From September 2010 through March 2012, Sharon wrote a weekly column entitled Chat n Chew for a local newspaper.
Sponsors Party and Forever Blues Opening Reception Featuring:
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Join Us to Toast the 7th Annual Storytellers Ball, Meet the
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Tuesday, July 17, 2012
Arts Center of Mississippi
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Catch My Drift?
Apparently, some have, and others are bringing their drifts to me. Let me explain what I mean by that. Seems my artwork has acted as a muse for a few people claiming they could build a horse sculpture like the ones I have. What matters most to me is the intention of the person. Is it that they can’t or don’t want to pay the artist for the original work – or are they also artists inspired by the piece and decide to create something of their own? The latter of the two could not thrill me more. All artists are catalysts for each other’s works. We are normally influenced and admire artwork done by icons of the past and present. If you know art history you can recognize the artist by the style and medium.
I will never forget a sculptor whose work and story captured my heart and hands. His name is Michael Naranjo, an American Indian from the Santa Clara pueblo in New Mexico. Michael became blind due to an explosion from a grenade during the Vietnam War. He immediately lost both his eyes and the some use of his left hand. I discovered his work and watched a short video about him in a gallery in Santa Fe. I made regular visits to the gallery to look at his sculptures over and over again and wished I could afford to buy one.
Finally, the gallerist called Michael and arranged for us to meet at his house and studio on the pueblo. There he showed me more of his bronze sculptures and a work in process. Most of his figures are of his memories of dances and life on the pueblo he remembers as a child growing up. He shared about the materials, methods and techniques he was using and some things to have in mind while working forms blind. A couple of years later after volunteering in galleries and museums in Santa Fe I began to sculpt. The following year I was offered my first solo show at Michael’s gallery on Canyon Road – a night I will never forget. As I said before we all have been influenced and will continue to be by other’s work. I just never even thought any of my work would inspire someone to try sculpting like Michael’s did for me.
As far as the drifts I’m grooving on, we have some new acquaintances offering their unusually shaped driftwood finds. They all have found these river beauties traversing the banks of Sardis Lake. There is much joy in being the recipient of such a thoughtful act of kindness. I thank them for their spirited hearts toward my art and I thank The Southern Reporter for connecting us by way of the Chat ‘N’ Chew. I have already begun carving and smoothing a tangled, very complex root system of a cypress tree given to me by Suzette Murphy of Harmontown. I am trying to articulate what feels to me as two large dragons and three smaller and all are intertwined in one strong continuous root that measures 16” wide by 46” long. As a kid I was introduced to the Chinese zodiac on a paper placemat. I found out I was born in the year of the tiger. Curious about Chinese Dragon folklore I asked David to help me access the internet and read about it. To our surprise and delight we found that this year we are in the year of the dragon. If you were born in 2000, 1988, 1976. 1964, or 1952, or 1940, you are a Dragon too. People born in the year of the Dragon are said to be: Innovative, Enterprising, Flexible, Self-assured, Brave, and Passionate. You can follow the progress of my project on Facebook at McConnell Dickerson Art.
The Como arts council is closing its winter show and preparing for the next opening “Two Women and a Brush”, planned for March 22nd through March 30th. The works of Grace Henderson and Ann Hughes Sayle will be on display. Grace’s colorful canvases often with contrasting colors are dramatic, frenetic compositions that convey energy, passion and are in the moment. They appear contemporary; however there is a historic reference or influence I feel in them. They are comparable to Jackson Pollack’s abstract paintings from the sixties. Henderson has developed her own unique expression with her works. David and I are excited to have one of her paintings gracing our walls now. I can’t describe Sayle’s work because I haven’t seen it. I am told that she creates wall hangings – tapestries- using quilting, her own silk screened paintings, and other media to project some of the most incredible art.
Spring break is nearly here for those attending school. This week I’m including a recipe shared with me by Rebecca Hooper. Her cookie dough dip is one that would fool any kid into thinking it was the real thing, Junk Food. But it isn’t. When she told me the base ingredient was chickpeas I couldn’t imagine it tasting anything near the memory of spoonfuls of my mom’s toll house cookie dough. I tested the healthy imposter with a blob of it on a graham cracker. All I could do was snicker with it still in my mouth. I tried to think of what kid or adult I would try and fool with it. Even if it doesn’t seem the same, it’s still better for them.
Another humorous experiment for the kids’ entertainment is one I was told about last week and have already spoken to some about. It involves the common kitchen broom that will stand upright on its bristles without holding it. No kidding, we have one that has been standing by itself for three days now. I first heard about the broom thing from our friend Mary Dustin in Florida. Others have now posted pictures of theirs standing around on their Facebook pages. Is this a phenomenon due to the upcoming equinox or a fake and just a matter of the center of balance in a broom’s design? I wanted to believe it was something special that only happened because of some gravitational atmospheric pull going on. David and Goggle shot it down. He told me I could make one stand up anytime. I had to think, “When was the last time I tried to stand one up?” Bummer, never, but I didn’t care. I had fun and so did those I called and their brooms are still freely standing, liberated from the corners they once leaned against. Still, I haven’t experienced that feeling of wonder since Peter Pan. I was on the phone with Rebecca Lipscomb she stood hers up. Betty Pressley is staying with her for now. When the broom stood up, their laughter sounded like that of two little girls. Then at my urging, David went to the Dollar General and had four of them standing in the broom aisle, and another store broom that was in another place. He called for Kim, one of the store clerks, to come to the back by saying, “Kim, you’ve got to come back here. There’s something going on with your brooms”. She thought maybe the rack had fallen. When she saw the brooms all standing up, she exclaimed, “On that note, I think I’ll leave. I ain’t working in a store with all that going on!” Nevertheless, she did stay, and was leading others to come and witness the phenomenon. Some were taking pictures of the installation with their phones, and some just stood there dumbfounded. All these standing brooms indicate that is time for spring cleaning!
Cookie Dough Dip
Add all ingredients (except for chocolate chips) to a good food processor (not blender), and blend until very smooth. Then mix in the chocolate chips.
16 February 2012
The second annual Como Civic Club chili cook-off was held last Saturday at our home. This marks the month when memberships are renewed. This year the club presented a check to the Fire Department from those memberships and other fund raising efforts last year. The $4,000.00 donation plus matching funds from the fire department enabled them to buy a thermal imaging camera. This high tech piece of equipment allows the viewer to detect the source of a fire and locate people and pets in the building before even entering. Fire Chief Randy Perkins brought the camera to the event and demonstrated how it worked. As he scanned the room of people, ghostlike images of bodies appeared on the screen of the unit. Randy said, the brighter the white, the hotter the source. Bowin Wallace seemed to be the hottest, probably because he’s a young guy.
Bowen’s daughter Phoebe Grace Wallace, age two, was the youngest guest attending that afternoon. Aaron Coleman’s son Brayden, age four, also attended, dressed in his own firefighter’s uniform. Firemen Aaron Coleman, Don Gill, Bill Wallace, Fire Chief Randy Perkins, and new volunteer Austin Maynard, nineteen, are heroes and were our honored guests. That day Austin donned the antiquated self contained breathing apparatus showing us what they carry on their backs into a fire. Perkins got the units when Kellogg was throwing them out. They were eighteen years old and obsolete at that time and our men have been using them for fifteen. They desperately need new air packs for safe breathing. Many of the volunteers are family men and are sometimes hard to reach says Perkins. We need new volunteers like Austin Maynard. Some of these young guys receive their training and experience with volunteer departments and later move on to have a career in other area departments
Things were heating up in the kitchen. No matter how far ahead you plan and prepare your home and menu, something is bound to happen. You accidentally burn the mashed potatoes just prior to serving Thanksgiving dinner. I can read their minds…”Where are the mashed potatoes? How strange she isn’t serving them. What’s all this gravy for? It’s just not thanksgiving without the potatoes.”
What happened this time was that we were in fear of not having enough chili for the group we thought we might have. First, I hadn’t heard if chili master David McBride would be able to make one or not. Another friend Casey Conley had planned to make one but wasn’t feeling well the day before so I started to panic. I called and begged McBride, “Please, please”. “Those people don’t know what real chili is supposed to taste like”. I thought he was just a sore loser, because Randy beat him last year. He said he’d think about it and call me back. While David was mulling it over and Casey was hoping to feel up for it I was stewing about what to do. It was too late to make another chili myself. My David joked and said, “I’ll just go to the dollar store and buy six cans of Wolf Brand chili and pour a half a bottle of Louisiana hot sauce in and be a mystery entry in the competition. David McBride might be right. Maybe their palates aren’t so sophisticated. Someone might even vote for it”.
But thankfully this time, all of my concerns about the “chili shortage” worked out. McBride made his chili. Casey being such a good friend said she wouldn’t let me down. And Friday afternoon Rebekah Lipscomb called and wanted to know if she could bring a pot of her chili too. “Oh please do” I said. “The more the merrier”.
Soon after my calm of a lack of chili came the fear of a possible cornbread crisis. It seems David had followed Margaret Wilbourn’s hot water cornbread recipe, however it didn’t turn out not like we know it has to be because she makes the best. I picked up the phone and called Alvin’s. No cornbread. He sold out Friday at lunch. Robert Birge didn’t have any either. David and Bob Kent tried to reassure me that there would be plenty, since Doris Perkins was bringing hers, and we had saltines, oyster crackers, and Fritos, but I wasn’t convinced.
Just before noon guests started to arrive and crock pots were lined up along the long sideboard in the dining room. I put on a clean black apron that Bobby Lipscomb had made for me, with white embroidery on the front that reads “Chat ‘N’ Chew”, and along the bottom edge, “Cookin’ without lookin’”. Along with this gift came his mom Rebekah with her cast iron pot of chili. Later she explained to me that the pot is over seventy-five years old and was a wedding gift to her and Buddy. But even more exciting was an unexpected basket of her Mexican cornbread!! I exclaimed with arms in the air, “The cornbread fairy has arrived. Thank God!”
Before the tasting and judging started, Mike Bartlett arrived with a last minute entry of a white chicken chili and his grandmother’s recipe of cornbread. So, the eight chili contestants that day were David McBride, Bobby Kent, Randy Perkins, Casey Conley, Rebekah Lipscomb, David Dickerson, Mike Bartlett, and yes, the mystery contestant with the Wolf Brand chili. By the way, it did get one vote for first place, one for second, and two votes for third place!
I was so delighted to see so many people from Como gathering to honor our Volunteer Firefighters that day. It was very cold – A perfect time for chili and a civic celebration. Over fifty people attended. It was a blind tasting and all voted for their favorite three. First place went to David McBride, who regained his crown this year after losing it to Randy last year. Second was chili king Bobby Kent, who also has placed high in previous contests. And third place was our hot chili chief Randy Perkins, who probably let them win this year to save their egos and raise more money to save lives. Fifty dollars went to the winner and there were consolation prizes of a bag of New Mexican Chili and Honey Bees wax candles for second and third place.
An old black rubber fireman’s boot stood in the dining room throughout the event and donations and memberships were piling up. Margaret’s pound cake and some vanilla ice cream were the chill and sweet ending that we all savored after so much spice.
I remember standing near the chili bar considering and tasting my favorites. I made a comment to two others dong the same. I said that I like chili that clears my sinuses, tickles the throat, and stimulates and puffs my lips up like Goldie Hawn in “First Wives’ Club”. They should make lipstick with it. It would be cheaper than collagen injections.
Speaking of pumping it up, I called Rebekah Lipscomb on Monday to ask if she would share her chili recipe. She didn’t say she would email it to me like most do today, but instead, read it to me slowly over the phone. During the course of our conversation, she told me that she exercises three times a week at Curves in Senatobia. The image of my elliptical trainer sitting in the next room became bigger than life. This wasn’t the first message from the fitness gods. Not too long ago my friend Lupe’s six year old daughter Tamara got on the machine, started it up, and complained that it was dusty. “Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings cometh forth truth”. And, the truth is, I want my six-pack back! So Tuesday, Rebekah, who is ninety-three, picked me up and away I went with her to Curves. Hopefully, this will be the start of a routine that I’ll continue for a long, long time. Thanks to the candor of Tamara and the wisdom of Rebekah for motivating me to do it.
Rebekah Lipscomb’s Chili
One to two pounds lean ground beef
One small clove garlic
6 ounce can tomato paste
18 ounce can tomato sauce
One Dash hot sauce
One can water
Two large onions, minced
One half cup ketchup
Four tablespoons chili powder
One large can pinto beans
One half cup sugar
Directions: Sauté beef, onions, and garlic. Add and stir in other ingredients. Cover and cook on low for four hours.
David wrote this one for the paper. Sharon was busy on the horse.
Wyatt: Crossings, Cavalry, and Cedar
If you travel along Mississippi highway 310 from Como to highway 7, you’ll pass a sign which points to the right (east): “Wyatt’s Crossing”. Many people fish in Sardis Lake or travel there just for its beauty. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has over the past few years done a wonderful job improving this site, including the boat ramp and parking area. This area is well known for its Crappie fishing. But if you are like me, you may not know the rich and colorful history of this place. Sharon and I made a trip there in December to gather driftwood for her next horse which she is creating. After several working titles, I suggested “Wyatt Crossing”, and so it is named. So much of the discovery of place is curiosity. Art, history, art history – they are all intertwined. We wondered where Wyatt’s Crossing got its name, and found out about a man named Wyatt Mitchell, and a town called Wyatt.
I visited with our friend Darrel Brown, who along with his wife Patsy, owns and operates Como Green Grocer. Darrel is another historian. His family grew up in the Harmontown area. His father, Howard Brown was born at Wyatt in 1925, his grandfather, Earl Brown born 1893, farmed a field beside the Old Wyatt Cemetery known as the Town Field. Darrel’s great grandfather, Will Billingsley, born in 1877, owned the land where Wyatt was and on down into the Tallahatchie River bottom before Sardis lake was built. His great great-grandfather, John W. Billingsley, born in 1845, enlisted in Co. C of the 18th Mississippi Confederate Cavalry at Wyatt on June 27, 1863. He was later captured and paroled at Memphis on May 20th, 1865.Darrel began to tell me about that history. He pointed out photos in the grocery of old country stores that once operated there. He also showed me a photo of the Wyatt Ferry, which the Nicholson brothers operated. Darrel has done extensive research. Most of the information below was provided by him, although there are some discoveries of my own. He said he would just keep notes and each time he found something more, he would add to it. This developed into a great and very interesting historical construction.
But, before we get to Wyatt, let’s go back into even earlier history. Thomas Love was born in 1745 in Virginia. He died in 1832 in Holly Springs, Mississippi. Thomas was very probably a refugee Loyalist. The Indian nations were often asylums for refugee Loyalists (Tories), in the early days. He was the father of Isaac, Henry, Slone, Ben, Samuel, Bill, Robert, Sally, and Delilie. Thomas’ wife was Sally Colbert, the daughter of James Logan Colbert and a first full blood Chickasaw woman (unnamed). So, Slone Love was one-quarter Chickasaw. One account says that “Slone partook, both in appearance and habits, more of the nature of the Indian. His complexion was redder, and his tendency more wayward—more Indian like.” However, Slone was a farmer and a great and prominent landowner.
Introducing Wyatt Mitchell
Ethan Allen Hitchcock met with Slone Love in the Indian Territory February 21st , 1842 at which time Slone stated Wyatt Mitchell was a clerk engaged in taking the Chickasaw Census at Pontotoc in 1832 which listed about 5440 Chickasaw. Wyatt was the son of land speculator Thomas Mitchell. The first transaction in the area was from Slone Love to Mr. Angus Gillis on April 7, 1836. On May 24, 1837 Slone granted land at the site to Mr. Mitchell, son of land speculator Thomas Mitchell, and Volney Peel, the government surveyor of the area. That the land was transferred to these two promoters as trustees was probably for the benefit of those who had already settled there. The site of Wyatt, Section 24, Township 6 South Range 3 West was purchased from Slone Love. Mitchell purchased 10 sections (6400 acres of land) in 1836-37 at a cost of $17,400.00 dollars. Wyatt was one of the developers, along with Volney, of “Old Wyatt” which was also known as “Mitchell’s Bluff” and incorporated in 1838. The original Government Land Office survey lists the town as Mitchell’s Bluff. It was thought that, located as it was at the head of navigation on the Tallahatchie River, it would be as big as Memphis. This was the northernmost point on the Tallahatchie that would allow navigation. The spot in the river was wide enough for boats to launch and travel down the river toward the delta, and to return and turn around. Mr. Mitchell apparently was a prominent and influential man. W. C. Mitchell and Company was listed in James Holmes Taylor’s cash ledger from his store at Tyro in 1837. Various accounts of his business from the book “Early Settlers of Lafayette Co, Ms” list him, along with E.B. Mitchell and Robert Mitchell among the earliest land purchasers. Wyatt was also one of the four commissioners appointed to organize Lafayette and several other counties in the area. His name continues to come up on several other pages in the book where he is concerned with land transactions. He was also involved in the organization and sale of stock for the Pontotoc, Oxford, and Delta Railroad in May, 1837.
Bustling Town – 1837 and Onward
Businesses located at Wyatt during its heyday include the Mississippi Union Bank established by Angus Gillis and Thomas A. Allen which issued bank notes held in high esteem in Lafayette county. There was a gin maker, Joseph W Brooks, whose Brooks Gin was widely used in North Mississippi. Abraham Kitchell was a blacksmith from New Jersey who owned Kitchell’s Wagon Repair Shop. James and Graham owned a wagon repair business which reopened in Chattanooga after the Civil War. Others include a Surry factory, a plow company, a river ferry (operated by the Nicholson brothers), a furniture plant, a tailor shop, a Masonic lodge, and a church with cemetery. The town’s hotel, the Parker House, was located across the field from the cemetery and was known to have had an iron work gate. Mercantile houses included Estill and Peel, A. Patterson, James Murdock and Co., and Gordon and Grayson. One hundred dollar liquor licenses probably connected with grocery stores or inns were purchased by David C. Powers, Goodwin & McGowan, Gandy Smith, F.D. Brown, John D. Ferguson, William Brister, Martin L. Lawrence, and Wesley Harmon. In 1843 John W. Estill is listed as conducting a general store and being a receiving agent for freight to be transported down the river. Wyatt was the shipping point for cotton factors of both the Holly Springs and Oxford areas. On January 30, 1839 some of the town’s prominent citizens were named as Trustees for the Wyatt Male and Female Academies.
Prominent citizens of the town are listed as Thomas H Allen, later of Memphis and New Orleans; Angus Gillis; his partner in business, Andrew Peterson; James Murdock, and Major Alston. An undated map of Wyatt probably drawn at the incorporation about 1837 was found in the Mississippi room at Ole Miss. It shows a large developed area and lists a few names as owners of lots. These owners included: Andrew L. Martin, J.W. Brooks, J. Alston, A. Gillis, and J.L. Wright.
The town had two doctors, Dr Robert Watt, a Scotch gentleman, who is said to have been educated in the University of Edinburgh and studied under the well celebrated Dr Gregory. He died in 1843 and is shown on the town plat as owning two lots totaling about 15 acres near the NE corner of the section. He is said to have owned a large plantation near Wyatt with his business in town. The other doctor is listed as Dr Robert O. Carter. Another article lists a Dr. Edward McMucken as a prominent citizen.
A post office was established June 28, 1837 with Thomas H. (or W) Allen as postmaster until Dec 23, 1839. Other early postmasters, George A Taylor appointed August 1843, Andrew Peterson appointed July 11, 1846, Robert C Brister appointed June 9, 1857. In Mrs. S.T. Lyles’ article for the Holly Springs South Reporter of January 9, 1836 she states her grandfather, Alexander Hamilton Clark was the last Postmaster in 1862. Another article states he left with the Confederate Army in 1862 and died in Rock Island prison. The post office was discontinued January 30, 1867.
Civil War Involvement
Wyatt was an important place for Confederate maneuvers during the first two years of the Civil War and a guard of the river was maintained until the Federals captured North Mississippi. The College Hill area near Oxford was occupied by Union forces after General Grant crossed the Tallahatchie River near Abbeville, east of Wyatt, and went on to Oxford. Grant’s second in command was General Sherman. He had crossed the Tallahatchie at Wyatt Crossing and had moved his 30,000 troops into the area around College Hill. This was just before Christmas, 1862. Then again on April 18th, 1863, Union General Grierson sent General Hatch with the 2nd Iowa Cavalry against two companies of cavalry under Major A.H. Chalmers, who was guarding the river at Wyatt, and Chalmers retired to Grenada.
Another incident began on October 11th, 1863 when Confederate General James R. Chalmers attacked Collierville, Tennessee after almost capturing it, reinforcements arrived and he was forced to retreat through Byhalia and on to Wyatt to cross the river. There on a drizzly October 13th , 1863 Confederate Units including the 12th Tennessee Cavalry under Colonel R. V. Richardson, and the 1st Mississippi Partisan Rangers clashed with the 7th Kansas, the 2nd Missouri Cavalry, 9th Illinois, 3rd Michigan and the 2nd Iowa Cavalry. The Confederates dug into a semicircle in the town and at three in the afternoon the fighting began. There was heavy house to house fighting with see sawing back and forth. The Union Artillery was turned on the houses which the Confederates were using as positions and on the bridge over the river. Union forces were repulsed but by nightfall the Rebs were almost out of ammunition and retreated across the river under darkness. The Federals took Wyatt and says Colonel Edward Hatch, 2nd Iowa, “The men burned the town.” Another article reports that Confederate Colonel Inge was commanding the 12th Battalion of Cavalry and Reneau’s Battery and for the Union, Grierson’s Federal Cavalry Brigade. A five hour engagement had been fought at Byhalia with Chalmers with 3000 men checking their pursuit. He then continued his retreat towards Wyatt with Inge covering the rear at Wyatt while the Confederate wagons and cavalry were crossing the river Grierson attacked again. Inge placed Reneau’s battery on one side of the bluffs and succeeded in holding off the Federals until the crossing was made.
This cemetery is now abandoned. It is only accessible by hiking trail from Lafayette County Road 500. One article states that Mrs. Mollie Hartley of Laws Hill said the last burial at the Old Wyatt cemetery was in the unusually cold winter of 1935-36 when Mrs. Newell Williams was buried with much difficulty. Another article lists Sam Redding as the last man buried and his sister as the last person about 1924. Sam’s house was on the edge of town and was not burnt during the war. He returned and lived there as a fisherman-hermit until about the end of the First World War. Ronnie Billingsley reported from his research in 2004 that the cemetery remained a primary cemetery for the area until around 1920. It was maintained until the 1950’s. Erosion on one side has encroached into the cemetery and some graves have been lost. Other markers have been lost due to theft or vandalism. Several markers are still standing and legible. At one time, the cemetery contained several hundred graves. Family names of those interred there were: Austin, Billingsley, Edlin, Estill, Flynt, Leeton, Roy, Talley, and Nicholson, James M. (Corporal, Company E, 1st Mississippi Infantry C.S.A).
A Town Dissolved
The town of Wyatt began to go into decline before it was burned during the war. It was never rebuilt after the war, although, as stated earlier, the post office was open until 1867 and the cemetery remained. The railroads came, making river traffic along the Tallahatchie somewhat obsolete, thereby spelling the end of Wyatt.
Wyatt Crossing – The Sculpture
When we started collecting the driftwood, we had no idea of the history of Wyatt. As was the case with our other ventures, the trip itself sparked interest in the places. So what do Crossings, Cedar, and Cavalry all have in common? We thought we were just gathering (mostly) cedar for a horse sculpture. As it turns out, there is more to a bend in a river than meets the eye. One hundred seventy-five years ago, this crossing became a busy town, with trade and transportation, and people working and living out their daily lives, just as we do. Transportation modes, a changing economy, and the Civil War battle that took place there changed things for them. A coincidental thing is that the battle was fought to a large extent by cavalry. That’s right – Horse Soldiers. Not knowing the background of Wyatt Crossing, I had told Sharon that her horse was so muscular, so strong, and has such a powerful stance that it resembled a war-horse. The wood has seemed to make its own statement. So it all comes together doesn’t it? Whoever purchases this piece will be buying a piece of history as well, and this article provides some provenance.
Como Arts Council Winter Show
The Como Arts Council will be kicking off its Winter Show on Friday night, February 3rd. Local and Regional artists will be showing and selling their works. The Downtown Gallery is located at 215 Main Street, Como, and will be open each Friday and Saturday night until the exhibition ends on March 10th. Please come out and support the gallery and these artists, and have an opportunity to see “Wyatt Crossing” in person.
I couldn’t write this week, but I am right where I need to be. Instead of hitting the presses, I hit the yoga mat and jumped on my elliptical exercise machine. This is an effort to tone and especially to fit into my New Year’s Eve party skirt from last year. I’m passing along a gift from my brother Mark McConnell. He retired from the U.S. Marines after 27 years of service including three tours as a drill instructor. Mark exercises, runs, and bikes every day. He lives in Richmond, Maine with his wife Amalia and their three Labrador Retrievers. His three-page Christmas card to me is a reminder of the gift and the reason for the season: Our Savior Jesus Christ. Another part of his message is to reach out as Christians to others we may not normally interact with, and suggesting to us that we not live with a fortress around us. Here is Mark’s message:
Today is Christmas if you decided to wait to have David read this. I thought of many presents to buy you, but the only thing I could think of was to write for you! It’s getting rather dark and all the puppies are gathered around the woodstove. All paws are facing the ‘Iron Beast’ that glows from my love of fire! Pyro of yester-years. Christmas cards cover Amalia’s marble table and a candle burns beside me, as a reminder that I am able to see. How lucky I am in many ways to be here now. I can say, ‘This is my advent candle, a new beginning, a sign that I must change, Christmas is near, etc’.
What we need here is a fresh snow to cover up the countryside and let the splendor of it all take our breath away. Decorations are up around the old town and Richmond Captain’s homes have candles in every window. The widow’s walk in one such home has a small tree. One often wonders how many days and months a wife would await the return of her husband from the sea.
As I walk the river’s edge, I find the Hagar Shipyard planking and granite pillars still there. Back in the 1800’s this spot where I stand was the site of many large Ice-ships being built to go to sea before the river freezes. I can hear the horses and sleighs dragging wood to anxious men with leather faces ready to shape Maine timbers into a work of art. I hear the ice cutters loading ice into the ships holds where they will sail to the Far East in trade for special things made from ‘special hands’. I see street posts burning the oils from far away to light the streets.
Can you hear the sleigh bells all over town? Packages, produce, poultry and Christmas trees transported carefully to homes nearby. Then, as I look across to Swan Island, an Indian is looking at me as though I am an unwelcomed stranger, but raises his hand as a gesture of peace. He knows it’s that time of year and people are happy. But, he knows deep within, his time o this island will pass like the seasons and I am sad because I never really knew this Kennebec Indian and he knows more about this land than I’ll ever know. The river is the divider and he knows not to venture over because he will endanger his people. His only friends are the Wiscasset Indians down river and the winter season is upon him. The Eagle flies as the winds from the northeast remind him that he must set out for more deer, fish and beaver. For this is the life of the Kennebec Indian. The north is unforgiving and now we must raise our hands one more time. ‘Merry Christmas’, I say to him. His reply is like the cry of a mature wolf. But still the water flows, the ships get built and one more Christmas passes. He returns to his shelter teepee and places wood on his fire. I return to my home to do the same. The difference is: He knows who he is and where he is going after this life. The pilgrim still knows not where he is going because he has complicated his existence. The legend lives on.
The door on the front of this card looks like our home. The birds have finally arrived and the sky continues to grow grey. The sun sets in the south during winter here. The wreath on our door to me symbolizes the celebration of Christ’s birth and the cycle of life.
Even though you can’t see Sharon, you have vision through a spirit within. Not a soul can understand who has sight however; take great pleasure in knowing you will have perfect sight when Christ comes again! I look forward to the day that all people will suffer no more and peace will be a common word in everyday conversation. I get it.
Certainly, flashes of past Christmases dot your memory and mine. As brief as they may seem, they’re etched into the fiber of who we really are today! We have so much to be thankful for on this Christmas Day. We are the keepers of the Spirit of Christmas. It is our faith, strength, and morality which enable us to carry on in a world that is slowly eroding the cornerstones of our beliefs. The Advent is a preparation and also serves as a ‘new light’ in a dark world! Christians must look at one another like the Indian and the Pilgrim did earlier in my writing. Raise up your hand, and say hello, mean it, and do not divide yourselves because your are different. Build a bridge across the water so that our future generations are not walking the earth asleep.
Sharon, this is my gift to you on Christmas Day, December 25th, in the year of our Lord Two Thousand Eleven. Can you smell the tree, taste the egg-nog?
– Love, Mark”
The recipe this week, “Pearle’s Shortbread”, comes from a great book that my mom and dad sent us for Christmas -“Lobster Rolls & Blueberry Pie: Three Generations of Recipes and Stories from Summers on the Coast of Maine”, by Rebecca Charles of Pearl Oyster Bar and Deborah DiClementi. Rebecca is the granddaughter of Rebecca “Pearle” Goldsmith, for whom her Greenwich Village, New York restaurant is named. Pearle was an opera singer with the Metropolitan and New York City operas, who, beginning in 1919, took her family on vacations to “The Kennebunks”. Rebecca continues that same tradition. One of Pearle’s favorite spots for tea was “The Bonnie Brig” in Kennebunkport, run by Mrs. Nan Clark. Rebecca describes how she came by this recipe as follows:
“At a time when women coveted their recipes, when half a teaspoon of cinnamon could be the difference between a blue-ribbon apple pie at the local fair and runner-up, Nan did a generous thing: She shared her shortbread recipe with Pearle and her other guests. Pearle made this shortbread for nearly sixty years and each holiday season, and at other times throughout the year, she would present her friends and members of the City Opera Company with boxes of the shortbread. One of her biggest fans was opera legend Beverly Sills, who although she received it more frequently than others did, always eagerly awaited her next gift of shortbread. When my grandmother visited our home in New Rochelle, she would bring us boxes of shortbread and other kinds of cookies, layered carefully between small sheets of wax paper.
A few years ago I wanted to make the shortbread for a dinner at the Beard House and my mom found the original recipe, written out in Pearle’s handwriting. I have tried for years to make the shortbread as perfect as my grandmother but to no avail – for something with so few ingredients, you can’t believe how hard it is to make well. Pearle became as famous as Mrs. Clark for the shortbread, but she never forgot to give credit to her friend in Kennebunkport”.
Makes 1 dozen
1/2 Pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2. Cup sugar
2-1/2 Cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 Teaspoon salt
Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Make sure the butter is soft (the higher quality the butter, the better the shortbread). Using a mixer, in a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Gradually add the flour by hand, being very careful not to over-mix it since the batter toughens easily. When the flour is incorporated, spread the dough evenly in a 7-inch square pan (the best size for this recipe, but an 8-inch square pan will do). Score the dough lightly with a knife into 2-inch squares. Using a fork, prick two sets of holes evenly into each square. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, rotating it halfway through, until very pale gold on the edges. It should not brown. Check it occasionally, because all ovens heat differently and it is important not to over-bake the shortbread. As soon as you take if from the oven, cut the shortbread along the scoring lines you made earlier. If you wait until it cools, you will have trouble cutting the shortbread without turning it into a crumbly mess.