Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Young journalist will be missed

T.J. Jernigan was a guy that made you sit up and take notice. I have been in a state of disbelief since hearing of his death on Sunday. TJ served as the editor of Northwest’s Ranger Rocket, the student newspaper, in 2008-09.  

When he walked in my office to ask about the editor’s slot, he already had bylines under his belt, from weekly newspapers in the state. He was serious about journalism, but always smiling.

That smile didn’t always hide his grief, having lost his sister not too long before coming to Northwest. 

When we talked to TJ about his newspaper experience, he told us, “Jim Prince owns three newspaper companies here in Mississippi: Kemper County Messenger; Neshoba Democrat and Madison County Journal.  After working for him, I realized that journalism is something I really love.”

While at Northwest TJ was named outstanding student in Journalism and was the recipient of the CPRAM (College Public Relations Association of Mississippi) Scholarship.  He traveled with the PR staff to that state conference and spoke eloquently to a room full of seasoned journalists.

TJ wrote for the student newspaper, the yearbook, and his stories were sent out through the college’s Public Relations Department.  

On the day his first newspaper came back, he jumped right in with delivery.  Not long afterward I got a call from College President, Dr. Gary Lee Spears.  “I was eating my lunch in the President’s home, and looked up and this guy with a dew rag on his head was standing in the foyer,” said Spears.  “Can I help you,” Dr. Spears asked.

“Oh hey, Dr. Spears.  What are you doing in here?”

“Well, I live here TJ.  What are you doing in here?”

“Oh man, I thought I was in the education building.  Oops.”

His byline gained national attention when he covered the story of Elvis’ John Deere tractor, which had been restored by Northwest Agricultural Technology students.

Over the years I have captured my share of awards—for writing, photography, service—but I was never as honored as I was when TJ chose me for the subject of his tribute speech—part of a final grade in speech. He said whenever he felt homesick, he would pull up a chair and talk to one of his PR Mamas, meaning LaJuan Tallo, Julie Bauer, Renate Ferreira and me.

After leaving Northwest he went on to study journalism and electronics at the University of Memphis.

The spring after he left us at Northwest, TJ sent us a message saying he had gotten his hand caught in the garbage disposal.  We all shrieked.  He even sent a picture of the gory, mangled fingers.  It was April 1.  “NOT funny, TJ,” we said.  “PR mamas are faint at heart.”

I will miss my friend—sweet soul, beautiful boy, picker, singer, writer. 

Friday, August 1, 2014


I have never paid for quilting on a piece that I did not do….until yesterday. I stopped at Chantay Rhone's Cotton Treasures shop in Senatobia and paid for this beautiful elongated hexagon quilt.
I did not make it.

Last year I found this beautiful quilt top, and another one still to be quilted, at the estate sale of Janie Mortimer of Senatobia as she prepared to move to Winona.

Elongated Hexagon Quilt
As I searched through the old linens that were in the sale, I found two that I thought needed saving.

     According to Janie, it could have been pieced by her mother and her sisters, and her great grandmother.  
     “My mother and aunt went back to the farm after their jobs ended to wait for their soldier husbands to return from overseas.  My mother and her sisters had been bomb inspectors at a bomb plant in Monroe County,” says Janie. “They all were talented needle women and enjoyed quilting together.” 

I found some random old blocks in grandmother's flower garden pattern and appliqu├ęd them to the quilt back which was made of muslin and reproduction 1930s fabric.  Chantay quilted it in the Baptist Fan pattern with a light gray-blue thread.  It was hand-pieced nearly 65 years ago.  There is not a tear or stain, thought the fabric is getting a little fragile. 

I know I can't save every old building, every stray dog, every mistreated horse, but I saved this quilt!

Baptist Fan pattern and quilt label. 

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Rotten Tomatoes rerun

As most writers do from time to time, we pull from the files a column, or in this case a blog entry, that warrants repeating.

Even though tomato "putting up" time is not here yet, it's just around the corner.  So I'm reposting Rotten Tomatoes from last July.  Hope you like it.

Rotten Tomatoes

It's starting. The tomatoes are coming in....into my kitchen, that is. With the cool spring, moderate weather and rain, I was thinking maybe I would be spared the agony of the tomato adventure this year. When I think about last summer, I remember that every flat surface in my kitchen was covered in tomatoes.  I stewed them, canned them, mixed them with okra and onion for soup, made homemade Rotel and frozen little Roma tomatoes whole. They were on my table for every meal, sliced on a plate.
Every time I saw that man—my husband—coming in the house with another bucket, I cringed. My back ached from standing on my little gel mat peeling, slicing, stewing tomatoes.  What makes all this work unbearable is that I don’t like tomatoes!

Every summer of my childhood, I watched as my mother, father, grandmother and great aunt made a big fuss about summer tomatoes.  They squealed with joy when the first tomatoes were brought home by my daddy, a farmer, and placed on the kitchen windowsill to ripen to the perfect shade of red—brighter than barn red but not crimson.
Mother had a special knife she used to peel tomatoes, the only way to serve them in our house.  No one was allowed to use the long serrated knife for any other purpose. Her tomatoes were to be peeled and cold.
Grandmother and Aunt Ruth would pile sliced tomatoes on a big white platter and place it on the table with a look of accomplishment like they had just presented a delicacy to an honored guest. 
 “Don’t you want to at least try to like a tomato?” my mother asked me every summer of my life until she died the year I turned 39. 
“No, thank you,” I would reply on my first refusal.
“Oh, come on and try one,” Aunt Ruth would say.  “You like ketchup. You should like tomatoes.  You like soup and spaghetti sauce, so you should like tomatoes.”
“But I don’t like raw ones,” I replied.  They were never convinced.
The next day at lunch they (my mother, grandmother and great aunt) would again place a big plate of sliced tomatoes, bacon and lettuce for BLTs on our 1960-style kitchen table. The ritual would begin all over again.
It was as if I were a family embarrassment. We would go out to eat or to someone’s home and they would pass the tomatoes, and as taught, I would politely say, “No thank you.” My mother would look up over her bifocals and say, “Nancy doesn’t eat tomatoes.” The hostess would give her a nodding sympathetic look. 
Since I was an only child living in a household with four adults, I was outnumbered. I never gave in.  I ate bacon sandwiches—just bacon and mustard.
How could anyone who loves being Southern as much as I do, not like tomatoes? 
I endured all this questioning at home and thought it would stop there.  What did I do but marry a tomato-loving man from a family of tomato lovers?  Same scenario plays out every time there is a family gathering.
It also happens with my friends. We go to a restaurant and I order the salad without tomatoes. One says, “You don’t like tomatoes?” with that squinty look of disbelief.  I might get a taco and say, “Please hold the tomatoes.”
“Hold the tomatoes?  It’s not a taco without diced tomatoes."
It sounds like a broken record that will not stop playing, like the movie Groundhog Day where Bill Murray wakes up to the same day over and over. 
I must admit that I do like fried green tomatoes. That’s just because they are in the same fried family as a French fry, and you can put ketchup on them. Maybe that gets me back in the good graces of my family, friends and in-laws. If I lived in the Mid-West or the North and didn’t like tomatoes, would it be such a big deal?
So, I'll say it again. I don’t like tomatoes! Furthermore, I don’t like turnip greens or anything else that looks like dandelion leaves. And while we’re confessing Southern sin, I don’t enjoy or think I would have liked William Faulkner at all.  So there!

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Five Star City Fest kicks off this coming weekend in Senatobia

After months of planning, our week is finally here!  The first annual Five Star City Fest is set for this Friday, May 9; and Saturday, May 10 in Downtown Senatobia.  When the festival committee gathered in January and began thinking about this new two-day, much-expanded festival, we all glazed over with a look of disbelief.

Penny Hawks Frazier, festival chair, and Don Embry, director of Parks and Recreation,  discuss banner placement for the Kid's Fest area.
Why would this group meet hours on end, make phone calls, send texts, check email, organize food vendors, map out logistics of downtown, design banners and ads, make almost daily posts to our Facebook page; talk to bands, talk to beverage companies, talk to arts and crafts vendors; recruit sponsors and volunteers, deliver posters to merchants, book entertainment for Friday and all day Saturday on two stages?  I'm sure I left out something. It was more than you can imagine.

The Festival Committee begins work in January. 

Why, I asked?  Because it is obvious that we love Senatobia. Our Facebook page last week reached 3,700 people, with 548 of them actively engaged in the posts.  Not only are native Senatobians interested in the Revitalization and Restoration of Downtown, but also newcomers to the area.

Response from the community has been unbelievable.  Sponsors were proud to be a part of this new effort. Volunteers, almost 100 of them, signed up for the many jobs required for a festival of this type.

One of the many vendors, Frugal Frocks, from Senatobia.

Nothing would make me happier than to see this festival blow a breeze of renewal into our community. From here, there are so many possibilities.

Come out Friday night for the Downtown Dash, crawfish and shrimp boil and other great food, and entertainment by Mark "Mule Man" Massey, The Burning Magnolias, and Dr. Zarr's Amazing Funk Monster.

Saturday you can visit nearly 75 arts and crafts vendors, listen to more great entertainment, go to the car show, check out the food court, and see the vastly-improved Kid's Fest activities.  It's gonna be great!  Rain or shine.

Lane and Susan Tutor at the 2012 May Fair. Tutor has been the
longest participating arts and crafts vendor since the original festival began 20 years ago. 
Senatobia's Mark "Mule Man" Massey will kick off entertainment Friday night at 6 p.m. followed by Burning Magnolias and featuring Dr. Zarr's Amazing Funk Monster. Tickets are $5, and children under 12 when accompanied by an adult, will be admitted free.

Glenda Neal, TCEDF, and Volunteer Kay Minton, sort directional signs. 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Copeland, a giant in more ways than one

Do you ever just wake up thinking of someone?  I did today. I've been thinking about my friend Paul W. Copeland who was the engineer for college radio station at Northwest where I worked from 1978-1988, and before as a student in the 1973-'74 school years.

Paul Copeland
Brightleaf Amateur Radio Club, Greenville, NC

So I did a google search, and found that Paul had died in 2011.  I didn't even know.  He and his family had left Senatobia in 1984 when he took a job as a field engineer in Greenville, North Carolina.

I felt a mixture of sadness and richness. Not everyone has the chance to know someone like Paul.

A commanding figure at 6'4" and weighing an estimated 350, wore his black hair combed back and sported a long beard. You could usually find him clad in a long-sleeved shirt with overalls—year-round.

As a student, I was afraid to even ask him a question.  Soon after I got to know him, that gruffness disappeared. He taught me a little about refinishing antiques, and even talked me into doing some tombstone rubbings.

Paul Copeland Rocketeer Photo 1975

Gruff, you say?  There was no bigger heart around. Paul and his wife Charlotte were foster parents to more than 21 children. They loved and cared for them, and when they left, they were sad.  He was also a former Boy Scout leader.  He looked so spiffy in his uniform.

Paul grew up in Memphis. He got his communications training in his ten years with the U.S. Navy.  While he was at Northwest he was instrumental in writing and receiving numerous telecommunications grants. He kept the equipment fine tuned and was willing to work on air, weekends, sign on at 6 a.m. or sign off at midnight.

His little shop at the end of our hall was always a mess.  Test equipment hummed and lights blinked.When Paul talked about amps and meters and frequencies, his eyes would light up the way most men do when they talk about women! We knew we better not go in that shop to straighten up.

A classically trained pianist, Paul's musical passion was playing with The Dixie Bluegrass Boys, and he was a member of the Memphis Area Bluegrass Association.  He did a few vocals and played the dobro.  In case you don't know what that is, it is a guitar shaped instrument with reflective metal in its body. When it was inverted with its concave surface facing up, it resonated.

One of my favorite memories involving Paul was going to hear him play at the Lucy Opera in Lucy, Tenn.  This was back in the mid-1970's.  When you drove up to what looked like an old school building, you saw people collected in small groups—picking'.  Some were old guys, some young (with long hair…it was the '70s), different music, different techniques.  Then you could go inside and hear the groups take the stage.

Since Paul went there every Saturday night, he recorded the sessions and we broadcast them on our public radio station.  How cool!

Another lifelong hobby for Paul was being a HAM radio operator. For more than 56 years he used the call sign K4KCS.

All of us who worked with Paul were enriched by his many interests. He left his wife Charlotte, three children and one grandchild.

"73 to you all, this is K4KCS signing off.

Paul Copeland drove in from North Carolina for a reunion of the Dixie Bluegrass Boys in recent years.
Commercial Appeal photo

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The parking lot at Homestead Farms in Coldwater was packed today as shoppers celebrated the late arrival of spring.  The view in the Easter Lily house was breathtaking.  Let us celebrate as we go into Easter week.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

I want sandcastles

In this winter and gray spring that just won't turn loose, I found myself thinking about sandcastles lately.  Understand, I've never been a real beach-loving person, but sand structures bring back some great childhood memories.

My first sand building started in my backyard, nowhere near a beach.  You know you are a true Southerner if you have a tractor tire sandbox in your backyard. Since my daddy was a farmer, he provided a tractor tire for my sandbox and one for my friend Wayne.  We spent endless hours in the sand.

My first sand structures were frog houses.  That particular structure is made by covering your feet with moist sand and packing it down.  They you remove your foot and you have an igloo-type house.  Problem—I have really high arches in my feet, so when I tried to pull my foot out, my frog house usually collapsed.

Wayne, who had flatter feet, was able to pull his foot out and start the process of breaking off little sticks to cover the opening, making it look like a fort.  I just dug my foot deeper in the sand and tried again.

As a teenager I spent a good bit of time at Sardis Lake.  While baking myself in the sun, my friends and I built sandcastles.  Some built elaborate, multi-towered masterpieces. I was content to scoop up wet sand in my hand and drizzle it into abstract sand towers.  When it dried, it was pretty impressive.

No artistic Neptune sculptures for me.  Just give me wet sand to drizzle and frog houses and I'm happy. Just thinking about this makes this gray day tolerable.

Wayne and me about the time of our sandbox days.  Here we are with his daddy, W.R. Gulledge, who is sporting a beard for Senataobia's centennial celebration in 1960.  Mr. Gulledge portrayed Abe Lincoln in the centennial pageant. 

Monday, March 10, 2014

The sound of quilting

If you listen to the group of women talking as they worked on quilt projects, you heard a mix of accents—Chicago, New York, and the room was thick with the various accents of Mississippi—from Vicksburg to Senatobia.

What brings a random group of women together for a week to do nothing but sew, eat, sleep, sew more and shop for fabric?  The common passion for quilting.  The women were as varied as the colors of their quilts.  They varied in age, economic status, level of quilting knowledge, just to name a few of the differences.

Their quilts reflected those differences.  One woman had done a beautiful quilt as a memorial to her dear boy who had lived the hobo lifestyle.  She chose the symbols of hobo living to work into her quilt.  When she showed it to us, along with photos of her son, she smiled and tears sparkled in her eyes.

Some did traditional blocks, some were scrappy with favorite pieces of fabric and dresses worn long ago.

All this creativity took place at the top of an Alabama hillside in a three-story home and retreat for crafters.  We were summoned to three delicious meals a day by the ring of a silver bell.

We shared rooms and stories.  We talked about childbirth, the heartbreak of some of our children, we complained about men, and we learned from each other—lessons in life, lessons in quilting. The facility owner shared an aging Buddy to sit at our feet and watch us as we sewed. And then we told dog stories.

When we left for home we stopped and bought more quilt fabric and ate lunch.  We were hoarse from five days of talking when we returned to our respective homes.  Fabric, newly-bought, was unpacked and touched and inspected before our suitcases were sorted.

I can't wait to take my finished quilt, that looks like something you would find in a VW bus in 1969, to one of my long-arm quilter-friends.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Ice Storm '94 memories bittersweet

We all have memories of the ice storm of 1994.  Here are mine.

I had three kids at home, a show horse in the back yard and a mother, dying of cancer.

After being dismissed from school, we all came home to a warm house heated by firewood.  I started sewing a horse show outfit for Hayley, put on a crock pot of spaghetti sauce, and then realized that we were in for more than I'd expected.

We moved my parents from their home in town to our house, then at Westwood on the outskirts of Senatobia.  Mother was in the advanced stages of lung cancer, had Parkinson's disease and was almost blind from macular degeneration. She required oxygen.  When trees started snapping and light poles started falling, the fire department brought me a small generator to keep her oxygen going.  Then they realized that we were experiencing not just inconvenience, but disaster.  The required every generator for the hospital and nursing home.

She really did well without her oxygen tank.  The first night we ate spaghetti and filled the living room with sleeping bags. Mother and Daddy slept in the girls' twin beds, right off the living room.  We were all warm.  We sat by the fire and listened to Daddy's endless tales of his life out West, of horses and life experiences.

Howard broke ice for Hayley's show horse to have water.  In the house, we did not have water.  As morning came, we heard mother take her first fall. She had fallen between the bed and the wall.  Jason, a senior in high school, scooped her up and put her back to bed.  She was remarkably unhurt.

Then we all looked outside and were amazed by what we saw.  Limbs and trees down everywhere.  We did have phone service and could stay in touch with other family members.  We listened to our clock radio, powered by its nine-volt battery for weather updates.

Our fireplace insert provided not only heat, but a cooking source. We baked sweet potatoes and made salmon croquettes in a iron skillet on top.  The ice began to drip, but no power would be restored for two more days.

We spent another night in the living room. My children say that the night we all slept together was the night they realized that I snored.  I'm sure they were mistaken.

Howard and Daddy were finally able to get out and go to the farm, 10 miles from town, where we now live.  When limbs fall, fences go down, and cows and horses get out.  They made the most crucial repairs to keep the livestock in.  By noon that day mother took her second fall.

She lost her balance, took a step back into the door frame.  Her force against the wood made a loud crack, and she slid to the floor.  Again, she was unhurt but sore from the fall.

Later that day, the lights came on in the city of Senatobia, and we were able to take them back to their house. Relief! She was more comfortable there and able to get around better in familiar surroundings.  After getting baths at Howard's mother's house, we came back to our dark house for another night.

We cooked on the grill and played games.  By this time, we were really getting concerned with predictions of electricity not returning for days.  We were lucky, and did get restored power by the third full day.  Others were not so lucky.  Those in rural communities faced days without power.

Clean up efforts began, and Senatobia and Tate County gradually came back to life thanks to volunteers and great emergency management.

Mother died one month to the day after the ice storm hit.  Did her death come sooner because of the circumstances?  We'll never know.  But without the storm, we wouldn't have had those nights around the fire.  I'll take that.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Time Flies for Senatobia High School Auditorium

Special to Tate County Magazine, published by The Democrat
By Nancy Patterson
Time Flies for Senatobia High School Auditorium

Citizens of Senatobia and Tate County have a real treasure right in the middle of town and they may not even realize its importance. The Senatobia High School Auditorium, built in 1938 as a project of the Works Projects Administration (WPA), is said to be one of the best examples of Art Moderne architectural structures remaining in the southern region of the country.

The crown jewels of the whole complex are the three panels, decorated with allegorical bas-relief sculptures and a sundial. If you’ve never really studied at the panels, drive by and take a closer look.
Senatobia Municipal School District Superintendent Jay Foster is aware of the value of the auditorium art. “The auditorium is still used by the school on opening day, for programs and such. It remains in good shape, and it was renovated in 1998,” he says.  “The wings on either side are not in good shape.  They are mostly vacant. We do use space in one wing for our IT department.”

Foster says the school has plans to do something to keep those structures stable.  “We have looked at grants and other resources to help us make some needed renovation.” He says the Mississippi Department of Archives and History has looked at the structure and hopefully, will make recommendations.

Memphis artist Dale Baucum, originally from Senatobia, and a 1969 graduate of the school has done extensive research on exactly what the panels mean.

Dale Baucum
“The similitude of the two panels concerning education and the necessary mission to harness the forces of nature is displayed by the relative size of the human figures. Their bodies are rippling with muscles and a sublime attitude that humans can control their culture,” says Baucum.

"The large gear on the left or west panel represents the mechanical age. That age produced some of the most amazing devices ever dreamed of.  Mathematical science is at its best with all the strict requirements of presses and mills and farm machinery.  The human figures appear to be almost Roman or Greek and representing two of the greatest times of thought that led to oceans of learning. 

 “This puts the entire message on a very high plane... enlightenment flows from above and is yours ...if... you are smart enough to soar to the source and return with the gift (education, understanding) and then put it to work by sharing and building.” Baucum is amazed at the multitude of structures in the background.

The two panels are separated by a sundial, with its message “Time Flies.” Sadly, the artist of these works is unknown.

This is by far one of my favorite historical buildings,” says Mary B. Ayers, supervisor of Design and Compliance at Northwest Mississippi Community College and a 1995 SHS graduate.

“The interior of the building is beautiful as well.  I know the building function and efficiency does not correspond with the current needs of the school, but I do wish it could be utilized and/or restored in its entirety before deterioration progresses too far.” Ayers has an interest in the building interior since she earned a degree from Mississippi State University—a Bachelor of Human Science with an emphasis in interior design. 

Mary B. Ayers

 As to the artistry itself, Ayers says, “Part of the WPA focus was to use local materials and local labor, so in areas distant from stone quarries, cast stone and even precast concrete facades were common, in lieu of natural cut stone.”

The auditorium and adjoining wings sit on the original site of the Blackburn College for Women. Building contractor for the project was Wessell Constructions, and the architect was Hull and Drummond of Jackson, according to the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Historic Resources Inventory.

The $110,000 project was supervised by then-superintendent J.W. Whitwell and the school board, according to Senatobia Centennial Souvenir Program 1860-1960, published in 1960.
Wings, also in Art Moderne style, were added in 1959 and 1965, according to the MissPreservation.com website, a blog that is devoted the architectural preservation in the state. (Dr. Susan C. Allen, who blogs as, Suzassippi.)

What we do know is that the high school and its auditorium were one of thousands of projects of the WPA.

When the Great Depression hit in 1929, the American economy hit rock bottom. In 1933 President Franklin D. Roosevelt introduced “The New Deal,” a series of programs designed to get America and the economy moving.

The WPA was one of those programs. It funded the arts, history and culture of America and employed out-of-work Americans who were certified by local agencies after meeting certain criteria.

The WPA began in 1935 with an appropriation of $4.88 billion dollars from the Emergency Relief Fund. Over the years, it employed an estimated 8.5 million Americans, and spent a total of $11 billion dollars. The typical WPA worker was paid $15 to $90 a month.

Although WPA lasted only eight years it was responsible for building structures such as airports and bridges and paving 651,000 miles of road. It also funded programs in the humanities.

“There are 52 WPA listings in the MDAH (Mississippi Department of Archives and History) database, but there are more than that associated with all programs of the New Deal Administration,” says Allen, who is in the process of documenting Mississippi with the University of California-Berkley project—Living New Deal. She says this project hopes to document every New Deal Administration project completed during those 12 years. 

“It is a testament to the importance of the work when one considers how many communities benefitted from projects, and many of them are still in use,” she says.

According to Allen, there are 32 post offices in Mississippi built with New Deal funds, and many have murals completed under the program.  The University of
Mississippi has six buildings constructed with PWA funds (Public Works

The Senatobia High School Auditorium was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1994 and is a Mississippi Landmark.  At that time, the original school building complex along with a collection of 23 principal buildings located along or adjacent to College Street in Senatobia, were designated the College Street Historic District.

For more information on the Senatobia High School Auditorium, contact the Senatobia Municipal School District (senatobiaschools.com) or visit the MissPreservation.com website.