Papa’s Presence

In Memory of C. H. Davis and his beautiful lifelong wife, Clara

Papa was the quiet presence in the household on 33rd Avenue and 20th Street in Meridian, Mississippi. Shorter than most men, the top of his bald head shone in the early morning kitchen light while he sipped cream colored coffee from a saucer rather than a cup. He smelled of sweet tobacco from the pipe he puffed and smoke swirled around him as he read his newspaper with the intensity of a secret agent decoding hidden messages within the words.

A lonely distance haunted Papa’s presence, whether he was in the same room or at the same table. However, in no way did this distance intimidate you because Papa wore a gentle look and his voice was tender and consoling, never boisterous. At the earliest age, I knew Papa’s strength was greater than the stoutest of men. When Papa was home, everything and everyone felt safe, like a colossal hedge surrounded us that nothing could destroy. Even at night, when creaks and moans expelled from their old house, I felt protected from the ghosts in my room where taunting shadows loomed upon the walls and skulked about.

Weekends at my grandparents highlighted each week. Hurried walks up the block to Wall’s Store with the shiny quarter Papa had given me accompanied my eager visions of bright red wax lips or an icy bottle of Coca Cola or the latest Archie or Blondie comic book. Life was good. Life was fun. Life was secure.

I don’t remember when the digging started, only that from sun-up to sundown, Papa was digging, digging, digging under his house. My sister, my cousins, and I would be out back beneath the persimmon tree playing tag or arguing about something important, like who was It. And there Papa would be digging, digging, digging.

Papa wasn’t one you questioned because, well, Papa didn’t talk that much. Neither did he explain when you asked questions. We trusted Papa and simply accepted the fact that he was digging. Why he was digging didn’t matter.

When Papa finally finished his task, he quietly gathered his shovel, pick, and other tools and returned them to the shed out back. Nothing was ever said, that I heard, about the hole beneath the house.

The first time I climbed into the hole, I surveyed it in awe. An entire floor had been added below. The dug out space smelled pungent from damp dirt and mildew and I felt as if I’d been transported to an unknown earthen fantasy world like in H. G. Wells, Journey to the Center of the Earth. My cousins and I descended into this private world to play house or school or to cool off on a sweltering Mississippi day. We told stories or shared updates on friends and school, never once thinking our surroundings bizarre. Heck, we were the coolest kids on the block. I mean, who else’s papa had dug an enormous lair beneath their house.

I grew older and the world beneath Papa’s house became old news, no longer beckoning me into its fascinating, curious setting. It wasn’t until years later, after my grandparents had moved from the residence on 33rd that I learned the depth of my grandfather’s love and the answer to the question I never asked.

During my early 60s childhood, the dread of nuclear war had risen with The Soviet Union and The United States’ development of the hydrogen bomb. The US government had warned that if a nuclear war occurred, it could not protect every citizen. This glaring reality provoked the building of home fallout shelters. And this is what my papa had spent many quiet hours doing beneath his home.

Papa passed away many years ago, but I often think about him, especially when I felt anxious about my soldier son being deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. I remember Papa’s endurance when attempting to accomplish what the most powerful country admitted that it couldn’t do. His fear didn’t hurl him into hysteria, but drove him to do what he felt he had to do—protect his family. And somehow that gave me solace knowing his great-grandson was doing the same thing overseas.

Thank you, Papa, for loving us enough to spend your days digging, digging, digging.

 

By Richelle Putnam – See more about Richelle here 

 

Only an empty lot remains of the house on the corner of 33rd Avenue and 20th Street. At one time there was a small garage apartment, at the end of the steep driveway, behind the big house, which was home to my Uncle Charles and his family. It was the first building on the corner lot to be torn down. The only house remaining is the one my grandfather built next-door to his house.  My mother, older brother and sister and me lived there first and then my Uncle Eugene and his family. My Uncle Charles, Aunt Agnes and their two children lived in the garage apartment behind Papa’s house.

 

(Click on “Show Thumbnails” to read the summary behind each slideshow photo)

 

Meet My Mississippi

Faulkner’s Sanctuary

Eudora’s home state

Elvis’ birthplace

The bulk of the Trace;

Sprawling beaches

Along the Gulf Coast shore

One blues man’s crossroads

And inspiration for more;

An abundance of history

Tradition and folklore

Warm front porch welcomes

With a wide open door;

A ride down the mighty river

On the American Queen

And some of the most

Beautiful countryside

That you’ve ever seen

She’s music and melodies

And the mockingbird’s songs,

By valor and arms

And faith ever strong;

She’s magnolias blooming

Around Jackson’s capitol dome

And the sweet scent of honeysuckle

That forever says “home”

She’s My Mississippi

She’s the “Hospitality State” “

Go Mississippi”

You’re a true State of Grace

author--2013 Patricia Neely-Dorsey

 

Patricia Neely-Dorsey is the author of two books of poetry, Reflections of a Mississippi Magnolia and My Magnolia Memories and Musings. She calls both books a “celebration of the south and things southern.” Patrica considers herself an ambassador for Mississippi with a passion for always celebrating the South and promoting a positive Mississippi. Patricia currently lives in Tupelo with her husband James, son Henry and miniature schnauzer, Happy.

Ghosts of the Trace

Bill poked the glowing corpse with the toe of his boot.

“That ain’t no ghost,” said John, leaning against an old dogwood tree just off the Natchez Trace. He reloaded his two flintlock pistols, fired both, point blank, before Bill had gotten over his surprise at the ghost-man’s sudden appearance.

“Obviously not,” Bill said. He gulped down some air to catch his breath after the scare but got a lungful of pistol smoke instead. He coughed and then started rummaging around in the dead man’s pack. “But he’s glowing.”

“Uh hum,” agreed John.

“Don’t you want to know why he’s glowing?” asked Bill, exasperated. His brother had no sense of curiosity.

“What’s it matter? Reward is for a ghost and that’s what we was after. That ain’t no ghost.”

“Well,” Bill said, “it’s clearly him that was robbing and killing along the Trace. Look.” He held up pieces of jewelry and coin. “These were in his pack and pockets.” The dead man must have been a road agent, or a highwayman if from up north. They were common in these parts.

“Maybe,” John said. “Wasn’t there supposed to be a white horse too?” He slipped both tarnished pistols back into his leather belt and sauntered over to examine the body.

Bill sighed. “We should go look for the horse. I bet it’s not far. Might have more loot in the saddlebags.” Frowning, he repacked the goods. His fingers now gave off a faint glow and smelled like wet, burned matches. He stared for a second, thoughtful, then washed them off in the nearby stream.

“Say, John,” Bill said, “have you ever actually seen a ghost? A real one, for sure?”

“Suppose not.”

“That’s what I thought. I’m thinking that maybe no one has.”

“Lots of stories ‘bout ghosts ‘round here.” John shook his head. “Especially up at King’s tavern, plus Linden and Glenwood.” He paused to pull out a bowie knife and scratch his chin. “Them witches that kill the grass up near Tupelo too, if you count those.”

Bill waved away his brother’s argument. “But we’ve been to most of those places and we haven’t seen a ghost, have we? Just heard them tapping canes and crying and all that.”

John simply nodded, still scratching his chin with the knife.

Bill glared at him. “So, if we haven’t seen those ghosts and no one has actually seen this ghost, then who’s gonna say that the fellow you killed wasn’t a ghost?”

“Well, he ain’t a ghost,” John said, taking care to enunciate each word. “This here’s a dead man.” He kneeled and jabbed the corpse with his knife. Blood oozed out. “See?”

“Of course it’s a dead man, John.” Bill rolled his eyes before grabbing his pack loaded with stolen goods and heading into the woods, motioning for John to follow. “I certainly know what those look like. That’s not the point.”

John sighed, but started moving.

“My point, dear brother,” he said, slapping John on the back, “is that we can pretend we got rid of a ghost. All the travelers say there’s a ghost been robbing and killing folks and there’s a reward for whoever gets rid of it. Well, the fellow doing the dastardly deeds is dead, isn’t he?”

John glanced back at the body still glowing faintly in the moonlight. “Yup.”

“Exactly,” Bill said. “Now we’ve just got to find the horse. If I’m right about what’s in those saddlebags, I think we’ll be set.”

For several seconds, John considered that in silence, his thick eyebrows scrunched together. “What?”

Bill adjusted his worn cowboy hat and tossed an arm around John’s wide shoulders. Undergrowth licked at their canvas dusters as they picked their way through the forest.

“You’ve always wanted to move up in the world, right, John? Get some nicer guns, leisure time to hunt, all that?”

John grunted. “You too, one reason you went to school.”

“Well, this just might be our chance. Credit for killing a ghost will go a long way, if we play it right.”

“They’ll know that corpse ain’t a ghost, what with it bleedin’ and all.”

“Well, we’re not going to actually show them a body, now are we? It’s a ghost! Ghosts don’t leave bodies. They’ve already died and been buried and all that.”

“Gotta have proof for the bounty.”

“Yes, well, I expect they’ll make an exception when we return all the goods,” Bill said.

“We could keep the stuff instead.”

“Could, maybe, but the jewelry won’t be easy to sell. I think it’s worth the risk. We’ll keep most of the gold though. That way we can’t come out empty-handed.”

John grunted, which Bill took as agreement. No one else could interpret his brother’s grunts half as well. They continued on, Bill whistling Yankee Doodle, the sound of cicadas an intermittent annoyance. Thankfully it wasn’t noon, when the pounding heat and deafening cicada song would be at their worst.

“You know,” Bill said, breaking the silence, “I bet those landowners who say they’ve got ghosts haven’t really got them at all, just like we haven’t.”

John snatched up a long piece of grass to chew on, agitated. “Ain’t no way. Some of them are respectable folk, fought in wars and everything and—“

“And legitimate business owners, pillars of the community, yeah, yeah,” Bill said. “But why have you heard of them? Why them and not all the other people along the Trace?”

“Well,” John said, “the ghosts, I reckon.”

“I bet they weren’t well known till they had any, either.” Bill stopped and held up a hand. “Hear that?”

They found the horse, pure white and glowing, tethered in a clearing less than a mile from where they’d camped. The road agent must have been on his way to the stream for water when he’d stumbled onto them. Bill dug around and located several packets labeled ‘Glow Powder’ in the saddlebags.

horse_white_field

“Perfect,” he said. “How do you feel about opening up a place of our own, becoming respectable members of society? A tavern, maybe, where I could brew and you could hunt.”

“Ain’t gonna happen, Bill. We’re just a couple of drifters, even if we do get credit for a bounty on a ghost. Nice idea though.” John stared into the distance, fingering his guns. “Real nice.”

Bill grinned and patted the saddlebags. “Don’t count us out just yet.” He shrugged off his outerwear and rolled up his sleeves, then pulled a hand shovel out of his pack. “Alright, he said, “take the horse back and wash it off in that stream. That ought to stop it glowing, then drag the body back here. We need to bury it.”

John untied the horse. It was a real beauty at just over sixteen hands. Friendly, too. He fed it a few raisins from his pocket.

“We’ll start towards Natchez in the morning,” Bill said. He began digging the grave, sweat already staining his cotton shirt. “Tell everyone we meet about how we bested the ghost in some glorious manner. It’ll spread fast enough if we make it interesting; folks love gossip. Then we’ll be all set to collect the bounty in exchange for the goods.”

They stopped at a crowded tavern several days north of Natchez. A caravan of traders was moving from up north down to the port in New Orleans. Bill made sure that they and everyone else who passed through that morning heard all about the spectacular defeat of the Highwayman’s Dread Ghost. oldtown

John loomed in the corner, careful not to contradict his brother’s tale, stuffing himself with delicious venison stew. Every so often he’d get up to polish his guns and buy any dissenters a drink.

A few days later Bill and John arrived at another inn to find men sharing their tale, which had grown in size and scope. John’s pistols were capable of scaring a ghost to death, they said and Bill imported incense from far-off lands to magically bind spirits.

When they arrived in Natchez the sheriff himself met them as they rode in, ready to take the jewels and other stolen goods off their hands. Bill only handed over a small fraction of the gold, claiming it was all they found. They spent the morning being invited and welcomed to festivals, card games, dances, parties and social functions of every kind.

“Bounty went up since last we heard,” Bill said. He was already starting to look the part of a gentleman, with clean clothes and a well-trimmed beard. “We ought to have enough now to build a small tavern. Our friends at the bank will help with the rest.”

“You sure they won’t just forget us?” John asked. “Ain’t like killing road agents is uncommon, even if he was a bad ‘un. And they’re starting to wonder about your story Bill. Reckon things’ll die down now that it’s all over.”

Bill laughed. “Not to worry John. Did you ever think about why I wanted to find the saddlebags so bad? We’ve got the rest of the fellow’s glow powder!” He skipped a few steps down the road and twirled back towards his brother, hands spread wide. “That ghost we bound? He’s going to visit our tavern. In fact, I’d wager he stops by every time we have a lot of guests.”

“How do you know them other folks who’ve got fake ghosts won’t tell?”

Bill snorted. “And say what, that it takes one to know one? No, I think we’re safe on that count.”

Hours later the brothers walked back along Main Street to their rooms in Upper Natchez. John had been quiet all afternoon as they set their business plans in motion, turning over an idea in his head.

“Say, Bill.”

“What?” Bill’s feet dragged along the ground, scuffing his new snakeskin boots, too tired even to whistle. It had been a long day.

“We’re gonna glow ourselves up like ghosts sometimes, right? Keep folks talking about our tavern?”

“Yeah, Bill said.

“Well, I was thinking, that fellow we killed dressed up as a ghost too. He did it so it’d be easier to rob folks. Might have worked right well for him if he hadn’t started the killing.” He watched as Bill’s eyes widened and his face split into a wide grin. John smiled. He didn’t often have ideas before his brother.

“John,” Bill said, thumping him on the back, “sometimes you are more brilliant than me.” Rubbing his hands together with glee, his earlier tiredness disappeared. “We can offer to chase off these new ghosts for a price. I suspect they’ll use the same place the last one did, since it’s such a good spot and only attack folks who can afford it. What do you think?”

“Yup.”

Several weeks later they put the finishing touches on a new tavern just off the Natchez Trace. A few locals and some folk from further afield stopped by to see the new addition. Some eyed the ghost-sighting signs with knowing looks on their faces.

“What will you name the tavern?” one of them asked.

John, now a respectable member of the community, stood dressed in a fine silk coat and shiny, black boots. A brand new American Long Rifle, freshly polished, rode over one arm. He handed the speaker an ale and gestured at Bill, who was outside whistling Yankee Doodle and hammering in a sign.

“Reckon we’ll call it The Painted Horse,” he said.

Time passed and the brothers found success. Bill’s home-brewed ale drew in customers for miles around while John kept them well stocked with fresh meat. Ghosts still roamed the Trace, but there had been no deaths since The Painted Horse opened.

Then one moonlit night, years later, Bill and John went missing.

A search party convened in the tavern, but fate set her hand against them. Volunteers arrived in twos and threes, each group soaked worse than the last, until the sheriff himself ducked inside and closed the wooden door behind him. Silence fell, save for the whistling of the wind.

bootsspur

“Storm’s getting worse,” he said, shaking out his coat and the sitting by the fire. “No one’s going anywhere tonight.”

It took the better part of two days for the storm to abate and by then they were too late.

They found the brothers shot dead at a bend in the road, not far from where their first battle with a ghost took place. Rain washed away any clues that might have remained. A drifter reported an attack by ghosts in that area on the same day they went missing.

Those who attended the funeral gossiped that Bill and John met their end at the hands of a dozen furious ghosts. Speculation ran rampant and the stories varied, each more fantastic than the last, until they reached a consensus. Evil spirits had finally caught up to them and taken revenge. But locals say that when the moon is bright and the winds are heavy, two men come riding up to the old tavern door. One upon a white horse and one whistling a tune.

 

MA Mackey (2)by M. A. Mackey

M. A. Mackey is a chemist, an avid reader, a recent writer, and a lover of good food. Despite having an active imagination she didn’t start writing until 2012, when she discovered what a fantastic hobby it could be.

 

Is Stress Making you Sick?

You’re driving along listening to the radio, enjoying a fine day when someone runs a red light. You brake, barely avoiding a crash that could have taken your life. Stressed, you’re left-for a few minutes- shaking like a leaf in the wind. You don’t like the feeling but you soon recover. This is a normal reaction known as the “stress response.”

Our body is well equipped to handle life-threatening situations.

It automatically responds with a complex series of chemical reactions that allow you to survive the danger and eventually return to normal. In the scenario above, the adrenal gland shot the chemical cortisol to brain and mobilized your internal defenses, making you stronger, faster and more capable of reacting appropriately. When the immediate danger is over, the body sends a calming hormone released by the hippocampus. Soon, you’re back to your normal self again.

The stress response is the body’s way of protecting you.

When working properly, it helps you stay focused, energetic, and alert. In emergency situations, stress can save your life-like when you slammed on the brakes to avoid an accident. It can also help you to rise to meet the challenges of your life and keep you on track to meet your responsibilities. But beyond a certain point, according to Dr. Jean King, Ph.D. of the UMass Medical School, “stress stops being helpful and starts causing major damage to your health, your mood, your productivity, your relationships, and your quality of life.”

We live in a very different world than we were evolved to live.

The pressures of modern life are never ending and tend to chronically tax our central nervous system. We spend our time fighting traffic, going to meetings, hassling with our children, mates and relatives and wondering how we’re doing in the world. Technological advances have expanded the business day. People constantly have their cell phone stuck to their ear as they try to manage their hungry, tired and fighting children; secure food for the family’s meal and navigate the family safely home. The divorce rate is the highest it’s been in history. Because we are living longer, many of us are likely to be the sandwich generation-taking care of our parents as well as our children. We tax our adrenal system with chronic stress because it’s responding to the stress of our everyday life with the same surge of biochemicals released during major threats. The biochemical onslaught the true stress hormones—dopamine, epinephrine (also known as adrenaline), norepinephrine (noradrenaline), and especially cortisol chips away at the immune system, opening the way to cancer, infection, and disease. Hormones unleashed by stress eat at the digestive tract and lungs, promoting ulcers and asthma. Or they may weaken the heart, leading to strokes and heart disease.

Not all stress is negative.

Image courtesy of Stock Images at Free Digital Photos

Image courtesy of Stock Images at Free Digital Photos

The birth of a new baby, a new love, a promotion, even compliment kick up the expectation and consequently, the adrenaline.

Too, not all stress is caused by external factors. Stress can also be self-generated, for example, when you worry about something that may or may not happen, or have irrational, pessimistic thoughts about life. Research has shown that most of the beliefs and perceptions that lead us into stress-inducing situations and create our subsequent ineffective responses are formed in childhood. These early, long-standing thought patterns literally wear grooves in our brains.

Further, our ability to tolerate stress depends on many factors, including the quality of your relationships, your sense of control, your general outlook on life, your emotional intelligence, genetics and your ability to or calm soothe yourself and bring your emotions in balance.

What is stress really all about?

From both a physical and a psychological perspective, our ancestors lived with far more stress than we do today but I suspect, many of them had a different perception of its danger.

Some of the real or perceived threats with which we do battle, both at home and in the nation’s global concerns, so often rarely measure up to the threats they encountered. In so many cases, the stressors we face are not immediate threats to survival even if they do raise our blood pressure a bit now and then.

What’s a person to do?

  1. Take a mental check. Does the situation really put us in danger? I mean really? Or is this well-rehearsed drama?

  2. Fix what goes wrong and take care of routine matters in a timely manner. Delay increases the threat.

  3. Choose your friends wisely. Avoid those who put you down, criticize and find fault and contribute to the problem.

  4. When things are off kilter, have a self-soothing practice, such as deep breathing or saying kind words to yourself like, “Sweetheart, you’re doing just fine.”

  5. Have the courage to be imperfect. Striving for perfection creates anxiety.

  6. Have a regular exercise program to strengthen the body from the inside out and to help discharge the chemicals produced by stress.

 

For more on Dr. Rachell Anderson, click here. Also, visit her website here for more articles and books.

Monster Cheese Ball

If you’re planning to have a group of little ghouls over for a Halloween party and need an activity for them let them create this scary snack.  Starting with this savory cheese ball recipe, kids can create their own creature using everything from apple slices to zucchini!   Have them come up with wacky or ghostly names for their creations.  This is a fun way to incorporate veggies and calcium during a time of year when sweets seem to reign!

4 (8oz.)packages cream cheese, softened

2 packages of dry Ranch dressing mix

5 cups finely shredded Cheddar cheese

2 small packages of real bacon bits (not imitation)

In a large bowl, mash cream cheese.  Mix dressing into cream cheese until thoroughly incorporated.   Add bacon bits and Cheddar cheese.  Shape mixture into 6 two-inch balls.  Refrigerate until ready to decorate.  Decorate using toothpicks to secure food items on to cheese balls.  Have children create monster faces with food items. Suggested ingredients to decorate with:

-olives (black and green)

-mushroom slices

-celery sticks

-match stick carrots

-broccoli

-cauliflower

-grape tomatoes

-pea pods

-water chestnuts

-pepper slices

-sliced almonds

-chow mein noodles

-dried parsley

-paprika

Leighannelocalflavor

 

 

 

 

The Blues: Bridging Cultures, Generations, Communities

Our Southern Roots Delta Neighbors. It’s more than just Bridging the Blues

From the words of Sterling D. Plumpp’s Blues Narratives:

Everybody 

got laughter from sunrise

all day, every day

even the setting sun

tell you

Hi

The Mississippi Delta is generally considered to be the birthplace of the blues, with the new musical form emerging around the turn of the 19th century. But the story of the blues dates back before the Civil War and to the West coast of Africa where countless men, women and children were captured by slave traders and shipped across the Atlantic for forced labor on Southern plantations. ~ PBS – Blues Road Trip

Culturally, the Delta has been home to large cotton plantations worked by black slaves and later, sharecroppers. Much of the Delta was cleared after the Civil War when large levees were built on either side of the Mississippi River. Life in the levee and sawmill camps had a frontier aspect, with men working in gangs, protecting themselves with weapons, and spending their hard-earned money on gambling, women, and itinerant musicians. By the turn of the twentieth century, railroad gangs began laying track to connect the Delta with larger cities. The river promoted trade with New Orleans by providing a means of transporting cotton to market. ~ United States National Park Service

The blues and Mississippi are synonymous to music lovers. The repertoire of any blues or rock band is full of songs, guitar licks, and vocal inflections borrowed from Mississippi bluesmen – from Robert Johnson, Charley Patton, Tommy Johnson, and Son House to Skip James, Mississippi John Hurt, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Sonny Boy Williamson, Big Joe Williams, Bukka White, and Furry Lewis – just to mention some of the early ones. A couple of generations later, Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, B.B. King, James Cotton, and many others were still making Mississippi blues and sending it out all over the world. ~ Mississippi History Now

The Blues: it thrills us, moves us, angers us, saddens us and entertains us.  And it never dies, taking root in almost every genre of music, sprouting in places you least expect. Its history is tragic and magical at the same time. Through emotional content,whining slides, wailing harmonica riffs, we don’t just hear the Blues, we experience the Blues. 

The Mississippi Blues Trail markers tell the stories and share the images of bluesmen and women, the places they lived, the times they endured, and how all inspired and affected the music they wrote. Marker sites are found in city streets, cotton fields, cemeteries, on rural roads, and at clubs and churches.

Bridging the Blues (BTB) is a series of blues events taking place over several consecutive weeks and aims to maximize the opportunities for visitors to discover the richness of the blues tradition in the Mississippi Delta region.

Sponsored by organizations in three states—Mississippi, Arkansas, and Tennessee—BTB serves as an umbrella organization to promote a wide variety of blues-related activities, according to the BTB website.

Music festivals that anchor BTB include the internationally renowned King Biscuit Blues Festival in Helena, Arkansas, The Mighty Mississippi Music Festival in Greenville, Mississippi, and the Highway 61 Blues Festival in Leland. Other festivals include the annual Pinetop Perkins Homecoming at the Hopson Plantation outside of Clarksdale, Mississippi.
 
In addition to these festivals a multitude of events will take place at venues including blues museums, juke joints, casinos, and town squares. Explore the Blues by attending Bridging the Blues music events, tracking down the gravesites of blues legends and visiting the 175 markers of the Mississippi Blues Trail.
 

RESOURCES:

The Blues Foundation

PBS Blues

United States National Park Service

Mississippi History Now

The Mississippi Blues Trail

Bridging the Blues

Blues Narratives by Sterling D. Plump; Tia Chucha Press, Chicago, IL