Savoring Sansing

David Sansing gave me hell when I was at Ole Miss. It didn’t help that he knew my parents and probably assumed it part and parcel of his consideration of them to single out their wayward son for what he doubtless considered the academic equivalent of “tough love”, but no matter how attentive I was in class or how good my grades, I always felt targeted for seemingly innocuous but loaded questions that ended up with a subtle and solemn sort of tsk-tsking.

As time went on, I realized I wasn’t the only slacker he picked on; in retrospect, I think Sansing considered it his God-given duty to inspire every student he taught with a profound respect for the Muse of Mississippi History (bless her tattered soul). He is a marvelous teacher. What made Sansing even more formidable in the classroom is his leonine demeanor, the high, noble brow framed by curling swept-back hair; he is the very picture of an academic, moreover one who if he should ask you what the Black and Tan Convention was, and you respond that it was a craft beer festival, you likely won’t live to tell of it.

The title essay confirms Sansings command of his subject in sturdy prose that crackles with authority and sets forth his theme: “Poverty and prejudice and illiteracy have kept Mississippi back, and backwards, but The Other Mississippians have battled poverty and prejudice throughout our history. And for every Mississippi politician who has shamed its name, there have been others to make it proud.” And in the initial passage of “History of Northern Mississippi” Sansing describes the singular mystique of the state he loves:

Any standard historical atlas of the United States will indicate to the most casual observer that there is a political and geographic subdivision designated Mississippi. There are fifty such subdivisions, and collectively they constitute the United States. However, Mississippi is not just a state of the Union. It is a state of mind; it is more than a constituency, it is a condition.”

“History of Northern Mississippi” was presented as the opening lecture at the Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha Conference in 1974, and I find it germane that Sansing’s dissertation at Mississippi College (1959) was “A History of Calhoun County, Mississippi”. “History of Northern Mississippi”, along with the later essay “Professor B.L.C. Wailes: A Forgotten Man of the Old South” represent two of the finest examples of historical writing to be found in our literature, a subject that also comes under Sansing’s expansive attention along with the Meredith Crisis, the Mississippi state flag, the University of Mississippi and tributes to the likes of L.Q.C. Lamar, Arch Dalrymple III, John Leslie, Bill and Carroll Waller, Professor Guyton and others.

Former students will delight in hearing Dr. Sansing’s voice thundering off the pages and students of Mississippi history across the globe would be tragically remiss if this entertaining, edifying and authoritative work doesn’t find a place on their bookshelf. You will find yourself picking up David Sansing’s The Other Mississippi again and again for great writing and heartfelt history.

History of Belhaven Heights – Part 4, the Future

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bill and Nan Harvey
July 2018

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

Odom’s Lemon Fried Speckled Trout

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

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

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

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

 

 

A Fine Mess

Brits have a genius for naming food—bangers and mash, spotted dick, toad in the hole, fools and faggots—but some names make a smidgeon of sense, if in an oblique way. Take the Eton mess, which is not some schoolboy’s spill, but instead part of an institutional meal—in this instance of a school—though the term also applies in the military.

An Eton mess is a dessert, a mixture of meringue chunks, whipped double cream and fruit, most traditionally strawberries, but other summer fruit—blackberries, peaches or plums—are used. As the name implies, it’s said to have originated at Eton College, originally simply ice cream or cream with strawberries, but then the toffs took hold of it and thus the meringue and double cream. A variation of the Eton mess made with bananas and served at Lancing College is of course called a Lancing mess.

In our humid Southern summers, a traditional (“French”) meringue isn’t quite practical, so instead make what is called—God only knows why—an “Italian” meringue. Heat a cup of sugar and a half cup of water to the “raging torrent” stage of boiling then cool until steaming. Whip four egg whites at room temperature in a bowl that’s been wiped with half a lemon; once the whites make soft peaks, SLOWLY drizzle in the hot sugar syrup and keep whipping until quite stiff. Spoon this meringue on a lightly oiled sheet pan and bake in the oven until dry through, then break into chunks. As to the double cream, which has at least 10% more milkfat than whipping cream and has not been ultra-high heat processed, you simply can’t find it here, and while some of you will certainly find this reprehensible at the very least, my solution is to substitute whipped melted vanilla Häagen-Dazs. Sue me.

Messes are best assembled as soon before serving as possible, since the meringue will certainly become soggy in a very short time. You can pretty them up with chopped nuts if you like.

 

The Greatest Grilled Cheese

I am sorry I cannot take part in the Laurel Park competition because my Aunt Myrtle in Little Rock had a mild heart attack, and I have to drive her brother—my uncle—up there to take care of the old bat. You just would not believe the ruckus she made over him having to stay at her house, too like Emery could afford a motel, not that he would stay at one. Not over night, I don’t think.

Anyway, I wanted to be there. I had it all worked out, was going to speak on “Grilled Cheeses from Around the World” (croque monsieur, raclette, Welsh rabbit, quesadilla… ) for maybe thirty seconds then segue onto my own recipe, the inevitably prize-winning combination of buttered Bunny Bread and Kraft American singles toasted and sliced.

I hope it’s a blast for everyone. Me I’ll likely be, driving up I-530 listening to Hank Snow cds. Emery said he had an illegitimate daughter in Pine Bluff, but I ain’t stopping for any of that.

Jackson: A Neighborhood

In addition to their numerous charitable endeavors, the Junior League of Jackson has issued two quite remarkable publications. The first, in 1978, was their landmark Southern Sideboards, a truly luminous work that has since gone through fifteen printings, five of those Southern Living Hall of Fame editions. The recipes in Southern Sideboards altogether comprise nothing less than an exhaustive tutorial for home cooks in the Deep South, and if that weren’t enough also includes a heart-felt introduction by Wyatt Cooper.

Their second, more important work is Jackson Landmarks (1982) dedicated to the Manship House, one of Jackson’s most beloved architectural treasures. Jackson Landmarks is important not only for the wealth of detail and historical data, but also because Jackson’s urban landscape has changed significantly in the 35 years since its publication, and an estimated 25-30% of these historic structures have disappeared.

Jackson Landmarks also includes an essay (“The House”) by Jackson native Charlotte Capers  whose name has become synonymous with historic preservation across the state, as well as this one, “Jackson: A Neighborhood” by another Jackson native, Eudora Welty, one of America’s grand dames of belles lettres.

Welty’s essay is a charming memoir of a fragile time long past when little boys and girls pulled steamboats made of shoe boxes and tissue paper illuminated by stubby candles down sidewalks in the lightening-bug dusk, thrilled to cliff-hangers on silver screens in spacious movie theaters and endured lectures on distant lands and dramatic duets from another time on rough plank seats under a dusty Chautauqua canvas out West Capitol.

Jackson: A Neighborhood

It seems, looking back, that everything that went on in Jackson was done in the unit of the family. When Livingston Lake opened, it was the family that responded. They went out in the family car every morning, and took a dip before breakfast. In that first onrush of enthusiasm, you rode out from home in the rising sun, already in your bathing suit and rubber cap decorated with rubber butterflies, singing “Margie” all the way (that was the summer the lake opened) to learn to swim the breast stroke in a harness of water wings. As they went methodically splashing around you, their heads rising out of that warm brown water, it was neighborly; you saw all the same people every morning, much as you do at the supermarket now.

When you and I look back at Jackson, doesn’t it seem that everyday life then easily gravitated to the personal level? When the postman arrived with the mail (twice a day) at your door, he blew a whistle. It seems to me that the mail itself was all composed of letters. Could it even be true tht junk mail had not then been invented? We children, of course, would have loved it, but I remember nothing coming that would qualify except what we sent off for ourselves—orders for signet rings in return for wads and wads of Octagon Soap coupons.

The scale of life was personal and manageable—manageable for children. There were a lot of three-digit telephone numbers. You gave your number to Central, and Central was a person—a lady, who said “Number, please,” and “Sorry the lion is busy.” If you wondered what time it was, a normal thing was to use the phone and ask Central to give you the Fire Department. Nobody in the world had an answering service: you got them; not a recording, a fireman. Their line was doubtless often busy with people curious to know the time, but never mind: if you had a fire, there were fire alarm boxes fixed to the light poles on convenient street corners, little red iron boxes with glad doors. Any alarm would bring the whole fire department out on the street. This included, in my earliest memories, a wagon called “the steamer.” There was a clanging bell mounted on the front and a kind of brass boiler filled the back, with white stream rolling out at the top. It was always a little late, behind the hook-and-ladder truck and che Chief; but the steamer alone was pulled by a pair of matching white horses, out from under whose calloping hooves live sparks flew. S it thundered up the street, it was something glorious, worth waiting for and running after.

When you think of your childhood, there are many people who seem to have gone by in a parade: the old familiars. Many Jackson familiars were seasonal; and they were punctual. The blackberry lady and the watermelon man, the scissors grinder, the monkey man whose organ you could hear coming from a block away, would all appear at their appointed time. The sassafras man at his appointed time (the first sign of spring) would take his place on the steps of the downtown Post Office, decorated like a general, belted and sashed and hung about with cartridges of orange sassafras root he’s cut in the woods and tied on. They were to make tea with to purify your blood, and quite cheap at the price, something like a nickel a bunch. And when winter blew in, out came the hot tamale man with his wheeled stand and its stove to keep the tamales steaming hot in their cornshucks while he did business at the intersection of Hamilton and North West.

On a day when my mother had taken me to the Emporium where Mr. Charlie Pierce was making some suggestions for a party dress for me, he suddenly said, “My dear Mrs. Welty—the gypsies,” and without further warning, the flower spray and sash—he’d been showing us how they would go—were swept out of sight and beneath the counter. And there the Gypsies ambled, down the aisle. You could count on Gypsies in Jackson, coming with the first hint of fall. Gypsies were seasonal too, like the locusts and katy-dids.

Entertainment was easy to come by. First of all there were the movies. Setting out in the early summer afternoons on foot, by way of Smith Park to Capitol Street and down it, passing the Pythian Castle with its hot stone breath, through the one spot of shade beneath Mrs. Black’s awning, crossing Town Creek—then visible and uncontained—we went carrying parasols over out heads and little crocheted bags over our wrists containing the ten or fifteen cents for the ticket (with a nickel or dime further for McIntyre’s Istrione. At the Majestic we could sit in a box—always empty, because airless as a bureau drawer; at the Istrione, which was said to occupy the site of an old livery stable, we might see Alice Brady in “Drums of Jeopardy” and at the same time have a rat run over our feet. As far as I recall, there was no movie we were not allowed to see until we got old enough not to see “The Shiek”.

At a time when the Century was still a live theatre, a third movie house came along on Capitol Street. This was an open air theatre which opened after dark, on the Town Creek bottom. The creek itself was straddled by an enormous billboard, which in my mind’s eye I will always see pasted with an ad for a coming attraction with Annette Kellerman. It portrayed Annette in a long white drapery, standing on the edge of a cliff, blindfolded. Her arms were straight out in front of her, and one toe already pointed over the abyss. At my urgent pleas, our family attended. And when we did, Annette never went anywhere near a cliff, and made not a single appearance blindfolded, or even in draperies. She just kept on her usual bathing suit, and if there ever was anything after her, she outswam it. I attributed the early folding of the Open Air Picture Show to this gyp, but was laid officially to the heavy attendance of mosquitoes at all performances.

But once a year, and another part of summer, live entertainment came with the Redpath Chautauqua. The tent went up on a vacant lot somewhere near the West Capitol Street Methodist Church. My father always took tickets for the full week’s performances. This meant we could ride on the street car at night, which only began the excitement; holding on to wicker seats by open windows and smelling the scorching rails as we made what seemed a sizzling speed through the calm of nighttime Jackson. “Where Will YOU Spend Eternity?” was even then a landmark sign looking down from under a light bulb onto the I.C. Station, from just beyond Mr. Tripp’s Furniture Store.

Within the Chautauqua tent: the smells of newest sawdust and oldest canvas, plank benches down front for the children to sit together on, stage with green rep curtains fastened together in front, while you wanted with your heart in your throat for them to be rattled back. Until then you could only keep reading over and over the hopeful sign that hung on a tent pole, “Kimball Piano Used.”

The show might be an educational lecture on a distant part of the world, or a concert by a musical trio (generally all ladies), or the performance of a play such as “Turn to the Right” or, more blessedly, “The Bat.”

The on the final night, a play was performed one year with a cast of local children; we were encouraged to try out. I did, for a role that where all you did in try-outs was sit with your ankles crossed in a folding chair in the middle of the stage with all the others around you and singing to you. It didn’t appear that there were even any lines to speak. Another girl, with naturally curly hair, beat me to the part. Imagine my surprise when, on the night, this character turned out to be Joan of Arc and what she was doing at center stage was being burned at the stake, while the rest sang to her (this was during World War I): “Joan of Arc! Joan of Arc! May your spirit guide us through! Allons, enfants de la patrie! Joan of Arc! We’re for you!” (I’d had a close call.)

I feel we were highly entertained as children, and quite well versed in ways of entertaining ourselves. Our play was unscheduled, unorganized and incessant—in our backyards, our friends’ backyards, in the public parks, and especially in summertime, we ran free. (Our mothers, however knew right where we were.) At the same time, it seems to me, we read all day. We might read all day in a tree.

Summer nights, we “played out”. We made “choo-choo boats—steamboats—out of shoeboxes with windows in the shapes of the moon and stars cut out of the sides and tissue-paper pasted over, and a candle inside lighted to show through, and at first-dark, down the river of sidewalk, pulling our shining boats on a string, we met other boats, and passes each other.

“Choo-choo.”
“Choo-choo.”

Summer days we went to spend all day with each other. You might play paper dolls. You went carrying all you had in a bulging Bellas-Hess catalogue in which the dolls, families and families of them, and their outfits were filed flat between the pages. With paperdolls and your friend’s paperdolls, the thing to be desired was number. The combined batteries of your paperdolls and your friends paperdolls spent the day visiting and dressing for each other. They acted out exciting scenes we thought up. Though a certain number of the fathers of these families had nothing to wear but long underwear, or if clothed at all were obliged to carry a second pair of pants over their arms (they all came out of the mail order catalogues), this didn’t cloud our day.

A child quite naturally thinks his own world—his house, his street, his town—is going to stay forever the way it is, in the same way that he thinks his own family will always be where he sees them now, and exactly the same. We of my day may have kept an unusually strong and reassuring conception of Jackson; for most of our childhood, the look of Jackson did indeed remain essentially the same. Buildings seldom came down, streets didn’t get widened—or rezoned. Not only the streets and houses and “downtown” kept being just what they were supposed to be. Trees too seemed permanent. Trees you were growing up with remained where they were and you knew them in all their seasons. They just got bigger, still lining the same streets where you walked. In those days, the sidewalks yielded to the trees and went around them. The big tree in front of the Carnegie Library at Mississippi and Congress took over the prime parking place in the street itself, and the curb ran out in a big half-moon to take care of the roots. Downtown traffic went around it. The tree at the Central Fire Station was given similar respect in Pearl Street until we, ourselves, at our age, let it be cut down.

I believe the Jackson of my day was really scaled for children. And then, in its very confinement to small and intimate size, it suggested the largeness of the surrounding world—you could see Jackson end and the country begin. This child’s imagination could take this in with the use of his won eyes. The family car ride showed it to him—our relationship with the surrounding world. When it was night, there was another sense of greatness. This lay in our view of the night sky. Jackson’s night sky, then, was not a blushing reflection of a neon city, but its own clear black—the perfect opposite, as it ought to be, from day. You could live anywhere in town and keep up with the stars. A child ordinarily could point out the constellations and name them, because they shone. And closer to hand, you could get the effect of lightening-bugs, too—flashing from backyard to backyard, street to street, field to field along country roads, then so near home.

January, 2018: A Garden Calendar

1/2
Intense cold has gripped the mid-South since New Year’s Eve, with lows well into the teens (15F here) and highs barely above freezing; the high today was 34F. The ground is frozen to at least an inch. Here is when I’m grateful I got the tulips and most of the daffodils in the ground before the cold set in. Also, finally I can cut and trim the asters and papyrus down to the ground. I’m unsure how the seedling greens (mustard and turnip) as well as the more mature vegetables at 1043 will do after the deep freeze. Inside plants are enduring. Plumeria still has about four green leaves. I’m nursing the bears’ ears; they’ve had a troubled year. Poinsettias and column cactus in the entry hall, along with cuttings from the shrimp plant, which was radiant this year. Good container plant. Many to put in the wall bed, the beefsteak begonia, the Dutch pipe, also the succulents. It’s going to be a better year, more orchestrated from one month to the other. Gotta pace yourself. Sow and see.

1/4
Much of the clay ground is frozen down to an inch, and the looser soil with plants is crusty, the plants drooping, but very green still. It’s amazing to see the Savoy cabbages in such good shape. The two-week seedlings will suffer most, the onions and other bulbs will profit best. We’ll need rain after this to baste the wounds and get the new growth going. This year, white marigolds, yes. More vegetables in the corner bed as well. Digging up the old “sidewalk” is the big project. The plot(s) are poised for a good year. Throw it all out there and see what happens.

1/10
Warmer and wet, typical pattern, 60s-50s-40s, soon to be below freezing again. Almost 100 poinsettias, more expected. Bulbs are so iffy, still trying to establish a formula for planting. Transplanted mustard surprisingly survived an intense freeze. Planted sprouting ‘Silver Skin” garlic from kitchen today. Inside plants maintaining. Going to Hutto’s with Bev and Wil tomorrow. Some of the ‘Red Devon’ poking over the soil in w. driveway bed, and in Dale and Kim’s beds/containers.

1/13
Poinsettias—approx. 100—covered under Visqueen against the back wall of the lot, but another cold spell will keep highs in the thirties and lows down to the teens again by the fifteenth and sixteenth (fifteenth MLK Day). To Hutto’s with Wil and Bev on the eleventh, brought (along with Visqueen) more red mustard (6) and dusty miller (12). The old paper-whites on Kenwood emerging though blistered by the cold. The snowdrops planted in Sept. (?) frost-bitten as well. Some of the ‘Red Devons’ emerging in westernmost plot. On second thought, these might be the snowdrops planted this past September?

1/28
Red mustard (6) and dusty miller (12+) from Hutto’s planted; the garden is still recovering from the extreme cold weather, though temperatures are now back to normal with highs in the low sixties/high fifties and lows in the forties/thirties. Spend the 205th-26th cleaning up, looks much better. Sowed more mustard/turnip, need to plant the last collards from seedlings. Sorted seeds today, need to order brown cotton? Should get Southern shield ferns from Ann Edwards on Manship to plant near compost pile.

1/30
I hope we have a good year for peaches.

Belle Calas

We’d sit in Mama’s kitchen and listen to old Tante Zoe. She talked all the time when she was cooking, about what she was making and how she knew how to do it right from the old days. If she was making a big dinner for special guests, she’d say why she was serving this because it was something you’d serve, “To the mayor, not the bishop!” Then she’d sing and talk to herself, look up, smile and coo like the old dove she was and make us honey butter to put on that morning’s biscuits.

Daddy smoked his pipe in the house, but Zoe said she had better manners than to smell up the furniture cushions and puffed on hers in the swing on the back porch. Zoe ran that house more than he did. Mama was Zoe’s lamb from the manger, to her an icon of love itself, and that was that. He knew that Zoe was listened to outside out house, had the respect of everyone up and down St. Charles. And in those days, that was saying a lot. I don’t think Mama ever knew Zoe the way everyone else did.

Sunday mornings she’d make the old rice beignets, the calas. She’d put a little water and a yeast cake in some old rice she had on the back of the stove, cover it and in the morning mix in eggs, flour and sugar into a loose dough and drop by spoonfuls into hot oil. And she’d tell us how they used to sing, the ladies with their calas, ““Belles calas! Mo gaignin calas, guaranti vous ve bons! Belles calas, belles calas!” and the girls would come from the bedrooms and kitchens to load their coffee trays to take back in where their men were waiting.

Calas (Beignets riz)

Add a packet of yeast to two cups well-cooked rice made to a pulp and let work overnight. In the morning, add four beaten eggs, a half cup sugar, a hefty pinch of nutmeg, allspice and cinnamon. Throw in enough plain flour to make a thick batter and drop by spoonful into very hot oil. Dust with powdered sugar while hot. Serve immediately.