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.