Sunday, July 26, 2015

What would Addie say?

WARNING:  This blog may be politically incorrect.  But if you read it, you may need a tissue.

In today's world of racial unrest, I wonder what Addie would think of all this. Addie Brownlee grew up on our land in eastern Tate County.  She was born in 1909 and died in 2009 at the age of 100.
She came from a different era.

Roy, Addie and Nancy

She and her common-law husband Manuel, lived in a little shotgun house "down in the bottom."  In case you don't know that term, bottom land is usually along a watercourse, in our case the Jim Wolfe Creek.  It was farmland.  Manuel and Addie never married. She refused to marry him because he wouldn't join her church, so they lived together for 50 plus years.

They were part of the now-dead sharecropper system.  It is my hope that they were treated kindly, and I believe they were. The couple worked for my granddaddy, then my daddy, and my first cousin.

She wrote a letter to my mother (not my daddy for whom she worked) when she decided to quit farming.  "Mr. Hayley and Mr. Ralph went the last mile with me to the rocking chair," she said. "I really hate to give up farming.  I love it and Mr. Hayley was a good boss.  He did not tell me when to go to the field. He always trusted me and that is something to be thankful for."

When she and Manuel were not working their allotted farmland, Addie worked for my family in town.  She usually came to help my grandmother and great aunt.  She much preferred outside work than in-the-house work.  When they knew Addie was coming, my grandmother Latham always made her "ice potato salad," as Addie called it.  "I think about Mrs. Latham and Mrs Ruth....when I come they cook a good meal for me and I eat a while," she said in the letter.

If I knew Addie was coming, I was overjoyed.  She had been there to take care of me when mama needed a little extra help. Always smiling, joking, she rode me on her back and tried to keep up with me. In that same letter she said, ""I thank you for letting me enjoy your baby girl, Miss Nancy.  To me she will always be a baby."

I was lucky enough that when my own children came along, they got to know Addie too.  When she came to our house, she always played and joked with them.  She drew giggles from the girls when she pretended to be scared of their big white stuffed horse.  When my son was born she sent him one of her rare Indian Head pennies.  Today, it rests in his baby book as one of the most prized baby gifts.

In my box of treasures are a set of hand-tatted Coke bottle covers and doilies that Addie made for my mama.  In the 1960s, we all drank Cokes from glass bottles, and it was quite an honor to have Coke bottle covers.  Who knew Addie made the first koozies?

One day she called me at work and said, "Miss Nancy, Miss Hayley done blowed up the microwave.
I'm so sorry."  I could tell she was upset. What had happened was that "Miss Hayley", while attempting to make hot chocolate, had put the cup in the microwave, forgetting the water.  The microwave was not blown up, but the cup was busted to smithereens.

Addie never had children of her own. She raised Manuel's nephew Roy, as her child.  When he "went up north" in his early 20s, he got mixed up with a bad crowd. Roy died of a heart attack associated with a drug overdose. She was heartbroken.

So what would Addie say about all these shooting and taking down of flags?  She wouldn't be happy.

I often wondered if Addie really loved us or was just "putting on a show."  I got my answer one rainy Sunday afternoon.

My husband, daddy and a few extra helpers were in the bottom working cows.  I was horseback, having left my vehicle at farm headquarters.  When the weather got really bad, Daddy said, "Give me that horse and go over and sit this out at Addie's."

I had never, in all those years, been inside her house. She cooked on a wood stove, by choice.  Addie had inherited land, but gave it to her church.  She preferred to live where she was raised.  Her little house was cluttered with discarded treasures she had been given by people she worked for.  The tiny fenced-in yard bloomed with flowers that she had dug when cleaning out other people's flower beds.
Manuel, now bedridden, sat in the small twin bed.  Addie said she slept sitting up on the couch.

While we sat there by the wood stove, listening to some of her stories and waiting out the rain, she said, "Miss Nancy, have I ever showed you this?"

She took down a blue scrapbook from her cramped bookshelf.  In it were Christmas and birthday card I had sent her over the years.   She had saved my snaggle-toothed school pictures along with notes I'd written her in my little-girl printing.  There were pictures I'd drawn, newspaper articles and photos of me with 4-H horses and band awards.

I think I got my answer.

My daughter and little granddaughter and two family friends went to Addie's funeral—the first black funeral I'd ever been to.  "Why is Miss Addie in that bed," asked little Bella. The preacher talked about how Miss Addie had loved her church and helped the youth there.   "Everybody loved Miss Addie, even the white folks....And we are glad to have y'all visiting with us today," he said, nodding in our direction.

When the time came to pay our respects, Bella helped me place a champagne rose on Addie's lapel. Bella looked up at me and said, "Nonni, why are you crying?"

"I feel like an orphan all over again," I said. As Addie said in her letter, "I hope the years don't end for a long time."

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

New Harper Lee book brings personal history to life

I simply cannot wait for Nelle Harper Lee's book, "Go Set a Watchman" to be released July 14.  I ordered an advanced copy long ago.  I have two special reasons to be so anxious to read this long-forgotten book by Harper Lee.

My maternal grandfather, the late Luther Latham of Eupora, was a small-town lawyer, former state senator from Webster County.  He died at age 51 while campaigning for the Fifth Judicial Judgeship in 1938. That was the year my mother graduated from high school with plans for being a lawyer. Her brother, Jim, was already at the University of Mississippi in law school.  Their lives changed.

Mama always said, if you want to know what your grandaddy Latham was like, just watch "To Kill a Mockingbird."  I did many times.  The similarities were amazing.

The Honorable Senator Luther Latham

They were both criminal lawyers in a small town—both wore their thick, black hair combed back. My mother even wore a "Buster Brown" haircut like Scout in the movie.  But the most important similarity was the way they dealt with their fellow man.

"We leaned on him.  He was a strong, vigorous man. When in the future, we are faced with this and that momentous problem, instinctively we are going to say:  "Ask Luther about it."  And then we are going to remember that Luther is not here.    .The last fifteen years have witnessed a great change for the better in Webster County. The improvements our people have made educationally, economically, and morally are obvious.  And much of this good work can be attributed to Luther Latham." From an editorial in the Webster Progress Times.

"He was a man of honor and personal integrity.  All of his dealings with his fellowman were based upon his idea of right and justice, of ethics and forbearance."  From obituary in Webster Progress Times.  
I rest my case.

But in case you aren't familiar with Lee's soon-to-be released book, "Go Set A Watchman" here is the scoop.

"It was written before Lee's only published novel To Kill a Mockingbird (1960). The title comes from Isaiah 21:6: "For thus hath the Lord said unto me, Go, set a watchman, let him declare what he seeth."[1] It alludes to Scout's view of her father, Atticus Finch, as the moral compass ("watchman") of Maycomb."

This novel takes place when Scout is a grown woman, 20 years older than she was in Mockingbird.  She leaves New York to visit her father in Macomb and tries to sort our her feeling about her hometown.

The movie-like truth about this book is that the manuscript was lost for all these years. It was written in the 1950s before she wrote Mockingbird. At the advice of her publisher, she put it away and wrote a book about Scout's childhood (Mockingbird).  It was discovered by her lawyer in 2014.


Last night I watched the movie "Infamous" about the years of research that Truman Capote did leading up to his best-selling true crime non-fiction book "In Cold Blood."  He took his childhood friend Nell Harper Lee along to help with research and documentation.  Their conversations were priceless.  You can see how little Dill's character in the movie could have been based on Capote.

I can't wait...

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Bates goes behind bars with Shakespeare

I have an unusual book to recommend.  For all my English/Literature professor/teacher friends, you must read "Shakespeare Saved My Life: Ten Years in Solitary with the Bard" by Laura Bates.  This first-person account follows Laura Bates, a professor at Indiana State University, as she goes to the depths of solitary confinement areas, known as Supermax, in a state prison to teach Shakespeare to the inmates.

Why in the world would these men, who have little or no formal education, be interested in Shakespeare? Bates sits in her chair at a designated distance from the men who can only see her through the slot in their cell doors where their food is delivered.

Photo from Indiana State University studies
She takes them through lively discussions and assigns homework. She challenges them to compare today's gang warfare to that of the feud and street battles seen between the Montagues and Capulets in "Romeo and Juliet."

"We are the only Shakespeare program in the segregated unit in solitary confinement anywhere in the world….Never before attempted….never duplicated either," says Bates in an Indiana State University publication.

Her star student, Larry Newton, is one of the most notorious prisoners in Supermax. I found her discussions with Larry to be fascinating.  She got a glimpse in to his mind and never-before insight into his psyche.

I highly encourage you to follow this super teacher into her adventure behind bars.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

What a great place to be on top of a mountain in the gloomy gray days of March

The end of the first week in March usually brings to this blog a report on our quilting retreat at Grand Oak in Scottsboro, Ala.  This year and last, we managed to leave a day early and outrun a winter storm. We will do unusual things to get to this mountain-top retreat once a year for a week of sewing, learning, eating, napping, talking, and giggling.

This year we had three new quilters—new to the group—so I hope we didn't scare them off with our silliness.  One lady woke in the night and asked her roommate to tell her what time it was.  "Three dollars and 45 cents," replied the roommate.  So for the rest of the week we told time in dollars.  You had to be there.

Quilt retreats have grown in popularity over the past few weeks.  Some offer the facility but guests provide their own meals.  Some, like Grand Oak, offer the facility, three prepared meals a day plus snacks.

We learn by watching.  We are inspired by watching.

On one particularly rain, cold day, the Grand Oak aging Golden Retriever, Buddy, came down to spend the afternoon.

Below Left, one of our buddies proves that it is ok to quilt all day in your p.j.s.  It's so fun.

We also had a demonstration on the Stack 'n Whack method by Cindy Allgood.  We came up with some unusual blocks, but could see this as a beautiful quilting option.

We all heard reports of snow and ice and school closing back home, but since our hairpin-curve driveway was clear we left Friday morning on schedule.  All was fine until we hit Huntsville.  All ramps and overpasses were blocked.  After riding around in many circles we found a nice Alabama trooper who got us on the highway by avoiding the ramps.

The bridge at Decatur was dicey, but my traveling companion did a great job driving on ice.  Well, until next March. May we have no snow.   Gotta go. It's almost seven dollars.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Path to the top of the hill

Riding on the mule with Howard on land that has come to me through my daddy Hayley Dandridge, from his father Cathey Spottswood Dandridge, from his mother Mary Eliza Cathey Dandridge and purchased by her father Matthew Lafon Cathey. I'm so fortunate to live on and care for this for my short life before it changes hands again. If you stand really still maybe you'll hear the Catheys sending their mules into the gullies to hide during the Civil War. 

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Distressed beauty

I had some extra time last week, so I started a few home improvement projects.  After painting a small half bath—ceiling, walls, trim—I decided to tackle something else.

There is a bedroom suit upstairs that belonged to my maternal Great-Aunt Ruth Cole.  She was very special to me, more than most great-aunts.  After retiring from Northwest in 1963 she came to live with us. Aunt Ruth must have been in her late 60's when she retired.  My third daughter is named for her—Olivia Ruth.

Aunt Ruth Cole in the Northwest cafeteria
in the 1960s when it was located in
the McGhee Building. 
Back to the bedroom suit….it was probably made in 1920s.  It is not a fine antique set of furniture, but valuable to me.  But it did look a little granny-ish.  So I decided to update it with some of the new paint finishes available. The furniture had probably followed Aunt Ruth from Eupora to Texas, back to our house that was where Everblooms used to be, to our house on Lafayette, and to our house in the country where it was Hayley's bedroom suit.

I chose a Milk Paint in Sunset mixed with a little white.  Good advice came from Lumley Belle here in Senatobia.  From them I purchased the paint and got a few ideas.  Thanks Joshua and Joanna! Check out their Facebook page

Chest with painting by Northwest Art faculty
member Lawayne House. 

The mirror was really what made the piece look bad, so I found an old mirror frame that belonged to my Grandmother Dandridge and switched it out. It was probably made before or around 1900.

I'm happy with my little project.  What are you doing with paint????  Chalk or milk?

All this painting has earned me a lot of hot pad time.  That's OK.  Gotta keep clicking along.

Painted and distressed dresser and mirror frame. 

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Artist of Tate County Exhibition now in Northwest Art Gallery

The works of many Tate County artists is now on display in the Art Gallery at Northwest Mississippi Community College.  The show will run from Feb. 2-25.  The opening reception for the artists will be held Thursday evening, Feb. 5, from 5-7 p.m. at the gallery.

Tutor painting from the exhibition postcard. 
This exhibition features the works of artists who either live or work in Tate County or who are members of Sycamore Arts.  The artists list includes: Jean Bennett, Nancy Patterson, Lane Tutor, Mackey Harrison, George Holley, Sharon Williams, Jo Ellen Logan and Dana Finimore.

On display will be pottery, paintings—in a variety of media, fiber, quilts, and photographs.
Gallery hours are 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Monday through Thursday.  There is no admission fee.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

I hate to start the new year off complaining.  But then, it is one of the things I do best.  I know I will sound like an old English teacher, but the popular use of the plural YOU has me concerned.

Since I grew up in the South, I am not ashamed to use Y'ALL when referring to a group of people.  It is, after all a contraction of you all.

Most of the country is now using YOU GUYS.  I hear it all the time.  The incident that motivated me to write about it was heard recently on an episode of one of those home improvement shows.

Anyway, the builder was showing the couple their new 400 square foot dream house (yuck) and said, "This is you guyses space.  I wanted it to be what you guys wanted."  YOU GUYSES??!!

What is wrong with YOU? YOUR??  As in, "This is your space?"

According to the dictionary, In standard Englishyou is both singular and plural; it always takes a verb form that originally marked the word as plural, (i.e. you are, in common with we are and they are).

Are people so afraid they will slip and say y'all that they go to extreme measures to use you guys?

I found this interesting map on that shows us who is saying you guys and who is saying y'all. The legend shows blue for YOU but I can't see any blue on the map.

So Y'ALL think about this and get back to me.  I'm ok with Y'all and You but I'm never saying Y'allses.

Statistics from North Carolina State University

Friday, December 19, 2014

Deception thy name is divinity-revisited

Here I am again, asking forgiveness for a blog re-run.  I haven't tried Divinity making this year since the weather has been gray and murky for most of December. Give me a good cold, sunny day and I might give it a whirl.  Hope you enjoy reading or re-reading this blog from 2011.

Never a Christmas comes and goes that I don't think about my Mama making Divinity candy.  There are two versions of this family legend.

Her version:  "I think I won your Daddy's heart by making candy.  I tried every recipe I knew, and he thought I was a really good cook."

Daddy's version:  "When we were dating, your Mama made the most wonderful candy for me.  After we got married, I soon realized that was all she could make.  Nothing for dinner."

My version:  Mama always made Divinity at Christmas.  The weather had to be right. No humidity.  I've seen her throw a whole batch away and wait a day to start again.  She had certain rules in this Divinity making.

1.  It needed to be cold
2.  No mixer was allowed
3.  I got to "lick the bowl"—meaning I got to scrape the bowl for any remaining candy when she was through.

When I looked through her little recipe book in the candy section, which just happens to be the largest section, I also found fudge, praline drops, peanut brittle, date loaf, caramel fudge,  and chocolate dip candy.  It's a wonder she didn't send Daddy into a sugar coma before they ever got married.

She sometimes made the Divinity with chopped pecans only. Other times she added chopped pecans and topped it with a perfect pecan half.  She was very adamant about the no mixer rule.  My Great Aunt Ruth, who lived with us, was the dietician at Northwest in the 1950s and '60s.  She usually had Mama make a beautiful tray of Divinity which was delivered to the McLendons.  R.D. McLendon was the president of the college.

We had a set of cooking spoons that Daddy had brought home from Germany in WWII.  They were oversized spoons. She would use one to beat the candy until it was the right consistency.  When she was through, there was usually a blister in the palm of her hand.

If she didn't think the temperature was right in the house, she would go outside and sit on the steps to continue beating.  And she also did this because all this whipping, whisking, and beating made her hot.

Peanut brittle was also a production. She would pour the hot candy, mixed with paraffin, right out on the kitchen counter.  I wanted to help so bad. If you grow up in a house with three women (Mama, my Grandmother, and Aunt Ruth) you don't learn to cook until you leave home.

Mamay, my grandmother, had a candy specialty too.  She made taffy the old-fashioned way—pulling it over and over until it turned from a soft ball into a long strip. When it cooled she would break it with the blunt end of a knife and put it on wax paper.  She would give me a little piece to try to pull.  It didn't get long and pearly white like hers did.  She would pull it until it snapped when she brought the two ends together.  Mine would go from a small, gooey ball, into a long brown gooey strip.  Needless to say, we didn't eat the one I pulled.

Marjorie Latham Dandridge in the kitchen in the 1950s when we lived in the house on Hwy. 51 where Ever Blooms was next to May's Pharmacy. She must have posed for this picture, because that was NOT her usual kitchen attire.

I've said all this to say what is really important. I brought my mother home from the hospital in 1993—21 years ago on Dec. 23—with a terminal lung cancer diagnosis.  She also suffered from Parkinson's disease, macular degeneration, heart disease, and chronic depression. Hospice came to set up equipment right before Christmas.

For those of you have lost loved ones this year or for those who have lost friends and family at Christmastime, I offer you hope. You never forget. But time does make a difference.

This Christmas I don't see Mama in those final years with oxygen, wearing a wig from taking chemotherapy, and looking pale. I see her sitting on the back porch at our house on Lafayette Street, in her "pedal pushers" and house shoes, her breath making a fog in the cold, beating Divinity candy.