Mississippi Moments

Thursday, July 06, 2006

O Say Can You Sweat...
Hello, All. I have a little catching up to do. It's been a busy, busy past few days.
This entry is for July 4th. I started out the day with a workout down at the F & H all by myself (it helps to live with the person who has the only key) and I discovered a couple of Motown and R & B dance CDs. An hour 45 min. later, I figured out why my knees were bugging me!
Miz Sr. Teresa went into Clarkesdale to run and shop with her friend, Sr. Mo from Tutwiler, and then to celebrate, they went to the hospital cafeteria and chowed down on "the best, most buttery grits" south of Tennessee! Me, I had a lovely time preparing the makings for potato salad and keeping Sr. Teresa's cat from attacking my feet. This cat has a foot fetish, and he already clawed and chewed up one of my school shoes. I'll have to get Dad to show me how to buff that out or I'll get Aidan to chew on it or something when he's teething so they match.
There is a tradition in the Delta South among black families to buy and wear brand new and in some cases, matching Fourth of July outfits. The girls and women also have their hair done in these beautiful, intricate braids and upsweeps. I asked around as to why the tradition of dress-up and everyone said that was just the way it had always been. Aother delightful thing to remark on was when I was walking home from the Fitness Center at 8:45am..all over town, the smokers are being prepared for the ribs, burgers, steaks, and pork pieces. Try to picture this: a water heater tank like rusted out oil barrel shape turned on its side with holes punched in it with one long piece of pipe attached and setting on saw horses. Inside this contraption is where each family smokes their fixins' for the feast...and as you can imagine, each family has their own particular mix and match of preparations. What it makes for the rest of us in the early morning is a town full of the scents of ambrosia to come---even for a vegetarian!
After Miz Sister Teresa returned,we went on a little historical jaunt over to a nearby town called Friar's Point. This town sits right along the levees of the MIssissippi River. It was founded in the late 1830's when the white planters of that area tried to bring over Italian immigrants to work in the fields as laborers. The Italians brought with them their own priest, ie. Friar's Point. In the history of the Delta, the white planters have tried twice to bring over Italian workers, but from their perspective, the Italians were too "uppity", independent, and hard-working for their own gain to be the kind of field laborers that the Delta planters were trying to find when the local labor force was asserting itself after the Civil War. The conditions and tragic, unbelievable history of the plantation situation here in the Delta counties have remained essentially the same from 1830-1979. I kid you not and will explain this in more detail at another time for those who are interested. I have learned a great deal this trip about the social, economic, political, and familial themes and forces that have shaped this part of the U.S. Anyway, back to Friar's Point. This was a port town on Ole Man River and in fact, one of the old houses in the white section of town bears scars from the Minie balls that struck it during shelling from the river during the Civil War. The town has two distinct sections and downtown is less than a block and a half long. We found the local cemetary and it is pretty typical. The whites are buried inside the fence with many headstones and the blacks and others are scattered outside the fence with few or no headstones. This time, many of the families were the Italian families who had "made good". In fact, their descendants are still prevalent at St. Elizabeth Parish in Clarkesdale.
There were many pre-Civil War graves and of course, lots of children. It isn't wise to walk out among gravesites outside of teh fence where the grass is long, so we found a few graves up close. One that touched my heart was a handcarved stone from the 1930s for a young man. He obviously had died far before his prime. These are the times I wish the stones could talk or that I could listen better.
The local museum wasn't open so we found an antique shop. The sign in the window read "THIS STORE PROTECTED BY A PIT BULL...WITH AIDS." Only in Mississippi! There were old spinning wheels in the window, doll furniture, clothing, and books also scattered on the sidewalk in front.
That afternoon, we enjoyed a festive gathering at Sr. Kay's house. Sr. Kay runs the Durocher Learning Center. This is where the HNA volunteers come to from Seattle and Albany. They live and work right there, teaching botany, oceanography, chemistry, English, SAT prep, GED prep, Math, and whatever else is needed. This year's group is unbelievable and when I look at them, I have hope in the future. Brigid, someone you know and who remembers you fondly is the chaperone this year-Kathleen Costello. I am to send her warm HELLOS and a hug...so there, I did.:) There was a bunch of sisters from many communities there as well and they got to doing what sisters do- talk about how their communities are shrinking, transitioning, and reconfiguring. The youngest ones are in their 60s. I didn't really fit in with either group, but it was still interesting and the food was great. There was a big rainstorm afterward so most of the local booms and fireworks were postponed. All in all, it was an enjoyable day.


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