Keepers of the House

In the summer of 1855, Miss Anna Sheegog died upstairs in the house in which I write. No token of hers remains, not even a hair ribbon; the grief at her passing was eased and forgotten long ago. Yet she is still fooling around up there, after al this time, and no wonder—she was only 16 and not ready to be done with life.

Something is always stirring in old houses, for they murmur in their sleep as people do. So much happens, and none of it wants to leave; it is laid up in the walls, left to leak out now and then when someone is listening. Ghosts, we call it, though it is really only memory. I have listened here—in all weathers, in the bright noon and deep watches of the night—longer than Miss Anna was alive, and I know something of the memory of houses.

This one is called Rowan Oak, for Mr. William Faulkner called it that, and he lived here longer than anybody. Because he lived here it is a literary shrine of sorts; for 20-odd years pilgrims have been coming up the walk to see what lies in the white house.

I, too, was a pilgrim once, come by a long road begun in a railroad yard. One night a switchman, Frank Smith, pressed on me a book, of all things, a paperback, greasy and bent to the shape of his blue jeans pocket. “Read this,” he said. In the yard office after the train was gone, I opened it and began to read, and the world was never the same again.

Years later, when I was curator of Mr. William Faulkner’s house, I happened on a page of manuscript behind a drawer in the library. I knew right away what it was; lines from The Hamlet, written in this very house. It was no small thing to meet, and as the morning light fell through the tall library windows, I remembered another light; the glow of Frank Smith’s lantern on that vanished summer night, when he put his copy of The Hamlet in my hand.

Ghosts again, and, always, time. In Mr. Faulkner’s house, time is the sum of all senses. It is in the light, in all seasons softened to twilight by the trees. Time lies in the creak of a shutter, rain in the downspouts, in a step half-heard in the empty rooms above. It is in the very smell of the place, which is the smell of all grandmother’s houses, made of dust and mildew, old books and years of fried chicken—and that almost palpable memory that will not go away. It is the smell of time.

No wonder pilgrims sometimes speak in whispers here. No wonder children often cling shyly to their parents’ legs, flirting with something only they can see. Time conjures them all, as it conjures us, who are stewards of time.

There have not been many of us. Dr. James Webb, the first and best curator, will always be chief. In the early years Dr. George Street was here, and Bev Smith. I have worked with Danny Toma, Terrell Lewis, Keith Fudge. Winfred Ragland was the first groundskeeper, and then Isiah McGuirt, whom I watched rake the leaves of 15 autumns.

These were all Southern men who knew not just Mr. Faulkner and his work, but also what it means to love an old house and earth whence it came. They were all pilgrims, come here by their own long roads, each to find his own doorway to the past.

Once, on one of those days when the sky is deep blue and every leaf sharp and clear and shadows haunt the fence corners—once, on such a day, Isaiah walked out in the north pasture to work his turnips and Dany went along to swap lies. I wandered out by myself by and by and leaned on the fence and watched them. On the whole place there were only three of us. Their voices drifted to me across the morning. Now and then, an acorn rattled on the tin roof of the cookhouse, the loft door creaked, the house drowsed white and solid in the sun.

I should not have been surprised to find Mr. Faulkner at my elbow, leaning on the fence with his pipe, nor to see Miss Anna in the kitchen door—for the streams of time had come together once more, the old proper rhythms of life were in cadence, and all that ever happened on this place narrowed to an old man and a boy in the pasture, talking quietly under the autumn sky.

Occasionally, folks ask me what it is like to work at Rowan Oak. I do not know how to tell them about Frank Smith or Dr. Webb or Danny or the day Isiah went out to hoe his greens, but sometimes I try, and they are almost always satisfied. It is a good thing for pilgrims to carry away into the world waiting for them beyond the gate, for in that world ghosts are silly and magic is only for children. I don’t believe so myself, and neither does Miss Anna—but then, she is only 16, after all.

Novelist and scholar Howard Bahr lives in Jackson, Mississippi

Parkin’s Pharmacy – That Good Drug Store

The story of Parkin’s Pharmacy is a story of a time. It was a time when pharmacies were still called drug stores, the pharmacist was your neighbor and there were far more independent store owners than chains.

When Jimmy Parkin returned from pharmacy school in 1950, married and started his business next to the Jitney Jungle in Belhaven later that year, drug stores were a little more informal than today. Pharmacists counted prescribed pills, mixed emulsions, unguents and compounds, sported mysterious looking glassware and even made house calls. Drug stores carried more than pharmaceuticals. They had a section for magazines and comic books and featured a soda fountain where milk shakes cost a quarter and Cokes a nickel. They would fix you a cheeseburger and fries for thirty five cents and practiced the lost art of creating banana splits for a few cents more.

There were gifts for a friend in the hospital, candy and chewing gum for the children, bobby pins and nylons for the ladies and a multitude of tobacco products for the gentleman. You could actually talk to the pharmacist without having to go through a phone maze. Prescription drugs were filled while you waited or delivered to your home and if the store was closed on Sunday – and most were back then – and you really needed a prescription filled, the druggist would like as not meet you at his place of business after church and fill it for you.

It was a time some remember and others tell of. It was a time when there was no television, smart phones or computers.  Air conditioning was rare and neighbors visited on screen porches or on the sidewalks after work or in their backyard while their kids played ball on the grass. This was the world into which Mr. Jimmy Parkin opened his drugstore and for forty-seven years it served the public. It was a time of conviviality and a great time to live in the small city of Jackson.

There were four other pharmacies in the Belhaven neighborhood, all in the proximity of the Baptist Hospital. Morris Pharmacy was located on the southeast corner of Manship and State Streets. Patterson Rexall Drugs was in the middle of the block between Carlisle and Fortification Streets. North State Pharmacy was next to the fire station across from Millsaps. These stores along with Parkin’s were closed on Sundays. However, Main Drugs down Fortification at Lamar was open on Sunday afternoons and if you wanted malt, a bottle of aspirins or a light switch, the Main was the place to go.   But Parkin’s was different.  It was more personal. Neighbors referred to it as “That good drug store.”

The Parkin tradition began in 1930 when Sam Parkin moved to Jackson from Little Rock, Ark. and bought Philip’s Drugs on West Capitol Street. The store was renamed West End Pharmacy. Sam Parkin’s son Jim became a pharmacist also and in 1950 bought the old Cain Drugstore on the southeast corner of Jefferson and Fortification. It was part of the original Jitney 14 which was built in 1927. In 1933, Cain’s moved into a separate facility as part of the newly constructed English Village and remained at the 904 Fortification Street address until the Parkin purchase.  The grand opening of the Belhaven Parkin’s Pharmacy was February 9, 1951. It was a big event in the neighborhood.

In the 1960’s the store moved around the corner into the former Ben Franklin store location then later to a separate building where Lou’s restaurant is today. Some of the store’s neighbors were Pridgeon’s Florist, Snow White Cleaners and The Staircase. Doug tells the story of a day his father was chosen to be a pallbearer. He called the cleaners early that morning and when a woman answered the phone dad inquired, “Is this the Snow White?” “Hell no,” the woman replied angrily, “and this ain’t the seven dwarfs either!” “Dad had all day to think about that one.”

The Parkin drugstore chain became Medistat Pharmacies in November 1983 but the Parkin family still retained control of their operation. The six family-owned pharmacies including the Belhaven store were sold to the Jitney Jungle chain in March 1995, which in turn was sold in 1997.

According to the grand opening ad in the Jackson Daily News, future patrons registered for prizes such as an electric toaster, flashlight, alarm clock and thermos bottle. The soda fountain, featuring Seale- Lily products, pictured Bill Robinson, Lillie Beckwith and Bob Pilcher. Dick Wiggins and Therrell Fortune ran the drug and cosmetic counters and John Archie was in charge of free deliveries to homes in the area. The pharmacists were Jim Parkin, Sr. and Charles Stringer.

The cosmetic counter was unique to Jackson drugstores. Called the Gilded Cage, it was located so to be clearly visible through the store’s front full-view window. The hanging birdcage at the center gave it its name. It contained fixtures in white and gold in French provincial style, set off by delicate white ironwork. Right across the aisle was the men’s toiletries and cosmetic department called “The Saddle”

The success of Parkin’s was the result of a combination of factors. It was the times, the customers and the staff. “The folks most important in my childhood memories, Doug Parkin said, “are my dad, of course, pharmacist James E. Colmery, John Archie, Bill Nobles and Saundra Edwards. There were many others but these had the most impact on my life.

“Mr. Colmery was a wonderful man to me as a kid. He would entertain me in the pharmacy, always with a smile. There was a glass enclosed compounding room in the center of the pharmacy, a fairly cutting-edge concept for  the time, and he called it the ‘monkey room’. Naturally, that became one of my favorite places to go in and make faces at him. He laughingly responded in kind.”

“My dad always welcomed us kids, to his store. These were my brothers Jim, Jr. and Cole along with my sister Beth and me. We spent a lot of time there and were given pretty much free rein. We saw firsthand the attraction of other kids, the comic books, the toy racks and the soda fountain. There were sometimes extra cherries added to the cherry phosphates.  It was a children’s paradise.

From left: Cole Parkin, Jim Parkin, Jr., Jim Parkin, Sr. and Doug Parkin. Photo taken in 1984.

“As we got older we were taught to make sales and record charges at the cash register, run the soda fountain, dust shelves, rotate stock, sweep and mop the floors. We even drove the delivery car on occasions and most dreaded of all, empty the fountain sump tank under the building. When we were older my brothers and I interned there as pharmacy students.

“Christmas was a special time at the drugstore. We sold countless boxes of candy and other gifts that had to be wrapped. We used the heavy weight glossy red and white wrapping paper and every bow was cranked out on a Sasheen bow-maker. You didn’t want to get your finger caught between the bow pin and the bows impact socket or Christmas might be more painful than you would have preferred.”

Bill Nobles, Saundra Edwards and John Archie were constants at Parkin’s for as many as 40 years, speaking to a generation and beyond of satisfied customers and a neighborhood landmark “down by the Jitney.”

Doug described Bill as his father’s “right hand man”. “There was nothing about the store that Bill didn’t know and there was no one who traded there Bill wasn’t friends with. Bill was always asking about our customer’s families.”

Bill came to Parkin’s as a part-time employee in 1956 and went full-time in 1957.  He remained with the establishment until 1997 when he left to work at a retirement home in Clinton. Mr. Parkin had come to him and told him he needed someone to manage the business so Bill gave up his regular job at Evans Lumber Company to do so. He was 19-years-old. In an interview Bill told of his duties through the years. “Mr. Parkin hired me to run the drugstore while he ran the pharmacy. I was the bookkeeper, but I also did the ordering, the pricing, put up displays, and helped with deliveries, worked in the soda fountain and around the pharmacy itself. I saw the business from the inside out and realized what another employee (Doug Drain) later put into words, ‘When I worked at Parkin’s as a teenager, I learned all that was needed in life to be successful’”.

Doug Drain became a success and he called Doug Parkin a couple of years ago. “He relayed to me that one of the leading economic professors in the nation recently asked him where he got his education before attending a university. Doug told him the name of the university and the economist replied, “No, you got your real education working at that drugstore as a kid.”

The famous and the everyday neighbor shopped at Parkin’s. Eudora Welty was a regular customer and dropped by the store each day to purchase a New York Times and a Wall street Journal. Sometimes Tom Spengler would stop by, buy the papers and take them to her.  “She was a quiet lady,” Bill remembers, “even after she became famous and was always kind and friendly. She wouldn’t let anybody wait on her but me.” Well-known artist Marie Hull was also a regular as were the Reimers, Holmans, Stocketts, Giddens,  Heidelbergs, Gammills, Kenningtons, Irbys, Wells, Macks, Lewises, Manships, the banker Tom Scott and Drs. Ward, Cavett, Womack, O’Ferral and Garrison. The Wrinkled Roosters, an informal men’s coffee club, met in the store in the mornings and a ladies group in the afternoons.

The store had a soda foundation as most did back then. It was a popular lunch spot that sold drinks, burgers and sandwiches. An article by Phil Wallace in the Clarion-Ledger/Jackson Daily News tells of the soda fountain “that takes you back to a sweeter, slower pace of life. You sit on tall stools or at double tables and inhale the delicious atmosphere of another era, the smells and sounds of, say, the summer of ’52. People are happy and friendly enjoying the simple things of life – like a chocolate malt or double cheeseburger with a friend, scenes that once inspired the artist Norman Rockwell.”

Bill tells about a day the grill caught fire from grease that had accumulated underneath. “We had to act fast. I had heard that water would not extinguish a grease fire so I grabbed a couple of handfuls of washing powder and doused the flames. Meanwhile, a customer wanted a hamburger.  I tried to tell him the grill needed cleaning before cooking but he kept insisting on it. So, I cooked him his hamburger and he ate it. He must have had the cleanest stomach in town.”

Bill remembers many stories in association with his tenure at the drugstore. “When Patterson’s Rexall Pharmacy closed on North State, Mr. Parkin bought their large upright safe. He sent Bill and two young employees to move that weighty and unwieldy object from Patterson’s to the store some three blocks away. “We were able to shove it up a steep inclined driveway to the street but finally gave up being heroes and hired a delivery company to take it the rest of the way.”

Stories abound over the years. Bill told of two ladies who came in one day to return a purchase. The older woman told her daughter, “Go out to the car and bring in that package  on the front seat.” The daughter dutifully did so and when it was opened it contained a half pint of liquor. “No, not that one, dear,” she calmly exclaimed, “the other one, the Milk of Magnesia.”  There was another customer who “rooted me out of bed at 3 a.m. one morning to get some sleeping pills. I needed some myself after that episode.

“There was a Mr. Hardwick, who delivered mail to the store and had a dog named Richard. He and Richard had conversations in the store during mail deliveries and the two seemed to have real rapport. Customers were never certain who initiated the conversation or where it would lead. However, the two seemed to understand each other.”

Perhaps Bill’s most interesting story involved a horse drawn sleigh. Mr. Parkin was close friends with Robert Stockett, Sr., who had a stable of horses down by the Pearl River. He would borrow the horses for a while in winter weather and deliver items to customers in the snow. “We even had a store display of that sleigh and its drivers but thankfully, those horses were not real.”

Saundra Edwards came to work at Parkin’s  as a teenager in October, 1965.  “She would do anything you asked her to do,” Doug said. “She was like a big sister to me and I often referred to her as ‘Sunshine’.” Like Bill, her duties included everything from greeting customers to sweeping the floor. “Bill and I worked the stock, tended both the back and front of the store, helped out in the pharmacy and in the contract post office which was added in the early ‘70’s. When the power went off we had to crank the cash register. You should have seen that thing. It would have been an antique today.”

Saundra’s impression of Mr. Parkin is that he was strict and professional in his approach to serving the public. He was friendly as long as you did your job. “If a customer asked for an item,” Saundra remembered, “we didn’t just say, ‘look over yonder’. If we had we would have been fired. We went over and helped him find it.”

Bill Nobles and Saundra Edwards

Saundra, like Bill, has a lot of stories to tell regarding her years at the pharmacy. “I can’t use names, but I can tell you there were some characters. There was an elderly lady, the widow of a well known attorney, who would come to the Jitney next door for her lunch at the delicatessen. Rather than stand in line patrons would take a number and wait for it to be called. She would come early, take the number “1” and after being served put it in her purse. The next day she would bring it out and present it again to be the first served. She would do this on a regular basis. The staff knew what she was doing but the customers seemed not to mind so she stayed number 1 for the remainder of her patronage.

“Another prominent resident had plenty of money and property. She did not feel she should accept government assistance. She refused Medicare and other forms of government assistance. ‘The government needs the money more than I do,’” she explained. She would have been a rarity today.

When asked if there was anyone who did some unusual things, Saundra told of a woman who came in the pharmacy with a watermelon she had bought at the Jitney next door.  “She sat in the aisle and ate it, spitting the seeds out on the floor. Mr. Parkin told her to stop and clean it up. She got real ugly and demanded he give her a dollar.”

John Archie was the deliveryman but he was far more than that. A veteran of Cain’s (Ca. 1933) before he came to Parkin’s he was a fixture in those establishments for over half a century. The City of Jackson even proclaimed a John Archie Day to celebrate his 50th anniversary. “John was very conscientious and would tell my dad when he felt something needed to be done,” Doug remembers. “When the delivery vehicle’s tires would show excessive wear he would go to my father and tell him, ‘doctor, the car needs new shoes’.”

John’s duties included a wide variety of items for distribution. Perhaps the most interesting involved a hunting item. It seems an employee of Parkin’s West End Pharmacy made turkey calls out of condoms. That pharmacy had run out and called the Belhaven store for reinforcements. The only candidates they had came in a box of a hundred which John Archie dutifully accepted for delivery. He studied the merchandise for a moment, looked up and said, “That guy must really be something, huh Doc?”

“We knew of some crazy things that went on at the Jitney, next door,” Mrs. Edwards .recalls. “We knew a lady who would go to the canned food aisle, open several cans of peas and select the one she liked the best. She just left the others open on the shelf. There was man who would dress like a woman, shoplift meat from the butcher counter and carry it to ‘her’ new Cadillac. One of our drugstore patrons recognized this tactic, yelled at the ‘woman’ to stop and jumped in front of ‘her’ car to prevent ‘her’ from leaving until the police arrived. There was another lady who got in the wrong car in the parking lot. It seemed that the key fit the same ignition as her identical model nearby.   She was an Elvis fan and listened to him on her car’s sound system. When she turned the key she heard some different songs and realized something was wrong.  Fortunately she discovered her error before the owner arrived.

“Then there was the drunk who fell off a stool at the soda fountain and the lady who left her false teeth in the car of a neighbor who had driven her home the day before from the nearby washateria. There was the couple who would pass out quarters, sometimes dollar bills to people in the parking lot. We know there are people in public places that ask for money but how many do we know who voluntarily distribute it?”

Bill worked at Parkin’s for 40 years, Saundra for 32 and John Archie for 36. Why did they do it? You have to ask?  Saundra went to work for a psychiatrist after leaving the drugstore after the Jitney’s sale to Winn-Dixie. “Considering the experience I had over the years,” she said, “I felt I was well qualified.”

John Archie was the delivery man. He began when Mr. Parkin opened his store and through the years delivered throughout the neighborhood in a panel truck decorated with pills of all hues and sizes. John did not have regular hours. Perhaps on paper he did but his familiar vehicle and salutation rang through Belhaven far into the night and weekends in all types of weather. He almost never missed a day of work.

Parkin’s sold many items other than prescription drugs. It carried cosmetics, newspapers, confectionaries and gifts. These were delivered daily by one of the most familiar and friendliest faces ever to grace the Belhaven neighborhood. “Hi John Archie,” the children would call out as the delivery truck sped down the streets to carry drugstore products to those who for one reason or another could not come by and pick them up. “Hi Doc,” he would reply with a smile and a wave. Need a valentine box of candy or a Christmas gift? Call Parkin’s and it would be on its way. Order a few groceries from the Jitney next door? They might somehow find their way into the old truck along with the drugstore items. Want a message carried to a nearby house? John Archie could deliver it as well. There was always, “here you are Doc. Thanks for shopping Parkin’s.”

Then one day in the spring of 1987, John Archie did not come to work and an irreplaceable part of our neighborhood stopped forever. While Jim Parkin was the head of the business and Bill and Saundra, along with a host of others were its appendages, John Archie was its heart. There are those who remember him to this day and loved the man for his kindness and who he was. Home deliveries are a thing of the past but the memory of the man who called everyone “Doc” remains with us. Rest in peace John Archie.

When asked of his impression of Mr. Parkin when he worked in his drugstore, Bill Nobles thought for several moments. “We worked so long together it was like we were brothers but like all families we did not always get along.  Let me put it this way. I had several opportunities to leave for better wages and benefits but I loved that old drugstore and its customers. I stayed and so did Saundra for whatever reasons and looking back I’m glad I did.”

Several Belhaven residents have lasting memories of Parkin’s Pharmacy. Cindy Wood: “I used to go there for shakes and burgers in the ‘80’s. I remember when Bill went to Brent’s. He actually remembered me.” Julie Propst: “Eudora Welty sat at the same table on every visit and ate the egg salad sandwich. I’d skip school at Murrah and go and just sit and listen to her.” Lynn Haspel: “Parkin’s was a mainstay in our neighborhood with not only a pharmacy but a fountain for soda, sandwiches and a post office. Bill and Saundra knew us and our children. The kids would be allowed to charge lunch and we would get the bill and pay it at the end of the week. Good old days!”

Cleta Ellington: “Edward (Judge Ellington) always said we belonged to Parkin’s rather than River Hills. Those great burgers!” Linda Showah: “Such fond memories. When we came from the Delta to visit my grandmother on North Street, it was an adventure to walk to Parkin’s for a milkshake.”  Gate Hogan: “I used to get the slawburger when I was a kid. I loved that place. Natalie Maynor: My memories are from when it was Cain’s.”

Mr. Parkin was well known and respected in his profession. He served on the University of Mississippi Association Board and was president of the Mississippi Pharmacist Association. He was president of the State Board of Pharmacy for four years and was an active member of the First Baptist Church of Jackson where he was a Life Deacon. He was a member of the Jackson Rotary Club and served on the Mississippi Walking Horse Association’s board of directors as vice-president.

The final site of  Belhaven’s Parkin’s is now Lou’s restaurant and those who founded the establishment and patronized if for nearly half a century have  passed on, relocated  or remain with us as seasoned veterans of another era. In an interview for this article Doug reminisced about his childhood experiences in his father’s store. “I truly wish  my own children and grandchildren could have had the opportunity to experience  the family of Parkin’s Pharmacy and the pure joy of spinning on a soda stool, reading comic books and special ordering whatever they wanted at the fountain. On behalf of the Parkin family, our grateful Thank You is extended to all who allowed my dad to enjoy his profession, who seemed to regard him as the Mayor of Belhaven and who, either as co-workers or customers, loyally stood with him through the years. Were he with us today, he would be gratefully relieved that he is not forgotten.”

Good memories last forever and ensure that Mr. Jimmy Parkin will not be forgotten. That good old drug store he started back in his youth which rang with our laughter and the old stories of its time is with us still and has become a fixed star in the  familiar firmament we know as Belhaven.

Bill & Nan Harvey
October 2018

Sources: Interviews with Doug Parkin (August 28; October 17-20;30, 2018; Bill Nobles and Saundra Edwards (September 18 & 26, 2018); “You’re Invited to the Grand Opening of the New Parkin’s” (ad), Jackson Daily News, February 9, 1951, Section  Two; “Stars Cosmetics”, Drug Topics Magazine, October 14, 1968, p. 1; “Medistat: The Parkin Family tradition Continues” (Communiqué Section, Clarion-Ledger, October 1, 1984, P. 3); “Soda fountain reflects days of yesterday”, Clarion-Ledger/Jackson Daily News Focus Section, May 7, 1987, P. 1; “Jitney buys 6 family pharmacies”, Clarion-Ledger Business Section, March 25, 1995, p. 5B;  obituary, Wright and Ferguson Funeral Home, May 24, 2013; Various neighbor comments as shown.

WANTED! An Inclusive Flag for Mississippi – the Magnolia State

Like it or not, our current state flag is highly divisive – it is refused display EVERYWHERE, from our nation’s capitol to our own college campuses and city halls. It simply does not represent who we are, or how we want to be known. It’s inevitable that the flag will be changed.

Mississippi’s people need – DESERVE – a state flag that’s inclusive, beautiful, bold – and distinctive. A flag that says something about us as a highly diverse and proud people, and about our rich natural heritage.  A flag that says something special.

Instead of having a generic alternative forced on us like what happened during the last flag referendum, why not take the lead and expect a choice that proudly and without question represents everyone in the Magnolia State, our culture, and our diversity – both here and abroad.  Just as the flag of Texas is immediately recognized as that of the Lone Star State, and South Carolina’s as that of the Palmetto State, Mississippi – the Magnolia State – should also have a unique, beloved symbol that doesn’t need explanation. Simple yet evocative enough to be embraced by artists of all ages – including children.

A bit of background…

During our last flag referendum in 2001we were offered a choice between the current flag and a generic alternative which was rejected by many as being meaningless and bland. Its 20 stars represented the minor fact that Mississippi was the “20th state” – not much of a defining point for a state with such diverse history, culture, and pride.

A very similar new “Stennis flag” being heavily promoted also features the “20th state” stars – again, an obscure point hardly worth noting.  THE BIG PROBLEM IS – to directly quote the flag’s designer from the Stennis Flag website itself – “The centering of the blue star on the field of white is an inverted “Bonnie Blue,” a reference to the state’s secession (1861 – 1865).” This not-so-subtle nod to a ruinous period in our state’s history is tone deaf at best – if not outright unacceptable. And it most certainly should not fly with anyone who is aware of why we need a less divisive flag.

 WHY SETTLE for a generic “anything is better than what we have now” place setting flag, when the diverse people of Mississippi deserve a real choice that does not include a divisive feature? Surely we can proudly do better – with the highly cherished, instantly-recognized, Mississippi-native Magnolia flower on our precious flag! 

Can’t you just smell its sweet fragrance?

The magnificent Magnolia grandiflora (Latin for “large flower”), with its bold evergreen foliage and huge fragrant flowers, is native to every county in Mississippi and highly valued in gardens all over the US and beyond – it is featured prominently in botanic gardens across five continents! Nothing could be simpler and more meaningful than proudly celebrating this symbol on the official flag The Magnolia State!  Visitors to Mississippi are greeted by the Avenue of Magnolias; hundreds of the exotic-looking beauties have been planted by the Garden Clubs of Mississippi along every major highway entrance to our state. Since 1949 it has graced historic markers placed statewide by the MS Department of Archives and History.

Written by Felder Rushing. For more information or to join this organization, visit www.magnoliaflowerflag.org

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)

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

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.

The Trout Whisperer

Among anglers along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, David Lee Odom is a legend. Fellow sportsman and neighbor Dan Vimes, noting Odom’s impressive knack for hooking the fish that Howard Mitcham called “the Gulf Coast’s own”, the speckled trout, calls him “the trout whisperer”. Odom himself says, “The quest for the elusive speckled trout is a salty coastal religion. Ask any inshore fisherman on the Mississippi coast if they could either catch a trophy marlin or a state record speckled trout there would be a unanimous answer and it ain’t marlin.”

Odom explains that “specks” actually are not a species of trout but a type of drum and a cousin to the redfish. The male specks make an audible drumming sound when caught. “There are two types of stubborn speck fisherman,” Odom said. “Those that only use artificial lures or those that rely on live bait and are too lazy to be chucking lures over and over and over. It divides us like some smelly civil war. My wife Kim and I are in the live bait camp: brown, white and pink shrimp directly from the Mississippi Sound are like candy to speckled trout.”

“If you are on the Mississippi coast in the winter and traveling over the Biloxi or Bay Saint Louis bridge look inland … the specks are in the river, and if it’s summer look out to the Mississippi Sound and know those tea-stained waters are chock full of schools of speckled trout waiting for you to catch them. From late April through early June specks transition from freshwater rivers into the salty Gulf of Mexico to spawn. This is when Kim and I try and fill the freezer with fresh filets.”

“Our strategy, like any saltwater fishermen, starts with knowing what the tide is going to do and heading out when the water is flowing the fastest. Our rig is simple: rod and reel, 15 lb. test fishing line and starting at the cork going down the leader length is adjusted to the depth of the water. The leader material is a thicker line attached to the fishing line that is tougher to bite through and withstands the abrasions from oyster beds. If it’s rigged just right the shrimp is wearing a small treble hook for a hat and swims freely making a popping noise about a foot above the oyster reef as it drifts near the bottom. We fish the Pass Marianne Reef. It’s positioned 5 miles due south of the Pass Christian Harbor. Originally called the Merrill Shell Bank, the base of the old lighthouse built in the 1800’s still sits above the water and marks the spot for hundreds of anglers each year hoping to fill their coolers.”

“The flesh of speckled trout is prized because it doesn’t taste ‘fishy’. Freshness is the foundation for any recipe to prepare this delicate white meat fish, but it takes planning and work. If done just right the filets will have bright pink hue even 6 months after freezing. Once the fish is caught it’s immediately immersed in iced ocean salt water. This ensures clear eyes at the time the fish will be cleaned. The filets are thoroughly washed, blotted bone dry then vacuum sealed. We always save a few filets to eat before freezing. This is a Gulf-to-ice-to-plate freshness that only speck fisherman get to experience.”

“So how do my wife and I cook speckled trout? “Heat da grease!” Fried in corn flour (a.k.a. “fish fry”) to golden brown perfection leads the charge on our coast but fresh blackened speck tacos topped with seasonal with fresh seasonal salsas or hot fanny trout or are our preferred methods of preparation. Freshness allows for the simplest of ingredients, so let’s go with so let’s go with:

Hot Fanny Trout

Take your fresh filets and brush them lightly with olive oil, sprinkle with a little salt and pepper, squeeze on some fresh lemon juice and broil till just firm. Heat 1/4 cup of Worcestershire, two tablespoons unsalted butter, the juice of a lemon and mix well. Then toast a handful of fresh chopped pecan halves in a skillet till dark brown and blister a fresh chopped jalapeño (seeded and deveined). Top the filets with the pecan/jalapeño mix and ladle on the sauce. A little more fresh-squeezed lemon never hurts.

History of Belhaven Heights – Part 3: Greenwood Cemetery

Greenwood Cemetery is not within the confines of Belhaven Heights but many of the Heights former residents are now within the confines of Greenwood Cemetery. Early Jackson Mayor James Boyd is buried there as well as Miss Eudora Welty. They are not alone in their repose. They are surrounded by six Confederate generals, seven Mississippi governors, 14 Jackson mayors, six Supreme Court justices, 27 clergymen, and about 600 Confederate soldiers, most of who have been identified.  In its earliest days it was known simply as “the burial ground.”

The cemetery is part of a federal land grant which also established the city of Jackson as the official site of the Capital of Mississippi on November 21, 1821.  It was formally designated by the state legislature effective January 1, 1823. The original six acres were known simply as “the graveyard” and later as the City Cemetery. It was officially designated Greenwood Cemetery in 1899. An early map (1822) showed the area of what is now West Street as vacant land indicating that the cemetery was not yet within the city limits which ended at High street. Over time the six acres was extended northward from George to Davis Street,  delineated on the west by Lamar and on the east by West Street.

Interviews with Cecile Wardlaw, president of the Greenwood Cemetery Association, and Peter Miazza in 2013 provided a wealth of information on the early days and development of the cemetery. “There are 330 unmarked graves at the original south end of the cemetery,” Mrs. Wardlaw related, “with the estimated number of all graves today being 5,000.” The oldest known surviving marker with a date is Governor Abram Marshall Scott who died June 12, 1833. There are an estimated 2,200 monuments posted on the Find a Grave website.

Mrs. Wardlaw told of how the roses came to be along the roads and walkways. “Local horticulturalist Felder Rushing donated the roses you see along the paths which he obtained from the Antique Rose Emporium in Texas. He did some work for that establishment and instead of getting a fee; he came back with a truck and trailer load of roses. He will not tell us the names of the cuttings but only to say ‘they are there for people to enjoy’.”

The city of Jackson owns the cemetery but much of the maintenance is done by the Cemetery Association which also raises funds to repair and perform landscaping work. Various volunteer groups including local Boy Scouts, AmeriCorps, the Phi Theta Kappa honorary fraternity at Mississippi College and various neighborhood groups have donated time to keeping up the facility. The Brookhaven Monument Company is the primary source of stone repairs.

A number of Jackson’s first families have been interred in the cemetery. Marian Dunbar, first pastor of Mt. Helm Baptist Church is there. It was named Helm because Thomas Helm contributed the lot for the church and gave the church money to help with construction. According to its website, Mt. Helm, Jackson’s oldest African American church began in 1835 with several enslaved African Americans who worshiped in the basement of the First Baptist Church. It became a separate body in 1867, the year the 13th Amendment was ratified. A modern version of the structure may be seen today at 300 E. Church Street near the west side of the cemetery.

In addition to Miss Welty and Mayor Boyd, other Jacksonians of note interred in Greenwood Cemetery include Millsaps  College founders Colonel William Nugent, Bishop Charles Betts Galloway, and Dr. William Belton Murrah, who served as the college’s first president; Dr. Lewis Fitzhugh, first president of Belhaven College; founders of the Baptist Hospital Harley R. Shands, M.D. and John Farrar Hunter, M.D., Reverend John Hunter, pastor of First Presbyterian Church (1858) and R.H. Henry, founder of the Jackson Clarion-Ledger.  Monuments are plentiful for many early Jackson families including the Yergers, Spenglers, Greens, Poindexters, Lemons, Virdens, and Miazzas.

Monuments range from barely noticeable to imposing. In the circle by the cemetery’s summer house, is the monument of Rev. Amos Clever, an Episcopal priest, who died in October 1853 from yellow fever. Five years after his death some women took up money for this monument. The exact location of his grave is unknown so his marker was placed where it is today. The widow Clever had a girl’s school in a frame building where St. Andrews Episcopal Church stands today at S. West and E. Capitol Streets. In 1854, she sold the school to the state for its first school for the deaf. There is also the “Weeping Lady” (Sarah Ann and George Lemon plot), the Hilzheim lot framing structure, which looks like a church, and the “Angel Tombstone” in the Poindexter lot.

The most interesting monuments have stories associated with their namesakes.

The Saunders Stone

Lawrence Saunders was a professor at the deaf school which was then across the street from his mother’s house near Barksdale and North State Streets. On Christmas night in 1895, he dressed as Mrs. Santa Claus to entertain the students. Saunders was on his way to the school and stopped by his mother’s home to show her his costume but the front door was locked. He let himself in through the back gallery. The only person home was his nephew who awoke to discover a strange presence. He shouted “stop or I’ll shoot.” Unfortunately, Lawrence, being deaf, did not hear the warning and was killed by his own kinsman. It is never a good idea to shoot Santa Claus.

The Little Dog Tombstone

An unnamed small girl lived in Jackson during the mid 1880’s. Her family moved from the capitol city to Oxford where the child died. She was buried in the Simms plot which may be seen north of the summer house to the right of the circle. It is said her small grief-stricken dog would not leave her grave and died at its foot a short time later. His likeness remains to guard his mistress through the portals of eternity – faithful to the end.

The Good Samaritan Monument

Dr. Samuel Cartwright was well known for his work and writings to control the great yellow fever and cholera epidemics. During the Civil War, he was charged with getting rid of dysentery in the Confederate military camps but he contacted dysentery himself and died in 1863. The carving of “the Good Samaritan” on his tombstone attests to his sacrifice and may be seen on his marker today.

My Dog Skip

A movie scene filmed in Greenwood Cemetery was based on Willie Morris’ 2000 novel My Dog Skip, and represents the witch’s tomb in the Yazoo City Cemetery which depicted one of the characters going out among the tombstones to sit down and drink booze. Also, a replica of the Helm mausoleum was constructed for the movie in which the bootleggers stored their moonshine. There is no written record, however, of these spirits raising other sprirts or sharing their company for the evening.

Lorian Hemingway’s Ghosts

The granddaughter of the novelist Ernest Hemingway came to Jackson in 1999 to write an article on the 1966 Candlestick Park tornado. While here she participated in a ghost tour in Greenwood cemetery, which was conducted and scripted by Jo Barksdale, much to the delight of a number of children.

The Tallest Monument

The most imposing monument in the cemetery looks eastward toward the rising sun. Edmund Richardson was fabulously wealthy, controlling more cotton land than anyone outside the country of Egypt. He died in New Orleans in an area made famous by Josh White’s folk ballad “House of the Rising Sun”. No one knows exactly to what extent the sun rose on that occasion, but it does make for fascinating speculation. Following his death his wife donated $5,000 to the church in his name. Perhaps this was a wise investment.

They are all here, diverse in their lifetime but equal in the eyes of God. Within the 22 acres of monuments and memories lie those who preceded this day and share its common ground. There are the wealthy and the pauper, the slave and his master, the business owner and his clerk, the patriarch and his child. There are the physicians the barristers, the judges, the politicians, the writers and artists, the entrepreneurs and the indigents. There are the prominent with their success and their secrets. There are the unnamed and the unknown. There are the wretched and the rascals and the Good Samaritan and the faithful dog. There is Everyman. As Albert Einstein once said, “Before God we are equally wise and equally foolish.”

As you walk the paths of Greenwood cemetery, contemplate the rose shaded spirits around you. Feel their presence. You, like them, are part of our neighborhood’s heritage and its destiny. While our own lives are but a flash of light in the darkness of creation, the deeds of those who sleep around us endure forever. It is one final reminder that beauty is at our fingertips and that we are not alone.

Thanks go to Cecile Wardlaw, president of the greenwood Cemetery Association and board member Peter Miazza for providing the material for this article. Copyright Bill and Nan Harvey, April, 2018