Sunday, July 17, 2016

Great summer read found in Circling the Sun

I love to just stumble upon a great book, not one whose author I have already read and like, not one that is on the top ten list, not one that just sounds good, but one that just finds me.

I am an Out of Africa fan.  I was mesmerized by the 1985 account of Karen Blixen (Karen Dinesen, Baroness Karen von Blixen-Finecke), who wrote under the pen name of Isak Dinesen, and her love affair with aristocratic big-game hunter Denys Finch-Hatton.

If you were a fan of the movie, you remember that their affair came to an end when Karen began putting pressure on Denys for more commitment in their relationship. What we don't know that he was ready to begin a relationship with Beryl Markham, and she is worthy of a book on her adventurous life.  In Out of Africa, Markham's character is named Felicity.

The daughter of famous British horse trainer Charles Clutterbuck, Beryl moved with her parents to Kenya.  Her mother did not like the African way of life, and soon returned to England taking Beryl's brother with her and leaving her in Kenya with her father.

Barely an adult, she became the first licensed female horse trainer in Kenya.  Besides her fame in the horse world, she became a master aviator and was the first person to fly the Atlantic east to west in a solo non-stop flight.

Beryl was a stunning woman, blonde, almost six feet tall.  She wore slacks and trademark silk shirts. She was married three times, and her list of lovers was impressive—including her friend Karen's husband Bror von Blixen-Finecke.  Her affair in 1929 with Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester, was allegedly cut short by the Windsors. And there are many others.

But back to Finch-Hatton.  When her friend Karen's relationship with him began to fail, Markham began her affair with him which lasted about a year until his fatal flight.

On a personal note, I don't see the appeal of old Denys.  Besides leading aristocrats on safari, he is not noted as having achieved much of anything, except being the lover of interesting women, according to one report.  He was no Robert Redford in my book.

Denys Finch-Hatton

Well I can't tell you much more about this work of wonderful historical fiction. McLain makes the dialogue sound like old Hollywood, wonderfully British except for Blixen. Markham, herself, wrote an account of those days in her memoir, West with the Night.

This book is a thrill from beginning to end.  McLain is also the author of The Paris Wife, another historical fiction account of Ernest Hemingway's first marriage to Hadley Richardson.

I can't wait to check out more of McLain's works.

Robert Redford and Meryl Streep as Finch-Hatton and Karen Blixen in the 1985 movie Out of Africa.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

On the Bookshelf

Beginning next month, I may add a sidebar that will feature books I'm currently reading. I'd love to get input from you on what you are reading.  Summertime means beach reading, late-night reading, well, anytime is good for reading in my book. (pun intended)

I did something lately that I rarely do. I re-read a book.  Not long after Jodi Picoult's book "Leaving Time," came out in 2014, I added it to my Kindle library.

I found it to be the most compelling read of recent years. I've never really quit thinking about the storyline.  Picoult's works are known to carry an underlying social theme. This book was true to form.

It had all elements necessary for me to be a great book........romance, adventure, animals, and pure human drama.

If you didn't read it, do it now.  Let it settle in. Then you will know why you need to re-read this work.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Cantrell's new work highly anticipated

I was looking forward to the book launch for "The Feathered Bone" by Oxford writer Julie Perkins Cantrell. The event is set for tonight at 5 p.m. at Off Square Books in Oxford.

I'm not going since I am still fighting the cough that will not die.  This third book for Cantrell has gotten positive reviews. You may remember my recommendations of her first novel, "Into the Free" followed by "When Mountains Move."

This newest work promises to be riveting, although hard to read at times.  By hard to read, I mean facing some harsh social trafficking for a young girl.

When I wrote Julie to regret that I would not be there, she said, "I hope (being sick) gives you tons of reading time.....somewhere warm and cozy."

We'll that's where I'll be tonight.  The book magically appeared on my Kindle.  I have on an old shirt, my husband's Napoleon Dynamite sleep pants and fuzzy purple socks.  Makes being sick worth it.

Best wishes, Julie. You make us proud.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Good day to be stuck in the attic

Today was my day to clean out my pantry and attic.  I just know that normal middle class people do not have that much junk.  I worked on the attic off and on all day.  Down to that final box, the one overflowing with legal pads, papers, notebooks—all my class work  from 2003-05 when I returned to The University of Mississippi DeSoto to finish my degree—finally at 50.

After my boss and mentor Dr. Ann Whitten passed away in 2003, I got a call from her son Chip, urging me to go back to school.  Not too much later I got a call from Dr. Bonnie Buntin, then Dean at The University of Mississippi-DeSoto Center telling me the same thing.

Somebody must be telling me something I should listen to.  After getting permission from my administrators, I started back to school at age 48.  Most of my work to that point was in Broadcasting, but it was not enough for a major.  Driving back and forth to Oxford was not an option.  So my advisers suggested Liberal Arts with emphases in English, history and sociology....right up my alley.

You know that scene in Christmas Vacation where Chevy Chase gets locked in the attic and instead of panicking, he puts on an old hat, gloves and a fur coat and remembers his Christmas pasts and happy moments from his children?  Well, it was that kind of moment. 

I remember telling my sociology instructor that I had once ridden horses, but that chapter was closed in my life.  Term paper, Criminology—Corruption in the Equine Industry; Juvenile Delinquency—State 4-H programs help deter crime in first-time offenders; Cultural Anthropology— Paper on Subcultures, Cowboy Poetry Gathering Culture in Elko, Nevada.  I even interviewed one of the Cowboy Poets and they are not much like the Mississippi cowboys, let me tell you.

So maybe horses are still in my blood.

I did an Anthropology of Blues Culture paper Sharde Thomas, who was about 13 at the time.  Sharde lives not far from me, and is carrying on her grandfather Othar Turner's tradition of fife playing.  Since that time she has gone on to play across the country and in Germany.  Here she is with the Great Slow Hand himself, Eric Clapton.  WOW!

I loved my lit classes, Film as Lit, Literary Criticism; and other Sociology classes and English classes.

I don't know how I worked all day, drove to DeSoto Center and sat from three to six hours, four nights a week, and intersessions, and summer school.  But it paid off and I finished my career at Northwest right where I wanted to be until the heart said time to go.

So many to thank for that adventure. Dr. Buntin, Dr. Gary Lee Spears, our president who allowed me to do this; Mark Franks; sweet Jim Mercer for getting me through math, which is probably why I didn't finish in the first place; Kevin McCarthy, Liz Burns and so many more.  Especially my team who cut me some slack.

Coming down from the attic now. I saved a few special papers.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Warmth at Christmas found outside and in

I am changing my winter background. It does not reflect our current weather conditions in Mississippi this year.  We have had temperatures in the 70s for days.  Plants are confused, the ground is saturated.  But we are very thankful to have been passed over by the tornado activity a few days ago that devastated areas of Holly Springs, 20 miles from us, and other nearby towns.  El Nino is wreaking havoc this year.
Howard and Cash in Black on an afternoon trek.  

My daughter and I were at the good old Tobie watching the newest installment of Star Wars when the weather sirens began to sound.  The manager came and told us to come out.  And it was right at the end!!!  Finally they quit sounding and we got to go back in and finish the movie.  It was great.

It was a little over a year ago that Howard and I climbed in the mule, the one with tires not the one with four feet and long ears, and rode around our land looking at the frozen splendor.

Moral:  We always fuss about the weather so it's really no big deal.  I'm especially thankful this year for my family and the thought of welcoming a new son-in-law soon.  Merry Christmas from Barr.

Garrett Hayes, Nathan Hayes, Jason Gibert, Riley Allen, Matt DeMuth;
Janice Gibert, Hayley Hayes, Howard Patterson, Olivia Patterson, me (this is what you look
like when you set the camera timer, jump off the ladder and land on the couch just as
the shutter snaps; Bella Hayes and Caroline Gibert. 

Friday, October 23, 2015

Coming down with something ——— maybe horse fever

I have done more this month of October than I've done in years.  The results.....happiness, better health, appreciation for so many things.  They say that once you learn to ride a bike you never forget.

Well, in the case of horses, that is true many times over.  This month I've been on an afternoon trail ride, spent five days with friends and horses at Chickasaw State Park in Tennessee, and just returned from a week-long trip to horse country in Kentucky.  My soul is smiling.

I wondered how I'd do riding when I've taken a break—a 14-year-long one.  What if I was too sore to get up in the morning, what if the horse and I didn't get along, what if I got sick while I was there?  Nervous Nancy was asking all those questions. I told her to take a hike.  Nothing but good things happened at Chickasaw.

After riding four hours, napping a little, sharing a meal with horsey friends, I was recharged for the next day.  My husband, children and friends, said, "I don't know what happened up there, but you look happier than you have in ages."  I was.

I added a little to the callus on my left hand where the reins overlap my index finger.  It never went away, just softened.  I instinctively used muscles that hadn't been called into action in 14 years.  When you ride in deep woods, all your senses are engaged.  You smell the piney woods, wet with a morning rain.  And then there's that intoxicating smell of horse.  If you aren't a horse person, you don't understand.

Camaraderie with like-minded, generous people can't be beat.  They just get it.

The beauty of the Kentucky countryside was breathtaking.  My friend and I just drove the narrow, curvy roads looking as far as the eye can see at miles of black-washed wood fences with elegant thoroughbred horses grazing on the still-green grass. Leaves there were turning faster than ours are here in North Mississippi. Every day we were in Kentucky we were blessed with beautiful weather and perfect photographer's cloudless blue skies.

We got to watch my friend's Rough Collie dog work a small herd of Cheviot sheep on the sloping fields of her herding trainer.  Even the little Smooth Collie boy took his turn and seemed to love it.  Collies are herders.

And then we were off to Claiborne Farm in Paris, KY, the working farm that was home to the fabulous Secretariat, Bold Ruler and countless more.   We visited their graves with sadness and admiration.

Secretariat's grave at Claiborne Farm. It is customary to bury only the head, heart and hooves of
race horses. Secretariat was buried intact. It was discovered that "Big Red" had a heart weighing an astonishing 22 pounds, twice the size of most horses. It was not enlarged, just larger in size.  That, experts say, no doubt contributed to his tremendous stamina. 

The next day took us to the Kentucky Horse Park, where we saw beautiful statuary, breeds of horses that we never knew existed, and watched the Parade of Champions, retired horses included the Thoroughbred, Standardbred, American Quarter Horse and more.

As we walked into the park, we were immediately drawn to the commanding statue and memorial of Man o' War. Though he ran his races just after World War I, he is still considered to be one of the greatest Thoroughbred race horses of all time.

Man o' War, Secretariat and Barbaro

We even managed to find time for the Collie dog show in Shelbyville, Ky.  That was the real reason for the trip, or maybe not.  Anyway, little guy did good and looked like the champion he is close to being in the ring.
To top off the trip we stopped for a tourist tour of Churchill Downs. WOW. It gave me chill bumps to walk in that paddock, see the track, sit in the stands and just imagine the great horses that have walked those grounds. When I took this pic in the gate, I knew we were tired and silly and it was time to come home.
I'm so grateful to my friends for letting me go along on these horse adventures. Thankful I didn't kill myself after a long break from riding—thankful I have friends that indulge me on these adventures—thankful for my lifelong love of horses, the ultimate gift from my daddy.
Since I've gotten home, I've dreamed in two-, three- and 4-beat cadence, smelled horses in my sleep and been absolutely at peace.  Maybe I'm not through.

The only thing that would have been any more fun, would be that we stayed until Oct. 31 for the $5 million Breeders Cup at Keeneland where Triple Crown winner American Pharaoh hopes to take his victory lap into retirement.   GO AP!!!

Monday, September 7, 2015

There's beauty in the meanies

I have been watching an air show, right from my back door. They swoop and turn and soar.  They are hummingbirds. I have had more this year than ever.  I love just standing there and watching.

This is their second favorite feeder, right outside my back door. 

Since I have so many more this year that in previous years, I've come to the conclusion that these tiny, beautiful creatures are mean birds. Not angry birds like the video game. My friend Susan calls them meanies.  I'm sure some of my hummer enthusiasts (Lisa C. and David H.) will be mad at me for calling them mean. Oh well.

In my back yard, they have a particular feeder that they all like. It has the same nectar as the others.  I've studied it and can't figure out why it is so special.

This is the special feeder. This cheap, faded thing. 

According to

 "Male hummingbirds are very aggressive. They set up their territory and will chase off any male that comes near. This helps the male hummingbirds eliminate the competition for the female hummingbirds in the area. This aggression also helps the female hummingbirds. Female hummingbirds do not let male hummingbirds near a nest because the male hummingbird's bright colors might alert predators in the area to the nests location. If there is only one male hummingbird in the area, the female will only have to worry about chasing away one male hummingbird and be able to better concentrate on her beaks and claws as weapons. They will chirp warnings as they head toward each other. Hummingbirds have been known to body slam each other in mid air and even lock their bills together while spinning in a circle until they hit the ground."

According to this site, if the males are not fighting each other they may be showing off for the girls by doing a "courtship dive."

Not only are they aggressive to other males, but they have even been mean to my Silky Terriorist since they hover right over their pen.  Silkys love to yap more than breathe.  But they don't yap at the birds.  I think they have been dive bombed a little too closely, like having a bee in your ear.

The Silkys in their pen.  Notice they are being good and
not yapping. 

For all their macho male bird antics, I have enjoyed them immensely will miss them when they start their great migration.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Katrina memories—share yours

This week you will see documentaries and news coverage looking back at Hurricane Katrina which slammed the Mississippi and Louisiana coast 10 years ago.  How was the weather in South Mississippi going to affect us here at the top of the state?  Believe me, it did.

Photos provided by Robert Latham

I had just assumed the duties as Director of Public Relations at Northwest Mississippi Community College.  Right before we had our football season opener, our new coach moved the team to the college's Multipurpose Livestock Arena to practice since rain was already heavy in our area.  Little did he know that there would be no game that week. Some of our sister community colleges on the coast took a big hit.

A community meeting was held in the Haraway Center on the Northwest campus.  City officials, emergency management personnel, elected officials, a local veterinarian and businessmen gathered to discuss how the city could help those fleeing from the coast.

An emergency shelter was established at the Family Life Center at the First Baptist Church of Senatobia.  Northwest cheerleaders took turns playing with the children there to keep them occupied.  Cosmetology students went over to do nails for the evacuees while they waited in the temporary shelter.

Another major Senatobia connection was the presence of Robert Latham, executive director of Mississippi Emergency Management Agency (MEMA).  Latham, a Senatobia native, was there on the front lines of the disaster from beginning to end.

Latham recalls  "FEMA FCO Bill Carwile, Adjutant General “Hac” Cross meeting Governor Haley Barbour when he landed on Thursday after Katrina made landfall on Monday.  The Governor made daily trips to the coast beginning on Tuesday. "

"The photo (below, left) is of particular importance since it was the first time that the Governor’s major response cabinet members were able to get together after landfall," says Latham.  "This was right after we met him on the runway after landing in the previous picture.  Charlie Williams, also of Senatobia, who was Governor Barbour’s Chief of Staff is sitting to my left."

Latham also submitted this photo showing the sea of FEMA trailers that were brought in to provide relief for those whose homes were destroyed.

Share with me your Senatobia/Tate County Katrina memories. I'll keep them posted this week in memory of all those who suffered through Katrina.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Enchanted life in the ruins

Old corncrib with friendship quilt.
I've been an emotional mess lately.  I know I've written about family stories before.....well here I go again.  I'm working on a presentation for Quilt In the Grove, a quilt guild in DeSoto County that is set for September.

I thought I should focus on how to photograph a quilt for competition, how to take a photo for new release, and my to take an art photo, one that tugs at your heartstrings.

So I took a little trip down the road in Barr to the site of my grandparents' old home place. The Cathey Place was built in 1856 as a dogtrot house.  It was added on to, closed in, painted and was a very respectable home in the area.  It burned in 1981.

I took my favorite quilt, my friendship quilt, you know the one that made me fall in love with quilts. It was made there by a Dandridge/Cathey cousin and contains the names of many ladies in the Looxahoma/Thyatria communities.

Since I couldn't drape the 1939 quilt on the porch swing that sat at one end of the house, I did the next best thing. I hung it from the loft of the log corncrib, probably the oldest structure in the complex.  It was made of logs and probably dates to early 1800s.  It is in pretty sad shape, but I thought you'd like a preview of my presentation.  The quilt is at home, or as close to home, as it can be.

After the house burned, the ground was leveled.  Only a few small artifacts can be seen, a canning jar that would have gone in Grandmama's cellar, the rocks that formed the base around a pen for our wonderful English Shepherd Pepper's dog enclosure.  I know where every water faucet was, can see daddy in his leather shop, tack hanging in what was an old well house, grandmama's chicken house, the white picket fences that were on each side of the porch keeping the horses that occasionally grazed in the front yard out of her red salvia.

My first Lone Star on the corn crib hall gate.  If
it looks crooked, it's because it is.

I had a special tree right behind the corn crib.  We would turn the horses out and down the lane and I would sit in the tree and watch them for the longest time as they took their time working down the grassy slopes.

I can see daddy in every nook and square inch of that place. Helping grandmama plant her garden, working a colt in the round pen, sending Pepper after a stray,  pulling corn from that old crib and shucking it off the cob with one turn of his wrist to mix in the horse feed, and with Penny.  He would lead her up to the big concrete slab near the cellar door and I could mount from there.  Sometimes, he would take her himself, to gather a few strays, Pepper at his heels. I'd watch as he rode away, reins in his left hand, his right hand on his hip, his hat at his signature slant, shoulders slightly slumped from arthritis and from relaxing in the saddle.  I'd like to think that's how he rode into heaven.

You can see I didn't come from the upper class in Mississippi, but I came from the enchanted life only a few experience.   Now upstairs to sniff a little more.

Old Cathey/Dandridge Place, built 1856 burned 1981.

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."