Monday, May 30, 2022

The Origin of Barbeque Sauce

 While the technique of pit cooking is pretty much universal, nearly every food historian posits that the origin of Barbeque is the Caribbean and a combination of native and African influences during the colonial period.  I'm willing to accept that.  The word itself is Spanish if that tells you anything.  If you look at how Barbeque spread and where it's distributed, even today, a Caribbean origin is the most likely.  Considering how many Southern enslaved people came from or through the Caribbean, it kind of seals the deal.

What about Barbeque Sauce, though?  Traditional food history says that Jamaican Jerk Sauce is the most likely origin of Barbeque sauce, which makes sense, but here's my issue:  the principal ingredients of Barbecue Sauce are tomatoes, chilis, and some form of acid.  Traditionally, the acid is vinegar, but let's assume that the acid might originally have been citrus, maybe limes, but what about a pre-Columbian acid, like passionfruit juice?      

Here's what I'm getting at: all of the main Barbeque sauce ingredients are pre-Columbian and originate in central and south America, not the Caribbean.  I don't believe that Mole sauce is colonial in origin, the name might be, but I refuse to believe it was the first time somebody used a molcajete to grind chiles into a sauce.  

Here's my theory, and I'm not a professional, so don't beat me up.  If you want a professional opinion, ask George Bey or David Woodward.  I think Barbeque Sauce is much older than Carribian Barbacoa.  I think the people pit cooking in the Carribian already knew of the sauce.  They inherited it from Central and South American ancient sources and had been putting it on meat for generations.  If you look at the development of chiles and tomatoes and ceviche and the molcajete, you have all the essential ingredients of Barbeque sauce, and they all pre-date Columbus by thousands of years.  Surely they weren't waiting for the arrival of Europeans to put it all together.  

Friday, May 27, 2022

Strange New Worlds Episode 4 Memento Mori

If you're curious, Memento mori is a Latin phrase meaning: "remember you will die."  You see the expression in the bible, Sirach 7:40 "In all thy works remember thy last end, and thou shalt never sin."  Both have meaning in the episode.

Star Trek Strange New World is catching the world on fire if you haven't heard yet.  Episode 4, Memento Mori, is an ensemble episode, including a good bit of time for my personal favorite: Bruce Horak as Hemmer, the blind passivist Andorian engineer.  

This episode introduces everybody's favorite carnivorous aliens; the Gorn and La'an Noonien-Singh has a personal history with them.  Ethan Peck as Spock shines in this episode, and there seems to be some effort to tie up what some fans consider loose ends in the Spock-Michael Burnham story.  

If you don't have Paramount Plus yet, between Strange New Worlds and The Offer, it really is worth the seven bucks a month (with Amazon Prime).

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Mississippi Art The Wolfes and the Lazy Log Lodge

This is a story about memory, and family, and art.  This is a story about Mississippi and happiness and a story about love.

Yesterday my sister sent me a text message that she found a painting and wanted to know if it was of the Raymond Lodge; and included a photo of it.  Immediately I confirmed that it was indeed a painting of the Raymond Lodge and that it had hung in our grandmother's house for many years.  

I believed it was painted by Jackson artist BeBe Wolfe.  My sister texted back a photo of the signature, and it was painted not by BeBe Wolfe but by her mom, Mildred.  All this opened the most beautiful treasury of memories I had stored away, not forgotten but not visited in a long time.

The Raymond Lodge Painting
As Sent By My Sister

The lodge was the Lazy Log Lodge, about five miles east of Raymond, Mississippi.  After World War I, a retired colonel built it, and my uncle Boyd bought it in the fifties.  It was a little over thirty-five acres, with a five-acre lake, and when he bought it, there was the log constructed main house, a caretaker's house, a horse barn, a sheep barn, and a pavilion.  

It was the site of many company and family gatherings.  I learned to ride a horse there and bait a hook there.  I told and heard many ghost stories there, and in the days when I barely got to see my dad because his career was so busy, I could spend time with him there. 

It had a massive brick barbeque that Kelly, the caretaker, once used to cook enough hamburgers to feed the entire St. Andrews eighth and ninth grade.  Some people got two!

Besides the main house being made of logs, I don't know why it was called "lazy log."  The colonel built the house himself with trees cut from the land and four sandstone fireplaces, made from the same sandstone quarried in Hinds County and used at the Jackson Zoo and Smith and Poindexter parks.

The horse barn burned down in the sixties, leaving only a mule cart with a broken axel, and the horses were moved to the sheep barn under the levee.  The pavilion was storm-damaged in the seventies and had to be torn down.  The whole farm was sold in the eighties to finance a project my dad was working on.  

The house and the pavilion were on a hill looking over the lake.  Mrs. Wolfe must have been sitting in the pavilion when she made the painting.  She would have been shaded, but her subject bathed in sunlight.  By the colors, it must have been fall.  Although I wasn't there that day, I can clearly see it in my mind.  I tried to find a photo I'd seen of her painting before to include here, but I couldn't find it.  Maybe it was in a book.  I'll keep looking.

My Grandparents were big fans of the Wolfe's, both from their studio work and their involvement in Millsaps.  I don't know exactly how the painting came to be.  Either they commissioned it from her, or she painted it as a gift.  I've seen other landscapes she made, but I didn't recognize the locations.  From the vantage point of the hill, she couldn't see the levee that created the lake, only the center part of it before smaller hills blocked the rest. 

Across the water in the painting is a medium-sized weeping willow tree.  There were four weeping willow trees around the lake, planted as saplings by the colonel himself.  By the time my dad sold the place, they were massive.  There was pretty good fishing under that willow tree, and it was a great place to water your horse.  One time my Uncle John said we could walk our horses all the way across the lake from there to the other side, and we did!  I was in trouble for getting my pants wet in the lake water, but boy, was it fun.

Veterans of the fabled Dixie Art Colony, Mildred, and Karl Wolfe, settled in Jackson, Mississippi, after World War II.  They started a studio and became a part of the fabric of central Mississippi and especially Millsaps College.  Some years they were the entire art department at Millsaps.  Karl became one of the most famous portrait artists in the state of Mississippi.  Mr. Wolfe's portrait of my uncle Boyd Campbell hung at Mississippi School Supply for many years and now hangs in Millsaps College.  Boyd also had a portrait done by Marie Hull, which was in my mom's house for many years, then my house, and now hangs in my sister's house.  My uncle had the hat trick of Mississippi portrait artists of the 1950s.

For many years, Karl's work overshadowed his wife, but by the 1980s, Mildred became more appreciated for her own work.  Both tended toward impressionism, but I always thought she did more than he.  I can't say that I prefer her paintings to his, but it's close.  She also worked in every other medium I can think of, including Ceramics (which I guess she's the most famous for now) and glass.  

Mrs. Wolfe and my paternal grandmother were friends.  I believe they played bridge together.  I was never invited to those parties.  There was a cluster of little old ladies in Jackson determined to bring arts and letters to our community, and they held Mildred Wolfe and Eudora Welty as proof of Mississippi's worthiness.  Looking back on it now, I guess they got what they wanted.

My grandmother Campbell had some forty-five paintings by Mississippi artists; three were by Mildred Wolfe and possibly two dozen of her ceramic birds.  My sister and aunt have them all now, and they're in good hands.

Signature On
The Raymond Lodge Painting
According to the signature on the Raymond Lodge landscape, I was three years old when Mrs. Wolfe finished it.  My uncle Boyd never lived to see it, but he would have loved it.  I cannot remember a time before this painting existed.

Before my sister's house, the Raymond lodge painting hung in the hallway of my grandparent's St Ann Street house in Bellhaven.  Across from it was the doorway to my Aunt Evelyn's bedroom, which became the guest room.  Visiting them, I saw it there my entire young life.  A well-made painting accomplishes so many things, not the least of which invoking happy memories, which this one did for me.  

I want to thank my sister, my brother, my brother-in-law, BeBe, and Mildred Wolfe for bringing all these memories back to me.

For more information about The Wolfe Studio and Wolfe Porceline Birds please visit their WEBSITE.

Karl and Mildred Wolfe 1950s

Karl and Mildred Wolfe 1950s

Hull Portrait
Campbell-Cooke Home

Wolfe Portrait
Millsaps College

Monday, May 23, 2022

My White Plume

It's come to my attention that there are those who have never known the name Hercule Savinien de Cyrano de Bergerac.  Why should they know him?  Edmond Rostand wrote the play in 1897 and he wrote it in French, of all things.

A secret few know that I have two totems in literature: one is the creature-god Kong, and the other is Cyrano.  I've never denied it.  I have seen and studied every possible production of the play that came within my grasp.  The most recent production in 2021 adds two remarkable new facets to the story: its music and the actor Peter Dinklage.

Rostand's play tells the story of Cyrano, a brilliant and gallant soldier who secretly loves his oldest friend Roxanne.  Secretly because despite his many gifts, Cyrano is deformed.  Traditionally portrayed with an enormous nose, but in 2021 as a dwarf.

At a play, a cadet in Cyrano's regiment named Christian de Neuvillette sees Roxanne and instantly falls into infatuation, as she does with him.  Later, Christian confesses his love for Roxanne to his commander Cyrano and asks for help making Roxanne love him.  Christian is shy and uses words poorly.  Cyrano knows Roxanne loves wit and poetry.  He also knows that Christian is brave and as beautiful as Roxanne herself.  He agrees to write letters to Roxanne, pretending to be Christian, so that Roxanne may fall in love with him.

The plot works.  Roxanne confesses to Cyrano that she loves Christian, not knowing that the words she loved were of her friend, Cyranos's own devotion for her, not Christian's.  

Cyrano's regiment goes to war.  Cyrano uses all his skills and all his bravery to ensure the cadet Christian's survival.   He also risks his own life by secretly delivering letters to Roxanne pretending to be Christian but telling of his own love.

Ordered into a suicide mission, Cyrano's skills grant his own survival, but despite them, Christian dies.  Roxanne has one last letter from Christian that she keeps on a ribbon around her neck, stained with tears she believes are his, and her own.

Many years later, Roxanne lives in a cloister.  Still faithful to her beloved Christian, she never took another suitor.  Regularly, her friend Cyrano visits her and delivers the news and styles of Paris.  

On this day, he is mortally wounded by bandits.  He hides the scar under his hat and meets one last time with the now older Roxanne.  Knowing he is dying, he asks Roxanne to read Christian's last letter; he knows she keeps it close to her breast, aloud to him.  The letter he wrote himself.  I won't give away the end.

Besides switching Cyrano's nose for Dinklage's dwarfism, what's remarkable about this production is that it's based on a stage version written by Erica Schmidt, Dinklage's own wife.  Many great actors have sought to play Cyrano as they do Hamlet and Othello and Lear, a privilege denied to Dinklage because of his condition.  The play is Schmidt's love gift to her husband.

After a successful run, funds became available allowing them to mount a film production, but Covid prevented its broad distribution.  It's not available on any of the streaming services, but you can rent it from either Youtube or Amazon for just a few dollars.

It's worth the viewing based on the performance by Dinklage and Haley Bennett as Roxanne.  The locations and cinematography are beautiful, and the music is memorable and charming.  It's nominated for several awards, including BAFTA, Golden Globes, and Academy Awards for acting and music.

Of the many interpretations of Cyrano, this may be my favorite, based mostly on Dinklage's performance.  I also found the audacity of mixing up a piece considered a classic a brave move, fittingly inspired by a real-life true love.  

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Ayn Rand and Andrew Ryan

For many years, I studied Ayn Rand's Objectivism pretty closely. I saw her ideas, combined with libertarianism, as the solution to most of our social and economic shortcomings.  

I had help, too. Libertarian commentators like James Randy and Penn Jillette guided me through the process, and I criticized, especially conservatives, who strayed from Rand's precepts. I never really considered the other side of the argument, though. I tend to be a very stubborn person and sometimes suffer from myopia on some issues.

A video game called Bioshock opened my eyes to the full spectrum of what Objectivism really meant. Rapture is The Fountainhead, and the introduction of a science fiction element called "plasmids" makes Rand's utopia unravel in the face of true human nature.

Never let anyone say you can't learn something from a video game.

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Deville Theater Adventures and Lessons

Technically, my first theater was the Lamar downtown because they had Disney movies.  The very first movie I can remember seeing was Toby Tyler, which I remember more for the painted walls and staircase in the lobby than anything else.  There was a scene in Toby Tyler where a monkey gets hold of a pistol and started acting up that scared the bejesus out of my little sister, who saw the rest of the movie from the crying room, while I sat in the big seats with my grandmother who we called Nanny.   We also saw Snowball Express and the revival of Dumbo there.

Besides the Lamar, the best source for movies when I was a kid was the Deville Cinema, off the recently constructed Interstate 55.  It was closer and newer.  It had a single screen and a capacity of six hundred kids.  Technically, it was close enough for me to ride my bike, but that involved crossing Ridgewood road, so I wasn't allowed to very often.

Deville had a summer Saturday matinee revival series.  For five dollars, a kid like me could see a movie with a coke and a red and white striped box of popcorn.  And, oh what movies they had:  Godzilla vs the Smog Monster, The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, The Mysterious Island, The War of the Gargantuas, Destroy All Monsters, Gorgo, King Kong Escapes, and more.  Every boy I knew would be there.  It's possible there were girls too, but I don't remember any.  In those days, girls who liked Godzilla were pretty rare.

Besides the matinees, they had some of the most important first-run movies of the seventies at the Deville.  I saw Star Wars there as many times as I could talk somebody into taking me.  Rocky played there for months, as well as Logan's Run and Westworld.  Johnny Kroeze was my most common co-conspirator in those days, and we saw pretty much everything that didn't have much girl stuff in it.  There was one girl in Star Wars.  That was enough.

The Exorcist played at the Deville.  I wasn't allowed to attend, but I remember the reports on the news and in the paper of the protests.  A movie about the devil in Jackson Mississippi in the seventies had no choice but to draw some heat.  I suspect the hullabaloo increased ticket sales by a factor of ten at least.

Many people from Jackson remember Deville for its Saturday night midnight showings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show that ran through the seventies into the early eighties.  I was aware of it too.  I heard it was a gay musical making fun of science fiction and horror movies, and I wanted nothing to do with it.

I didn't know much about homosexuality in those days.  I heard a guy from my church lost his job when he got arrested for "loitering" at Smith Park.  I don't know if he was doing anything nefarious or actually just loitering, but anything involving Smith Park at night could get you in trouble.

There were a couple of times when I would pick my little sister up from United Methodist Youth Fellowship and get catcalls of "Hey!  We're over here!" from the interior of Smith Park.  They didn't seem all that dangerous, but I wasn't taking any chances.

In high school, I couldn't name one single person who admitted to being gay.  In college, I knew precisely one.  Andrew Libby ended up teaching me a lot about that side of life.  He was my first gay ambassador.

Later in college, I met a girl who often got me into trouble.  Maybe more than one, but this one really had my number so I was doomed.  Deville had a one-weekend revival of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and she not only wanted to go, but she wanted me to go as well.  I won't say her name because she might be reading, but she was from the Delta and had green eyes, and had she asked me to put on a dress and go to a dog fight, I most likely would have.  That probably gave it away.

We packed up our little group to go, including her friend, whom I was equally taken with.  She had skin like alabaster and hair like obsidian and was slightly less likely to get me into compromising situations.  Slightly.  Who am I kidding?  She was just as bad.  Their powers combined, I was pretty much condemned to seeing the whole movie.

They had newspapers, and toast and rice and water guns ready for the performance.  I had a bad attitude and lots of doubts.

The lights went out, and the screen lit up with a pair of lips...

Michael Rennie was ill
The day the Earth stood still
But he told us where we stand
And Flash Gordon was there
In silver underwear
Claude Rains was The Invisible Man
Then something went wrong
For Fay Wray and King Kong
They got caught in a celluloid jam
Then at a deadly pace
It came from outer space...

Holy shit! 

 The scales fell from my eyes.  Gay or not, this was my people.  This was my tribe!  It would be another five or six years for me to learn that my beloved Fay Wray was a gay icon, but just the mention of her name made me open my heart a little bit and accept, not just a new movie, but a who new body of human beings.

Toward the end of the movie, Frankenfurter sings, "Whatever happened to Fay Wray?"  I knew the answer!  She was living in Beverly Hills with her last husband, the surgeon.  Her son had a pretty famous music store there, and her daughter was in New York becoming a writer and teacher.

In the years to come, I would see Rocky Horror in something like twenty different theatres and live at least five times.  I owe it all to two little girls from Millsaps, who knew better what I liked than I did myself.

In the years that followed, multiplex movie theaters took over the business and The Deville faltered.  The last movie I ever saw there was The Nightmare Before Christmas, in 1993 with Jay Cooke.  I loved the movie and Jay was possibly the only person I knew who could have appreciated it like I did, but that was the swan song for the Deville.  

I do love single-screen theaters.  Jackson had some grand ones.  Except for the Capri, they're all gone now.  They hope to keep the Capri going by making it as much of a restaurant as a movie theater.  I hope fortune shines on them.

In the years that followed, the Deville became a pretty popular store for china and whatnot, and a nightclub after that.  It makes me a little sad to drive by it now.  So many memories.  So many movies.

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

My Depression

 I'd like to talk about my depression.  There have to be some ground rules, though.  Most of all, you have to promise not to worry about me.  If I can talk about it and write about it, I'm in a pretty good and stable spot.  This isn't some sort of cry for help. Depression is much more common than you may know, and I feel there's something to be gained by honestly telling the story.

 My current diagnosis is Persistent Depressive Disorder, also known as Dysthymia.  As far as depression goes, this is about in the middle.  I'm in no immediate danger and have no need for hospitalization or heavy medication, but I cannot shrug it off quickly.

Some of you have known about my condition as long as I have.  Others have suspected it for at least as long.  It's not something I'm ashamed of.  Perhaps it made me anti-social for long periods and kept me from reaching my potential sometimes, but I've managed it, and I've endured it, and it's a part of me.

If you're on my list, you've known and loved people who died from depression.  Part of me would like to say their names, but I don't think I have to, and they may not have wanted me to.  When I talk to other depressed people, their greatest fear and regret is that their condition might hurt or worry the people they love.  I want to write about this for the people who survived a loved one lost to depression to help them understand what happened.  

Those you know who may have died from depression--know that they loved you profoundly and regret whatever wound their suffering may cause you.  While I've never been in danger of active suicide, there were periods when it was pretty obvious I was trying to accomplish the same thing slowly by self-neglect.  I may have bad days still, but the long stretches of self-neglect are over.

When I was about ten years old, my parents were concerned I wasn't reaching my potential academically and had me tested.  By "having me tested," I mean my mother did the work, and my dad paid the bills.  

Besides a comprehensive physical exam, including hearing and vision, a woman came to my school and set up a battery of psychological and educational tests in the cafeteria.

I had perfect visual acuity (thanks, uncle Ben) and mild tinnitus.  The other tests showed I had a high IQ but pretty aggressive dyslexia and dyscalculia.  To this day, I can invert words and numbers on occasion.  (Thank God for Grammarly) 

As for the psychological part of the test, they just said I was very shy.  Well, duh. I never really knew it was that weird to hide from other kids.  Many of the people I love the most are even shyer than I.  

Even though I suffered from dyslexia, I still managed to love reading by starting with comic books.  They made it possible for me to wade into the deeper waters of reading and develop skills to help me organize blocks of text so I could comprehend them despite my dyslexia. 

When I was fourteen, my older brother was having some pretty severe problems, so they had me tested again.  This time the diagnosis was anxiety and depression.  I began seeing Doug Draper, who treated me for over thirty years.  Doug was never able to "cure" me, but he managed to keep me alive and help me develop many of the coping strategies I use today.  

With his guidance, I was able to escape some of the destructive behaviors many depressed people resort to, except for smoking (which I did eventually beat on my own, cold turkey), and bad diet, which I also ultimately defeated, even if I did it with a rash and irresponsible technique.

Depression often made it difficult or impossible for me to escape painful or abusive or hopeless situations.  More often than not, my response to these was to become anti-social once the crisis was past.  Sometimes these reclusive periods would get pretty severe.  The worst lasted almost fourteen years.  

Sometimes people worried that my lack of interaction meant they did something wrong or I didn't love them anymore.  That was never the case.  Isolation was my means of healing, not a judgment.  It wasn't wasted time either.  I read, I studied, and I kept my mind active and challenged.

You will encounter other people who suffer from depression.  While it can be harrowing and sometimes even fatal, depression is most times treatable.  Most importantly, remember that whatever the depressed person is going through, it's not your fault.  It's also not their fault either.  

Drugs and alcohol make depression much, much worse.  It's nearly impossible to treat depression and addiction at the same time.  Try and guide depressed people away from any recreational drugs.  There is no such thing as a safe recreational drug where depression is involved.  

Love them and just as important, know that they love you.  Your depressed loved one would snap out of it if they could, and it's not your fault if they can't.  Most people eventually survive and learn to cope with depression, so do not give up hope.  If you're suffering from depression, be patient with yourself. Take your time but don't give up. Seek help and believe there is light on the other side.

A Solution to the Gun Violence Epidemic

Ok, here's another tough one.  Before you get mad, hear me out.  These are just my observations and ideas.  Maybe they have merit, perhaps they don't, but I feel like we should discuss this.

Today, the leading cause of death for men under the age of twenty-one is gun violence.  It's been gun violence before, but only during times of war.  Only recently did gun violence surpass automobile accidents as a cause of death in peacetime.

Let's define gun violence as any time the projectile from any gun enters human flesh, causing injury or death.  In ascending order, the types of gun violence are accident, suicide, murder, and assault.  Let's focus on the last two as they cause the most problems.  I do believe my proposal would decrease all four, though.

Our constitution provides us with the right to keep and bear arms.  I believe in this.  I take advantage of it personally as a gun owner.  However, the constitution does not address the issue of how we make people responsible gun owners.  There is no policy or law designed to make novice gun users into responsible gun users.  I believe this is why we have the problem with guns now.  People who posess guns, but don't have the necessary skills to use them properly are incredibly dangerous and a threat to the safety of all. 

Let me present this: when was the last time you heard of a person who committed assault or murder with a gun who was a regular hunter?  It almost never happens.  Hunters know guns are only tools.  Powerful tools that demand respect or disaster results.  You sometimes hear of hunters having gun accidents, but it's pretty rare, and I've never heard of a case where the hunter didn't know exactly what he did wrong and regretted it and knew or learned how to prevent it the next time.

Automobiles are tools too.  To make it safe for young people to use automobiles, we make them take tests and get licenses, and where possible, we have them take driving education classes.  We're tested on automobive laws and safe operation before we're liscensed to operate them.  That model works pretty well with automobiles. What if we tried it with guns?

Every state and municipality in this country has gun problems, and every state and city in this country has an education system.  Maybe we can use the schools to improve or resolve the situation of gun violence.  We make kids learn algebra in school, why not gun safety?  

I propose we include gun education as part of our national educational objectives, just like math or language.  We could do this at three levels, elementary, middle, and high school.  Curricula objectives would be gun safety, gun function, gun storage, gun maintenance, and finally (for the older kids) gun use.

We'd have to find funding for it but let the schools manage the program.  As the second amendment is the law of the land, I feel like we have the political will to seek and find funding for a gun education program.  

Keep the NRA out of it, though.  When Oliver North, who used to work for the NRA, says it's corrupt, there's a problem.  It's Oliver North, for god's sake.   We can do this without the NRA trying to take the reins.  (Which they would,)

Think of gun teachers like you would driving teachers.  Their purposes are the same.  Automobiles are dangerous machines if misused, and so are guns.  We should address gun use the same way we do automobile use.

Young car owners must procure a learner's permit and a license to operate an automobile.  Through this, the state helps decrease injury and death by automobiles.  It would do the same for guns.  We also rely heavily on automobile insurance to help us cope with whatever injuries the misuse of cars may cause. Gun-owners insurance to help cover the cost of accidental discharges and lapses in judgment.

We have to do something.  Getting tough and building more prisons won't solve the issue.  Our society cannot function with so many in prison.  I believe gun education is a better solution than gun control.  We don't have a lot of luck with prohibiting things.  I see no reason to believe gun prohibition would work any better than marijuana or alcohol prohibition did.

A responsible, educated gun owner, no matter what type of gun they have, is far less likely to commit gun violence. In a nation where everyone has the constitutionally granted right to a gun, it's our responsibility to make sure they know how to use them safely.  I believe gun education would decrease people using the threat of a gun to commit robbery too.

Let's at least try this before we start talking about outlawing guns.  Those of you who profess the "good guy with a gun" philosophy, imagine how much stronger your argument would be if all these good guys were equipped with the best available gun education.


Monday, May 16, 2022

Mississippi Famous Foods

One day, I want to develop this into a much fuller piece.  Here are some of my notes so far.  I'm gonna use ya'll to help me work out the kinks and give me some ideas.

Comeback Dressing

Comeback dressing was invented by Mr. Alexander Dennery at the Rotisserie Restaurant at five points in Jackson sometime in the '30s and '40s.  Both the Rotisserie and its successor Dennery's are closed now, so the reigning comeback champion is The Mayflower Cafe in Jackson, using a recipe by Mr. Kountouris.  Both Kountouris and Dennery were Greek immigrants, but Comeback Sauce is much closer to French remoulade sauce.   Put it on salads, fries, burgers, hell, just pour some on saltines.  Everybody in town has their version of Comeback now.  Besides the Mayflower, try Scrooge's, Hal and Mal's, Crechale's, and CS's.  

Hot Tamales

This was my dad's favorite.  So much has been written about Delta Hot Tamales I don't know what I can add.  I've never found a Delta Hot Tamale at a Mexican restaurant.  Look for somebody who serves them in coffee cans if possible.  They should come tied in bundles of three.  

Best Choices; Sollys in Vickburg, The Big Apple Inn in Jackson, and Doe's Eat Place in Greenville, but that's just the tip of an enormous iceberg.  There's some discussion about whether they should be wrapped in corn husks or parchment paper.  I like them both ways, but some insist the corn husks add something the paper doesn't.  

This part is controversial, but Hormel makes a decent canned hot tamale.  They're based in Minnesota, for God's sake, and I have no idea how they came to produce a Delta hot tamale, but they're not bad.  Serve warm with saltines just like regular tamales.  They're good in a hot tamale pie too.

Mississippi Mud Brownies and Mississippi Mud Pie

A 1927 recording of Bing Crosby with the line "beat your feet in the Mississippi mud" might be the origin of this dish.  There are two versions of this dish.  As best I can tell, the first is the Mississippi Mud Brownie which is a chocolate brownie topped with marshmallow and ganache.  It was in many cookbooks in the sixties and seventies.  The second is the Mississippi Mud Pie, which comes in a pie shell, often with a chocolate wafer crust, and replaces the marshmallow with vanilla ice cream.  Both versions are sinfully good.  

Biloxi Pressed Po-Boy

The Po-Boy (poor boy) may be a New Orleans invention, but the Biloxi version, which is pressed like a panini, is far superior.  Primos Northgate used to have one of the best I ever tried.  They would press it, then wrap it tightly in butcher paper which helped unify the sandwich. 

Pig Ear Slider and Red Hot Slider

Big Apple Inn, on Farish Street in Jackson, MS, is home to two uniquely Mississippi dishes that are reasonably famous now.  Pig Ear Sliders are actual pig ears, cooked in a pressure cooker until soft, then served on a slider bun with mustard.  At least try one before you turn your nose up.  Red Hots are Red Rose sausages by Magnolia meats stripped out of their casing, then cooked on a griddle and served on a slider bun with mustard.  

Fried Dill Pickles

It's possible fried dill pickles were invented in Arkansas.  I'll cede them that.  I insist they are far more plentiful in Mississippi, though, and the recipes are far better.  For my taste, the very best fried dill pickles in Mississippi come from Cock of the Walk on the Pearl River Reservoir (I don't use its official name) 

Kool-aid Pickles

This one really is Mississippi Specific.  Kool-aid Pickles are easy.  Take a regular jar of pickles and mix in a packet of cherry Kool-aid and some sugar.  Where to find them?  Gas stations and roadside stands in The Delta.  Don't turn up your nose.  You've had sweet pickles your whole life if you're from here. These are just red. 

Fried Catfish

You don't think fried catfish is Mississippi-specific? Fight me!  Yeah, they have catfish all over the South, and yeah, lots of people fry things, but Mississippi is the catfish king and always will be.  Best catfish in Mississippi?  Boy, I really am looking for a fight, huh?  Let's try Jerry's in Florence and Cock of the Walk on the Rez.  Your opinion may vary. 

Fried Buffalo

Often caught in the same waters as the catfish, the buffalo (Ictiobus cyprinellus) is prepared, dusted with cornmeal, and fried, just like a catfish.  Some people consider Buffalo a trash fish, and to try one you often have to go to an older, more run-down establishment.  Give them a try though.  They're tasty with flaky white flesh,   They don't clean as easily as catfish though, so beware of bones.  

Cheese Straws

I might get some blowback on this one.  Cheese wafers are made all over the South, but I insist that Cheese Straws made with a piping bag are a Mississippi creation (or at least perfected here).

Coke and Peanuts

I can't really claim this is a dish unique to Mississippi, but you've most likely seen it if you're from here.  It's just a bottle of cold Coke with a packet of salted peanuts dumped through the mouth of the bottle. You drink the Coke, then tilt the bottle back to get the peanuts.  The salt interacts with the coke, and the coke interacts with the peanuts, creating a profoundly southern synergy. 

Boiled Peanuts

I would love to claim boiled peanuts as a uniquely Mississippi dish, but they're found all over the deep south.  Peanuts originated in South America, then made their way to Africa, where they were called "goobers" or "pindars" and served boiled, then imported back to America via the slave trade.   The best source for boiled peanuts is roadside stands found all over the state in the summer.   

You might have heard that you can only make boiled peanuts using "green" (un-dried) peanuts, but truth be told, you can use the same dry raw peanuts you use for roasting, but soak them for 24 hours before boiling, just like you would dry red beans for red beans and rice, and they'll boil up just fine.  They freeze really well, and they're good for you!  Try making them with crab boil, lemons and MSG added to the brine.

State Fair Taffy

Malone's State Fair Taffy candy is based in Byram, Mississippi but sold at state fairs and carnivals all over the South.  It comes in one flavor: vanilla, and softens quickly in the microwave.  Off-season, you can get it from their website.

Mississippi Pot Roast

Slow cooker pot roast with pickled jalapenos and a packet of ranch dip mix. This dish is said to have originated with Mississippi State tailgate parties.

Mississippi State Cheese

In 1938, Mississippi State University Dairy Science Professor F.H. Herzer imported ten teakwood molds from Belgium to teach cheese production.  His Edam cheese soon developed a reputation for quality, and now they can barely keep up with demand (and often can't).  Mississippi State cheese is only sold at Mississippi State University, either through their website or from the campus store.

Hiney Ho Smoked Sausage

Produced by the Hinds Community college meatpacking department, you can only get it at the Raymond campus store in Porter Hall.  It's especially good with biscuits or on a hoagie roll with mustard.

Barq's Root Beer

Edward Charles Edmond Barq Sr. first bottled Barq's Root Beer in Biloxi, Mississippi, in 1897.

Cathead Vodka

I wanted a spirit, and this is a good one.  Also, their distillery on South Street was the original home of the Mississippi School Supply Company, where my dad once upset the world by hiring a black secretary and sitting her out front where people could see her.  

Inez Burger

Technically a chili burger with queso sauce and pickled jalapenos. The Inez Burger from CS's is much more than that if you're from here.  Get it with the cheese fries and give Inez a hug from me.

Slug Burger

Slug Burgers are indigenous to Corinth, MS, where they have an annual Slug Burger festival.  Slug Burgers use potato flakes or other fillers to extend the ground beef, then the patty is deep-fried and dressed simply with mustard and pickles on a bun.  

Primos Brownie (Fudge Squares)

I wanted to include a recipe from Pop Primos, but which one?  The caramel cake and the gingerbread men were contenders, but the Primos Chocolate Brownie is legendary.  

Pirouline Cookies

Pirouline Cookies might have a European flavor and sensibility, but they were invented in 1984 by Peter DeBeukelaer and produced in Madison, Mississippi. 

Pimento Cheese

I can't really posit that pimento cheese is a uniquely Mississippi dish.  I can say though that the best Pimento Cheese I ever had came from the Woodland Hills Jitney.  Some people make a vicious version using Mississippi State Cheese blended with cottage cheese too. 

Sliced Tomatos

This is another one that isn't unique to Mississippi, but is ubiquitous here.  The concept is simple.  A whole ripe heirloom or beefsteak tomato, cut in one-half inch slices (use a serrated knife) and served with salt, pepepper and a simple vinagrette or mayonase (dukes preferred)  Try a scoop of cottage cheese or pimento cheese for a Mississippi Caprese Salad.  


Ok, so this isn't food, but if you have a kitchen or a bathroom, you're familiar with Pine-sol.  Harry A. Cole of Jackson, Mississippi, invented Pine-sol in 1929.  In 1948 Dumas Milner acquired Magnolia Chemical Company producing Pine-sol, and in five years, they increased sales to twenty million bottles distributed in eleven countries.  In 1963, Milner sold Pine-Sol for $17 million, and production moved from Jackson, MS, to New Jersey.

Sunday, May 15, 2022

What If Jesus Wasnt Real

Every Christian must answer the big question in their own mind: what if none of it is real?"  Absolute faith is incredibly difficult.  I believe no one who professes faith can navigate this life without ever facing the possibility that it was all wrong.

Let's consider Occam's razor.  Paul and the other apostles say Jesus came back from the dead and made eternal life possible for all of us.  Historians and politicians contemporary to Paul said the followers of Jesus stole the body to keep their movement alive after the death of their founder.  Which opinion is more reasonable?  Which is more logical?  

Nikos Kazantzakis, the author of Zorba The Greek, faced these issues in his novel The Last Temptation of Christ.  In it, he faces the problematic issues of the Jesus story by presuming every fantastical and miraculous element of the story is very real but explores the possibility that Christ falters and accepts Satan's last temptation and uses his powers to come down from the cross and live like an ordinary man.  

As you might imagine, this proposition didn't sit well with many Christian readers.  In 1988, Martin Scorsese struck out to make a film adaptation of Kazantzakis' book, with the result being one of my most loved films, both as a cinephile and as a Christian.

In it, he cast Harry Dean Stanton as Paul.  Stanton plays Paul much as I imagine he was in real life: a charismatic evangelist trying to share this fantastic story with the people trying to survive the sometimes difficult path of the first century.

Jesus, in his post-crucifixion life, confronts Paul during one of his sermons.  "None of what you're saying is true!  I'm alive. I didn't die!"  I cannot write Paul's reply nearly as well as Stanton portrays it in the film.  Please take a moment to consider what he says:

Saturday, May 14, 2022

The Rocky Springs Tiger Trap

Forty burgeoning adolescents, four parents, one teacher, and one bus driver, in the woods, with a ghost town and a graveyard overnight; what can possibly go wrong? 

The tiger trap is a device said to be of Indian origin, consisting of a deep pit dug in the ground, then covered with enough vegetation to hide it.  Tigers would walk on the leafy covering, and fall into the pit below where they couldn't escape.  The Viet Cong used the tiger tap with some success against our forces in Viet Nam.

Antebellum Graves in the churchyard
Rocky Springs is a ghost town attached to the Natchez Trace in Claiborne County, Mississippi.  The State of Mississippi maintains a popular semi-primitive campground there.  

My Scout Troop used the site a year before, and I learned you could use a burning ember from the fire to light your own farts.  There's no merit badge for that, but there should be.  

My Junior High Class had a very loving and very optimistic parent group who got the idea that we could manage a co-ed camp-out there and make it back home with everyone intact.

Mr. and Mrs. Lyle were itinerant and experienced campers.  They would keep us alive.  Mrs. Seargent was our young history teacher.  She was who all the boys dreamed about, and all the girls wanted to look like.  She must have loved us because she took us to Washington DC by bus the following year.  I hope someone reading this can remember the name of the school's Haitian bus driver.  He was a super sweet guy who also drove us to football practice every day.  Rounding out our team of fearless leaders was Mr. and Mrs. Jones.  They tried to get me to call them Tim and Sarah for forty-five years.  It's still not happening.

The plan was to take the bus from school to Rocky Springs, make camp, have lunch then explore the old trace.  We were to have dinner while the sun was still up, then visit the ghost town at dusk, come back to camp for the night, have breakfast the following day, and take the bus back to Jackson.  That was the plan.  We were never that great at sticking with the plan.

Early on in life, I recognized there was something about Mr. Jone's eyes telling me he was a fellow member of my tribe.  He must have noticed the same thing because we had a few adventures together.  

In the little abandoned town of Rocky Springs was an old church with an ancient graveyard.  The plan was to hike as a gang from our campsite to the old cemetery at dusk, have a spooky adventure among the antebellum graves, and return to camp with flashlights in the dark.  That was the plan.  

Mr. Jones had the idea that he and I would sneak ahead of the bunch and hideout so that as they were hiking back in the dark, we could jump out and scare the bejesus out of them.  It would be so funny and so cool.  That was the plan.

On the way there, we spied a circular split-rail fence with a placard saying "Old Homesite"  with some bushes and kudzu overgrown in the center.  That would be my hideout.  This was a great plan! 

The old church and graveyard among the Spanish moss dripping trees was a pretty great adventure, with lots of giggles and dares as we awkwardly tried to figure out the best way to navigate inter-gender conversations in the dark surrounded by confederate ghosts.  

With the sunlight fading, Mr. Jones and I sprung our plan into action.  We quietly slipped away from the rest and headed toward the fenced "old homesite" to set our trap.  "Hurry!" he said before the rest of the class began their way back.

This was going to be SO COOL!  They were gonna be SO SCARED!  With a hop, I was over the split rail fence.  One step, two steps, one more, and I'd be hidden in the bushes, ready to pounce!  This was such a great plan!

By "old homesite," they meant this was the site of an old home as part of the little town of Rocky Springs.  The wooden structure was long gone, but the root cellar remained.  Nobody told Mr. Jones or me about the root cellar.  That eight-foot-deep root cellar lay completely hidden among the bushes and kudzu.   The split-rail fence was supposed to keep us out of it.

One step!  Two steps! Three... WHOOSH! and I was in total darkness with a thud.  I can only imagine the look on Mr. Jones's face as I vanished into the greenery.

"Boyd?"  I could see him looking over the edge down at me with his flashlight.  "Are you ok?"  I was absolutely unhurt.  The bushes and kudzu vines themselves cushioned my fall.  It took a few seconds for my brain to process what happened, then I bust out in uncontrollable laughter.  So did Mr.  Jones.   

Moments later, the rest of the class caught up to the site of our misadventure.  I could see their shocked and amused faces peering down at me over the edge of my pit with a dozen flashlights illuminating my predicament.    

I was already over two hundred pounds by junior high school and bench-pressing over three hundred.  Getting me out of this tiger trap wasn't going to be easy.  As we had no rope, a human chain made by nearly the entire class was chosen as the best option for rescue.

Soon, Mrs. Seargent's hand reached down for me.  In her twenties and deeply tanned, Mrs. Seargent was just about the prettiest thing I ever saw.  Touching her hand was way out of my pay grade, but I had no choice.  

With a solid tug in unison, my class rescued me from my antebellum dungeon.  I plucked kudzu leaves from my hair, pants, and shoes on the way back.  The plan was to scare the class, but in the end, the only ones who got scared were Mr. Jones and me.

And, that's the story of how the eighth-grade class saved me from my own eagerness and an ancient tiger trap. 

Photo By Kim Wita
photo by Kim Wita

Friday, May 13, 2022

The Pearl River Reservoir

I don't use the phrase "Ross Barnett Reservoir."  I don't use it because Ross Barnett was an asshole, and I"m embarrassed of him.  It's difficult to convince people Mississippi is changed and evolved beyond our racist past when they hear the largest body of water in central Mississippi is still named for our most famous racist.

Ross Barnett wasn't a great man and certainly no great leader.  What did he ever accomplish as governor other than fighting to keep Mississippi segregated?  The only reason I can imagine that anyone would want to name anything after him is that there must have been some guys in the legislature who were still pissed off about Washington forcing Mississippi to integrate, and this was their "fuck you" to the Kennedys.

Barnett approved the plan to send Freedom Riders to Parchment, ordering them strip-searched to humiliate them and taking their beds away to intimidate them for the crime of sitting in a bus station. Barnett hated the black-and-tan Republicans and fought any development of a two-party system in Mississippi.

Barnett would have you believe he fought integration with every fiber of his being. If you listen to the recordings of him and John Kennedy and Bobby Kennedy's recollections of the Meredith affair after the fact, it's clear that Barnet knew he couldn't win.  He hoped to use the whole matter to ingratiate himself with the anti-integration factions in Mississippi.

It might be a legend, but the story goes that after the court order to admit James Meridith to the University of Mississippi, Barnett stood at the door to the registrar's office at Ole Miss, with scores of white protestors and even more white national guard troops beyond.  Meridith ascended the steps to complete his court-ordered registration, flanked by white guards and white lawyers.  When he reached the door, Barnett reportedly said, "Which one of you gentlemen is James Meridith?"

Showboat, all of it was a showboat.  Barnett had no intention of leading Mississippi; he only wanted to ride the wave of our hate and cultural shortcomings to enrich himself and inflate his legacy.  

After his term as governor, Barnett sought to rebuild his previously successful plaintiff's law practice.  He sued my dad when a fella ran into a truck making deliveries to the Crystal Springs furniture plant.  We made a fair offer to settle, but Barnett refused.  "While I was serving the great state of Mississippi, my law partners stole every bit of my practice, and I need a big victory to restore my reputation," Barnett told the judge.  The judge advised Barnett to reconsider and settle because Bill Goodman was making a fool of him in court.  Barnett settled.

I've heard noises through the years of re-naming the reservoir, but nothing ever came of it.  I don't know if there was ever a bill to rename it.   None are pending now.  I've heard the opinion that the Pearl River Valley Water Supply District board could rename the reservoir without legislative action, but I have no idea if that's accurate.  If they can do it, they should just do it quietly one day and let that be that.  Until someone makes an official name change, I will continue to call it "The Pearl River Reservoir" because it's accurate, and there's no adverse history associated with that name.  

Tarzan Not Talk Like Frankenstein

 Tarzan not stupid.  Tarzan learn English and French from book before Tarzan meet Jane.  Movie Tarzan very different from book Tarzan.

Seriously, I don't know how Johnny Weismuller became so popular.  Besides the jungle setting, Weismuller's Tarzan is nothing like the character in the books.  Come to think of it, the creature in Shelly's Frankenstein didn't talk like that either.  Maybe audiences in the 30s had a thing for mute strongmen.  

Tarzan of the novels was very articulate and possessed almost super-human intelligence.  He learned to read and write from the books in his father's treehouse, without any other human interactions.   When Tarzan visits America in the first novel, he behaves like an exemplary English gentleman, a far cry from Weismuller's nearly wordless interpretation.

Besides the fake ears they made for the Indian Elephants to make them look African, the best thing about Weismuller's first Tarzan film is Maureen O'Sullivan in her 1932 costume.  (Much more leather was added to her buckskin bikini by the next film.)  Subsequent films ended up almost a parody of the character from the first film.

Weissmuller's Tarzan introduced the trope of the chimpanzee sidekick, which actually isn't in the novels.  Although several chimpanzees have been reported as the original Cheetah through the years, they likely used several throughout the different films, as chimps get pretty dangerous to work with as they mature. The Cheetah you see on screen never seems to grow, even though sometimes a few years pass between productions.  Chimps are notorious poop-throwers and biters.  Many trained chimps had their canine teeth removed to make them slightly less dangerous.  Training methods often involved dramatic beatings and occasional drugs.  They solved this problem for 1984's Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, by having Rick Baker create all the apes using human actors.  Even today, Baker remains Hollywood's greatest gorilla man.

 Tall, attractive, and an Olympic athlete, Weismuller looked the part, but any resemblance to the Tarzan in the books ends there.  Much has been made of the lengths MGM sound designers went through to develop Weismuller's famous Tarzan yell, but Weismuller insisted it was his own voice, and in later life, he was able to perform it live.  It can't be too much of a stretch to believe it was his own voice; after all, even Carol Burnett could imitate it. 

I'm not sure what I would have thought of Tarzan if Weismuller was my first exposure.  Willis O'Brien's Skull Island certainly made an impression on me, so maybe the MGM jungle would have been as memorable.  My first Tarzan, however, was Ron Ely.

Ely's Tarzan was in color.  He was articulate and educated like the Tarzan of the novels.  He's why I picked up my brother's copy of Tarzan and the Leopard Men (1932) and never looked back.  

Ely's Tarzan was set in the modern-day (the 1960s) and sometimes featured very modern concepts.  One episode even had computers.  There was no Jane for his Tarzan, (but I was six, so who cares?) He did have a son character, who was written as an orphaned Mexican boy.  They never explained how a Mexican orphan ended up in Africa.  Manuel Padilla Jr. played several television roles before Jai on Tarzan.  He could deliver his lines, and child actors you could work with were pretty hard to find, so he got the job I guess.

There were 57 episodes of Ron Ely's Tarzan.  He performed most of his own stunts, and he had the scars to prove it, including more than one lion bite.  After the initial run, they played in a re-run every Saturday afternoon until I was twelve or thirteen.  By the time I did see a Weismuller Tarzan, I was already under the spell of King Kong and obsessed with 1930s adventure cinema, so I soon saw all of them.  (Thank you, Ted Turner) 

After Tarzan, Ely was never out of work very long.  The next time he caught my eye was George Pal's, Doc Savage.  I loved the Doc Savage novels and had about ten of them.  Pal intended to do a straight version of Savage like in the books, but the finished product was pretty campy and did poorly with audiences.

Pal originally wanted Steve Reeves to play Doc Savage, but he was too old and unavailable.  Ron Ely was only too happy to get the role. Initially, Pal and Ely hoped to make several Doc Savage films and end Pal's storied career on a high note.  Fate had different plans, though. Doc Savage was released in 1975 and bombed.  It never played a first-run theater in Jackson, so I had to get someone to take me to the drive-in to see it.  

Ely never stopped, though.  He even ended up taking over the job of hosting the Miss America Pagent in 1980 when Bert Parks retired.  

There would be many more Tarzans after Ron Ely, but he was my first, and when I read the novels now, it's his voice I hear.

Thursday, May 12, 2022

What Is The Mississippi Delta

The good Lord made some people to heal us.  My new friend Jennifer gave me a copy of Delta Hot Tamales by Anne Martin.  Jennifer's mom runs Sollys in Vicksburg, so she knows a thing or two about Tamales.

You have to be careful with Delta girls.  They'll steal your heart, and you'll never get it back.  Lord knows, there are pieces of mine from Memphis to Natchez. I don't regret a minute of it.  Lightning can strike the same spot many, many times.

It begs the question, though, what exactly is "The Delta."   In season six, episode one of Andrew Zimmerman's Bizarre Foods about Delta cuisine, he covers Sollys in Vicksburg, but he also includes Jackson and reviews The Big Apple Inn and Walker's Drive-in.  Lord knows I love Big Apple Inn and Walkers, but is Jackson The Delta?  I never heard such, but The Food Network seems to think so.   

A geologist will tell you the Mississippi Alluvial Plain includes parts of Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana.  Flooding the Mississippi River as it goes into the Gulf of Mexico creates it.  It only looks like a triangular delta when it gets to New Orleans.  Is New Orleans The Delta?

Fay Wray with Debbie Reynolds
Tammy and the Bachelor (1957)
You've probably heard that The Delta begins in the lobby of the Peabody Hotel in Memphis and runs to Catfish Row in Vicksburg.  Sometimes, it's the duck-pond fountain in the Peabody to Under the Hill in Natchez.  These definitions have been used so long that I"m struggling to find out who said it first.  It's often attributed to Twain, but I'm not ready to plant my flag there just yet.  

Fay Wray once told me she made a movie about The Delta with Leslie Nielson set in Natchez, so as far as I'm concerned, Natchez is in The Delta.  I'll take Fay Wray's side on anything. The film was based on the book Tammy Out of Time, written by Cid Ricketts Sumner, a Millsaps Alumni, and produced the hit Tammy's In Love, sung by Debbie Reynolds.  

Why the Peabody Hotel, though?  Before cotton was king, The Delta primarily grew tobacco.  Cotton was easy to grow but difficult to process. Ely Whitney changed all that with his Cotton Gin.  Once Mississippi started growing cotton, they had to get it to market.  The river flows north to south, so all our cotton and tobacco went downstream to New Orleans for many years, with growers cashing in there and making their way home with the profits as best they could by the Natchez trace.  

When the steam engine came to the Mississippi,  up-river was as easy as down-river, so the Cotton Exchange in Memphis became the financial center of the Delta economy, with the Peabody just scant blocks away.  Planters traded their cotton for coupons at the Cotton Exchange and spent them at Beal Street and the Peabody.  Don't ask what they spent it on.

So, does cotton define The Delta?  My great-grandfather grew an awful lot of cotton and corn outside of Kosciusko in Hesterville.  Is Attala county The Delta?  Many farms in The Delta don't even grow cotton anymore; soybeans are easier on the soil and often more profitable. What about catfish and rice?  India and China grow almost twice as much cotton as the United States. Are they The Delta?

Maybe The Delta is political.  Despite being yellow-dog Democrat for many years, the Mississippi Delta was one of the most conservative places in the United States.  Florida passed them years ago, and now the Mississippi Gulf Coast is far more conservative than The Delta.  

What about culture?  If you go by country of origin, Mississippi Delta citizens include African, American Native, French, Spanish, English, Scottish,  Irish, and Italian.  Toward the end of the nineteenth and into the twentieth centuries, Jewish, Hispanic, Chinese, Indian, and East Asian peoples started populating The Delta.  Religiously, you'll find Catholics, Baptists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, and Methodists (united and independent), and don't forget about the Jewish, Muslim, Shinto, and Buddhist congregations.  

Shelby Foote is from Greenville, but some of the most famous writers about The Delta aren't even from there.  Eudora Welty is from Jackson, and William Faulkner is from New Albany. Is that The Delta?

If you're from here, you know many parts of Mississippi aren't The Delta if you're from here. There's The Coast, The Piney Woods, The Golden Triangle, and more.   But, If you're not from Mississippi, you probably think it's all Delta.

Maybe, The Delta is what you say it is.  Andrew Zimmerman and his producers seem to think so.  Try telling people not from here that Elvis was born in Lee County, not The Delta.    I don't want to start any arguments, and I'm not one to tell you how to think, but if you're from here, you really should have an opinion on this.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

The Kidnapping of Annie Laurie Hearin

 This story is pretty hard for me to tell.  Those are the stories worth telling though, so bear with me.

July 1988.  I still worked for my dad at Missco and lived at Pebble Creek Apartments in Jackson.  I opened the mail with my dad at six-thirty that morning.  He was uncharacteristically silent. It was the busy season, and the company was doing well.  Usually, I'd have coffee and chat with Mrs. Jeffreys, Mrs. Noel, and him after finishing the mail until eight am when the workday started, but he went straight to his office that day.  I began to suspect something was up.

Three or four times during the day, he asked his secretary to close the door to his office.  That rarely happened.    I knew something was up, but what?  That night, I brought laundry to my mom's house.  There were machines at Pebble Creek, but I had a bad feeling, so I used hers.  My brothers were at their homes, and my sister was with her college friends.  

My dad watched television in the den without making a sound.  I made a fried egg sandwich in the kitchen while my laundry cycled.  Mom sat in the kitchen, watching her little television and drinking her scotch and tab (I know that sounds gross, but it was her drink of choice).  She held the plastic glass in her hand but didn't sip it while the ice melted.  She didn't want a sandwich.  My dad didn't either.  

The doorbell rang.  It was Leon Lewis.  Leon Lewis in the middle of the night, without Mrs. Lewis.  Something was up.  Dad and Mr. Lewis retired to the living room, not the den.  The living room we never used. They spoke quietly.  I began to worry in earnest.  Dad came to the kitchen and gave me a ten-dollar bill.  "Get me a couple packs of Viceroy, buddy."  My dad wanted two packs of cigarettes in the middle of the night.  That had never happened before.

I went to the gas station next door to what used to be the Tote-Sum at Maywood Mart, now converted into one of Jackson's first Subway franchises.  I got the two packs of Viceroy and added one pack of Merit Ultra Lights and a pickle in a napkin for me.  I put his smokes in a bag with the change and ate my pickle on the drive home.

Brum Day joined dad and Mr. Lewis in the living room when I got home. Whatever was going on, Trustmark was involved.  I loved Brum, but his appearances carried weight.  I was very worried and gave my mother a look.  She said she'd tell me later.  After delivering the bag with the Viceroys, all three men left silently but together.  I still don't know where they went.  They looked horrible.

That night, Mayor Dale Danks went on television to say that Annie Laurie Hearin, wife of Bob Hearin, Trustmark Chairman, had been kidnapped the day before.  Danks was a pretty good lawyer in his own right and often took a leading role in bigger police affairs.   The FBI took over the case from JPD.  It was that big of a deal. 

The press agreed to a 24-hour news blackout while the FBI began its investigation.  My dad agreed to a 24-hour don't-tell-Boyd blackout for reasons I completely understood.  That's why he behaved so strangely at work.  After the news, my Mom went to bed.  I waited for daddy to come home.  "Can I do anything for you?" I asked.  "There's really nothing you can do," he said, "I wish there were," and went to bed.   Seeing my dad that sad and that powerless shifted the foundations of the universe for me.  

Bob Hearin was my dad's mentor, and my dad loved him.  He was the principal stockholder for Trustmark National Bank, Mississippi Valley Gas, Lamar Life insurance company, and Yazoo Big Wheel Mower Company.  As I understand it, Yazoo made the best mowers in the world but couldn't compete with the less expensive Snapper versions.  Besides Trustmark, Mr. Hearin got my dad involved in MP&L, Bell South, Lamar Life, and The PineyWoods Country Life School.   He also could tell you about every barbeque place in central Mississippi.  For Mr. Hearin, the best was near Pocahontas, where he had a farm.  He was friendly and spoke kindly, but he still terrified me.

The first time I ever met Bob Hearin was at the Trustmark/Deposit Guarantee joint Christmas party.  Every business person in Jackson filed through these parties as a strictly held tradition.  We started at Trustmark, then used a (semi) secret passage between The Trustmark building and the new Deposit Guarantee building (now Regions).  I wonder if it's still there.

In his office, Mr. Hearin smoked a cigar the size of a big carrot.  His still dark hair was arranged neatly with pomade.  Everyone else was doing Christmas party things, but he was working.  I was nineteen at best, maybe eighteen.  "You were named for somebody," he said to me.  I'd heard that about a million times before.  By "somebody," he meant my Uncle Boyd.  I was flattered but dumbfounded.  He knew who I was.  Twenty years before, my uncle died at the Walthal Hotel across the street.  They used to say, "the only thing separating Trustmark from Lamar Life was Capitol street.  Eventually, the feds stepped in and made Trustmark divest most of its Lamar Life stock, but the boards were still tangled as a bird's nest.  

Some Saturdays, Mr. Hearin came by Missco to visit with my dad.  "Tell Mr. Hearin the story about the gorilla," My dad said.  I honestly cannot tell you the story about the gorilla here.  It was filthy, and I stole it from a Redd Foxx album.  Pretty funny, though.  Mr. Hearin laughed, my dad laughed, and the pattern was set.  From then on, I had to have an equally inappropriate joke for Mr. Hearin every time he visited.

Mrs. Hearin was in her seventies.  She was very involved in Jackson becoming a vital patron of the arts, especially the symphony.  The Hearins lived humbly but well in Woodland Hills.  Despite their vast wealth, the Hearin's never led what you would call a flashy life.  They maintained their membership at their Capitol Street church long after everyone else in town moved to the one on North State Street.  He was a fan of West Capitol Street, maintaining the Mississippi Vally Gas offices there long after everyone else moved northeast.

Everyone loved Mrs. Hearin; she was friendly and very much a lady.  The day she disappeared, she had a bridge party at her house.  The idea that anyone might do her any harm that way is still disturbing.  

In the late sixties, Mr. Hearin purchased a company called School Pictures Inc.  They sold franchises to photographers who took student portraits and then sold the prints to the parents.  If you're my age from the South East, you probably had your pictures taken by a School Pictures franchise.  I still think it was a pretty good business model.  Considering how much gross profit they made on the photos, it should have made a mint.  My dad had stock; lots of people in Jackson did.  The franchisees took the photos, School Pictures developed the negatives, made the prints, and packaged them for parents.  It was slick.

The company ran into problems when some of the franchisees weren't paying the company their processing fees.  Hearin sued the franchisees that were in arrears.  That proved fatal.  The ransom note for Mrs. Hearin demanded Mr. Hearin repay the people he sued.  

The FBI soon made a case that Newton Alfred Winn, a School Pictures franchisee in Florida, conspired to kidnap Mrs. Hearon.  Two of his co-conspirators made a deal to testify against him.  At trial, he was convicted of conspiracy, but not murder.  Mrs. Hearin's body was never found, and Winn never confessed or gave any information on what happened to her.  Winn left prison in 2006 and died six years later.  After the kidnapping, School Pictures collapsed in on itself.

Before the kidnapping, Mr. Hearin seemed like Agamemnon, vital and legendary to me.  After the abduction, he was a broken man.  He continued to visit some Saturdays.  I continued to tell questionable jokes, but it wasn't the same.  He lost weight, making his suits hang on him.  His eyes lost that fire that paralyzed me on our first meeting.  

Two years after the kidnapping, Robert Hearin died, never knowing what ultimately befell his beloved wife.  The courts declared her legally dead the next year to help settle his estate.  Her fate is still a mystery and an FBI open case.

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

The Easter Flood Taught Me To Drink Coffee

Easter weekend, 1979: I get a phone call to help John Robinson because his house flooded.   That made no sense to me.  Flooded?  How bad could it be?  It was late afternoon, so I took my old Ford to John's house.  I met Johnny Kroeze at the top of the street.  I had to park there because the rest of the road was under three feet of water.

This was a bad dream.  I knew some of these people, and their houses were knee-deep in water.  In the Robinson house, water was already two feet deep.  They had a second story, so we moved as much of the furniture as we could up the stairs to wait out the water.  Surely it wouldn't get any higher.  

After we moved as much as we could, Mr. Robinson asked if we would help his neighbors.  One neighbor was out of town, and the water was up to his car's engine, and no one had a key.  I met Joe and Johnny Iupe, sports rivals from St. Joe.  Seeing them hip-deep in flood water instead of the sports field was surreal.  Joe strapped a four by eight sheet of plywood over two canoes which we dubbed the "flood barge," and moved as much furniture to high ground as we could.  

One man gave us bottles from his bar as payment for saving his grandmother's piano.  In the dark, in the water, boys our size probably didn't look sixteen.  We worked into the night, not knowing any of these people but doing our best to help.

Each time we landed the barge, women we didn't know gave us hot coffee to help counteract the chilling, brown Pearl River water.  I wasn't a coffee drinker before that, it was for old people, but  I learned to appreciate it.  To this day, I associate hot coffee with kind strangers trying to warm a very cold and very frightened Boyd.   

I knew exactly where the river was.  In better times, we camped and fished and rode the rope swing four or five hundred yards away through the woods.  All of that was underwater now.  Nothing was familiar anymore.

Around ten o'clock, the national guard said we had to go home.  They were afraid of looting.  The water covered the wheels of my old Ford.  When I parked, it was dry.  I drove by Mayor Dank's house on the way home.  All his lights were on, and many cars were in the driveway, but he was at city hall, on television.  I don't know if he slept or even came home that night.

Once home, I got a hot shower and dry clothes.  Some of us met at Mr. Gatti's for hot pizza and maybe sneak a beer.  The staff at Mr. Gatti's was pretty understanding that way, as we were all underage.  They had the first big-screen TV I ever saw; it was tuned to the news.  Burt Case came on.  Mayor Danks made an announcement.   The levee and spillway to the Ross Barnett Reservoir were in imminent danger of breaking.  They had to open the spillway and release pressure.  John Robinson's face fell.  We thought the worst of the flood was over. With the spillway open, it got much worse.

We went home confused and afraid.  There was a pretty tall hill between my house and the river, but were we in any danger?  Nobody knew.  Once home, I learned that Mississippi Power and Light came to my brother's dorm at Millsaps, looking for volunteers to sandbag their facility downtown to preserve electricity to the city as long as possible.  They worked all night.  It kept their communications center and computers working, and Jackson never lost power.  My dad was at Trustmark with Brum Day and Bob Herron. I have no idea what they talked about. He was silent when he got home.

Just about dawn the next day, I get another phone call.  Stuart Speed's house was in pretty big trouble.  Off I go again.  Johnny Kroeze brought his dad's johnboat.  We needed it.  Mr. Speed was organized and focused, and very intense.  He had a look in his eye I seldom saw in anyone.  Mrs. Speed was crying.  We rescued what we could, but their beautiful home was in bad shape.  When we'd done all we could, someone asked if we could help Mr. Palmer down the street.  

John Palmer said he cared nothing for the furniture, but could we rescue some clothes for his daughters.  They were my age, and I knew them.  The idea of girls from my school with no clean clothes to wear made all this shockingly real.  I have no idea whose room I was in, but I got as big an armload of closet clothes as possible and made my way to the waiting johnboat.  After dumping off the load, I made my way back for another.  The water was just below my chest now.  We made jokes about alligators and snakes in the water, only in the days after did I learn how real that threat was.

I don't know if it was Mr. Palmer's house or one of his neighbors, but somebody had a pool. I had no way of seeing it walking through unfamiliar yards in chocolate-colored water up to my nipples.  Suddenly the world went away.  Water that was four and a half feet deep was suddenly six feet over my head.  It took a few moments for my brain to comprehend what had happened.  I swam to the surface and continued my work, giving the hidden pool a wide berth.  

We had a makeshift harbor on Eastover drive where the water ended.  Again, mothers, I still don't know the names of, had coffee, some even had donuts, but I couldn't eat.  The higher the water got, the more frantic and frightened the homeowners became. I continued on.  

The National Guard let us work through the night that night.  Before dawn, I rested in some stranger's yard, only for a moment, I thought, but exhaustion set in, and I slept in the grass.  A few hours later, I woke with the sun, still in someone's front yard but wearing clean pants and a clean shirt.  They were my clothes.  I have no idea who dressed me or who got the clothes.  My mother swore it wasn't her. 

I began work again.  Some people had given up.  Their homes were in eight feet of water by then. At three o'clock that afternoon, the radio said the floodwaters crested.  I went home exhausted and unbearably sad.  A hot shower and another set of clean clothes later, my Mom asked if I wanted anything.  "Coffee," I said.  She never questioned it.

Many of my friends lived in hotels, fishing cabins, or whatever they could find and rebuilt their homes in the days that followed.  People with flood insurance were the lucky ones.  Most didn't.  The rest took out second mortgages and lived with them.  

Workers stripped the carpets and drywall from their homes, leaving great piles of mud-smelling debris on every flooded street for the city to remove while Jackson rebuilt.  My friends were sad but alive.  Eventually, life got back to normal again.  

Shortly before my birthday that year, I got a letter from John Palmer, thanking me for rescuing his daughter's clothes from the alligators in his living room.  I still have it.  Southerners often respond to tragedy with comedy.  Outsiders say it's an attempt to mask our feelings, but sometimes it's the only thing that makes any sense.   I still drink coffee.  To me, it means someone's love, despite adversity.  

Flooding Downton

What I'm Reading - May 10


My dear friend (and former football trainer) gave me a copy of Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey.  I met McConaughey briefly when they were shooting A Time To Kill and had no clue he would be such a powerful and charming writer.  

Part autobiography and part philosophy, McConaughey gives a very frank and candid review of his life and how he managed and interpreted it all.  Greenlights is a very Southern book, both in his experiences and attitude.

Although I primarily use kindle to read now (mostly a matter of storage), some of you may know I'm something of a bibliophile snob, especially when it comes to the physical book.  This first edition of Greenlights (my copy came from the fabled Square Books) is a joy to touch and leaf through.  They use heavy rag paper, almost like expensive drawing paper with a substantial tooth.  It switches between different colors of ink and shades of paper so often that I wonder if this book was printed on a web press at all.  Some of the signatures may be from a sheet-fed press, which is unusual.  

Greenlights earns its spot on the best-seller list, primarily on the strength of the writing alone.  This is a book of life, not your typical Hollywood expose.  It's a book that speaks especially to Southern men in a voice they'll find familiar.

The Screwtape Letters.

I tell people that I"m an agnostic because I am, and I believe everyone is; no matter if they claim absolute belief or absolute disbelief, everyone has questions and doubts.  I've read many Christian apologists through the years, and I can only call Lewis beloved, at least by me.  This is my third time through on Screwtape and probably not the last.  

Written before he lost (and ultimately regained) his faith, Lewis dedicates Screwtape to his dear friend and fellow scribbler, J.R.R. Tolkien.  It's a fictitious series of letters written from a supervisor daemon to his nephew, advising his efforts to collect the soul of an English "client" recently converted to Christianity.  

In this and other works, Lewis makes Christian apology entertaining and digestible.  Lewis has a pragmatic opinion on Christian practices and philosophies, which come through almost effortlessly here.

Like the Narnia books, The Screwtape Letters is a quick read and a staple of English-speaking Christianity.  

Official Ted Lasso