degree. And of course the girls go where they marry. Southern girls are notoriously husband hunting, but I guess that’s the same anywhere.” It occurred to me almost constantly in the South that had I lived there I would have been an eccentric and full of anger, and I wondered what form the anger would have taken. Would I have taken up causes, or would I have simply knifed somebody?

Torgerson was would up now, and I could not stop his peroration. “There’s been a great metamorphosis in recent years in the South, the Volkswagen dealership for example comparable in size to anything you’ll find anywhere.”

“The KKK which used to be a major factor in this community isn’t a factor anymore, both the membership and the influence have diminished, and I cannot think of any place where the black is denied entrance, with the possible exception of private clubs. We don’t have any antagonistic-type black leaders working against racial harmony. Since the advent of black pride, black power, there is a little tendency to be self-segregating. On our station, we have a program we call Adventures in Black History to point out the contributions black people have made—a black minister does it. I have blacks working in the WAIC Soul Shop, and there’s a black druggist here, a man eminently qualified, who is a local boy who went north and came back, received his training at the University of Illinois. We have a certain degree of black business, including this gas station here, which is owned by a black. The key is racial harmony, and education, and we’ll try to provide our people with both, ‘cause we’re gonna live together a long time. Every major retailer hires black clerks, Sears has a couple of black department heads, there’s a black business college here, and a black and white Careen Training Institute.

“Of course we have transplants, too, new ideas, like any other hybrid we’re generally stronger. We’re not nearly as inbred as we used to be. We’ve been withdrawn in this part of the South for many, many years, but we’ve become more aggressive, and as people come in they’ve helped us become more aggressive—we don’t wear crinolines anymore, no we don’t.”

“And about our politics, well, George Wallace got a lot of votes in Indiana, let’s face it. I’m not saying I’m going to have a black minister come home to dinner tonight, ‘cause I’m not. But things are changing. I had a man the other day, owns an appliance store, he never believed you could send a black repairman into somebody’s house. Now he can’t find a white … He asks me if I know a black man who makes a good appearance. That’s progress . . .”

Of course, there’s a tremendous lack of skilled blacks, and the problem is training and education. It’s no longer a matter of lack of opportunity, it’s a matter of lack of skills. We’re still two generations from full equality, but so are they in Chicago, in Detroit, and have you ever been in Harlem?”

Glazed by the two hours in which this man in the green shirt had laid Meridian out before us as an entrepreneur’s dream, a Shoney’s Po’ Boy (!) on every corner and progress everywhere, even at the country club, I dropped him off and drove through the still-deserted streets of the downtown. A few black women were on the streets and they carried umbrellas against the sun. It was almost five o’clock. In the middle of 22nd Avenue, the main street of Meridian, there was a man holding a shotgun. He had on a pink shirt and a golfing cap, and in one ear there was a hearing aid. He raised the shotgun and shot toward the roof of a building several times.

I stopped the car and watched him a while, then approached him. “What are you shooting at?” I asked.

Pi-eagins,” he said cheerfully.

In this one demented afternoon Mississippi lost much of its power to astonish me.

Torgerson photo courtesy of Ole Miss Sports

So You’ve Decided to Move to the Rural South

Congratulations! However, depending on where you’re from, there are probably a few things here that will come as a nasty shock to you. Here are a few of those things. Consider this as a guide. It is by no means exhaustive.

1. When you’re driving past your neighbors, you wave at them. This sends a signal that says “I am one of you, I belong here, I see you”. It also sends another, arguably more important signal that says “I promise not to scrape the left side of your F150 with the left side of my F150”.

2. Yes, everybody here drives an F150. Yes, every single one of those F150s is absolutely necessary (according to the owner).

3. The sweet tea is going to be sweeter than you expect. No matter how sweet you expect it to be, it’s going to be sweeter.

4. “Corn from a jar” means moonshine.

5. “Y’all” is a contraction of “You all” that means “You guys” or “all of you”. “Ya’ll” doesn’t mean anything, as far as I’m aware.

6. Mississippians WILL fight you if you say anything bad about Elvis.

7. Please stop making Deliverance jokes. We’ve heard them all. They’re not funny anymore.

8. It’s hot. It’s so, so hot. If you’re from a dry place, you don’t even understand what I mean when I say it’s hot. Every part of you will sweat and you won’t feel any cooler because the air is so full of water that no sweat will evaporate. You’ll just be hot AND sweaty. It’s basically a jungle. The windows fog up from the outside.

9. If you have a house with a screened-in porch, that screen is a blessing from God. Do not remove the screen to “let the air circulate through”. There is no air to circulate. There are a lot of mosquitoes, however, who are more than happy to check out your circulation. Which brings me to my next point…

10. How fast does the air move around in the summer? It doesn’t; that’s why it’s 92 degrees and 80% humidity at midnight…

11. … and it’s also 92 degrees and 100% humidity in the middle of the day! So if you’re from a place that maybe is a little less humid and you’re thinking of going for a jog outside, don’t bother. All the sweat-wicking microfiber in the world won’t save you when there is nowhere to wick the sweat to. Just go to Planet Fitness.

12. You can’t defeat the kudzu. It’ll come back next year. Save yourself the trouble and the Roundup exposure.

13. You also can’t defeat the insect life. A wasp or a beetle will get into your house eventually. Your best bet is peaceful coexistence, because paper wasps (the type you’re most likely to see) are not aggressive and keep other, nastier insects at bay.

14. There will probably be a pack of free-range dogs in your neighborhood, probably without collars. They’re friendly. Give ‘em a pat.

15. Seriously, wave at your neighbors. It’s rude not to.

16. A firework echoes, a gunshot doesn’t. This comes up more than you’d think. Except on the 4th of July, when you’ll hear both.

17. Opossums eat ticks and are nearly immune to rabies, so if you see one making its dumb little way across the road, please do your best not to hit it.

18. Deer hunting is actually vitally important to maintain the ecosystem. We killed off all the whitetail deer’s natural predators, and now there’s just too god damn many of them. Hunting permits are strictly controlled by the state’s Fish and Wildlife Department, and they give out enough necessary to maintain the deer population. If the deer population isn’t maintained, they outgrow their food supply and begin to starve. You may find it distasteful but trust me, it is way better than watching deer slowly starve to death.

19. The cooler you just bought has a ruler on top for measuring fish. See #18.

20. Sometimes our local politicians say terrible things. If this bothers you, you are welcome to:
a. Vote for a candidate that opposes the terrible politician
b. Volunteer for a candidate that opposes the terrible politician
c. Write letters to the terrible politician telling him he’s terrible and should stop that
d. Run for office yourself

You are not welcome to:
e. Talk about how everybody who lives here is an inbred racist hick

21. Most importantly, please do not come here and think you’re going to magically change everything that’s wrong. Give the people here some credit. If there were easy solutions to the problems they face, they would have solved their problems themselves already. Life has its own pace here, and the problems in Appalachia and the South generally are deep-seated and far-reaching. You don’t have the magic solution to the opioid crisis, racism, wage stagnation, brain drain, economic inequality, generational poverty, chronic disease, environmental contamination, resource exploitation, or any other of the issues that are endemic to this area. It is at best insulting and at worst actively harmful to have a person who has zero understanding of this region and the people who live in it come in and insist that big changes need to happen and by golly gosh, he’s the one to make them. If you want to help, listen to the people here. Support them in their fight for justice.

22. WAVE AT YOUR FUCKING NEIGHBORS.

(reblogged from tumblr)

History of Belhaven Heights – Part 4, the Future

We have examined the origins and development of the Jackson Belhaven Heights neighborhood in previous sections of this history. It is a historic neighborhood entering the city in 1840, only 18 years after Jackson’s founding.  We have seen the rich heritage of the famous Boyd Home (Oaks), Colonel Hamilton’s introduction of the first Belhaven College, the notable distinction of Judges Hill and another structure that you might say was “under the hill”. We have visited the past in Greenwood Cemetery, the final resting place of many of the city’s early builders and now it’s time to take a look at the future.

You may have noticed a renaissance in housing along the 800 block of Jefferson and on Harding, Spengler and Lorraine Streets. Much of this can be attributed to Jennifer Welch and her company Belhaven Residential. In an interview with MS Welch, she told how this came about.

“I decided after completing my first year in college that I was not interested in medical school though my father wanted me to become a doctor. He encouraged me to intern with various companies to find an interest, so one day I walked into Waddell Nejam’s office and asked if he would let me work for free for a few weeks. I was soon offered a part- time job which I did while an undergraduate at Millsaps College. Following college, Mr. Nejam offered me a full-time position and I worked for him until 2005. The following year I began to manage property in Greater Belhaven for my family while attending the Millsaps MBA program.  Two years later I earned my real estate broker’s license and began to do third party management. I also bought my first apartments at 917 Harding Street.”

“In 2007, my father and I decided to renovate the property just south of the Oaks House Museum.  The City of Jackson Historic Preservation Commission presented me with an Award of Merit for the restoration. That same year, I renovated the space at 730 North Jefferson which is now my office.

“In March 2017, I renovated an eight unit complex at 1107 Bellevue Place and in September 2017, purchased 790 Lorraine and we are currently working on 927 and 935 Harding Street. My current plans are to renovate 814 and 836 Jefferson Street.” Jennifer also donated land for the small park called the Entergy Station adjacent to the entrance to the Museum Trail at the intersection of Greymont and Moody Streets.

Jennifer and her oldest brother are now owners of the old railroad beanery at 1032 Spengler St. and financed its restoration into a duplex.  The downstairs still has its original tin tile.  The renovation followed MDAH recommendations and guidelines and the project received Historic Tax Credits.  She currently serves on the board of the Oaks House Museum and the Belhaven Heights Community Association and is president and board member of the Mississippi Apartment Association. She lives at the old Lyell home at 935 Bellevue and loves the Belhaven Heights neighborhood. “I have made a conscious decision to live among my tenants. My leasing office screens our prospects before accepting them and I am proud of my staff, my properties and my renters. My level of commitment and service to the neighborhood has made a noticeable improvement to certain streets. I also encourage our tenants to take part in neighborhood activities and get to know one another. My job is not only to provide housing, but to provide community.”

In May 2018 a mural was unveiled on the north face of the Belhaven Residential building at Jefferson and Harding Streets. The mural depicts a sense of unity though the diversity of ideas and education. The Belhaven Heights mural is the result of a partnership between the Mississippi Heritage Trust, the Oaks House Museum and Belhaven Residential to create a landmark of interest in the neighborhood it symbolizes and the theme of preservation. The commissioned artist is Jackson native Douglas Panzone. Jennifer hopes that the completion of this mural will encourage the upcoming Museum Trail participants to visit the Oaks Museum and other attractions coming to the area.

The Belhaven Heights neighborhood is filled with talented and accomplished individuals and families. One of these is Cal and Laura Christel Horlings, their two children and several cats who live on Madison Street. The Horlings have lived in the Heights since 2006 and Cal has served in several capacities, including vice president, of the Belhaven Heights Community Association. Cal is the Director of Customer Support at the Bomgar Corporation in Ridgeland and Laura Christel works with Wycliffe Bible Translators for the translation project of the Choctaw people of Mississippi. She has had various roles including administrative, linguistic and ethno musicological.  Their interests and avocations are both diverse and productive in support of their community. Both Horlings are musicians. Cal has played trumpet with the Mississippi Community Symphonic Band and the Mississippi Swing. He also plays djembe (African drums) and enjoys running in the Mississippi Blues Marathon. Laura Christel has degrees in piano performance, linguistics and exegesis, plays the viola and is a member of the National Arbor Foundation.

“My interests in Belhaven Heights are heightened by the creativity of its people,” says Mrs. Horlings.  “I love animals, enjoy gardening and the diversity both in people and architecture as well as the variety of activities available. Cal is pleased to be in this part of the story of Belhaven Heights- an exciting period of growth and revitalization while building on the cultural heritage of those who have come before. “I particularly look forward to the Museum Trail and development of the Belhaven Heights Park on Madison Street,” Cal said. “This neighborhood has great potential for families and a vibrant history to build on.”

The Horlings have a prime interest in the Wycliffe organization with Laura Christel taking an active role. Wycliffe began in 1942 as Wycliffe Bible Translators headed by William Cameron Townsend, a missionary to the Cakchiquel Indians in Guatemala. Wycliffe Associates, a support arm of this organization, was organized in 1967 by Friends of Bible Translators, a ministry which accelerates the work of Bible translation worldwide. This is accomplished by empowering people to provide a translation of the Good News in every language needing one through their time, talents and treasures.

According to literature provided by Mrs. Horlings, “Today more than 1,600 languages are still waiting for a Bible translation to begin, and Wycliffe is working faster than ever to reach those languages as soon as possible.”  Laura Christel began her work with Wycliffe in 2008. Her work today is with the Choctaw people in Mississippi. What sets the Horlings family apart from the hundreds of other citizens in their neighborhood? Not a lot really. Belhaven Heights is filled with tradition, a rich history and a challenging future that is both bright and rewarding.

Over the years Belhaven Heights, through its various associations, has been vigilant in protecting its residents’ investment in a historic neighborhood. Working with the city of Jackson, these associations have crafted zoning ordinances conducive to preserving the integrity of residential living. Excessive commercial development can take away from the beauty of an area. Such commercial enterprises need to be a good fit.

A good fit for the Heights and for Greater Belhaven is the Old House Depot on Monroe Street owned by Jim Kopernak and his family composed of wife Ann Hendrick and their famous cat “Mo”. “Mo” is a native of Moselle, Mississippi, where he was discovered by his adoptive family in 2011. Jim and his wife once lived in Belhaven and avoided the Heights because of its less than stellar reputation. One factor in moving from Belhaven to the Heights was Jim’s piano which would not fit into Ann’s former residence and Ann’s exception to Jim’s tiny bathroom.   Waddell Nejam, Jennifer Welch and other conscientious real estate developers set about changing the area for the better and Jim is proud to have his business and home in Belhaven Heights today.

Jim is proud of his home at the northwest corner of Bellevue Place and Madison Street. Built in 1924, the single story house is a classic Overstreet architectural model, with stucco and a red tile roof.  In the ‘70’s, former owner Dr. Tommy Reuff set out to transform it into “the ultimate bachelor pad.”  The plan failed halfway through when he married Ann Reuff, but the transformation project continued. The attic was finished out with staircase, guest bedroom and bath as well as major changes throughout.  The kitchen is a real showplace. It sits in stately repose on Jackson’s highest hill.

Jim was introduced to the salvage business while working on his current dwelling and opened the Old House Depot in 2006. Many locals have met Jim and his co-owner “Mo”, a seven-year-old tabby cat whose birthday is celebrated at the business the day after Thanksgiving each year complete with cake and a band. Both Jim and “Mo” are happy to sponsor this occasion as well as greet customers on business days at the Depot.

Along with other neighborhood leaders Jim and Ann are interested in Belhaven Heights City Park. According to Jim, “Until recent times the city didn’t realize the park existed. Ann approached then Mayor Harvey Johnson concerning getting help in developing the green space. The city began putting in benches, mowing the grass and improved the street. Currently the Belhaven Heights Community Association is developing a pedestrian friendly remake of the park to complement the new bike and walking trail soon to be constructed.

Belhaven Heights has remained viable through the years thanks to the leadership of its various community organizations which began in 1981 with the formation of the Belhaven Heights Residential Association, Margaret Moize, president.  This later became the Belhaven Heights Improvement Association (1985) and ultimately the Belhaven Heights Community Association (BHCA) in the mid-1990’s. There were other neighborhood organizations formed for specific purposes dedicated to preserving the interests of area residents.

The Oaks House Museum, also known as The Oaks, located at 823 North Jefferson Street in Jackson, Mississippi, is the former home of Jackson Mayor James H. Boyd (1809–77) and his wife Eliza Ellis Boyd and their family. Having survived the burning of Jackson during the Civil War, The Oaks is one of the oldest structures in the city. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a Mississippi Landmark.

A harbinger of the BHCA was the Belhaven Heights Neighborhood Plan published in December 1995. The plan was a joint effort by the City of Jackson and the Belhaven Heights Improvement Association. . Advisory committee members from the neighborhood were Keith Conner, Linell Corban, Meta Hogue, Michael Leo, Kaalon Mann, Margaret Moize, Annette Pressley, Poly Shank and Dr. Sara Weisenberger. Today’s Belhaven Heights Community Association grew out of the culmination of the various organizations previously mentioned. Based on information contained in the Association’s December 1996 newsletter, the Heights,  BHCA began in late 1996 in the homes of some of its resident leaders. Its first board consisted of Dr. Sara Weisenberger, president; Gary Hall, vice-president; Lynne Crater, secretary; Jim McCraw, treasurer and Anne Pressley, member at large.

Other early neighborhood leaders through the  years include  David Uecker, Shelia Massimino, Cindy Yancy, Danny Cupit, Bridget White, Cmdr. John Tisdale, Waddell Nejam, Charlie Smith, Billy Robbins, Landon Huey, Alex McCord, George McAdory, Mark Aderhold, Peter Hilton, Kacy Hellings, Stephanie Moore, Steve Funderburg, Michael True and Nana Kratochvil. There have been many  others who have served their neighborhood and its Association over the years, but these were the pioneers.

McCord is the current president of BHCA heading a board made up of Jennifer Welch, Sam Begley, Quint Hunt and Laura Neill.  The secretary is Kate Dutro. The mission of the Association remains as it has over its history addressing property issues, cleanup and zoning. Alex McCord and the BHCA have provided valuable information toward this article. A Heights resident since 1998, Alex is familiar with the needs of his area. He is an architect and has been instrumental in long range planning for his neighborhood. In addition he has designed a concept for Belhaven Heights Park which now awaits funding to be developed and built. He sees traffic calming, preservation of historic residences and practical zoning ordinances as keys to an optimum future for the Heights. He supports the construction of the Museum Trail and adjacent park and is working with the city planning department on future development in these areas.

McCord spoke to the purpose of the Belhaven Heights Community Association and its place in the Greater Belhaven Historic District matrix. “The BHCA is not unique from most neighborhood associations of its kind. Our primary function is to provide an active and alert organization that can be counted upon to address issues facing the neighborhood, whether good or ill. We pride ourselves on being a ‘community’ association open to all residents – not just homeowners.”

The Association president went on to say, however, “We would be shortsighted to not appreciate that we ultimately must work to promote and protect our neighborhood for the good of those who have invested in it, namely our home and business owners. At the same time, we want to know all our neighbors as they too have an investment in a solid neighborhood and may also one day have a stake in it. We sponsor social as well as service events and foster committees for any project deemed worthy of effort by us or by residents at large.”

Members of the Belhaven Heights Community Association board and planning committee look over a site analysis for the future of the neighborhood park on Madison Street. From left are Quint Hunt, Alex McCord, BHCA president; Edward Cole, II, Jennifer Welch, Anthony Scarbrough and Sam Begley.

The Belhaven Heights Community Association, like the Belhaven Improvement Association and the Greater Belhaven Security Association,  is represented on the board of the Greater Belhaven Foundation and as such serves to bind together the interests of all representatives of Greater Belhaven. The Belhaven Heights renaissance is palatable with a future as bright as its history is rich. It is a neighborhood of achievement and a deserved pride that stands on the threshold of exciting days ahead.  Like all successful entities that success is built on the strength of its people. Belhaven Heights is a true example of what unity can accomplish through the diversity of ideas.

This concludes the four part series of articles on Jackson’s Belhaven Heights neighborhood. It has been a pleasant and educational privilege for these writers to have met and shared ideas with a variety of interesting and accomplished people. Our thanks go out to those mentioned in these articles and to Jackson’s early developers who had the vision to build something to last beyond their lifetime. We stand in humble appreciation of these efforts.

Bill and Nan Harvey
July 2018

Acknowledgements and sources of this material include the current BHCA board of directors, Jim Kopernak, Cal and Laura Cristil Horlings, Jennifer Welch, the Belhaven Heights Neighborhood Plan, Heights newsletters 1996 – April/May 2001, the Belhaven Heights subject file at the MDAH and the Greater Belhaven Foundation.

Odom’s Lemon Fried Speckled Trout

The cuisine for the fourth of July needs to be “hand grabbing” friendly. Hands, napkins and paper plates are mainly needed and maybe a plastic spoon for ice cream or potato salad but that’s it. Ribs, BBQ chicken, hot dawgs and hamburgers lead the charge but for those of us that like to throw and fish in the mix it’s going to be this recipe.

Fresh pink speckled trout filets deserve fancy sauces and toppings worthy of the catch but the Fourth of July holiday is a greenlight to” heat dat grease”. My summertime version for fried speckled trout revolves around a bright yellow citrus fruit that works so well with fish it was clearly ordained: the lemon. Folks just don’t like to get a piece of fish that tastes fishy and who can blame them? I’m not sure exactly how they can tell if it’s fishy or not because it looks like fried fish would taste exactly like ketchup based what I’ve witnessed.

Ceviche is a cooking method of raw fish using lemon and lime juices to chemically cook the meat. My recipe steals a little bit of this cooking technique to amplify the flavor of the lemon. First, I cut the fillets horizontally in half first then several times vertically to make finger sized portions. Then I place the speck fillets in a bowl with the juice of a couple of lemons and mix it up. Chill for thirty minutes while the oil is heating. A lemon-flavored fish fry mix at your local grocery provides the next layer of lemon.

The oil is heated to 325 degrees; I prefer Wesson oil to guarantee that light golden-brown color. The fillets are patted dry then dredged in the fish fry and safely lowered into the hot oil. Wait about 15 seconds or so before you stir the fillets loose from each other. Don’t walk off! It only takes about 3 minutes to fry these fillets or till they are floating. A big platter waiting in a warm oven is where you keep stacking this fried fish until it’s all cooked. The third and final layer of lemon comes once again from the lemon itself and making plenty of wedges available on the platter or table insures that this fried speckled trout a crunchy fresh lemon flavor. Have a fun Fourth and heat dat grease!

 

 

Cucumber-Lime-Basil Sorbet

Puree two peeled chopped cucumbers, one cup simple syrup, 1/4 cup of fresh lime juice, a pinch of salt and 5 basil leaves in ta blender, then press through a fine screen. Pour the mixture into a container, and float a cleaned egg in the mixture . If a quarter sized portion of the shell is showing you are good, if not add more syrup. Chill mixture then run in ice cream maker.

Photo and recipe via David Odom

Bourdain’s Last Salute Honors Mississippian

One of Anthony Bourdain’s last works is an introduction to Howard Mitcham’s Provincetown Seafood Cookbook, originally published in 1975, to be rereleased on June 26. In his tribute, Bourdain calls Mitcham’s cookbook “one of the most influential of my life.”

Dan Simon, founder and publisher of Seven Stories Press said he and his team approached Bourdain because they knew that he was “an admirer of Mitcham.” Bourdain’s culinary career started in the early 1970s in Provincetown, where Mitcham was already a legend. “He was just so terrific,” Simon said. “I think he loved the gusto with which Howard lived his life and cooked and brought it all together.”

A writer, a scholar and an artist as well as the foremost chef of note from Mississippi, Howard Mitcham was a brilliant, stone-deaf, hard-drinking bohemian, raconteur and bon vivant who knew and corresponded with the great and near-great. A name chef during what Bourdain himself called “the early happy days before the glamorization of chefs”, a historian and an artist as well, we should remember Mitcham with gusto. His Provincetown Seafood Cookbook stands loud, proud and without a smidgeon of pretension alongside any cookbook written in the past century, a robust ragout of food, people, art and lore.

Mitcham nurtured, cultivated and matured his sprawling genius in the rich enclaves of Provincetown and New Orleans. For decades he was a spectacular bird of passage, summering on Cape Cod, wintering in the French Quarter and coming home to Montgomery County, Mississippi at times. His books trumpet a passion for seafood; his writings on oysters and clams, shrimp and fish seem to pant with restraint. Mitcham wants you to partake of everything he knows and loves with the same gusto he does in hearty sentences that growl with gruff humor and wry authority. “People think I’m sort of coo-coo to publish my trade secrets and recipes,” he wrote, “but to me good food is like love, it should be given as wide a distribution as possible.”

James Howard Mitcham, Jr. was born in Winona, Mississippi on June 11, 1917. His father, a house painter, died when he was a year old. His mother moved to Vicksburg to find work, leaving the infant Howard with her parents on their watermelon farm on Sawmill Road. At sixteen Mitcham became deaf from nerve damage resulting from spinal meningitis. For the rest of his life, Mitcham spoke with a thick, booming Southern accent, but used sign language and notes to abet his frequent incoherency. He grew up loving jazz, a love silence didn’t kill. “The last song he ever heard was Billie Holiday’s ‘Am I Blue?’”, his daughter Sabina said. “Whenever he’d sing it, it would just break my heart. At his birthdays he would place his hand on the bell of a sax to get the beat.”

Mitcham attended Greenville High School with lifelong friend Shelby Foote as well as Walker Percy. A May 30, 1934 clipping from “The Pica”, the GHS school newspaper, includes a column by Mitcham (“Rigmarole”) and three poems by Foote. A news article in the same issue notes: “Walker Percy, freshman at the University of North Carolina and member of last year’s graduating class, will journey to Germany for a three months’ tour of that country,” adding that “the tour will be made on foot and on bycicles (sic)”.

Mitcham in Manhattan

After graduating high school, Mitcham moved to Vicksburg to live with his mother and began attending Louisiana State University as an art student, and at some point, in the late 1940s, Mitcham moved to Greenwich Village in New York City, where he ran an art gallery. During this time, he became the model for “the stone-deaf man” in Marguerite Young’s epic work, Miss MacIntosh, My Darling. Sabina said that during Mitcham’s days in New York, Walker Percy would come to stay with him, often sleeping on the floor in Mitcham’s tiny apartment in the Village.

What quirk of fate or fortune that first took Mitcham from his home in the Deep South to the distant shores of Cape Cod is a matter rich for speculation, but he claims to have made his first visit there as early as 1948. Thereafter for most of his life, Mitcham divided his years between New Orleans and Provincetown.

An editor of ‘The Provincetown Advocate’ described Mitcham as “Artist, block print maker, chef par excellence, pro-beatnik, draughtsman and one of the most talented nuts ever to come into Provincetown.” Mitcham maintained an art gallery on the Cape, painted signs and repaired clocks, once publishing an article on antique clocks in Gentleman’s Quarterly). In the 1960s, Mitcham wrote a column in the Advocate called the “The Cape Tip Gourmet” and another called “The Cape Curmudgeon”. He wrote that the first place he headed when he first arrived in Provincetown, and most likely from then on, was Town Wharf. “It made my heart jump to see the enormous hauls of herring that the trap boats were bringing in,” Mitcham said. “But my gourmet’s heart was broken when I found out that this wonderful fish was being knocked down for two bucks and fifty cents a barrel and shipped off to the cat food factory.”

His abounding love for Provincetown bore prodigious fruit in 1975 with the publication of The Provincetown Seafood Cookbook, an unsurpassed ode to a food, a place and a people. Bourdain, who worked in Provincetown during the mid-1970s when he was attending (of all places) Vassar, knew Mitcham and in his Kitchen Confidential writes that “Howard was the sole ‘name chef’ in town.”

“To us, Howard was a juju man, an oracle who spoke in tongues,” Bourdain wrote. “He could be seen most nights after work, holding up the fishermen’s bars or lurching about town, shouting incomprehensibly (he liked to sing as well). Though drunk most of the time and difficult to understand, Howard was a revered elder statesman of Cape cod cookery, a respected chef of a very busy restaurant and the author of two very highly regarded cookbooks: The Provincetown Seafood Cookbook and Creole Gumbo and All That Jazz—two volumes I still refer to, and which were hugely influential for me and my budding culinary peers of the time. He had wild, unruly white hair, a gin-blossomed face, a boozer’s gut and he wore the short-sleeved-snap-button shirt of a dishwasher. Totally without pretension, both he and his books were fascinating depositories of recipes, recollections, history, folklore and illustrations, drawing on his abiding love for the humble, working-class ethnic food of the area. His signature dish was haddock amandine, and people would drive for hours from Boston to sample it.”

“We might not have understood Howard, but we understood his books, and while it was hard to reconcile his public behavior with the wry, musical and lovingly informative tone of his writings, we knew enough to respect the man for what he knew and for what he could do. We saw someone who loved food, not just the life of the cook. Howard showed us how to cook for ourselves, for the pure pleasure of eating, not just for the tourist hordes. Howard showed us that there was hope for us as cooks. That food could be a calling. That the stuff itself was something we could actually be proud of, a reason to live.”

In Provincetown Mitcham bonded strongly with the Portuguese community and his love for them shines from his works. In his first book, Fishing on the Gulf Coast (1959; Hermit Crab Press), Mitcham claims he contacted the Portuguese Embassy to obtain a recipe, and the Provincetown book has many, many more. “Transplanting the Azores Islanders to Provincetown was a great step forward because they brought with them their beautifully rambunctious cookery, and this husky, euphoric cuisine has quietly worked its way into Cape Cod and New England cookery in general,” he wrote. “I have been observing Portuguese cooks for twenty-five years, and I find that they have the following relative units of measurement: (1) a little, (2) some, (3) a bit more, (4) a lot, (5) plenty, (6) enough.”

The Provincetown Seafood Cookbook includes sections on the history of Provincetown and the Cape Cod itself—the people, the fishing industry and the rich culture that pervades the area—as well as a plenitude of splendid recipes for clams, mussels, the storied Welfleet oysters (en Bienville et Rockefeller of course), snails and the multitude of fishes that crowd the Cape’s waters: cod, striped bass, mackerel, salmon, halibut, bluefish and striped bass. Mitcham also includes his haddock amandine (meuniere). If for no other reason, we should be inordinately proud of Howard Mitcham for easing in a recipe for Creole gumbo in a cookbook focused on Cape Cod. Admittedly, unless you have the sort of budget that allows you to get quahogs on the fly, most of the recipes present an almost insurmountable challenge for any cook south of Hoboken, but Mitcham is a bold, eloquent raconteur with a passion for his subject, and anyone with an ear for good writing, a hunger for good food and a sheer love of life will relish The Provincetown Seafood Cookbook.

Odom’s Redfish on The Half-Shell

It’s hard to imagine redfish that currently swim in bountiful numbers among our coastal waters going the way of the dodo and the woolly mammoth but it almost did, and it wasn’t seafaring Neanderthals with primitive Shimanos that nearly caused the extinction of this fish. Nope. It was that colorful Cajun chef Paul Prudhomme.

Prudhomme created a recipe that was so obnoxious and novel with over the top flavors and clouds of noxious smoke that it had to be cooked outside. But for all that, blackened redfish became so popular that the species was actually threatened with extinction, and the federal government was forced to step in and invoke catch limits before we could make a salad to accompany the very last of its kind!

But be at ease. This prized game fish is back and has been back. In fact, the local anglers in Destin Florida call the huge “bull reds” a nuisance fish. I myself saw tens of thousands of them attacking bait fish in one football field sized school last summer near Ship Island, off the coast of Mississippi .

Kim with a bull redfish

Folks who don’t saltwater fish only assume that an angler like me would surely target a redfish to throw on ice but to their dismay I tell them I don’t fish them intentionally for the table. There are a couple good reasons for this. When you clean a redfish the filet yield seems oddly low for such a large fish to be culled and secondly it’s about as easy to clean a redfish as it is to filet an armadillo.

But as all starving anglers do we develop a plan: Instead of filleting the meat clean off the fish why don’t we just cut off one side of the red’s body, lay it scales down over a charcoal grill, drench the meat side with garlic butter and slam the lid till it’s done? This technique accomplishes a couple of things and one by default. First, it ensures all the fresh fish meat is fully eaten. Secondly, you don’t wind up in the ER getting stitches fooling around trying to filet an armadillo and by default this recipe is far more delicious than blackened redfish simply because it’s about the fresh fish and not spices. The dicta of “Gulf to ice to knife to fire to plate” for this recipe in particular has anxious dinner guests staring in amazement at the cooking process.

Redfish on the half shell, as this technique is called, is  the best way in my opinion to pay homage to this beautiful bronze resident in our coastal waters. Next time you have a chance to eat fresh redfish, try this particular preparation. Heat your gas grill or charcoal grill to a medium high heat. In a saucepan heat a stick of butter, juice of a lemon, some chopped garlic and Tony Chachere’s to taste for a drenching baste. Grease the grill a bit; lay on the redfish halves scales down and apply your drench liberally. Close the lid, but reapply the drench a couple of times in the cooking process. Remove when the meat is firm to the touch, add more fresh lemon and serve immediately.

David and Kim Odom are anglers par excellance along the Mississippi Gulf Coast.