Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Long Weekend Down-South, July 2010

My Mobile cousins hosted this year's family reunion. The wife, our friend Glenda and I loaded-up on a Thursday afternoon and returned late Sunday night, cramming-in as much of the Deep South as we could along the way. Naturally, the first stop was Herby K's. Indeed, my vehicle seems incapable of traveling east on I-20 without veering-off onto Exit 17B. Refreshed and refortified (at least I was,) we pushed on (h/t to for the picture.)

We stopped at the Elite in Jackson for supper. The meal was not as good as it should have been. Now that Dennery's is no longer, next time we will go down the street to the Mayflower, or out to Cock o' the Walk, on the resevoir. This is a bust of Eudora Welty at Lemuria Bookstore in Jackson. I have a deep appreciation for Southern literature, but oddly enough, Welty is not one of my favorites. I find her life story more interesting than her fiction. In addition, the fact that she did not "get" Flannery O'Connor is a mark against her with me. I generally prefer used bookstores, but for new books, Lemuria is simply the best around. We never pass through Jackson without stopping here.

We were pleasantly surprised with South Alabama. If for a moment you forget that you are in the very heart of the Bible Belt, helpful reminders like this abound.

The old Monroeville Courthouse was a big hit, especially with my wife. This second floor courtroom was the model for trial scenes from To Kill a Mockingbird. The museum was about to close-up when we arrived, but the gracious volunteer kept it open an extra 45 minutes or so, allowing us to have a good look around at everything. We talked with him about Harper Lee, a good friend he has known all his life. This is how things are done in the South.

The Courthouse Museum had a number of rooms featuring exhibits of their two hometown authors--Harper Lee and Truman Capote. This is a poster of Capote doing what he did best--affecting a pose as Truman Capote. His Monroeville cousins, while supportive, took great exception to his poor-mouthed depiction of their lives in A Christmas Memory and The Thanksgiving Visitor. One cousin noted that Capote was "just a marvel with words, but he couldn't stick with the truth."

I particularly liked this quote from the truly ochlophobic Harper Lee: "In an abundant society where people have laptops, cellphones, iPhones, and minds like empty rooms, I still plod along with books. Instant information is not for me. I prefer to search library stacks because when I work to learn something, I remember it."

A bit of Tea Party wisdom and racism as seen on Dauphin Island. As someone who knows a bit about real Texas history, the reference to "Remember the Alamo" is a bit obscure in this context. But I suspect that distinction would be lost on the author of these sentiments.

We wandered around the Magnolia Cemetery in old Mobile. I was looking for the grave of a cousin, a merchant in town who died in 1855. I didn't find it, but did stumble across this carving on the grave of two young sisters who died within days of each other in 1857.

There are lots of pretty things in my cousin Louise's house. What impressed me most, however, was the signed, first-edition copy of To Kill a Mockingbird I found while snooping around in the study. Louise was speaking of her mother and was remembering that she worked as hard as the Negroes. In an aside, she noted: "and she worked them like slaves. Mama never understood that that sort of thing had gone out of fashion." That too, I am afraid, is the South.

Their cookbook was laid out in the kitchen, with the margins of nearly every page covering in notes and additional recipes from three generations of the women in this family. We were particularly honored that they had scribbled-in my wife's tea cake recipe.

We took the southern route home, so as to see a bit of the Gulf Coast and New Orleans for ourselves. The rebuilding along the Mississippi coast seems complete, though many gaps where homes once were are still much in evidence. The gambling interests have built back in a big way. We stopped in New Orleans only long enough for beignets and coffee at Cafe du Monde and a drive down St. Charles Avenue and out the River Road. Our friend had never been to Nottoway, so we made a stop there. Billing itself as "The Largest Plantation House in the South," it seems to have every tourist angle covered. We shared the site with a number of French tourists, who seem to gravitate to South Louisiana. In a recent restoration of the property, the remains of the planter family were removed from a community cemetery several miles away, and re-interred in a corner of the grounds around the house--to complete the tableau, you might say. I'm sure their restoration expert received a generous compensation, but somebody should have told him that these graves would have been facing East, and never South.

1 comment:

Milton T. Burton said...

Always love your Southern musings.