Rose Budd’s Glossary of Old-Timey Expressions

Jerry Clower once declared (Jerry never simply said anything) that Rose Budd Stevens was a national treasure, and I agree with every piece of my pea-pickin’ heart.

Rose Budd Stevens was the pen name for Mamie Davis Willoughby. Stevens was born in Amite County, Mississippi and graduated from Liberty Agricultural High School in 1933. She attended Southwest Junior College at Summit, Mississippi, graduating in 1935. After graduation, she worked in the Amite County Extension office. She also worked as a payroll clerk for the Works Progress Administration in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, for a short time, afterwards returning to Amite County.

Stevens started writing in 1947 while she was on bed rest during her pregnancy. She wrote newspaper columns at home based on her experiences on Shady Rest Farm near Liberty, Mississippi. Her columns were homey topics about killing hogs, superstitious people, Christmas customs, and the like. One of her columns, “Along the R.F.D.” appeared regularly in local newspapers including Enterprise-Journal, the Carthaginian, and the Clarion-Ledger. Her columns were honored with awards from the National Federation of Press Women, the Mississippi Press Women’s Association, and Progressive Farmer magazine. She stopped writing in 1994 due to ill health. She died in 1996.

Mamie’s columns were collected in three books, all put out by University Press of Mississippi: Sweetly Be! (1990). From Rose Budd’s Kitchen (1988), and Along the RFD with Rose Budd Stevens (1987). For those of you who love the literature of the table, for anyone who enjoys hearing the voices of the past in concert with our own, Willoughby is an essential addition to your bookshelf, a wonderful works by a remarkable woman. This collection of folk etymology is from Sweetly Be!, the phrase she used to close her newspaper columns.

acid-Sour clabber that has been churned.

bagasse (baggus)-The part of the sugar cane stalk left after it has been put between heavy rollers to extract the juice.

band comb-Used by girls in the 1920s to keep hair from falling in their faces when they played outdoor games or studied by lamplight, when hair would make a shadow on the book or paper.

batt-A thin layer of cotton or wool fibers placed between pieces of material, as in a quilt. The raw fiber was put on one card (see entry for cards) and the other drawn over it until a thin batt was made, usually about five by eight inches. The cotton was picked in the fields and the seeds removed by children or mothers in spare time. The wool was sheared from sheep and worked in the same way,

bed tick-A sack affair made from ticking bought in stores. A bed-sized tick was stuffed with frazzled shucks, hay, or even dried leaves. Feather beds were made with feathers from chickens, ducks, and geese. My mother had two feather beds made with breast feathers from quail killed by my father on hunting trips. Our pillows were also made with quail breast feathers.

blue hole-Deep holes in Waggoner Creek where fishing and swimming places looked blue when early morning and afternoon sun shown on them. Most blue holes had willow trees growing on both sides of the creek.

branch-A small stream fed by underground springs or run-off from high farm land. Some are streams branched off from creeks or rivers; a wet weather branch is one that runs only after a heavy rain. Small ferns and green moss begin to grow within a matter of a few hours after a rain. This is a perfect place for children to play, as there are wide shallows only about ankle deep.

boley-holey biscuit-Biscuits prized by children anxious to get outside to play. Take one large flour biscuit, turn on edge, take the forefinger and bore a hole almost to the other side of the biscuit, put a dab of butter deep in the hole and finish filling with molasses. Squish gently so the syrup eases through the crumb inside the biscuit.

butter prints-Molded butter with pictures of animals, flowers, or writing on the top of the butter as it rests in the dish. Prints were usually made with a wooden mold in one-half pound and pound prints; my mother had five molds and Grandmother Budd had seven. Butter customers had their favorite pictures or letters, and Mama and Grandmother made sure each customer was happy with her weekly butter prints.

cards-A pair of hardwood brushes with wooden handles and fine metal teeth used to prepare cotton or wool fibers. One card was pulled downward while the other was pulled upward. Store-bought, these cards were almost a must for homemakers in the early 1900s. Dale and I have a pair of cards labeled “The Only Genuine Old Whittemore Patent No. 10 Cotton made by L. S. Watson & Co. Leicester, Mass.” We were told they are over 100 years old.

chinquapins-Nuts from the tree of the same name. Squirrels are especially fond of these nuts, which are slightly bitter in taste and crunchy in texture, Children camping out at night will sometimes roast the nuts over a little fire. Fair-skinned children with deep brown eyes are often said to have “chinquapin eyes.”

cooter shell–Shell of a terrapin, called a “cooter” by old time folks. Cooters were often caught, kept in pens near a stream of water, and fed on grass and kitchen scraps. Making cooter stew involved killing one or more terrapins, a stream, and the steam from the cooker would pass through the worm and condense into drops of moonshine better known as white lightning. Often when the law” came to destroy a still, they would take the copper worm as evidence that the still was out of operation.

conjure (conjer)-People thought a demon or an unjust spirit could be placed upon a person by someone who was born with a caul over his or her head or was a magician or sorcerer. These per sons could conjure another person, causing bad luck or happenings.

devil’s snuff box-A type of mushroom that grows on dead fallen trees or limbs. When ripe and dry, these round growths contain dark brown powder prized by many folks in years past for their healing power. A cut, gash, stab, or any wound where blood was flow ing would soon heal when one of these devil’s snuff boxes was squeezed over the wound and the powder allowed to settle. My grandmother would gather these puffballs and store them in glass jars in case of accidents. I too used these unique healers when our sons were small and were stumping toes, cutting fingers, and snagging themselves on fish hooks.

dog tick-Some types of female ticks that will bite their long teeth, which grow backward, into a person or animal and continue to grow, and becoming engorged with eggs. There may be as many as 5,000 eggs when the tick bursts; these eggs hatch and the cycle starts over again. Before the federal government made farmers and cattle ranchers dip their cattle, cows’ ears often drooped down to the sides of their faces from the weight of so many ticks. Rabbits and squirrels were sometimes so filled with ticks that they were not good for table food.

doughty-Soft, pasty looking, fat. This word was used in the old days by some black people to describe white people who were much overweight and sweated a lot.

dummy line-A high ridge through the forest where a rail line had been laid so that cut timber could be hauled from the woods. Flat cars were used to take the timber to the nearest freight depot. The engine was fueled with wood from the forest. When the rails were removed, the ridge became known as the dummy line.

enameled rug-A forerunner of linoleum rugs. Enameled rugs were printed with bright colors in pretty designs and patterns on heavy pasteboard backing. Mama yearned for a green-and-yellow checked design to match the yellow dyed fertilizer sack kitchen curtains. A five-by-eight-foot enameled rug cost around five dollars at the Liberty Mercantile run by our cousin Kate Terrell.

flying jennie-Country children enjoyed having a flying jennie on the school grounds. The trustee board, composed of male parents, would cut down a tall pine tree, leaving a stump about three feet tall. The stump would be whittled to a round stub about twelve inches high. The trunk of the fallen tree would have all limbs trimmed off and a hole would be bored to fit the projection on the stump, with a bit of room to spare. The stub on the stump and the hole in the tree trunk would be greased with hog fat, and pieces of boards would be nailed across the tree trunk for handholds. A child would get on each end of the tree trunk and hold on for dear life, while other children would begin pushing the tree trunk until it was fly. ing around. If a child happened to fall off, he knew not to stand up but to crawl to safety. Only the brave and hardy enjoyed the flying jennie!

foot log-A substitute for bridges over small streams and narrow places in creeks. A farmer would cut a tree on one bank, allowing it to fall across the stream. Once the limbs were trimmed off the trunk, a nice sturdy way to cross the water was in place for many years. Best of all, cows couldn’t walk across the foot log.

garden sass–In spring time when there were leaf and head lettuce, dill, radishes, tender greens, green onions, English peas, and mustard and turnip greens in the garden, Mama would send us out to gather garden sass for her noon meal. No root vegetables were called garden sass.

ground hog saw mill-A small saw mill used to clear all the timber from land that was to be farmed. A mill owner who went in without permission to clear cut would be called a ground hog

ground spewer-Very cold weather. Wet ground would spew up in ice, banks beside roads would have spewed clumps of ice, and barnyards would have horse and cow tracks filled with spewed ribbons of ice.

high water-A game of jump rope in which the thrown rope would be held high so that the jumper had to exert herself not to touch it. If she tired, she would say “calf rope” and not be called out.

lidered knots-Pieces of fat pine found in woods, mostly in the form of knots where limbs had grown from the trunks. Lidered knots are rich in turpentine and blaze quickly when lit. During possum hunting time, hunters often carried a flaming pine knot to light the way; these knots cost nothing at a time when coal oil for lanterns was fifteen cents per gallon.

mendets — Round pieces of metal with a cork pad between, used to mend articles such as cooking pots and pans made of granite, enamel, and aluminum. Hot water bottles can also be mended with these small interesting helpers. During the depression, housewives kept a card of mendets on hand. Here in my fifty-second year of marriage and housekeeping, I know exactly how many chicken dumplings plus meat from two chickens will fill a mended pan. The tiny mendet in one corner doesn’t spoil the pie.

milch cow-A cow giving milk, one kept for milking. The word was used by many farmers when speaking of their favorite cow with calf by her side; they said the word as it is spelled.

mill tail-On the banks of Waggoner Creek one of my fore parents had a cotton gin and grist mill both run by water power. There were tall heavy gates which, when closed, contained the creek water in what was called a “mill tail.” Water pouring over a dam caused the machinery to run; when water wasn’t needed, the gates were opened.

monument yard -A small park next door to the Presbyterian Church in Liberty. There is a marble monument listing the names of soldiers from Amite County killed in the Civil War. Cedar trees and benches made this a nice place to rest when Auntie and I made trips to the county seat.

mud cats-A slick-skinned fish similar to blue cats. Mud cats, which seldom grow over eight inches long, have a wide mouth with whiskers, are a muddy-blue color, and feed on the bottoms of small creeks and branches. These fish are a delight to children who enjoy bringing home a nice string of fish for their mama’s noon meal. Fried fish, hot biscuits, brown gravy, and rice make a feast, and best of all the children can say, “We furnished the fish for dinner.”

mutch-A cap worn by housekeepers to protect their hair from dust; also worn by those who want to hide kid curlers or unkempt hair. The cap is usually made from white material, and most have a ruffle around the edges for decoration. A drawstring keeps it snug over hair. These caps were worn years ago; it is said that the old women and children wore them in Scotland and France. Evidently the Scotch-Irish in our family brought this morning cap with them when they came to America.

oil sausage-These different and delicious sausages came in finger long sections packed in oil, usually in five-gallon cans. The sausages were made from ground beef and were highly seasoned and colored with red dye. They were a special treat for country people who wanted to buy a little snack in the grocery store: sausage, crackers, a slice of cheese, and a tall ice-cold pop. Dessert would be a ”stage plank,” which was a flat ginger cake with vivid pink icing-two came in a paper envelope. This lunch cost twenty cents. Our uncle Welch threw in the stage planks, saying, “You all brought me your trade, now it is my treat.”

opium gum-Around 1840 to 1870 opium gum could be bought in grocery stores or drug stores; it came in flattened, rather sticky, balls. Our great aunt Sallie often told me how the gum was used: a small piece would be sliced from the ball and placed between the gum and upper cheek, where it melted or dissolved. People often became addicted to this gum, especially women who had used it for pain relief during childbirth.

plunder (noun) — Lots of small things such as household necessities and equipment for animal doctoring. A semi-doctor (self-taught) carried a bag of home-grown medicine, bandages, etc., along with sharp knives, number eight sewing thread, a big-eyed needle, and other odds and ends. When K. Green came to doctor on any animal, he would put down his great big bag, saying, “Now let me get out my plunder and get to doctoring.”

Long ago, folks did not have much in the way of bought things in their homes-it was make do or do without. I recall homemade fly swatters, turkey wing fans, battling sticks used to beat washed and boiled clothes, graters made from tin cans nailed to a board and a dainty one made from a zinc screw top jar lid with the porcelain liner removed. Women carried many things in their purses: sugar biscuits for the baby when it cried in church, a chamois rag to wipe sweat from a brow, a hair net, hairpins, a string of spools for the toddler to play with when the sermon went on and on. Ask any woman back in the long ago what she had in her purse, and nine times out of ten you would hear, “Nothing much-lots of plunder.”

Our sons loved their plunder: homemade spinning tops, slingshots made from forked limbs, inner tube rubber for draw-backs, and an old shoe tongue for the rock holder, marbles made from red clay and vinegar, then baked in Mama’s wood stove, popguns made from elderberry stems and green chinaberries to shoot in the popguns.

plunder (verb)-When homes are broken into with robbery in mind and the thieves find nothing to their taste, they often plunder the home, breaking glass from the windows, spilling drawers on the floor, dragging mattresses outside and turning the hose on them, cutting carpets to shreds, tearing curtains from the windows-even quilts hanging on the walls for decoration are ripped down. All in the name of plunder.

pore folks’ tea– This kind of tea has been around for well over 100 years in our family. Natchez, where coffee and tea were bought on yearly trips, was a long way from Shady Rest, and pore folks’ tea was a hot drink easy to make from ingredients that were always on hand. You take one tablespoon of sugar and one tablespoon of sweet cream, place in a cup and stir well, and add boiling water. Grate a bit of nutmeg or a small piece of cinnamon bark for extra flavor. Take outside, sip, and enjoy country living. Our relatives who came from Ireland had small rocks that were full of holes or pores; one of these little rocks would be dropped in the cup with the cream and sugar and stirred well before the water was added. The rock was saved for another making of pore folks’ tea.

potato bank-A place to store sweet potatoes. You dig a hole about two feet across and one foot deep, pour in several buckets of washed rocks, and add layers of hay or oat straw. After potatoes are dug (do not wash), let them air dry under a shade tree for a day or two, then pile them on top of straw, cover with more hay or straw, and pour dry dirt over them (red clay is best) about six inches deep. Cover with boards and black tarpaper. Potatoes should not freeze in cold weather. When ready to have a mess of baked potatoes make a small opening at the top and remove as needed.

pre-salad days-From nine to teen years when the future seems far away.

raise Cain-A great commotion such as someone fussing at a child, servant, wife, or others when they can’t answer back.

rap-jack-A game children played in years past in which long limber switches were used. A line was drawn in the dirt and the child who had a switch in each hand would give a dare: “Don’t cross that line-if you do, I’m going to rap-jack you.” All raps were below the knees. Other children were standing around, hoping the two playing would tire and let the watchers have a chance. Sometimes one child would rap-jack a half dozen or more children and win the game. When a child wanted to give over and quit, he was supposed to yell “calf rope.” As a rule, when the rap-jacked children arrived at their homes, their parents finished their fussing with a whipping for good measure, even though parents considered it common for children to play rap-jack.

red bellies–Creek perch or sunfish; any fish with a reddish cast to the belly.

rusty (cut a rusty)-Older people as well as children can “cut a rusty.” Grown people become loud, cry, moan, and throw things when they are trying to get their way. Children have fits of temper, falling to the floor sobbing, weeping, and kicking, often taking their rusty cutting to the point of holding their breath until their faces turn blue. Our sister Bess was well known for her rusty cutting and on top of the smokehouse.

shivaree-A serenade to newlyweds. Country folks made a big thing out of the shivarees they gave when a just-married couple went to their new home or to the home of one set of parents; as a rule, there were more people at the shivarees than at the wedding. Noisemakers, singing, and rowdy jokes were part of the festivities. Catcalls were made to the newlyweds urging them to come out and greet the guests–at least to offer a cup of hot cider or a sip of moonshine. After a spell, the groom would have enough of this foolishness; often he would shoot a shotgun toward the sky with a promise that the next shot would be direct from the front porch.

shrub-A beverage made from fruit juices. Our shrubs are non-alcoholic.

skeeter hawks-Local name for dragonflies often seen around creeks, branches, and rivers where the water runs shallow.

skim beer-When sugar cane juice was cooked in open pans at syrup mills, a scum would rise to the top of the boiling juice and have to be removed with tin skimmers. The “skim” was put in wooden barrels and allowed to ferment until those who liked this beer said it was ready for drinking. Often homemade yeast cakes were dropped in the fermenting juice to hasten the working time of the beer. Skim beer would be drawn from the bottom of the barrels through an inserted piece of green hollow reed cane (found growing near the Old Lake) in the bung holes. When the beer was drawn off, workers drank their fill and often had to take naps on the baggus pile. It was said this beer had the kick of a wall-eyed mule.

slide-A wooden box with green oak runners nailed to the bot tom. Slides were used to haul fertilizer, feed, seeds, children, and firewood in small amounts and to gather corn when harvest time came. One man could pull corn and drive the slide from one end of the row to another, thereby making it possible for other family members to do farm chores as needed. Slides were pulled by horse, mule, oxen, goat and, for short distances, men and women. Children especially loved having a slide made for them, getting a billy goat to pull it, and directing him up and down the country roads. Haying their very own farm equipment on a smaller scale made them feel important

stomp-In olden times when horse, ox, or mule power was used to pull wagons, buggies, carriages, carts, and slides, and when people rode horseback, front yards were used for hitching the animals; most families had large yards where the unhitched animals could move about. When company came the host would say, “Unhitch your stock so they can stomp about and rest.” This is how the word stomp came about. On Shady Rest there was an acre front yard or stomp

stork scissors-A small pair of scissors made in the shape of a long-legged stork, used to do dainty cutwork embroidery. The long bill of the stork made the cutting blades. Sewing kits, baskets, and boxes came with these interesting bright gold-colored scissors, along with threads of all colors, needles, tape measure, a needle threader, and a small Bible

sugar teat-Take half of a small flour biscuit, place on a square of clean white cloth, put a lump of butter on the biscuit, cover both with a generous sprinkle of sugar, gather edges of cloth, twist together, and tie with a strip of cloth, making sure the edges stick up enough for the child to hold on to so he or she will not swallow the teat. Using your fingers, mash the whole thing until it starts oozing through the cloth. Give to one fussy crying child to suck on.

thumps-Extra heartbeats, thought by old folks to be caused by too much coffee. The person with thumps had to rest and fan until it passed. Our aunt Eula, a confirmed coffee drinker who kept the coffee pot filled the whole day, was often seen resting with a cold cloth on her forehead, recovering from thumps. Now people speak of heart palpitations.

toady-The look of a warty toad frog, with bumps and freckles.

toll-When farm folks went to the grist mill to have corn ground into meal, hominy, chicken chops, or cow feed, the mill owner would keep a portion of the corn for his pay. This was called toll. It was usually a pound of unground for twenty pounds of ground corn. Syrup makers would take one gallon toll out of each fifteen gallons of molasses made at their mill

tommy walkers-A pair of poles fitted with foot rests about three feet from the ground. These are also called stilts.) As a rule, there would be a leather strap from the foot rest to the pole, leaving space for the foot. At Shady Rest tommy walkers were made from green sweet gum saplings with the limbs trimmed off. We went stalking about the yard and pastures on these poles and often had races. Taking them to school was a no-no!

velvet beans-Beans that were fed in the pods to cattle. Velvet beans were planted in the fields at the same time corn was, and the vines climbed up the corn stalks, blooming and making clusters of fuzzy pods. The velvet beans had to be pulled before the corn could be gathered; workers went through the fields of corn, picking the beans by hand and putting them in long sacks which dragged on the ground. This was an awful task, as the fuzz from the pods stung like ants. Strong men were known to leave the field, run to Waggoner Creek or Agnes Branch, jump into the water, and stay until their bodies were at ease. Milk cows were especially fond of these beans and would often break into a corn field to feast on the beans before they were dry enough to pick.

water glass eggs-Eggs that were put down for winter storage in water glass-a syrupy liquid made from dissolving sodium silicate in water. A five-gallon stone crock would be filled with infertile eggs (fertile ones would not keep) and the water glass poured over the eggs to seal the pores and preserve them.

water house-An area on the front or back porch where people could wash up. A shelf nailed between two posts about three feet from the porch floor would hold water buckets with dippers, wash bowls, or wash pans, along with soap dishes, which were often small cooter shells, one holding sweet soap and the other pine tar soap. Towels would be hung on wooden pegs on the posts, or if a roller towel was used it would be nailed to a nearby wall. Often water houses were latticed in to shade bathers from the morning sun. Elephant ears were usually planted at the edge of the porch by the water house; the soapy water caused the plants to grow so tall they often reached the porch eaves. One neighbor known for his odd ways would be bathing on his front porch, naked as a jay bird; if he heard a buggy or horseback rider coming, he would run over and squat behind a porch rocker, much to the dismay of his long-suffering wife.

Daddy at the Door

My father Jess Jr. was very much a man of the moment; charismatic, spontaneous and imbued with a zest for living. Naturally, being married to such a man made my mother Barbara very happy, but it also kept her in a state of continual apprehension as to what mischief might spring into his mind at any given time.

She often told us the story of being invited to a party in Oxford at a grand home on South Lamar. Barbara was understandably nervous, not knowing the hosts, but Jess had taken great pains to assure her that as district attorney he worked with the judge and knew him well. Once they had passed under the ancient trees to the spacious porch and rang the doorbell, Jess turned to Barbara, winked, and said, “Watch this.”

“My heart just sank to my shoes,” she’d say. When the door opened, Jess walked in, raised his arms in the air, and said, “I hope you people know that we are trying to have a prayer meeting in the house down the street, and your drunken carryings-on here are disrupting our communion with the Lord God Almighty!”

This being during the time before Prohibition was lifted in Mississippi, the assembly of well-heeled Oxonians and distinguished Ole Miss academics froze. Mother said the silence was so vast you could hear traffic on the Square four blocks away, and she was about to faint when the host stuck his head out the kitchen door and said, “Jess, quit scaring the hell out of everybody, get a drink and Barbara one, too. God knows she needs it.”

“I miss him so much,” she’d say.

 

Letter to a Young Scholar

Bruce, Mississippi is some three miles south of a hamlet in Calhoun County named Banner. In 1975, Tom Yancy, a junior in Bruce High School, wrote a paper on a novel by Eudora Welty and sent a letter to the author, who graciously responded.

 

One Direction Home: A Review

“South Jackson as a place begins at 2155 Terry Road, the address of the city’s oldest home. It is the last remaining plantation house in the area. Today, an anomaly, a handsome Greek revival structure with Doric columns standing near Interstate 20’s cloverleaf, commercial enterprises and the decay of the Highway 80 Corridor.”

So begins One Direction Home: A History of South Jackson, by Dr. Vincent Venturini and former city commissioner Doug Shanks. Shanks recounts that the work began with a question: Were his fond memories of growing up in south Jackson just nostalgia, or was south Jackson truly a special place? The answer is, of course, yes and yes. There’s nothing wrong with nostalgia, particularly that of the sort leading to such a wonderful work as this. At once scholarly and informal, poignant and piercing, One Direction Home entertains and informs on many levels.

U.S. Highway 51 splits in Jackson, ending on South State Street to the east, and starting again on Terry Road some two miles to the west. When Terry Road emerges from the cloverleaf south of Highway 81, atop a broad ridge sits the Carmelite monastery housed in the aforementioned Greek revival home formerly owned by the Myrant family. The Myrant/Lester home is a focus for an early history of south Jackson, which is integral to that of the city and of Hinds County. Terry Road (Hwy. 51) provides an axis for the geography of the area, which Venturini describes as, “somewhat porous, but we largely see south Jackson as beginning at Highway 80 and extending south to Lake Catherine and west to Mississippi Highway 18. The eastern boundary is the Pearl River. We are also including Provine High School from its beginning until 1968. Although Wingfield High School opened in 1966 for students in the city’s southern section, those already enrolled in Provine were allowed to finish there. As pointed out in Doug’s Preface, Shoney’s is included as a south Jackson institution given the role it played in the lives of our contemporaries.”

And the time? While an early history is presented, Shanks claims, “What follows in the coming pages is a largely nostalgic visit to south Jackson as it existed between 1945 and 1975.” All Jacksonians will recall landmarks such as the Alamo Plaza, the “Chuc-Wagun”, the Frost Top, the Green Derby, Leavell Woods Park, Cook Center, Mart 51 and the Zodiac. They will also recall, among the many prominent south Jacksonians mentioned, Farmer Jim Neal of WSLI, Woodie Assaf of WLBT, “Skipper” Dick Miller of WJTV, Andrew Mattiache, and Walter Bivins. The neighborhoods, the churches, the schools, the streets, parks, and other elements that compose a city are part of this wonderful weave. The book has scores of wonderful photographs, and has a reassuringly extensive and detailed bibliography with notes.

One thing, though; Shanks and Venturini spend an inordinate time mentioning the proletarian reputation of south Jackson. This apologia is distracting, superfluous, and, most importantly, unnecessary. Let’s bear in mind that this is not Natchez, nor Vicksburg, but Jackson, Mississippi, a city no less a cosmopolitan than Audubon described in 1823 as “a mean place.” Sure, you’ll find people who will tell you one Jackson neighborhood is “better” than another, but many an outsider has found the entire city déclassé if not to say destitute. While no doubt many former and current south Jacksonians will find flaws and omissions (that assuredly only they could detect) all Jacksonians, even those (such as I) who aren’t natives, can celebrate this loving biography of a time, a place, a people, a portal in time to a backyard barbecue, a high school football game, or a corner soda fountain.

The Christmas War in Calhoun County

While no battles of importance took place in Calhoun County, Mississippi, Leon Burgess, in his M.D.L. Stevens and Calhoun County, Mississippi offers Stevens’ account of a December skirmish in the northwest. The original story appeared in The Calhoun County Monitor on June 4, 1903.

In December, 1862, Gen. Grant’s army pressed back the Confederate army from Holly Springs to Coffeeville where after a sharp engagement Grant fell back to Water Valley, threw out a strong cordon of cavalry and encamped for the winter.

About Christmas a strong company of Kansas Jayhawkers invaded Calhoun County north of Schoona River, spending their fury in and about the village of Banner. They captured the few horses and mules remaining in the county, robbed every chicken roost and hen nest, stole turkeys, geese and ducks, and now and then they took a fat hog. In their rounds they confiscated a barrel of moonshine whiskey near the big rock at the head of Cowpen Creek. They drank freely, filled their canteens and came to Banner, where they took and destroyed everything in sight. In the afternoon they set out for Water Valley. Each marauder had his canteen full of “wild cat” and, tied in front and behind his saddle, a good lot of turkeys, geese, ducks and chickens, and a haversack full of eggs. They left Banner yelling like a mob of Hottentots, all full of wild cat whiskey; more than a hundred strong, the Federals insulted every old man they met and drove women and children from their homes.

A small squad of Willis’ Texas Cavalry was hanging around Grant’s army, watching every movement. They learned of the contemplated raid on Banner, followed in the of the Federal cavalry and kept a close eye on their movements. The Texans received into their ranks a few of the Calhoun boys at home on furloughs, armed with double-barreled shot guns and mounted on mules and horses. The company numbered about 20 of the battalion and 12 or 15 of the local boys. They saw from a distance the devastation of Banner and the surrounding country and saw that the Jayhawkers were tanking up on the “bust skull” whiskey and were preparing to leave for Water Valley. Willis, under the guidance of a friend, hosted his small band of braves in a narrow valley were the horses were tied and the boys were concealed on the crest of a narrow ridge about 60 yards from the road that ran up a narrow hollow west of Gore’s Branch 5 or 6 miles from Banner.

On came the drunken Federal mob, more than a hundred strong, singing, cursing and looting, all bent on reaching Water Valley with their booty. They crossed Gore’s Branch, the headwaters of Long Persimmon Creek, and moved up the road running parallel with the long ridge. When the Federal cavalry had filled the road at the foot of the ridge, Willis gave the command to fire. Sheet of flames leapt from 30 guns; volley after volley was poured into the panic-stricken Federal ranks. Horses and riders were piled promiscuously on the road.

The Rebel boys rushed down the hill and captured men, horses, turkeys, ducks, chickens and canteens half full of mountain dew. They mounted and followed in hot pursuit of the fleeing Federals. Down by Trusty’s and Tatum’s they charged the retreating Jayhawkers, killing and capturing men and horses; their charge to Tuckalofa Creek was a race for life. The next day a regiment of Federal cavalry came out and buried the dead and cared for the wounded. No estimate on killed or wounded.

The Man Who Loved Christmas

First published in the Calhoun County Journal Dec. 20, 1984, this memoir of my father, Jesse L. Yancy, Jr., was written fourteen years after his death by his friend and political partner, Sellers Gale Denley. Jess Jr., as he was called, was a remarkable man, well-loved, and still missed by many, none more so than me, his last surviving child. 

If there was ever a man who loved Christmas, it was the late Sen. Jesse Yancy of Bruce. The word “loved” is used advisedly. For there are those who might be said to “enjoy” Christmas, “respect” Christmas, “anticipate” Christmas, etc., but Jesse loved Christmas. His enthusiasm might have been regarded as extreme; except that was the way Jesse was about most things. He worked hard. Then he played hard. More than likely this approach to life was a primary cause of his untimely death on Aug. 26, 1970, at the age of 44, from a massive heart attack. Prior to assuming the senate post he served as district attorney of the third circuit court district for eight years and was city attorney in Bruce for 17 years. So it wasn’t unusual that the new city library was named in his honor.

And the way that Jesse launched the Christmas season was not particularly unique or unusual, either. It began with a big party with his friends at the Bruce community building. Funds were solicited for a live band and a case or so of assorted spirits and goodies, with a few dollars left over for another project. You see, Jesse had a secret Christmas vice. He liked to dress up in a funny red suit, hide his face behind a mask of white whiskers and, on Christmas Eve, visit the area in South Bruce where most black citizens lived.

Before each of these visits his automobile was filled with candy, nuts, fruit, toys and firecrackers. In the early 1960s it was all the Christmas some of the children had. The ritual started in the ’50s when he dressed up to play Santa for his own children. His family decided he should also go see the children of the black woman who worked for them. His appearance was an immediate hit. It was the Christmas of 1960, when I started helping him with the project, that he said he realized back then on his first trip that most of the black children had never really seen Santa Claus. So it became an annual event, growing in scope each year, to make the Christmas Eve appearance. The addition of toys and other goodies was a part of the evolution. The project was financed with any excess funds from the party, plus contributions from several of us who usually helped, with Jesse taking up the slack. It started each year with several trips to area wholesalers to purchase the large volume of goodies needed for some 250 to 350 children.

The bounty would be hauled in and the Yancy children—Cindy, Tom and Lee, often assisted by cousins Bill and Bob Cooper—and others would assemble individual sacks. Then, on Christmas Eve, Jesse would put on his Santa suit, we would load up a vehicle or two—the most memorable and utilitarian being a dark green Mustang convertible— and begin the appointed rounds. There must have been a lookout, for as soon as the first vehicle crossed the railroad tracks, which marked the boundary of the black community, several young boys would take over the lead position. With wide-eyed excitement they would precede the caravan down Murphree Street shouting: “Here he comes. Here comes Santa. Here he comes.” And for the next hour or so Jesse would be in his Christmas glory.

He handed out presents to those close by while keeping an eye out for those too shy to come up to him, so he could seek them out later. He knew quite a few of them by name. And almost all of the parents knew Jesse and whispered their thanks. But if the children knew him they didn’t let on. And neither did they let on if they sometimes got a whiff of the Old Charter Santa and his helpers found useful in warding off the cold and other miseries.

The custom died with Jesse. The party lasted another year or two, and some of us talked about continuing the Santa Claus visit. But, we rationalized, it was 1970 and the children were being encouraged to visit Santa on the Square, sponsored by the city as a part of the Lion’s Club Christmas parade. So we didn’t.  It has been 35 years, but every Christmas about this time I begin to get a little bit anxious. Like you feel when you know there is something you probably need to do. Like you feel when you know there is something you probably will never get to do again. It has been suggested that one can sometimes recapture the spirit of Christmases-past by recording remembrances like these. I am confident that Jesse would overlook my indiscretion in writing about it now.

Jesse Yancy, Jr. (left) with his brother-in-law, Jim Young, as Santa.

Charley Pride’s Baked Beans

My father Jess Jr. was one of the first politicians in north Mississippi who took an active and positive role in civil rights. As district attorney he refused County to sign a subpoena issued by a local grand jury for “disturbing the civil peace”  on the federal officers who guarded James Meredith  at Ole Miss October 1962. He took everyone, irregardless of race or religion, into his care, and that memory still echoes among many across Mississippi.

He also loved country music. He was raised on the likes of Jimmie Rodgers, the Carter Family and Roy Acuff; by the time I was ten, I knew damn near every one of Hank William’s songs by heart, and plenty of Loretta and Ernest as well. He also came to like a young singer named “Country Charley Pride” after hearing Pride’s first release in January 1966, “The Snakes Crawl at Night”.

Country music in the mid-1960s was–and largely still is–very much a white venue, so when my mother bought him an 8-track tape of Charley’s songs for him to listen to while he roared around in his new Mustang, she replaced the cover with one she made herself, something he wouldn’t look to hard at, a picture of a cowboy hat or something. Then there came a day when they were driving somewhere or the other, and Daddy was singing along with Charley, and Momma  turned to him after the song was over and said, “Jess, did you know he’s black?” He snorted and said, “Oh, Barbara, don’t be silly. He’s a country boy from over in Quitman County.” Then she showed him the original label on the tape. “Well, I’ll be damned,” he said. Soon after that, Charley made headline by being the first black entertainer on the Grand Ole Opry since DeFord Bailey in 1941, and of course, Jess Jr. told everybody he had been listening to him for years.

Here’s Charley’s’s recipe for Sweet and Sour Baked Beans, which he probably got from a roadie. I found this recipe in Mississippi’s VIP Recipes. This cookbook was published by Phillips Printing in the Jackson area to support a local school; there’s no date and no mention of the school’s name, but the other 42 contributors include John Grisham, Faith Hill, Archie Manning, Walter Peyton, Jimmy Buffet and Mary Ann Mobley. It’s nice to know our people help one another out even when they’re not at home.

Charlie Pride’s Sweet and Sour Baked Beans

8 bacon slices, pan fried until crisp, drained and crumbled
4 large onions, peeled and cut in rings
½ to one cup brown sugar (more if you like beans on the sweet side)
1 teaspoon dried mustard
½ teaspoon garlic powder (optional)
1 teaspoons salt
½ cup cider vinegar
1 one pound can green lima beans, drained
1 one pound can dark red kidney beans, drained
1 one pound can New England-style baked beans, undrained

Place onions in skillet. Add sugar, mustard, garlic powder and vinegar. Cook 20 minutes, uncovered. Add onion mixture to beans. Add crumbled bacon. Pour into 3-quart casserole. Bake in moderate over at 350 for one hour. Makes 12 servings.

Willie’s Liver

Willie Morris is one of Mississippi’s most beloved authors, particularly for My Dog Skip (1995), perhaps less fondly remembered for his autobiographical North Toward Home (1967; written when Morris was all of 29), which at the time of its release was hailed by the Sunday (London) Times as “the finest evocation of an American boyhood since Mark Twain”, and by William Styron (who was indebted to Willie for publishing his work during his brief tenure as editor of Harper’s), but damned with faint praise by the Sunday (New York) Times as though lacking in focus, “well-written.” Then there’s The Courting of Marcus Depree (1983), which Christopher Lehmann-Haupt writing for The New York Times, states that, “Instead of catching a story by the tail, Willie Morris staggers around, lunging after whatever happens to catch his eye.”

Morris’s early successes as editor of Harper’s led to early failure. After his summary dismissal by John Cowles, Jr., the scion of the conservative family that owned the magazine over a dispute about the publisher meddling in editorial operations in 1971, Willie hit the skids. He bummed around Long Island for a while, soaking up booze with the likes of Craig Claiborne, who he recklessly advised to write an embarrassing memoir. He then he came home to Mississippi, to Oxford, where he quickly became the central figure of a dissolute group of rakes and hangers-on who trolled the bars in varying degrees of pixilation and retired to his home at closing time for late-night revels with Willie as the Prince des Sots.

At that time, I was working at The Warehouse, a restaurant in Oxford that saw its heyday in the early 80s, where James Ruffin was the head cook. Garrulous and scrappy, James scared the hell out of me when I came to work there as his right-hand-man. James was blind in one eye, as I am, so I figured between us we would get along like those old women from myth who shared a single eye. And we did, working together in a cramped, noisy, hot kitchen. We came to know and trust each other well. The last time I saw him was the day after the Warehouse burned in the wee hours of February 15, 1986. When he died many years later, our old boss Frank Odom let me know, and I was saddened. James was a good man who lived a hard life.

The Warehouse enjoyed an upscale reputation and business was good. Now, after-hour diners are always an irritant to restaurant staff, but they hold big appeal for management who enjoy enabling significant people to entertain themselves and their significant friends after the riff-raff have gone and a strategic table can be commanded. Willie Morris always came in at closing time with a number of his adherents to occupy the big round table in the southwest corner of the floor, a choice spot far enough away from the noisy bar so that Willie could hold court without distraction. The management always alerted us that they were coming, which gave me and James ample time to halt our closing procedures and grumble until the table had been seated and lubricated with ample rounds. Almost invariably, Willie ordered the calf’s liver, which came to us pre-sliced and individually quick-frozen. A serving consisted of two 4-oz. slices of liver (dusted with seasoned flour and cooked on a well-oiled griddle) served with potatoes and a small salad. At $9.95, it was our cheapest entrée.

Cooked properly, a seared slice of liver is a wonderful thing. But it takes a little consideration, and by 11 p.m., James and I were on our last legs of the day. His wife had been waiting for him in the parking lot for an hour (he couldn’t drive at night), and I had less than 30 minutes to have a beer with my crowd before the Rose shut down. So when it came time to prepare Willie’s liver, James put a griddle iron on it and let it cook while we mopped the floor. The end result was leather. Morris–besotted–never  complained. I could have offered to do it myself in a sauté pan to ensure that it would be better, but I was tired as well and much more of a Hannah fan anyway.

This complaint against Morris can easily be dismissed as carping of the pettiest sort, but one day I was in the Gin, a landmark Oxford restaurant and watering-hole with a small group. At the bar, in his usual corner on the south end, sat Doxie Kent Williford, one of the smartest, kindest people I’ve ever known and one of the very few openly gay men in Oxford at the time. You rarely heard Doxie say an unkind word about anyone (including Willie Morris), and he was regarded with affection not only by the staff in the Gin, but by many Oxford residents and students.

I remember it was a late afternoon, and Willie came through the swinging doors with his entourage. They settled in at a large table in the center of the floor and not a half-hour had passed when Willie, in a very loud voice, said, “Look at that faggot at the end of the bar!” Then he snickered. The room fell silent. Doxie put his head in his hands, asked for his check and left. Willie laughed more at that and resumed telling whatever impressive lie he had launched upon earlier. We were all in shock, and I tried to follow Doxie out to say something, but he left in a hurry. He was back the next day, but refused to talk about it. I let it go for then, but after forty years, Willie’s gross incivility and utter lack of regard for those considered unworthy of his company remains a defining moment for me of his corrupt, dissolute character.

Season liver with salt and pepper, sear in light oil, turning once until just done and set aside; working quickly, add more oil, increase heat, add clove of crushed garlic and a half an onion, sliced into slivers or rings.

 

A Letter from Jackson

Darling Julia,

The project here at long last is over, and I should be coming home for good, back to the mountains, to the house you love, to the deep old woods I love, and to holding you, forever.

When I get home, I know you will ask me of this place, what it is like, what its people are like, how it looks, how they live, what makes the city what it is, but once home I do not want to think of it, not because I hate it, but because I want to clear my mind of it, so I’m writing you this letter to explain Jackson to you before you ask me about it one night when we’re settled on the front porch with a bottle of wine watching the stars wheel over Balsam Gap.

It’s been three months since I got here–I will never forget the heat hitting like a fist when I stepped out of the car onto the parking lot behind the hotel! This leads me to ask: how long does one have to be in a place to know it? My answer would be that it is not so much a matter of time as it is of engagement, not just of being but of living, of going out into the city and seeing it, smelling it, hearing it, tasting it, developing a feel for it. Surveying the streets has taken me all over the city, north, south, east and west, at all times of the day and often into the nights. Yet most of the work has been downtown, the strangest part of the city, yet its most characteristic.

Jackson doesn’t feel old, it doesn’t look old; there are no beautiful buildings save a few Modernist towers, none of the stately homes one would expect to find in a Southern city built before the Civil War, just blocks upon blocks of decaying buildings. The face of its main street, Capitol, is punctuated by vacant shops and offices with empty or shattered windows like broken teeth. Even the recent and prolonged transformation of Capitol Street itself into a two-lane thoroughfare with roundabouts and narrow verges cannot disguise the squalor. The city lacks grandeur, even faded grandeur, in any degree.

Poverty is one of two characteristics that shape Jackson; the other, closely intertwined, is racial tension, a volatile combination that composes more in discord than harmony the social, economic and political nature of the city. Time stands still here; though a great show of progress is made in the local media, there is no progress. The city weekly, which proclaims to be a smart alternative to the moribund daily, constantly aggravates the cauldron, and the political landscape is dominated by self-serving personalities motivated by a desire to stay in office. These people funnel federal funding to redevelopment projects designed not to improve the city, but to affect their political ends. No cohesive vision exists because Jackson is not a city, only a fractured collection of people in a place that has lost all sense of itself, a shattered glass best melted and recast.

I can see you smiling as you read this, thinking, “You fool, it’s Mississippi; what did you expect?” Well, darling, I did expect more. I told you that before I came here. I expected to find people working together, a marketplace of ideas, a common goal. Tell me that’s why you love me, because I am a dreamer, even though every night here I dreamed only of you in that old house on the mountainside under a starry sky.

All my love,

Timothy

 

Hoka Cheesecake

Ron Shapiro opened the Hoka in Oxford in 1974. He showed much of what passed as “art cinema”, but included an eclectic blend of old “B” movies, and selections from cutting-edge favorites such as Russ Meyers and John Waters. Sometime around 1978, Ron went into partnership with Betty Blair, a beautiful lady from the Delta, and together they opened up the Moonlight Café in the theater. A dining area was constructed, the plumbing was re-done, kitchen equipment and a storage room were installed. The Moonlight served sandwiches, salads and desserts, and in a short time the Hoka became a popular nightspot in Oxford.

One of the signature desserts was a New York-style cheesecake that came to the Moonlight via two sisters, Marla and Lee Ann Frear, who hailed from Delaware. Both Marla and Lee Ann were big, buxom blondes. I vividly remember seeing them at a Halloween party costumed as Siamese twins, resembling nothing less than a battleship in full steam as their huge boobs plowed a wake through the crowd. They got the recipe from their mother, who was a caterer in Dover, and sold the cakes to the Moonlight to abet their college allowances. After they graduated, they gave the recipe to Gene Duncan, who gave it to me some thirty years ago. It’s a simple concoction, but you must take care to pack the crust evenly or it will singe on the outside and be soggy in the middle

Hoka Cheesecake

Filling: ¾ cup sugar, 3 large eggs, 2 teaspoons vanilla, 24 oz. cream cheese, room temperature, 1 stick melted butter. Beat eggs, add sugar and mix well at medium speed, then add cream cheese and melted butter.
Crust: 1 box Nabisco graham cracker crumbs, 1 ½ cup sugar, 1 ½ stick melted butter.
Topping: 1 pint sour cream, room temperature, 1 teaspoon vanilla, 4 tablespoons sugar.
Mix crust ingredients, pack in lightly oiled 9”x3” spring form pan. Mix filling ingredients well at medium speed for three minutes. Pour over crust, spread evenly and bake at 375 for 30 minutes. Remove from oven, spoon on topping, return to oven at 475 for 5 min. Chill before slicing and serving.