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Monday, February 20, 2017

Visions of Home 3: A Stroll through Downtown Natchez

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

A Child's Drawings from 1883

My mother had a large cedar chest where she kept all our report cards, newspaper clippings, drawings, etc. that we'd done as children.  It was at my sister's house, and she decided we didn't need to keep those old things, so out they went with the trash.  I understand getting rid of clutter, but I think so often we lose a lot of family history that might've been enlightening to our descendants, who might take an interest in geneology.

When I moved back to Mississippi from Los Angeles, I was going through some cabinets in the library at my father's house.  I was snooping around and found an old sewing basket containing an assortment of old family papers, receipts, letters, calling cards, and one little tablet from a drugstore containing a child's drawings.

The child was Elodie Rose (Grafton), my great grandmother.  She was fourteen years old when she doodled in her little book, just an assortment of her practicing her penmanship, doing her multiplications, and drawings of her friends, whom she named.

Now I'll have to go do some sluething to find out who these friends were and what happened to them.  Tommie O'Brien, Ellen Scott, Nellie Conti, Sophie Wright.  Some of the other names are familiar:  Agnes Carpenter, Bessie Learned:
Elodie Rose

Agnes Carpenter
I found letters to Elodie from Agnes Carpenter when Agnes was in boarding school in New York.

I can't begin to tell you what it feels like when the old photo on the wall takes on a personality.  It's like reaching back in time and meeting each other for the first time. I highly recommend saving those old report cards and letters, and drawings.  It will be a treasure for someone someday.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017:

Last night I received the following email from one of Nellie Conti's descendants:

Hi Elodie,

I stumbled across your blog this evening as I was researching my great grandmother, Nellie Conti of Natchez, Mississippi.  If you want to know more about Nellie, she was the daughter of John Conti and Mary Jane Lazarus Conti and was born in 1866.  She married my great grandfather, John E. Rouse in September 1884, just a year after the notes and drawings in your blog.  She and John Rouse lived in Natchez.  He owned and operated a grocery and a saloon at 510 Franklin Street in Natchez.  They had 8 children, my grandmother Loretta was their youngest child, born in 1896.  Sadly, Nellie Conti Rouse died of tuberculosis just 10 days after giving birth to my grandmother.  We only have one picture of her, which I have attached.

The name Tommie O’Brien is also familiar to me.  The O’Brien’s and the Rouse’s were in-laws. Nellie’s half sister Louisa married Joseph B. O’Brien.  I believe Tommie was a relative.

If you ever come across anything else about the Rouse, Conti or Lazarus families of Natchez, I would be very interested in learning what you discover.

I have enjoyed reading your blog, and am so happy I found it.

Thanks again,
Christie Susslin

Nellie Conti

John E. Rouse. Born August 1859 in Macomb, IL. He married Mary Ellen "Nellie" Conti, daughter of John F. and Mary Lazarus Conti on Sept 1, 1884. He operated Conti and Rouse grocery and liquor store at 510 Franklin Street. He died in Natchez on June 19, 1909.

Conti and Rouse grocery and liquor store at 510 Franklin Street

Related links:

Letter from Agnes Carpenter at St. Agnes School in New York

Letter from Agnes Carpenter at Mississippi Military Institute

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Versace: Good Will Ambassador

Jane Stubbs Pug Pillow  To purchase, go here.
So this morning, my mail lady knocked on the door to deliver a certified letter. The dog was going nuts, so I asked her to step inside so it wouldn't get out.
"Girl or a boy?" she asked.
"What is her name?"
"Satchie," I replied.
"Oh! A Russian name!"
"Well, it's short for Versace. She's a puggle -- a designer breed, so we named her after a designer."
Noticing her accent, I asked if she was Russian.
"No, I am from Israel."
"What brought you to Natchez?"
"I've been here about a year. I had read about the town and came to see it."
"You've been here a year? How do you like it?"
"I LOVE it, she said. I love small towns and this one is very beautiful and the people are very nice."
"Well, goodness. How nice!"
"My friend from Israel just came here yesterday to see me."
"Well, you two have a Happy Hannukah," I said and smiled.
She looked so surprised that I'd said that.
"Thank you," She said, "And you have a very merry Christmas."
See folks? That wasn't hard. Nobody's holiday is under attack and it's okay to be nice to people.
Happy holidays, everyone.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Hiding Out in Clarksdale

After the mandatory six-month waiting period, the date my divorce was to be finalized was fast approaching. I'd been fielding calls from an hysterical ex who'd suddenly decided he didn't want a divorce and wanted to "talk." His calls were so frantic, I decided to disappear until after the divorce was final.

So I got into my car and drove, wandering through parts of the country by myself that I've always wanted to see, stopping along the way to take photos and see places I remember from my youth.

I found this one street off a cotton field with a couple of old storefronts, all crumbling and abandoned. One had the remnants of a bar with broken pottery still sitting on the counter top. The other was just the shell of the building, open to the sky with trees and vines growing up the floor and walls. 

I stepped inside the door to get a better shot when it sounded like the building was falling down on top of me. I ducked as a huge owl swooped down out of the rafters over my head and into the tree behind the building. 

When I checked into the B&B, the fellow who checked me in said, "I understand no one is to know you're here. Don't worry; your secret's safe with me." 

I thanked him profusely and checked into a charming little room in a garage behind a big old house once owned by a man who owned a 20,000-acre plantation and killed almost every bear in the state. It's a beautiful house, reminiscent of an English country cottage, right in the middle of town. 

They've got 12 acres surrounded by Days Inn, Burger King and other tacky establishments. A little piece of heaven in the middle of town. There were three other couples staying at the house. Very nice folks from Kentucky, off on a road trip of their own. They had the whole main house to themselves, while I took the room in the garage. 

That night I went to a liquor store to buy some wine. The security was so tight, I had to pass the money through a slot in the wall, and they passed the wine through a bigger slot. 

"Are you here for the Blues thing?" the lady behind the bulletproof glass asked me. 

"I didn't know there was anything happening," I replied. "What's going on?" 

"Oh, a bunch of women came in a little while ago saying some woman's in town who's famous -- a singer. They wanted little bottles of wine they could put in their purses." 


So I went to have dinner at a fine restaurant where the food was sublime. I saw the other couples from the B&B there, and went over and introduced myself. 

"What are you doing in town?" one of the husbands asked me. 

"Oh, I'm just here for a little quiet time," I said. "I want to do some writing and photography." 

They were very cordial and invited me for breakfast next morning. Then I went to see the Blues lady. Definitely a hit with the menopausal crowd, of which I realize I'm a member. It was so odd, being in this Blues dive with a bunch of old yuppies with lines around their eyes, wearing their dainty PTA clothes and grinding to the lyrics: 

"Baby, you got somethin' in your toolbox that I aine' got in mine,
Maybe you could use it to show me a good time."

While I was there, the other couples came in. They'd driven all the way from Kentucky just to hear this woman sing. 

I was standing at the bar when one of the women came up to get a drink. I smiled and said hello.
"So, I hear you're getting a divorce," she said. 

I had to laugh. I remembered Pal (the guy who checked me in) telling me, "We don't care what you've done. We just want to talk about it." 

I felt kind of sheepish after my suave dodge of the husband's question earlier. I had a couple of margaritas and watched the crowd, and went home early (around 11 p.m.) The other couples staying at the B&B stayed out 'til about 1 a.m., and looked a little raggedy this morning. But they were nice folks, asking me about my book business and getting all excited when I showed them the book I found at Goodwill by Captain Kangaroo that was signed. 

"Oh, my God! I LOVED him!" 

I did, too. Was it so very long ago? Well, I guess maybe it was. 

That day, I moved over to another B&B that is a little bigger and has more atmosphere. I woke up the next morning to the mournful sound of a train whistle on the tracks. I love that sound, even while it makes me kind of sad. It makes me feel like a child again, all tucked safely into bed and hearing that whistle, feeling secure in the bosom of my home and wondering about the lonely souls out there riding on the rails. 

Someone told me later that the tracks are now defunct and no trains ride them except for the one engine I heard that's owned privately by this fellow who just loves trains. He drives it about a mile down the tracks and back every day, blowing the whistle like a kid with a toy. God, I love small towns.

That morning I walked across the parking lot to have breakfast at this little dive that serves the best scrambled eggs, grits, bacon and toast in town. While I was there, I saw a wizened old Black man with loaded dice playing tricks on a couple of tourists, and bragging about all the places he's been. While I ate my food a cat jumped up on the counter and started eying my plate. 

"You better watch him real close," said the waiter behind the bar. "He sneaky."
I wondered if the health department knew about Catty Can (his name). Pretty soon, Catty Can tried to make a move and I swatted at him and said, "Nope! Not today, partner." 

He gave me a wicked, disgusted look and lay down on the counter, waiting for another opportunity until the waiter snuck up behind him and grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and tossed him onto the floor. 

The days passed. I drove all over the state, enjoying my solitude and my newfound sense of freedom, feeling powerful and introspective. I think every woman should take a road trip by herself at least once in her lifetime. 

It's a trip.

March, 2008

Friday, November 11, 2016


All around the city
sparrows fell.
Pigeons lay like litter
in the streets.
That's what it took
to make us stop, look
up and think
the end.

Is this how
it begins?
Not with a bang
but a flutter? When I came
across the turkey on
the north fork trail
I wondered
how long
we’d have.

The clouds hung
low, like dirty cotton,
a nagging ache
behind my brow.
I squinted against winter’s
stubborn glare.
Is it too bright? Or is it
darker now than ever?

If God’s eye
is on the sparrow,
where is his ear?
Is he listening?
A thousand
thousand feathers fall
like prayers from the sky.

And everywhere ~~ silence.

17, May, 2007