Chat-n-Chew

From September 2010 through March 2012, Sharon wrote a weekly column entitled Chat n Chew for a local newspaper.


December 16, 2011

Tea and Society

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Last week David and I opened our home for the Como Civic Club’s Christmas prelude high tea.  A fresh wreath with sand-dollars and star fish from L.L. Bean hung over the Wardlaw- Swango Home’s National Historic Register plaque.  The large mantle in the front parlor, as well as the mantle in the dining room, was draped with a garland of pine, holly, and nandina with silver candlesticks.  Other arrangements of fresh greenery also festooned the home. Two double crystal art deco candlesticks; an elaborate floral centerpiece designed by Everblooms of Senatobia and sent by Alice Kent; and silver tea server sat on an ivory damask tablecloth in the dining room.  An eight foot Christmas tree stood in the middle of the bowed window on the south side of the house.  Several Victorian vintage ornaments hung from its branches amongst tiny white lights.  Later that early evening flickering candle light magically appeared and shone from every window pane.

 The menu and selection of the teas and such were decided by Civic Club President Margie Best and me and approved by the club, except for the champagne punch.  Margie baked dozens of cranberry-pecan scones, with Devonshire cream, and cinnamon butter as well as other confections. Some were also sold at the club’s bake sale later that week during Christmas in Como.  David made his roasted chicken salad on pastry puffs also made by Margie Best.  This salad almost didn’t hit the sideboard at all. My Guide Dog Avatar caught wind of them and gobbled up an entire platter.  Thankfully, we had plenty as a back-up. Margaret Wilborn brought home made dessert cakes finely iced with lemon butter cream with detailed holly berry design.  Jenna Graves contributed roasted pecans she gathered from the trees in her yard.  Ann Davis brought her delicious apple sandwiches with cream cheese on raisin bread. There was also a Como Locomotive cake, baked by Margie and frosted and decorated by David. Mary Dustin made spicy lemon-dill shrimp salad tea sandwiches on sourdough bread.

Mary also donated her time with shopping, preparing, and serving at the event.  I got to polish all the silver spoons, trays, sugars, creamers and so forth. Not just mine but Margie’s too. Guests used china tea cups from both of my grandmothers’ collections and a few I used as a child that I cherish.  Tamara Calderon, age five, drank from one of them and it was her first tea party. 

            Approximately 40 guests attended the tea. Some of them included Ann Davis, Meg Bartlett, Mildred and Bumps Mulhall, Ernie Kelly, the five Merry Widows of Sardis, Betty Presley, Tom Atkins, David’s son Stefan Dickerson, and Rebekah and Mary Lipscomb.  Special guests were our volunteer Fire Chief Randy Perkins and fireman Bill Wallace. It was a spirited late afternoon.  Old friends and neighbors cheerfully celebrated the coming holiday before a long winter’s nap.  Thanks to all your help in making the tea a success for the benefit of our volunteer fire department.  It was a lovely time and our pleasure for us to host. We thank you for warming our home. Now it feels like the holidays.  And, there is nothing like having a party to motivate one to complete unfinished projects within the house.  The high tea was an afternoon and special ritual where acquaintances were made and friendships cemented.  A social time where beauty, manners and fine things where reverenced.  

We enjoyed another special social event on Friday night.  The highlight for us was attending a dear friend’s art opening in Water Valley.  After just getting out of the car we ran into another close friend, Scott Baretta from Oxford.  There were people visiting outside the crowded gallery space.  This collaboration entitled “A Lovely Society” by actor/writer Jennifer Pierce Mathus and photographer Erin Austen Abbott is truly a must see.  Because it was so well attended it was difficult to move around and view everything, so we intend to return for a second look while the show is still running. 

Jennifer and Erin have a winning combination of beauty and brains. They met at Erin’s Boutique “Amelia’s” in Oxford and became fast friends.  This creative team through their images and writings lure the viewer into a mysterious world of a Lovely Society of women and it is exciting to have experienced it with them that evening.  I especially enjoyed visiting with some of the beauties featured in the show: Lindsey Rowe Parten and Dorothy Renshaw Abbott, Erin’s mother.  Lassie Cooke Flowers was also featured in the show.

The essay offers glimpses into the current lives of former debs, queens and secret society members, offering their reflections on their time in the society spotlight.  Ultimately, Abbott and Mathus aim to grow the exhibit to feature 20 different women, representing each year, ranging from the “headwaters” of the Delta in Memphis down through Mississippi, Arkansas and Louisiana.

Here is the headline text for the show, written by Jennifer:

“The years spanning 1955 – 1970 produced tremendous and remarkable social change across America.  Rock and roll, civil rights, women’s lib . . . birth control pills, miniskirts, Vietnam . . . assassinations, sit-ins and love-ins . . . for women, primarily those outside the South, coming-of-age in this generation meant turning away from the old and turning on to the now.

During these same years, the Mississippi Delta, in particular, produced bumper crops of beauty queens and Southern belles from communities up and down the mighty river, where social issues of the day remained strong undercurrents.  Mystic societies and old-line krewes unveiled their loveliest royalty each year.  Cotton remained king, and debutantes from powerful families, many as interested in commerce as they were cotillion, held fast to the rules of Southern civility and Old South society. 

Everyone, from pageant officials to civic club members, deemed that those chosen were the cream of the crop—the ones to admire, to know, to date and to marry.  Many of these jeunes filles, in following typical pageant and society rules in those years, wouldn’t dare to wear pants in public but wore their crowns and sashes with pride, with Ivory soap-scrubbed faces and without hesitation, mostly to make Mama and Daddy proud…all charm, grace and good genes, blessed in heart and often by birthright.

Momentary spotlight…Heritage, hairspray and a whole lotta honey…A Lovely Society”  

 

I wanted to top this column off with Margie Best’s Devonshire cream recipe.  But she said she would not share any of her concoctions.  So, just chat this week.

December 14, 2011

Not a pet but a partner, guide dog provides artist with mobility

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Commercial Appeal

Sculptor Sharon McConnell of Como, Miss., fights for her mobility every day. Avatar, a $50,000 guide dog, is her latest weapon.

At age 27, McConnell was diagnosed with uveitis, an autoimmune disease that slowly attacks the body and has left her, in her own words, “nearly blind.”

From the start, McConnell began living as if she was totally blind, wanting to be prepared for the eventual day when her sight would be gone.

“Blindness is difficult and hard and feeling stupid with everyone leading you around. It’s like playing a game of Pin the Tail on the Donkey. But at the same time, it’s a lot of trust and surrendering. None of us is in control of our lives,” said McConnell, now 44.

McConnell, originally from New England, relied entirely on her service dog, Bella, while she lived and worked as a sculptor in Santa Fe, N.M. She does direct casting, a hands-on process that allows her to mold plaster to a body or face to produce a sculpture.

In 2002, a friend, Greg Woodcox, of Brookhaven, Miss., encouraged her to come to Mississippi because she loved the blues and had just begun doing castings of the faces of Mississippi blues musicians.

Last year, her collection of castings was donated to Delta State University with a formal opening March 29.

In 2006, she purchased a historic home in Como, which now serves as her private residence and public gallery.

While learning the area and renovating the house, McConnell began noticing changes in Bella.

“I noticed she was slowing down,” McConnell said.

After nearly a decade together, McConnell’s emotional tie to Bella was perhaps even greater than the physical dependence.

“I began losing my independence and confidence,” she said. ” I picked up the cane and my world shrunk, but I didn’t realize it. I put Bella in harness and mostly heeled her, thinking that would help. I was overwhelmed, and my friend Mary Dustin became my eyes.”

Early this year, McConnell knew it was time to face the change — and the eventual painful loss of Bella as a working service dog.

“We looked to each other for everything,” said McConnell.

With Bella facing retirement, McConnell contacted Guide Dogs for the Blind, which found and trained Bella years ago. Based on the West Coast, the company has campuses in California and Oregon.

A preliminary search began for a new service dog. Meanwhile, McConnell was able to secure a financial sponsor in Atlanta for the new dog.

Last month, McConnell traveled to Portland, where she met a black Labrador named Avatar that had been chosen for her after a rigorous screening process.

“It helped that they know me through Bella and the organization has been a great supporter of my work,” McConnell said.

Just over a year old, Avatar’s personality and skill levels are far different from Bella’s.

“My first impression of Avatar was true love. I thought ‘what a goofball, he’s wild,’ but he’s so astute, he remembers everything and he’s very protective, which makes me feel secure,” she said.

She spent two weeks training with the new dog on the streets of the city.

“It was really intense and it rained the whole time. We worked at night and during the day,” she said.

One incident stands out in her mind. During a night exercise, the trainer helping them stepped off into the bushes. Avatar, who was supposed to make a left turn, stopped.

“I thought he was looking at a familiar scene when I heard the trainer say ‘correct your dog.’

“I disagreed with her because he saw something in the bushes that alerted him and I’d want him to react that way. The pattern was off and she was out of context. Where I live in Como, people and animals aren’t always where they should be on the sidewalk.”

Today, Avatar is hard at work, learning his new territory in McConnell’s home and around the streets of Como. His first lessons focus on learning his place within the home, McConnell’s routine and her movements. To do so, he’s on what’s referred to as “tie down” for the first six months.

“That may sound horrible, but essentially it means he heels around the house on a leash, in every room of the house. Not only is he learning his area, but it cuts down on potential accidents for me like tripping over a dog who’s not where he’s supposed to be,” she said.

Amazingly, when placed in harness, the goofy, playful young black Labrador changes immediately. He becomes alert and serious.

And Bella? McConnell was able to keep her.

“I couldn’t imagine having to let her go entirely,” she said.

While Bella and Avatar may live in the same physical space, their days are very different. As a retiree, Bella can now do things she could never do as a seeing-eye dog. She’s allowed on the furniture, she’s allowed to bark, she can roam the house and she can walk and run without the harness.

“She’s enjoying people in a different way now. Bella has even decided she’s going to do some volunteer work as a therapy dog visiting people,” McConnell said.

McConnell’s fight
Years ago, a stray dog attacked Sharon McConnell’s first service dog, Bella, on a populated street in Santa Fe, N.M. where she lived. The incident left Bella fearful and jumpy at the sight of another dog.

At the time, McConnell realized she had little to no recourse against owners who refused to leash their dogs. So, she worked with lawmakers there until “Bella’s Bill”– a leash law — was passed.

The law strives to protect service animals from injury and attack, penalizing owners whose unleashed animals interfere with or injure them. The offense is a misdemeanor crime requiring offenders to pay restitution, including vet bills and, if necessary, the cost of an animal.

She is currently lobbying for a town leash law in her new home of Como, Miss., that would hold dog owners accountable

Bobby Billingsley, a deputy with the Panola County Sheriff’s Department and investigator of animal abuse and neglect cases, says that unleashed dogs pose a threat to the community in many ways.

“Loose dogs may affect a working dog. Not only that, children can be hurt and dogs may be aggressive or carry disease if they aren’t vaccinated,” Billingsley said.

Healthy service dogs
The loss of a service dog, whether to retirement, impairment or attack, can be devastating for the owner.

This month, through the local efforts of Pet Health Systems and Dr. Bill Miller of Collierville, more than 140 veterinary ophthalmologists have committed themselves to working with primary-care veterinarians to screen guide dogs, handicap-assistance dogs, detection dogs and search-and-rescue dogs that are certified through a formal training program or organization.

Sponsored by The American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists and Pet Health Systems, the first ACVO National Service Dog Eye Exam will be the week of May 12. This event will provide free eye examinations and preventive health reports for thousands of service dogs.

Register at ACVOeyeexam.org.

For more information, call (208) 466-7624 or e-mail office08@acvo.org.

November 11, 2011

Tea, Crumpets, and Quilts

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Christmas in Como 2011All Hallows’ Eve and goblins have just vanished as of this November first morning. Both last minute and last evening, David made up his mind that he would dress as the Count Dracula. All he lacked was a pair of plastic fangs. Halloween guest Annie Oakley, (Mary Dustin) sped off to the Como dollar store. Too late, no fangs, it’s Christmas now. There was not a trace of orange or black – just red and green. We were all shocked and thought it was a trick, waiting for her to laugh and hand over the fangs. You snooze you lose unless you go as Santa. I quickly grabbed a pretty blue bottle of Balsamic Vinegar and told him he could be a snake oil salesman, like one we had recently seen in an old western film. Other characters that came over to contribute candy for the cause were: Zombie Kyle Hooper, our new preacher at the church of Christ along with his witchy wife Rebecca who is lovely in real life. Also here were: Frankenstein’s monster – Ulises Calderon; Eighties rock star Joan Jet – Yareli Calderon, a beautiful butterfly- Yamarashi; a princess bunny rabbit- Tamara; and Pocahontas- their mother Lupe. A woman wearing a black beret draped with a very smart looking matching cashmere shawl pretending to have left Como to reside in Paris was Betty Drennan, and her husband Doug Gordon was dressed as – Doug Gordon. A reporter from The Southern Reporter came dressed as Donna Taylor. My favorite cowgirl doll from childhood happened to show up too. It was Jane West, wearing turquoise leather and fringe right down to her boots, shooting a pistol. Guess who that would be. Many rounds later, David confiscated the plastic cap gun. It was fun to see the kids handing the treats to their school chums and complimenting each other on their costumes.
Wal-mart has also decked the halls already. With this in mind I myself will rush in and tell you all about something well in advance concerning the Civic Club’s Christmas prelude tea on December eighth. The event is open to anyone reading this that would like to come. The festive tea will be served at our home, the Wardlaw-Swango house at 204 Sycamore Street in Como. The time is 3:30 to 5:30. In addition to the classic high tea menu of assorted pastry and delicate sandwiches and decadent desserts, guests will see and be able to purchase beautifully hand-made quilted art by Tutwiler Mississippi women quilters.
Como Civic Club Quilt
Tutwiler Quilters started in 1988 as a program of the Tutwiler Clinic Outreach Program in Tutwiler, Mississippi. This program helps women in the community use their skill making quilts in the African American quilting tradition to help support them and their families as well as preserve the quilt-making that is indigenous to the African American people in the Mississippi Delta. African American quilt making uses bold colors, a variety of designs, and bigger stitches. Originally, these quilts were made for warmth, so they were made very quickly. Improvisation is the key word in the quilt making technique of the Tutwiler Quilters. Their products include quilts, quilted bags, quilted placemats and table runners, and quilted wall hangings. Their quilts have appeared in various quilt shows from Biloxi to Dallas to Paducah, to San Jose; and were featured on the TV program “60 Minutes” and in the Smithsonian Museum Gift Shop in Washington, D.C.

Please join us for this delightful afternoon and enjoy a fine cup of tea and first choice of work to be later on sale during Christmas in Como. The Como Civic Club will have a raffle for a customized queen-size quilt. The tickets are five dollars each and ten dollars for three tries. You can purchase tickets as early as next week through me. Ask other members when you see them around town or at our table at Christmas in Como. Win and take it home that day. The design of the quilt was one I had bought when I first discovered their work in the delta blues museum in Clarksdale recently.
My friend Shakira Edison had just returned from her second home in Ghana Africa. Friend Naajee Thomas was with her. Naajee is the daughter-in-law of the late, great Memphis musician Rufus Thomas. These two women are very near and dear to me. They are also artists and exhibit their artwork at a few venues in Clarksdale. Shakira is a photographer who shoots her images of life in a small African village. My favorite print so far of her work is a statuesque slim woman, graceful and very erect, carrying a bundle on her head. A pile of wooden limbs maybe meant for a fire in her hearth that evening. Naajee fashions dolls after blues musicians with very detailed costumes and instruments and an African woman prosperity doll with streams of colorful fabrics and Mardi gras beads. These dolls will also be shown and for sale at the tea party.
Karen Meyer said that she along with other committee members of Christmas in Como were in search of a new way in which to market Como Town. How do we describe in few words what Como is all about and why people should visit here? When I think of Como I visualize and hear the train coming through town, then stopping at the depot once here. The old cotton gin is still in operation today. It is musical heritage that draws many from all over the world to learn about its roots and even record with Jimbo Mathus at his Delta Recording Studio next to the post office. This was the inspiration and basis for the special design for the Civic Club’s quilt that is now being especially made for our raffle. It is made from cotton. Some of the fabrics have musical notes, instruments and it will have silkscreened image of a train that has Como printed on the side of it.
Another great quilt maker right here in Como is Ada Mae Thomas, daughter of the late Othar Turner whose bronze blues marker is in the middle of down town. Ada made one for me a few years ago. It is completely made by hand with long stitches. She doesn’t work with a group of women. Day by day her busy hands work without a frame, stitching freely draped over herself on her bed. My friend sews not for profit but rather for the pleasure of keeping her loved ones warm. I have encouraged her to bring her quilts to sell at Christmas in Como that I’m sure will comfort you too.
David just interrupted my writing with a text message he received. Seems one of the firemen’s grandmothers has donated her hand made quilt for a raffle for the fire department for Christmas in Como. The monies generated by the Civic Club’s quilt raffle go to the fire department also. So I say there’s plenty enough to keep Como toasty this winter. The membership ship drive for the Civic Club, bake sale, chili cook off at our home last winter along with this year’s quilt raffle are efforts to raise the desperately needed funds for equipment that our volunteer firemen need to be able to rescue and save lives. We are a growing community that doesn’t even Jaws of Life or basic imaging equipment that can help identify the source of a fire or life in a building. Every time I hear the siren sound I think of them and how little they have to work with and how they risk themselves for us because of it. That’s my heartfelt and hard sell and why you should buy a bunch of raffle tickets from both our raffles.
Next week look for a story and history about an area train, Mr. Carrier, Sid Hemphill, Jimbo Mathus and the Mosquitoville show. Look for a story along rare photographs and history of Mr. Carrier’s line. If you would like to visit our home for tea and an interesting afternoon with the Tutwiler ladies, space is limited please RSVP to me at 526-1020 to be listed as a guest.

October 27, 2011

New Mexico and Horse

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Tallahatchie Gray
I’m back in the saddle again, sculpting and writing. Here is why: Two women friends of mine who happen to be neighbors and with whom I spoke this past week both referred to my Chat ‘N’ Chew stories. Betty Drennan thought I would enjoy reading a book she had just finished reading. “Tender at the Bone”: stories along with recipes written by the editor of Gourmet Magazine. Maybe I could try some of them and pass them along thru the column. Jenna Graves told me she missed my writings too. Thank you ladies for thinking of me and the inspiration it gave me. So, this one is for you.

Another infusion of creativity came by way of a trip to my old home of Santa Fe, New Mexico. David and I sat outdoors under a long portal in front of the El Farol on Canyon Road. This restaurant is the oldest Cafe in Santa Fe. It was on old “watering hole” along the early Santa Fe Trail. Their menu consists of only Tapas. David and I chose this style menu for our wedding reception last year. I think it is the perfect choice for an outdoor summer event. Tapas are a Spanish tradition: assorted small servings meant to be shared. Here’s a little sample of what we selected for our lunch at El Farol.: Bonito (seared ahi tuna w/ spinach & chipotle-mustard vinaigrette), Puerco Asado (pork tenderloin w/ figs, port & idiazabel), Portabellas (sautéed mushrooms in fino sherry & garlic), Aguacate (flash fried avocado w/ salsa & lime crema) and Polenta (Grilled manchego cheese polenta w/ romesco). A creative and careful hand presented plates proven to please our palates. So much so that we hummed and savored every bite and laughed at each other after we were finished. Are you all salivating yet? Good news. You will not have to travel to Santa Fe to have them. Take a journey into your own kitchen with one of their cookbooks. The title is simply “El Farol”. Makes a great hostess gift for a holiday dinner party. You can contact them through www.elfarolsf.com.

While sitting there David looked down the row of galleries describing all the outdoor sculptures to me. He said there was a wooden horse sculpture that looked interesting. We decided to walk off lunch and tour the galleries along Canyon Road. We headed straight for the horse of course. It was so cool and we so admired it. The owner of the gallery and sculpture garden came out to welcome us. It turned out she had recognized me from when I lived there. Just out of curiosity I inquired about the price. It was twelve thousand dollars. I couldn’t get that horse out of my mind. It has been a long time since I have contemplated or been inspired to approach a sculpture project, never mind one of a horse. My works have always depicted the human figure. The ideas kept coming to me, flooding my mind with countless configurations and materials.

Later that week we took a trip north to Taos to visit an old friend and tour the Kit Carson house and the earth ship dwellings along the edge of the Rio Grande. My friend Tom Romancek lives in an enchanting small adobe home with a massive apricot tree that hangs creating a canopy over his front door. If you are taller five foot five you have to duck to enter in. There is a small creek running in the rear. The property is surrounded by a stone wall made of volcanic rock. Tom appreciates small tokens from friends and likes to trade offerings. I told him we had brought something for him from Mississippi: A piece of driftwood from the river. As soon as I handed Tom the old wood bone from the mighty Mississippi River, a light came on in my head. I would make my horse with drift wood from all the rivers and tributaries all around us back home. That horse would be truly one of a kind.

I was so excited to show David all the sights I had once seen years before I lost my sight. I had brought some ashes of my first guide dog Bella in hopes of leaving some at my home where I lived in Santa Fe and to cast off the bridge at the Rio Grande gorge. When you stand overlooking the river – only a parting of land a quarter of a mile below – you feel so insignificant, it yet on top of the world.

When planning the trip to New Mexico, I was told by a friend of a very special farm in the Rio Grande valley just outside of Albuquerque. Los Poblanos is where they hold the lavender festival every year. Lavender is my favorite herb. I add its oil to my body lotion and in my hair. Rub a few drops under your nose and you will relax and sleep well. Los Poblanos Ranch is a working farm which was established in the 1880s, then rebuilt as a dairy in 1934. In addition to the fields of lavender; the architecture, furnishings and artwork; and meals from fresh ingredients; they have a small collection of chickens, a milk cow, goats, goats, and a chocolate colored turkey named Coco. I had a good conversation with Coco, discussing Thanksgiving menus, and absolutely fell in love with a little blue eyed goat named Sunflower. She put her head on my shoulder and suddenly I wanted a goat too!
Sharon and Sunflower
After returning from the endless fields of lavender through which I walked in a straight line, with the aid of Avatar and back again toward David waiting and watching for us I remember a feeling I once felt a long time ago in the Mississippi delta. – A peace of mind. It is when one experiences the perfection of God’s creation and the heart’s acknowledgement, where I found bliss that afternoon. On our last there, leaving the flora and fauna of the farm, we picked up our friend Charmaine Brown and took the tram up Sandia Mountain for dinner at the “High Finance Restaurant” at 10,500 feet. There we watched as the sunset stained the mountain and the entire valley. What a lovely way to end our trip! We snuggled in the featherbed surrounded with high posts made of hand forged iron, and the lavender scented candles illuminating the kiva fireplace danced in the shadows and extinguished themselves by morning.

Like anyone returning home from travel, there is often a time of reflection of where one has been as well a time of transition back from where you departed. We had a wonderful time in New Mexico. So much so that I wondered just how I was able to have left it in the first place. I recalled my family, friends and even local comedians asking me why I left there for Como, Mississippi. All with the surprising tone as if to ask how one could be so misguided. Yet, there has always been another connection of the beauty of this land, or a person or thing that touches my heart and encourages me to stay despite the occasional flares that arise with life in a small town. Now back home on Sycamore, my suitcase, which I didn’t unpack for a week, lie on the floor. Efficiently, David put his bag up the next day. All I could think of was the horse, wood and where and if we find any.

We were excited, looking forward to the adventure of hunting for it. The water level at upper Sardis Lake was low now and we would search its banks and the exposed cypress fields. The first day we spent collecting wood in Teckville and to our delight we came home with nearly a truck bed full of it but not enough for the size horse I hoped to build. We headed the following day to Hays Crossing. It was there where discovered the most beautifully shaped drift wood of cypress and cedar perfectly cured by the sun. This was the type we needed for a sculpture that would remain outdoors and continue to endure the elements. I tested the strength, felt its contour and texture, deciding if it would be a good piece. Soon David and I were shouting out to one another, “I think I found a good leg over here’! “Look”, I exclaimed, “this is definitely the beginning of a head”. Another trip to Piney Point yielded yet another truck load. What I had envisioned was that each piece would show its original shape with little or no cuts to fit. I arranged the limbs and into groups according to size- putting the really weird ones aside. My plan was to put it together like a puzzle – a three dimensional one. I thought of my mother who often has one she is working on one herself. I wish she were here to collaborate with us on this one. I use the term collaborate because in order to be safe I need assistance with technical limitations and supervision while operating power tools. Other than that, I’m taming and reining this one myself.
Now I face the plight many artists go through: The process of a project. I try to remove myself from anything that could be a distraction or obstacle keeping me from the work and in motion. You think about it all the time and try to somehow translate physically what was said to the heart and formed with the mind. I have never been able to do that. Like the challenge to find the right words to fully express what you feel. There is nothing like the feeling of being pleased or satisfied that you have done your best. The ultimate is when someone sees it; and writes you a big check for it. Well it’s time to head down the trail and see about my horse I call “Tallahatchie Gray”. Happy trails to you all till we meet again.

September 1, 2011

Como, Mississippi wealth in musical heritage

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Late last Saturday evening after not being able to rest, I went out and sat on the back porch. There was a slight breeze coming through the airy wicker chair and the off balance ceiling fan made a constant clicking noise. The leaves trembled the unmistakable sound of fall. The predictable percussion and weekend crowd came from the Windy City Grille. It quieted down. So I knew the band was on their break. That’s when I could hear the rhythmic drumming traveling from distant hills. This was the Turner Family’s annual goat roast and picnic. David and I couldn’t attend. Earlier in the week Avatar was admitted to the hospital and had only been home for a couple of days. We couldn’t leave him alone.

Besides, large crowds, especially at night, are hard for me to navigate. I enjoyed listening and remembering Sharde, her brother Bill, and cousins leading a huge procession of people dancing to the fife and drum band. Other hill country stars that also performed were R L Boyce, Kenny brown, Luther Dickinson, and Blue Mother Tupelo. You’ll see the same local folks there every year, along with fans from all over the U.S. and from different parts of the world.

People still talk about how Como was once the smallest, richest town in the country. I say money can come and it too can go. That’s an interesting statistic from the past. In my opinion it’s a shallow claim to fame. I feel the wealth in this area is measured in its people and rich musical heritage. I feel the real pulse of the town’s past is the people and rich musical heritage. The bronze marker s along main street remind us and now serve as points of reference for roots music scholars and aficionados. Definitely, I was like one of those many visitors to Como wanting to document and preserve the blues. I arrived with what felt like an entourage that consisted of a Mississippi Roads cameraman, four friends of the turner family, a photographer- reporter from Santa Fe New Mexico, my assistant, me and guide Bella. It was Martin Luther King weekend 2003. My long journey to Othar’s home was only a few hours but the experience was one that I will never forget. It brought me back to help a friend with a sojourn to Como in October of 2005.