Saturday, August 30, 2008

From the Heart by Mississippi Hands

It has been written that folk art describes a wide range of objects that often reflects the craft traditions and social values of various social groups. To me, pieces of such art are simply treasured gifts from the heart. Itawamba County, Mississippi has produced folk artisans for generations. From basket making, pottery and painting to weaving, wood carving and quilting, those artists who produced such work were simply living treasures.

Over the years while visiting the different parts of the county, I have collected such items made from the heart and the hand. In many instances these items served not only as an artistic expression, but a utilitarian purpose as well.

Years ago I was photographing an old log pioneer structure in the hills of eastern Itawamba County and noticed at a house nearby, an elderly man was busily whittling on a piece of wood. Upon closer inspection I realized he was carving a cypress knee from the nearby swamplands. His workspace was covered with cypress knees yet to be transformed. Sitting in the shade, it was a remarkable experience listening to him talk and watching his hands carve away at the cypress wood transforming the raw wood into his carved characters as the wood shavings fell to the ground like confetti at a party. Upon leaving, he gave me one of his completed pieces – a colorful character in a green dress.

Back years ago I always enjoyed visiting an elderly gentleman who repaired ladder-back chairs in his community. It was a craft that had been handed down from grandfather to father to grandson. In addition to caning chairs, he also produced the most beautiful baskets from the split oak strips. I would watch as he tediously wove the oak strips into baskets of all sizes and listen to his stories of the olden days. Today I cherish several of his baskets and they are just as strong today as they were the day they were given to me – more than thirty years ago.

Itawamba County has always been known for her folk potters. Since the 1800’s the countryside boasted scores of small pottery operations. As a child I remember the Harris Pottery works atop River Hill at Peppertown. I was always amazed watching the potter produce beautiful churns, crocks, and flower pots from the raw clay of Itawamba County’s hills as he sat at the potter’s wheel. Today I cherish a little flower pot my mom bought from Harris Pottery nearly fifty years ago.

There have always been wood carvers in the county producing all types of wooden wares including trays, sculptures, bowls and vases. One of my prized possessions is a wooden vase that was given to me during my youth by a local wood carver. The rich colored rings of the wooden vase is a testament to the artistic ability of the craftsman.

Today many of those self-taught artisans I have had the pleasure to know and bond a friendship with are gone, but their works remain. I treasure all those folk art items I have from the beautiful hills of Itawamba County, Mississippi. They are more than just pieces to admire. To me they represent genuine gifts from the heart and hand, and each little item tells a story that thousands of words simply cannot tell.

Written for the 55th Edition of the Carnival of Genealogy hosted by Creative Gene.

An Old Road From Antebellum Times

Pictured above is an old road in western Itawamba County traveling through the dense forest. Over the years, such old roads became recessed into the landscape, a product of years of travel. This old road connected Woodlawn to Plantersville during antebellum times. Woodlawn was a voting precinct with the postmaster being Richard Borum. The post office served the big agricultural district west of the Tombigbee River and north of the Boguefala Creek area. Plantersville was created during the early 1850's and was a center of trade for some of the county's larger plantations. Early field survey notes from the 1830's of the Chickasaw Cession show several trails in this area of the county basically following this old road.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Fields of Yellow

Sunflowers have been enhancing the Itawamba County landscape recently with rich hues of yellow. Holley Farms planted 125 acres of sunflowers this summer and the crops are currently blooming. The above scene is of the Tilden field south of Fulton west of Highway 25 South. Other fields of sunflowers belonging to Holley Farms are along Highway 23 north of Tremont and along old Highway 78 east of Tremont. The sunflower seed will be used for bio-fuel and sunflower oil.

Self-Publishing With Blurb

Earlier this month I read an interesting article called Blurb! Excuse Me! at footnoteMaven discussing a company called Blurb that offers self-publishing. I decided to give it a try as I always wanted to produce a book of Itawamba County scenic photographs. As I enjoy layout and design, I downloaded the company’s software from their website and played around with it for a few days. The software is extremely easy to use and features many templates for different types of books. You can use the templates or be creative designing your own pages. Before long I had compiled a little 40-page book of photography I titled A Place Called Home: Itawamba County, Mississippi. I uploaded the book’s layout to the company, placed an order for two paper-back editions for proofing and they immediately gave me an expected date of shipping.

About two weeks later I was pleasantly surprised when my two paperback editions were delivered to my home. The company definitely delivered on what they advertise on their website – bookstore-quality books that look professional and polished. And I am simply amazed at the short turnaround time from submission of the completed layout to delivery of the finished product.

After designing a dust jacket, replacing a few photographs and changing the typeface of the book I have now ordered two hardbound copies of the little coffee table book.

The potential is great for such online self-publishing companies in the area of family history. With companies like these, researchers can easily self-publish quality books relating to their genealogical studies or local history. And such personal books can make wonderful family gifts.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Country Fields Along Briar Creek

Peaceful fields are located along Briar Creek in the eastern portion of Itawamba County.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Itawamba Agricultural High School Senior Class of 1930

I had an enjoyable visit yesterday with Calvin Ritter of Amory in neighboring Monroe County. He brought along with hm to Fulton an old senior class photograph of Itawamba Agricultural High School from 1930 (portion of the photograph above) to share with the readers of Itawamba Settlers magazine and Itawamba History Review. Some county students in the photograph include Mildred Moore (Sheffield), Jessie Greene, Allen Lindsey, Ruby Sheffield, Evelyn Wiygul (Ridings), Marrah Boozer (Ritter), Virginia Greene (Boozer), Crafton Gray, Irma Patterson (Estes), Opal Williams, Johnny Bethay, Omer Wiygul and Glen Loden. (see high resolution photo of entire group).

Calvin Ritter descends from one of the early Itawamba settlers, Anderson Ritter of the old Carolina community. He is also a direct descendant of the Boozer family of the same area.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Looking South on the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway

Looking south on the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway from the John E. Rankin Memorial Bridge at Fulton on a rainy and breezy day compliments of former tropical storm Faye. In the distance is the old Beans Ferry area. Beans Ferry was a landing on the Tombigbee River during antebellum times and connected eastern Itawamba County with the old river port town of Van Buren.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Upriver Cotton on Bulger Creek

This cotton field along Bulger Creek west of the Tombigbee River is typical of the small cotton farms that once dotted the landscape of Itawamba County. During antebellum times, cotton from such farms was shipped down the nearby Tombigbee River to the port at Aberdeen in neighboring Monroe County and then shipped on to Mobile.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

A Testament to Hospitality

Tonight I had a Mississippi country supper. The impromptu menu consisted of fresh purple hull peas slowly cooked with a piece of salted pork fat, skillet-fried okra, a pone of stovetop fried cornbread and a fresh raw vegetable medley of onions, sweet banana peppers, tomatoes and cucumbers. The best aspect of the meal was all the vegetables were harvested fresh out of the garden this morning – but not my garden.

Country folks are sharing folks. Here folks share their agrarian bounty with friends and neighbors. A local farmer had planted some extra rows of okra and invited neighbors to help themselves. Another neighbor brought me some fresh picked tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and onions. Last week I had shared with them my bushel of purple hull peas grown on the rich bottomlands of Twenty Mile Creek I had bought from the back of a farmer’s pickup truck in town. This morning while visiting an elderly cousin, she wouldn’t let me leave without portioning me out into a paper sack, a generous mess of fresh peas she had picked earlier in the garden.

Tonight’s supper was truly a garden patch meal and the type of meal most folks of my generation were raised on here in rural Mississippi. The meal was not only a tasty treat, but the generosity behind the ingredients was a testament to down-home hospitality that is still practiced in the beautiful rolling hills of northeastern Mississippi.

Miss Daisy Lets Her Hair Down

I was going through an old family trunk recently. The trunk had belonged to my uncle’s Riley family in the southern part of old Itawamba County. From this family I have old letters, mementos, photographs, books and the like. My uncle, Samuel Feemster Riley, was born in 1890 on the family’s farm on Shoaf Creek. The cotton farm had been settled by his grandfather John Riley in 1839. Like many of the early settlers of southwestern Itawamba County, he brought his family to Mississippi from the Edgefield and Newberry districts area of South Carolina.

In all of the old family photographs of this family, the women have their hair up in a typical Edwardian style. However I came across one photograph showing Daisy Riley’s hair down (shown above).

Daisy Riley, my uncle’s older sister, was born on February 15, 1886 and lived on the family farm all he life. Never marrying, she died on September 3, 1930. It is fascinating reading old letters she received and looking at picture postcards she collected. And Miss Daisy, as she was called, had quite a sense of humor. In one old book she had received from her uncle, Congressman Rankin in Washington, she had painstakingly penned the names, and birthdays of all her siblings on the inside front of the book. However, she left out her own birthday from the list, simply giving clever clues where her birth date could be found within the 200-page volume.

Looking through all the old family letters and photographs from the trunk has shown me a small slice of life from times past. It has also brought back many childhood memories of visiting the old farm and especially exploring the old secluded main house of large rooms with tall ceilings, standing proud in a clearing overlooking the cotton fields of Shoaf Creek bottom.

The above was written for the 5th edition of Smile for the Camera – A Carnival of Images. Smile for the Camera is a monthly showcase of articles that feature the very best of family photographs and those orphan photographs contained in collections.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Promise

The other day after a typical tropical summer thunderstorm, the clouds parted over Itawamba County producing a beautiful rainbow across the sky.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Tasty Cantaloupes From a Special Garden

Fresh garden cantaloupes are a special treat during this time of year. Last night I enjoyed a chilled fresh cantaloupe (pictured above) as a tasty dinner dessert. Over the past couple of weeks, a friend and co-worker, Gwyn, has been sharing the bounty from her land east of Fulton, with friends and neighbors. Beautiful and tasty garden-ripe watermelons, including the moon and stars variety and luscious cantaloupes have been a welcome gift by those who know her. Her neighbor Leon gardens a spot on her beautiful place and these wonderful gifts from the earth come from that spot of land.

Gwyn and her husband Dale, enjoy the beautifully landscaped home (pictured) that sits upon historic land. This property was once part of the John Clifton plantation west of Bull Mountain Creek the Clifton family purchased during 1838. After the Civil War this land was owned by the Bookout family and it was during this era, the white frame house with a spacious verandah was built.

Gwyn is active in the local garden club and by viewing the home and park-like grounds her long-time garden club membership is quite evident. She is an active worker in her church and community and is the type of person who lets nothing go half undone. And by the way, for those who have not tasted her home-canned blue ribbon sweet pickles, you have definitely missed a savory treat!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Gum Creek Bottom

Looking east from atop a bluff near Gum Creek in eastern Itawamba County offers a spectacular view of the dense woods in Gum Creek Bottom.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Landscape Painted Yellow

The fields are painted yellow on a late summer day with blooming weeds in the Fawn Grove community of western Itawamba County.

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Old Tin Man

The old water tank on North Cummings Street towers over the town one block north of the town square in Fulton. The tower was constructed during the 1930's and has supplied water to the town of Fulton for generations.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Peach Cobbler and Ice Cream: A Late Summer Treat

Last week I bought a basket of nice fresh Elberta peaches from a farmer on the town square. Yesterday I had four of the big juicy peaches left and decided to make an old fashioned peach cobbler (pictured above). There’s no better late summer dessert than hot peach cobbler with a crunchy crust served with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Cobblers have been around for ages. According to The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America, without brick ovens, colonial cooks often made cobblers in pots over an open fire. This hearty dessert has been a southern staple for generations.

In the book, The American Peach Orchard, published during 1913 by Frank Albert Waught, the following is written of this delectable dessert: “In the country home where peaches are cheap as air, and where home consumption is the main feature of the peach market, the people who really know what the peaches are good for make the fruit harvest memorable with a peach cobbler. Apparently this is not an aristocratic piece of cookery. The present writer has searched all the most approved cookbooks in vain for directions or even for a mention of peach cobbler. But it is too good a thing to be overlooked…”

I totally agree with Mr. Waught. Overlooking the peach cobbler when beautiful tasty peaches hang ripe on the tree is simply missing a tasty harvest treat.

There is no better dessert than a fresh hot peach cobbler with a crispy caramelized crust and a hint of cinnamon dusting served with a generous scoop of cold vanilla ice cream. It is a special treat that has been enjoyed for generations on the Southern dinner table.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Wilie Daniel Clifton Monument in the old Fulton Cemetery

Shown above is the base section of the Wilie (spelled Wiley in many old Itawamba County records) Daniel Clifton obelisk monument in the old Clifton section of the historic Fulton Cemetery. The Clifton plot contains many beautiful and ornate monuments.

Wilie Daniel Clifton was born on February 18, 1806 in Wake County, North Carolina. He was the son of William Clifton (born 1764 in Sussex County, Virginia; died 1838 in Wake County, North Carolina) and Sarah Hunter (born 1765 in Wake County and died during the 1850's in Wake County). He was the grandson of John and Mary Clifton and Reuben and Sarah Speight Hunter. Wiley's paternal great grandfather was William Clifton (died 1756).

Wilie Daniel Clifton came to Itawamba County from Wake County during the late 1830s with his brother John Clifton and first cousins Henry and Joel B. Clifton. Henry, Joel and John settled east of Fulton in the New Home Church community and Wiley Daniel settled in the village of Fulton. The Clifton family was quite successful. When Wilie settled in Fulton during the 1830s he probably found that the land was too poor around Fulton to support a plantation large enough to support his family and slaves. He purchased about 2000 acres of rich farming land about 13 miles west of Fulton (just west of present-day Mooreville in and around Tulip Creek bottom) and developed quite a successful cotton plantation. Wilie became partners in a mercantile business on Main Street in the small village of Fulton in 1839 under the name of Eckford and Clifton, with the Eckford family of Aberdeen being his partners.

At this time he also built a substantial house, regarded during antebellum times as the finest home in Fulton. On August 17, 1841 he married Julia Fielder Oliver (born August 19, 1819 in New Bern, North Carolina) the daughter of Joseph Oliver, Jr. and Esther Ann Ellis. Wiley Daniel and Julia F. Clifton's first child was born in the village of Fulton on August 18, 1843. The following year, Eugene, their first son was born. During 1845 their second daughter, Martha Ann was born, followed by Wilie in 1849, Charles H. during 1853 and Julia J. during 1855.

Wilie Daniel Clifton became very successful in the mercantile business at Fulton. The family lived during the fall, winter and spring months at their home in Fulton and spent the summers on their plantation on Tulip Creek in the western part of the county along the Fulton and Pontotoc Road.

During the 1840's, Clifton purchased many lots in the village of Fulton and apparently owned the Fulton Female Academy, which was operated by attorney Robert O. Maupin and wife Louisa. There is a notation in his estate papers that stated Msrs. Harrison and Toomer built a chimney for the Female Academy in the town of Fulton, and laid two hearths and repaired the chimney to the old academy. The estate of Clifton paid the bill during 1855. It is also apparent that Wilie Daniel Clifton was a member of the Fulton Baptist Church ($19.25 was paid out of his estate during 1855 to M.C. Cummings for lumber that was to be charged to the Fulton Baptist Church).

The Clifton’s Tulip Creek plantation overseer was Adam Yeager who was paid $250 a year for his services. According to the 1850 Itawamba County census, Adam Yeager (born 1822 in TN) and wife Rutha, along with their three children (Monroe, Sarah and Permelia) lived on the Tulip Creek plantation twelve miles west of the Clifton’s town home.

Wilie Daniel died on October 16, 1855 of typhoid fever. His plantation on Tulip Creek was sold and his widow and children continued to live in the Clifton mansion in Fulton. Today the Clifton family plot can be viewed in the historic section of Fulton Cemetery

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Donnivan Creek Swamp Area

A swamp in the Donnivan Creek area of northwestern Itawamba County on a summer day near the old Walker plantation offers the visitor relief from the hot summer sun.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Stores of Yesteryear

Friend and fellow researcher, Lori Thornton over at Smoky Mountain Family Historian created a meme for folks to talk about stores they remember from their past that don't exist anymore. Her post on the subject really brought back memories.

Growing up in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s the town square in Fulton in Itawamba County, Mississippi was a busy place, especially on Saturdays when families from the surrounding countryside came into town. Men clad in straw hats would congregate on the courthouse square during the summer where they would trade knives, talk politics and generally pass the time away. The stores around the town square would be packed with shopping families.

It was a simpler time before shopping centers and mega-stores when the merchants knew most of their customers by name, who their relatives were and where they worked. It was a time before credit cards and debit cards when running tallies of items bought on credit were written with a Number 2 yellow pencil in a notebook. Pictured above is a current view of two buildings on the town square that housed stores from my childhood. Gilliland’s Grocery was located in the gray building. I remember folks would call in their order and the groceries would be delivered to their homes neatly packed in pasteboard boxes. It was always fun as a child seeing what had arrived at our house from Gilliland’s. Cecil Whitesides’ store in the old A.J. Mattox building was definitely a treat to visit. Mr. Cecil was the son of Thomas E. Whitesides of Mooreville and great grandson of early Itawamba planter Major Whitesides. His store was where the locals bought their Tuf-Nut overalls, garden seeds and Red Goose shoes. The large old store with oiled creaky wooden floors was a dark place lit only by dim light bulbs hanging from the tall ceiling and the sunlight from a skylight above. The kind suspendered Mr. Cecil always carried around a flashlight on cloudy days for digging through the merchandise while finding just the right item for an inquiring customer.

Next door to Whiteside’s was one of my favorite stores – the Ben Franklin five and dime. This is where all the youngsters bought their Halloween masks, toys and trinkets.The store was literally filled with merchandise for the entire family. Everything from kitchen items to Evening in Paris perfume in cobalt blue bottles was sold by this popular store. Down the street was Grady Gaither’s store. The Gaither family in Fulton had been in the mercantile business on the town square since 1840. Mr. Grady’s store featured groceries, gifts and most anything else needed for the household. It was always nice to visit the store on a hot summer day and get a Royal Crown or Grapette soda from the old drink box filled with ice-cold water. Mr. Grady would remove your selection from the box, wipe the bottle with a towel and open the drink for you with a smile. His store sold some of the best hoop cheese and sliced stick bologna in the county. Next door to his store was the Rexall Drug Store that also served as the Greyhound bus stop.

I remember on the west side of the town square was the Fulton Café. Passing by this business establishment along the sidewalk, shoppers would be enticed by the drifting aroma of frying hamburgers and onions through the screen door. On the northwest corner of the town square was Senter Drug Company. This store was always a treat and their fountain counter featured some of the best ice cream and root beer floats.

Just off the town square to the south was the air-conditioned New Dixie Theatre (the old abandoned Dixie was just around the corner on Wiygul Street). On Saturday afternoons the theatre would be packed with kids for the matinee show. It was a place where kids in the small town and countryside could experience wild adventures in far-away places on the silver screen, costing only fifteen cents.

Today most of the old retail buildings remain on the town square of Fulton – only with new tenants. Once a retail center, the downtown area today is composed primarily of service businesses and offices. As of late, more retail establishments have been moving back to the town square and this is good. The town square is simply the heart and soul of a community.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

County Deed Books Include Much More Than Just Land Records

The Itawamba County Chancery Clerk’s office is packed with old 19th century county records including walls of bulky bound deed books. The county is fortunate in that the courthouse never suffered from a fire, as did many southern courthouses, especially during the Civil War era. Most all the county records are intact from the organization days of the county to the present.

The hundreds of deed books housed in the Chancery Clerk’s office contain a huge amount of priceless genealogical and historical information. One would suspect that this record group deals exclusively with land transactions. This is simply not the case. Other types of documents other than land deeds can be found scattered throughout these old volumes. There are all types of miscellaneous records in the bound books including old contracts, conveyances of personal property, and property schedules. There are many old property schedules of married women from the 1840’s through the 1850’s. These old schedules listed all property belonging exclusively to the wife in a marriage, and usually consisted of property the wife possessed in her own name before a marriage.

The Married Women's Property Bill was passed on February 15, 1839, and signed by Mississippi Governor Alexander G. McNutt the next day, making Mississippi the first state in the union to grant property rights to married women. After the act was passed, several Itawamba County married women had their property schedules recorded in the probate court office (present-day Chancery Court Clerk’s office) in the courthouse at Fulton. Earlier last year I wrote an article about the Itawamba County women’s property schedules.

There are other miscellaneous records found in the old bound deed books. Just last year while transcribing an old 19th century deed my eyes wandered to the facing page where I read the words “Copy of order of freedom of Lucretia, Jerry and Milly.” This most valuable document (pictured) details the free status of Lucretia and her two children in 1843 and contains a wealth of genealogical information. From reading the rare old document (view a larger resolution image of the document), I learned that Lucretia was born a free woman during 1803 in South Carolina and was in neighboring Monroe County, Mississippi by 1843 where her copy of the “order of freedom” was recorded. Her two children were Jerry Harris (born during 1819) and Milly (born during 1821). This lengthy document gives a detailed physical description of each member of the family in 1843. On the 18th day of October 1850 a copy of this document was recorded in Itawamba County, indicating at least part of the family had moved from Monroe County to Itawamba County (Jerry Harris is listed in the 1860 Itawamba County census in the Priceville community and Milly his sister is listed in Aberdeen in Monroe County during the same census year).

This “order of freedom” and the “women’s property schedules” discussed above are just two examples of the valuable miscellaneous records that can be discovered in the old deed books of not only Itawamba, but other counties as well – old large leather-bound volumes containing much more than mere land deeds alone.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Old Files Cemetery on the Aberdeen and Jacinto Public Road

The James Files monument in the old Files Family Cemetery sits on top of a steep hill east of the old Aberdeen and Jacinto Road in western Itawamba County. The monument is an example of an Itawamba County Loyd Pottery monument.

James Files came to Itawamba County during the early 1830’s. He was born September 9, 1769 in Pendleton District, South Carolina and died in Itawamba County on January 29, 1842. He was the son of John and Mary Catherine Manley Files. He married Sarah Holcomb around 1789 in South Carolina. The Files family had considerable land holdings west of the Tombigbee River. James Files’ son, Manley D., was an early sheriff of Itawamba County.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Feasting on a Mess of Purple Hull Peas

Yesterday while in town I bought some fresh picked purple hull peas from a local farmer on the town square. He was selling the peas by the bushel and half-bushel but happily obliged my request of only buying a mess. There’s nothing better on the summer supper table than a mess of cooked fresh purple hull peas.

Shelling the peas didn’t take any time at all. It was a pleasant cool evening so I took my peas and bowl to the front porch and had had them shelled in no time. After washing the shelled peas I put them in the pot of boiling water, added a generous portion of salted pork fat, pepper and salt. The aroma of the cooking peas was so pleasant. After about ninety minutes of cooking, the peas were ready for consumption. I fried a cornbread fritter and went to the tomato garden for a juicy red ripe tomato. And that was my entire meal – fresh purple hull peas, cornbread, sliced tomato and a big glass of fresh-brewed iced sweet tea.

I can blame my purple hull pea supper on Terry Thornton over at Hill Country of Monroe County. I was simply trying to emulate a meal I had earlier during the week. Last Wednesday I was a dinner guest in Terry and Betty’s beautiful Itawamba County home. Words cannot describe the sumptuous meal. We enjoyed fresh purple hull peas, seasoned rice, beautifully cooked pork chops, southern cornbread and even fried corn fritters made with Itawamba County stone-ground corn. A beautiful tray heaped with fresh tomatoes and peppers and one of the best buttermilk pies I have ever savored topped off this wonderful southern country meal. The three-hour visit complimented with sumptuous food and pleasant leisurely conversation with good folks who have a keen appreciation for their family roots was definitely a refreshing treat for the week.

However, I must say my bowl of purple hull peas I enjoyed last evening didn’t even come close to the culinary delight I experienced last Wednesday.

Friday, August 8, 2008

The Old Homestead

A family homestead in the hills of the Mud Creek community south of Ryan's Well around 1910.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Old Iron Fence

An ornate iron fence encloses the large Cummings family plot in the old Fulton cemetery. Malachai Crawford Cummings was a Fulton businessman and planter. His home Sunny Dell was located on a hill north of Cummings Creek one mile north of the town square.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The Aroma of Late Summer

On the town square yesterday area farmers were selling their produce from their trucks. The open-air market was a menagerie of purple hull peas, sweet corn, okra, tomatoes, yellow squash, and cucumbers. One of the most aromatic areas of the market was a peach stand. I ended up purchasing a big basket of those Elberta peaches.

To me the scent of big fresh mellow peaches is definitely the scent of late summer. The aroma of the fresh picked peaches delicately permeated the air under the ancient oaks of court square bringing back childhood memories of this delicious summer fruit.

When I was a kid I remember one annual event was the sun-drying of fresh picked fruit including apples and peaches. A sunny spot was selected out in the back yard and two saw horses would hold big wooden frames of stretched cheese cloth on which the fresh fruit would be placed and then delicately covered with another layer of cheese cloth. The drying process would last two or three days and during that time the aroma around this area soothed the senses. It was also a place where bees would congregate, smelling the fresh fruity scents.

The dried peaches would be used over the winter months for fried peach pies. Those delectable “half-moon” pies would be slow fried in a black iron skillet. A plate staked with crispy and buttery fried peach pies made from scratch would be a special culinary treat that would quickly disappear around our house.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Good for Life

Early on Saturday morning I went to town to shoot some photographs in the old Fulton Cemetery for a researcher. In passing the old 1920's Senter Drug Building on the corner of Main and Cummings streets, I couldn't resist taking a few photographs of the old structure as the early morning sun illuminated the scene.

Monday, August 4, 2008

The Country Store

The Murphy store building south of the Shiloh community in western Itawamba County is typical of the old-time community stores that once dotted the countryside throughout Itawamba County. In times past every community had such a store where local farm families could buy their staples such as sugar, flour, salt or anything else not produced on the farm.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Thinking of Muscadine Jellies and Cobblers on an Early Sunday Morning

I took an early morning Sunday walk into the woods this morning. The shaded landscape was coated with a cool and moist blanket from the nourishing rains the evening before. From my trek into the woods I learned this year the wild muscadine crop in Itawamba County is spectacular. Pictured above is a pod of Itawamba County muscadines ripening on the vine promising a treat of sweet muscadine jellies and crispy buttered cobblers just a few weeks later.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

The Rachel Copeland Bullard Monument in Historic Fulton Cemetery

Rachel L. Copeland was born February 23, 1829 in Tennessee. She was probably a younger sister of merchant and planter, Lemuel J. Copeland of northwestern Itawamba County. On August 2, 1849 she married Fulton attorney, planter and Cumberland Presbyterian minister Arthur Benjamin Bullard.(born September 10, 1821 in Columbia, Maury County, Tennessee, died in Fulton during 1867).

The Bullard family had a town house in Fulton where Arthur Benjamin practiced law. He also had a plantation home in the county west of the Tombigbee River. A fellow Fulton lawyer, Washington Lafayette Clayton, wrote of Bullard: “He was rather an ungainly man in his personal appearance, being about six feet tall, somewhat stooped, large feet, legs bowed, large prominent teeth, high forehead, deep set, or rather sunken eyes, coal black, with scattering dark hair and large, prominent nose. His eyes were very bright and expressive, and when under his enthusiasm and pressure of some public discussion, his eyes flashed fire, as the saying goes."1

After the Civil War began Arthur Bullard outfitted an entire company of soldiers from Itawamba County called the Ben Bullard Rifles. During the war his wife Rachel died in Fulton on December 9, 1862 and was buried in the Fulton public graveyard. Shortly thereafter on December 22, 1863 Arthur married Martha Susan Thomas, the daughter of Pleasant Green Thomas and Martha Bourland (the daughter of Judge James Spears Bourland, first president of the Itawamba County Board of Police).

1860 Itawamba County Federal Census
Page 139
Arthur B. Bullard: 38, C.P. Minister, $63,000, Tenn.
Rachael: 29, Miss.
Clarence B.: 10, Miss.
Laura: 5, Miss.
Elizabeth: 3, Miss.
Emma: 1, Miss.
Nancy J. Webb: 11, Miss.

1Gwin,Minrose. Olden Times Revisited: W.L. Clayton's Pen Pictures. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1982, page 96.

Friday, August 1, 2008

The Worn and Tattered Picnic Basket

This spring one of my scheduled chores I was determined to accomplish was to clean the storage room out in the garage. In going through the shelves separating the items into two stacks to either throw away or keep I spied an article way up on the top shelf that instantly brought back fond memories of childhood. It was a dusty tattered split-oak picnic basket I remembered from childhood days.

The dusty and tattered basket was used by my grandmother and later my mother over the years of their lives. I climbed the ladder and brought the old basket down. After giving it a good dusting I opened the lid and precious memories of days gone by poured from the basket.

I remembered my earliest recollection of the basket, when on a picnic to a nearby lake when I was five years old, I had an encounter with a buzzing bumble bee on one of those hot and humid Mississippi summer days resulting in a sting to my thumb. Running to my elderly grandmother I received comfort that only a grandmother can give, including a poultice of snuff and water applied to the sting. I don’t know if it was due to my grandmother’s love or the snuff poultice, but the hurt went away. I suspect it may have been the former.

I remember the little basket at a picnic trip to Shiloh in nearby Tennessee. Back in those days a trip to such a place was important and solemn – a place where men had fought and died. After inspecting many of the beautiful monuments of the various states and visiting such sites as The Peach Orchard and Pittsburg Landing, I remember our little picnic in the refreshingly cool shade of a hickory tree on the banks of the nearby river.

The little basket over the years traveled all over the countryside around here – from church socials and cemetery memorials to family reunions, birthday parties at Fireman’s Park in town, and country outings with neighbors and friends. And the tasty picnic food that little basket has held over the years makes me yearn for those slow and leisurely days again – southern fried chicken fried in a black iron skillet, fried apple and peach pies, Dixie relish, potato salad, deviled eggs, slow-baked ham and baked beans prepared with plenty of brown sugar, onions and sweet peppers.

In cleaning that day, it didn’t take me long at all to decide the fate of the basket. The little picnic basket, although tattered and worn, simply went back to its resting place on the top shelf.

This post was written for the Geneabloggers Picnic.

Along the Upper Tombigbee

An old camp house on the banks of the headwaters of the Tombigbee River in northern Itawamba County near Walker's Bridge. Before the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway this crossing connected the Ryans Well community east of the river with the Ozark community west of the river and had been a major crossing since before the Civil War.