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Friday, November 20, 2009

Looking for Blossom

This is one of Natchez's more recent characters. He's been walking around town for the last few years, going into people's yards, picking their flowers, and taking them around town to sell to tourists. He had a bad limp, and appeared to be homeless.

In addition to making homeowners with deflowered gardens angry, he also caught the wrath of shopkeepers downtown, who would chase him away for panhandling or squirting samples of their expensive perfume onto his handkerchief.

He came by the shop where I work one day and I invited him in to sit for a photograph. He said his name was Morris, and that he was once a civil engineer. He told me he'd had his pelvis crushed in some kind of accident, which is probably true, considering the limp he had. Other than that, I have no idea if there was any truth in anything else he told me. He said he was a Katrina refugee, and that made perfect sense. I could just picture him in the French Quarter, along with scores of other sad stories.

He dressed flamboyantly, with a big leather hat topped off with a feather; a sleeveless, leather vest often with nothing underneath but his dark, dry skin stretched taut over his ribs and thin frame. And lots of chains and jewelry. He sometimes wore a gold cape, and carried a cane, limping through town on the lookout for some money.

He started coming by pretty regularly after that first visit, because I didn't have the heart not to give him a little money. He had what looked like needle tracks in his arm, and there were days when he was clearly out of his mind. But he was never a threat. Just one of the sad stories of the mentally ill who have no place to go.

Then about three months ago, he stopped coming by. I thought he was probably cooling his heels in the city jail as he had been once before for a few days. I waited. He never came back.

One day I saw an entry in the police report in the paper that a body had been found on Broadway Street, and I wondered if it was he. There was no story about the body. I've asked around, and everyone seems to think he's dead, but no one knows any particulars. I've heard he was hit by a car, but it's anybody's guess as to what really happened or where he is.

It's really none of my business, but I would like to know whether he's alive or dead. If anyone knows about Blossom, please let me know. Just because. Thanks.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

New Orleans Halloween

Shantybellum found itself with a beautiful room way up high on the 7th floor of the Royal Sonesta Hotel in the New Orleans French Quarter for Halloween. For a city that's gotten such bad press since Katrina, I was pleasantly surprised. The New Orleans joie de vivre is as rampant now as it ever was with people laughing, dancing in the streets, and enjoying that good old voodoo magic of the Crescent City.

Everyone seemed happy to be alive and happier still to be in New Orleans, smiling at one another and acting like old friends. I met a man outside the hotel who told me he'd worked on the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco. Next thing I knew, he'd run inside and come back out to give me a rivet from the bridge. Okay....I know it sounds like something only a guy would love, but hey...sometimes I'm a little weird. I loved it.

In its wake, Katrina seems to have left a kinder, gentler mark on New Orleans. This was probably most evident as we were walking in the French Quarter on Saturday afternoon. We turned a corner to find a man crawling on the sidewalk on all fours with two policemen standing over him. Rather than hauling him up and dragging him off to jail, the two were showing real concern.

"Sir, are you okay?"

"Is there a medical problem you can tell us about?"

Honestly. I know it sounds as though I might be speaking tongue in cheek, but I'm not. They were going out of their way to handle it well. (Note to self -- write the New Orleans police and tell them thank you.) Is there still crime in New Orleans? Indubitably. But if Halloween is any indication, then I think things will work out.

We met another of New Orleans's finest later that night when the biggest, blackest, most beautiful warmblood horse I've ever seen stood sentry in the Quarter with his rider.

"How tall is he?" I asked.

"Eighteen hands," the policeman replied, smiling and clearly enjoying the Mississippi-sized river of masked revelers pouring down Bourbon Street like flotsam from a sunken paddlewheel.

"What's his name?"

"Willie," he replied.

"What's your name?"

"Willie," he replied.


"Yes, Willie!"

We had a willy, willy good time.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Ferriday Songfest Brings Out the Talent in Everyone

It felt like the day after Christmas this morning as attendees and hit songwriters dragged their bags and guitar cases through the lobby and out the door of The Grand Soliel. Unlike the night before, we were quiet, letting the Sunday-morning letdown settle in on us like a dreary winter afternoon. Saturday night's Yin was replaced with Sunday morning's Yang and we all went back to where we came from.

But attendees at Saturday's events were going back home armed with critiques of their songs, suggestions, and new ideas on which to build their skills.

And the music! All I can say is that if you weren't there, you missed something rare and wonderful. Some of the most talented and successful songwriter/musicians in the music industry played alongside songwriting hopefuls with talent to spare and enthusiasm for their craft. Click on the videos below for a sample of each songwriter performing their own hit songs.

Shantybellum joins Ferriday in thanking the following songwriters for coming to town and generously sharing their expertise, talent and experiences with those who hope to join them in success. To learn more about these talented people, click on their names.

Also on hand at the songwriters workshop was Lynn Ourso, music director at Louisiana's Office of Entertainment Industry Development. Ourso presented Tommy Polk with the official state resolution declaring 2010 as The Year of the Song. Ourso joined Tommy and Country Boy Mark Porter to take a little tour to see and hear about Ferriday's plans to return to its roots and become recognized as a music-tourism destination for music lovers the world over. To read more on Ferriday's plans, go here.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Second annual Ferriday Songfest Songwriters' Workshop

Shantybellum is excited. Tomorrow morning at 9 a.m., five hit songwriters will converge at the Arcade Theater in Ferriday, Louisiana, to impart their songwriting wisdom on hopeful songwriters from Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama and Kentucky.

Returning this year will be Odie Blackmon, Tia Sillers, and Tommy Polk, joined by first-time panelists Mark Selby and Byron Hill. These talented, successful writers and producers, all with decades of experience in the music industry will tell it like it was, like it is, and how they got into the game of songwriting and stayed there.

To learn more and sign up for the workshop, visit It's only $20. You can also read about it in the Natchez Democrat here.

Here's what one songwriter says about last year's workshop:

Attending Ferriday songfest was one of the greatest things I have done yet. The panel of people you get to spend the day with is priceless. Since the day I met Tommy Polk, he has been a friend. Ralph Murphy is one of the
most knowledgeable people I have been fortunate enough to meet, whom I met in Ferriday. I love you Ralph!!

During the lunch break of the day, I happened to sit down at the same table with a girl who ended up being a wonderful friend and who also introduced me to a Sony rep. I played for him and have been in touch with him ever since. I want to thank Tommy Polk for creating such great opportunities for aspiring writers such as myself to get in front of an amazing panel of people. I hope to make it next year!

Since attending the Ferriday songfest, last year I have been very fortunate to meet and collaborate with some incredible writers and producers. With each trip to
Nashville, I learn so much from the different people I meet.

On my most recent trip to Nashville, I met with two publisher friends whom I have stayed in touch with for about a year now. I am able to send them my latest worktapes and they give me feedback. I have also had the opportunity to write with writers who have had multiple number ones and have a countless amount of experience.

Just being in Nashville itself is inspiring to me. I just recently started high school and even though we are only a few months into the year, I have already had lots of ideas for my hook book from what goes on. Over the summer I got to play and was interviewed in a radio segment and started my music myspace (myspace/haleygeorgiamusic) which led to booking my own shows. I also attend writers nights and joined the NSAI local chapter.

I am getting ready to head back to Nashville in early November for some writing, publisher meetings and some rounds. I feel with each trip I get closer to reaching my ultimate goals, as Ralph says, "You must be present to win."

Hope to see you guys in Nashville!!

~~ Haley Georgia Brucker

* Photo by Elodie Pritchartt

Friday, October 9, 2009

Ghost Stories

When I was a little girl, one of my very bestest friends in the whole world was Alma Carpenter, who lived in a huge, beautiful old house in the middle of town called Dunleith. Built in the 1840s, Dunleith is reminiscent of the Parthenon, surrounded by a wide two-story gallery supported by huge columns.

Alma and I had often heard the sad, tragic tale of Miss Percy, who returned to this country from France after a failed romance with a French nobleman. It was said she could be heard playing plaintive tunes on her harp in the evenings. Although I listened with all my might for her melancholy songs, I never heard them, and was convinced until one evening in the early 1970s that the story was a farce.
The Carpenter Family

That night, Alma and I were upstairs in the house, alone, save for an older sister. We were watching television when we heard a sudden hollow beating throughout the house, like the heart in the bosom of a heartsick giant. It seemed the very house had a pulse, and was watching us with malevolent eyes.

"What was THAT?"

"Oh, my gosh. I don't know!"

"I'm ascared!"

"Me too!"

Finally, we went and retrieved said older sister, who went downstairs to investigate. Grabbing the long-handled feather duster, Alma and I crept downstairs behind her, ready to defend her against all evil things.

"Oh, for Pete's sake," said sister. "It's just Joe"


Alma's brother Joe, who'd been out at a party, tumbled in the door.

"Thanks," he said. "The door was locked; I thought I'd never get in."

Shew! Well, so much for Miss Percy, although I swear I thought I heard something one time while playing in the attic, and could've sworn the rocker by the window had started moving on its own.

Okay, so maybe I don't have the greatest ghost story in the whole wide world, but my good friend Courtney Stacy-Taylor does. Hers was just published in Country Roads Magazine. You can read about it here. I highly recommend it.

* Photo and story by Elodie Pritchartt

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Wait -- A Short Story

They waited out the morning in a sad little coffee shop just off the interstate, one of those places 200 miles from nowhere that claimed it was famous around the world for is special chili and pecan logs. It had looked like an exciting place to wait for the weather to let up, but it was just another tired diner with dirty floors and bad coffee. Like motels, she thought. They seem so nice, but when you get there and check into your room, there's always one pubic hair in the tub.

"I wonder if anybody famous ever stopped here," she said, looking around at the rows of shelves with ceramic praying hands and little glass bells with gold lettering telling one and all that Oklahoma is the OK state!

A metal stand offered personalized name plates for children's bicycles. Do kids even ride bikes anymore? She couldn't remember -- Jane, Matthew, Amanda, Johnny -- not a Pilar among them. Mother wanted a special child with a special name.

"Those names are so common," she'd said. "We're different."

Pilar picked at her salad -- iceberg lettuce with freezer burn, a mealy tomato and a slice of hard-boiled egg.

"If you're not gonna eat that, I'm getting a go box," said Joe. He reached across the table. "Want that egg?"

"You know I don't eat eggs," she said, and sighed, her eyes on the door. "You know that."

It was on a road trip to the coast the summer she was five. Her brother got carsick and threw up in the pail her mother had brought along for such emergencies. It was hot in the car. Sweat trickled down the back of her neck and a wet film on the backs of her legs made the plastic seat covers slippery as she tried to get purchase on the seatback in front of her, searching for fresh air that didn't smell like bile. Tried not to hear it.

Her mouth full of rubbery egg, she suddenly couldn't swallow.

"Spit it in the bucket," Mother said.

But, she couldn't lean into that bucket. She couldn't spit it out and she couldn't swallow, and she was trapped in the car and began to cry until they finally pulled over and she tumbled onto the macadam, where she spat and wretched, and pee ran down her legs and soaked her socks as an 18-wheeler blew past. It blew its horn and rocked the car with a sudden blast of heat that felt like rage.

No more eggs.

"You know," said Pilar, "if it wasn't for people needing to pee, this place probably wouldn't even be here. Why can't we ever stop someplace nice?"

"Get a job and we can stop someplace nice," said Joe through a mouthful of Reuben on rye. A fat drop of greasy cheese dripped down his chin.

He watched as the rain mixed with sleet outside.

"Can we go by that little town with the square on the way home," asked Pilar.

"We got to get back early," said Joe. "I want to wash the salt off my truck."

The truck. Joe spent every weekend on the truck -- changing the oil, adding mud flaps, bug guards, trailer hitches.

"Must be something bad wrong with that truck," said Don next door. "Never saw anything like it."

"They missed a spot with the clear coat up here by the mirror," said Joe, pointing to the door. "See?"

"Nope. I don't see it," said Don.

"Look. Lemme pull it into the garage. If you lay down on the ground and look up the side of the door into the light, you can see a spot right there."

"Nah. That's okay," said Don, shaking his head. "I've got stuff to do."

"If they don't fix it, it'll rust out. Be a big problem down the road," said Joe, as Don waved him off and went back into his house.

"You pay $30 grand for a truck, they better make it right," said Joe, his voice getting louder.

"Nothing's ever perfect," said Pilar. "Why is it always like this? Always so unpleasant?" She knew there would be a fight at the dealership. Just like the time they painted the house. Like the time they ordered carpet. She'd come to dread the words, "I want to talk to your supervisor."

"If they'd get it right the first time, it wouldn't be," said Joe.

Joe pulled the ticket for the food from beneath the napkin box. "Let's go."

He examined each item. The leathery little woman who'd waited on them sat behind the register by the door.

Pilar wondered where she lived, where she went when they closed, way out here in the middle of nowhere.

"I wonder who's buried in that little graveyard over there," said Pilar. "There's not even a church out here. Why's there a cemetery? Nothing around for miles except a place to pee and die."

"They probably died waiting to get some service in here," said Joe. The woman at the register slammed the cash drawer and shoved his change at him. Pilar pretended not to hear.

On the way out, Pilar bought a souvenir, an ashtray with a little green snake coiled around it. Written in the base: A pot to hiss in.

Back on the entrance to the interstate, they edged forward behind a line of other cars.

"I wonder where all these people are going," said Pilar. "Sometimes I want to pick a car and follow it, see where it goes."

"I need you to follow me to the body shop in the morning," said Joe. "I want them to check a valve."

"I used to dream of driving past school in the mornings," Pilar said. "Just keep on going until I found a place to stop and start over. Be someone new. You know?"

"Where'd you put my toothpicks?"

"You left them in the console."

They pulled back onto the road, merging with traffic as the car found its speed and eased into a rhythm between the seams on the roadway. Pilar thought about her best friend from school, wondered where she was and what she was doing.

A teal-blue Honda crossed in front of them and took the next exit. Pilar watched as it rolled down the ramp and turned left onto the straightaway that stretched off into the distance.

*story and photo by Elodie Pritchartt

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Battle of the Belles

Our friend Gary alerted us to a delicious article reposted in Time magazine about the acrimony between the Garden Clubs here in Natchez in th 1940s. You can read it here. A paragon of humility, Gary wants it known that it wasn't he who found the article, but our friend Ann. We love you anyway, Gary.

When I showed the story to my father today, he told me that they used to have the pageant in the building that used to be the Natchez museum and has now been renovated as the Federal Courthouse.

"There was a piano in there that belonged to the Natchez Garden Club. I remember someone scratched Nazi Garbage Club into it."

Oh, my! Those women HATED each other.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Mississippi Blues Trail -- Papa Lightfoot

*Caption: Founder of the Natchez Bluff Blues Festival and Natchez Blues Heritage Association Eric Glatzer and Director of Cultural Heritage Tourism for the City of Natchez Darrell White unveil the Blues Marker at Jack Waite Park on September 4.

While you hear plenty about Blues musicians in the Mississippi Delta and Highways 61 and 49 being the birthplace of the Blues, you don't hear much about Blues music or musicians in Natchez. This is largely due to a tragedy that occurred here in 1940 -- the Rhythm Club fire.

Headlines appeared in newspapers across the country: "212 NEGROES PERISH IN NATCHEZ BLAZE". Click on the link to read about it in depth.

My father was 12 years old at the time, and knew several of the victims.

"I rode my bicycle over there to see what was going on," he said. "The whole town smelled like burned flesh. It was a nightmare."

At any rate, many people believed the tragedy was God's judgment on the evils of music and dancing, and it was thus that for all practical purposes, much of the music as well as people, died in the flames in Natchez that night, at least for a while.

Shortly after the fire, however, The Library of Congress recorded several local Blues and Gospel singers, one of whom was Alexander "Papa George" Lightfoot, who became one of the foremost harmonica players of the post-World War II era. Papa Lightfoot always carried a harmonica in his pocket, and was happy to play at the drop of a suggestion.

And so it was that Friday, September 4, found Shantybellum and friends at Jack Waite Park honoring the late Blues musician when the Mississippi Blues Commission unveiled its latest Mississippi Blues Trail marker in Natchez. Also honored on the marker was Natchez Bluesman Y Z Ealey.

Blues entertainment was provided at the event by the Natchez Bluff Blues Band, featuring Y Z
with Gray Montgomery, Robbie Cloy, Stan Smith, Tommy Polk and Jack Kelly.

*Be sure to click this links in this post. They make for some fun and fascinating reading.

The Mississippi Blues Trail is a project of the Mississippi Blues Commission
Photos, story & videos by Elodie Pritchartt

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Natchez Characters - Tommy Polk 2009 Kisatchi-Delta Regional Grassroots Citizen of the Year

Kisatchie-Delta Regional Executive Director Heather Smoak Urena presenting 2009 Regional Grassroots Citizen award to Tommy Polk

Natchez/Vidalia resident Tommy Polk was honored with the 2009 Regional Grassroots Citizen Award at the annual Kisatchie-Delta Regional Planning & Development District banquet on July28 at the Main Street Community Center in Pineville, Louisiana.

This is the third year Kisatchie-Delta Regional has presented the Grassroots award, which is intended to recognize an individual outside of local government and/or the professional field of community and economic development for their contributions with the Kisatchie-Delta District.

Polk, a native of Concordia Parish, returned to the area in 2007 following a successful 20-year career as a songwriter in Nashville, Tennessee, and in the hospitality industry in Clarksdale, Mississippi. His Natchez guesthouse, Shantybellum, is an adjunct to his guesthouses in Clarksdale.

In addition, Mr. Polk has contributed his talents both in business and in music to assist in the revitalization of the music culture in Ferriday, Louisiana.
In 2008, Polk received funding from the Louisiana Lieutenant Governor’s office and the Louisiana Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism for the first annual Ferriday Songfest, which was held in October and was attended by songwriting hopefuls from Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.

Mr.Polk was nominated for the award by Concordia Parish Economic Director Heather Malone with a letter of support by Vidalia Chamber of Commerce Director Jamie Burley.

“Tommy is always there with a willing hand as well as a smile on his face,” said Ms. Burley. “His kindness and generosity have affected not only me and my family, personally, but also the Kisatchie-Delta Region. It would be nice to have a few more Tommy Polks roaming Concordia Parish."

Kisatchie-Delta Regional Executive Director Heather Smoak Urena agreed: “ [Ms. Burley] specifically mentioned Tommy’s enthusiasm, originality, good-natured outlook, and willingness to go the extra mile to help both individuals and the community,” said Urena, “and we are pleased to join her in these accolades.”

The award came as a surprise to Mr. Polk, who said, “I’m very honored and deeply touched to have received such wonderful recognition.”

The Kisatchie-Delta Regional Planning & Development District, Inc. is a nonprofit, planning and development agency serving Avoyelles, Catahoula, Concordia, Grant, La Salle, Rapides, Vernon and Winn Parishes in Louisiana. The agency provides economic development assistance to the region in order to create and retain jobs and improve the quality of life in the area.

Story and Photo by Elodie Pritchartt

Monday, August 3, 2009

Matters Familia - Hidden Treasures

My great aunt Annet could render some beautiful scenes in pen and ink. In the entire time I knew her, though, I'd never seen her do it and my only evidence was two pen-&-ink drawings of some sailboats that were framed and hanging on her wall.

In going through her house recently, I came across two more stashes of artwork, all done in 1905 and 1906 when she was 10 and 11 years old. They're wonderful. I also found a lovely photo of Annet in her graduation dress. Thought I'd share.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Natchez Characters - Phil and Jimmi Lou Vasser

Our friend Courtney Taylor has a new article in Country Roads Magazine this month about two of our favorite Natchez characters -- Phil and Jimmi Lou Vasser -- who've lived and loved the lives they'd always dreamed of. You can read the article here.

Story by Courtney Taylor
Photos by Elodie Pritchartt

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Natchez Characters -- Cee Tee Kelly: The Perfect Storm

The phone was ringing.

Mission Impossible was on TV or maybe Bonanza.


"Mister Pritchett?"


"This is Cee Tee Kelly."

"Hello, Cee Tee. How're you?"

"Mister Pritchett, I want you to know that Billy Ferrell, the sherifff? He's a Russian spy."

"Oh?" My father would laugh that silent, wheezing laugh like Muttley, the cartoon dog, holding his hand over the mouthpiece of the telephone receiver.

"And the mayor? Tony Byrne? He's a communist!"

"Oh, lord. What a nut," Daddy would laugh as he hung up the phone. A couple of times he even recorded the conversation. I wish I could find those old recordings. What a wonder it would be to hear the ghost voices of the past coming back over the speakers, if only for a moment.

Other times, Cee Tee (Charles Thomas) would appear at my father's office. He'd make all the same pronouncements -- the mayor and the city attorney are selling dope; the communists are taking over; the sheriff's a Russian spy.

"I wish you'd call the FBI and let them know," he'd say. Then he'd spin on his heel and walk back out.

"Wait! Cee Tee? I want to ask you something."

But Cee Tee just kept on going. Not another word.

A small Southern town just wouldn't be the same without its crazies. How come we never hear about the ones up North? Are they as beloved as ours? Are they as interesting? Or are we just better storytellers?

Around here we cherish our lunatics -- heck, sometimes we are our lunatics. And here in Natchez where just about everyone is related to each other, we find that if we aren't kind to the town nut, well...we might be hurting the feelings of a second cousin, once removed.

So we nurture them, put them out on the corner, say hello to them every morning on the way to work, pat them on the back, humor their ravings, and tell fond stories about them after they've gone to that Big Sanitarium in the sky. We laugh like mad remembering the outrageous things they said and did, and secretly hope people aren't going to be remembering us in much the same way a few years down the line. The memories of my own childhood are punctuated with several of these special folks, but none is more vivid to me than Cee Tee Kelly.

In a way, Cee Tee personifies a big part of my Natchez childhood. He was always there, disturbing and delightful and infuriating and tragic and funny, and without him, some of the magic of a small-town Southern childhood would be missing.

My memory of Cee Tee (my spelling) was of a pear-shaped little man standing on the corner of Main and Pearl Streets, catty-cornered to the Eola Hotel, twitchy and nervous, constantly in motion and combing his thin, black, greasy hair. Badly myopic eyes peered out at the world distrustfully from behind a pair of thick, Coke-bottle glasses perched on the nose of a tiny little toothless head. He sort of resembled Popeye's hamburger-loving friend Wimpy. Because -- I assume -- of his bad eyes, his face was always pocked with bloody spots where he'd nicked himself shaving in the mornings.

But his clothes....well, his clothes were carefully chosen and certain to make a statement. He always wore a brightly colored, neatly pressed shirt topped off with a big, bright tie. Polyester leisure pants, equally tidy and creased, seemed to ride up forever, practically reaching his armpits. To finish it all off, he wore clean, white, freshly buffed shoes. Yep, Cee Tee was a snappy dresser.

Knowing how bad his eyes must've been, I often wondered who dressed him, assuming it had to be a mother who loved her poor, confused child, whose madness was said to be the result of a fever he suffered as a child. It made me sad to think she might die. Who would dress him then? I later learned that he lived with two sisters, who loved him fiercely, and at times he lived over on Madison Street with his brother who worked at the post office, and who was said to be a bookie.

Not everyone was kind to Cee Tee. Young boys would sometimes taunt and tease him, and I've heard he'd chase them down and hit them with his belt as they laughed and giggled and ran away. I'd never witnessed that, though. A "good morning" from me was always met with a smile from Cee Tee, who asked how I was doing and went about his business.

Sometimes Cee Tee was on the corner and sometimes he wasn't. When his ravings got too bad, his brother would call Sheriff Billy Ferrell, whose duty it was to gather him up and take him to Whitfield,the state mental hospital 15 miles south of Jackson, for treatment. There, he probably received electroshock therapy and drugs until he was placid enough to send back down to Natchez.

"That's why he hated lawmen," said Tommy Ferrell, the late Billy Ferrell's son, who also served as sheriff in Natchez for many years.

It was this combination of Cee Tee's paranoia and the political and racial climate in small-town Mississippi during the 1960s that served to create the Perfect Storm for some comic relief in Natchez at a time when there was little to laugh about.

In 1964, when the Civil Rights Act was passed, violence and unrest destroyed the serenity of life in the South. The South was in an uprising and the Klan was in its heyday. There were riots and boycotts, bombings, violence and murder. Churches were being bombed. Blacks were being murdered.

The FBI opened a field office in Natchez, and staffed it with 24 FBI agents, looking high and low for troublemakers. So when poor Cee Tee came along, fresh out of Whitfield and ranting about the sheriff being a Russian spy and all the cops being "kluckers," the FBI was ripe for the picking. They didn't know he was crazy. In fact, they put him on the payroll. Let him write reports.

It's said that J. Edgar Hoover actually read reports from Cee Tee Kelly. Yee ha! Now, that is some funny stuff. We had Maxwell Smart on TV and Cee Tee Kelly in real life.

Cee Tee would often stand around at the bus depot, and when people got off the bus, he'd tell them how the town was overrun with crime, drugs and communists.  It got so bad that sometimes they'd get right back on the bus and leave.  The bus depot finally sued Cee Tee to get him to stop.  I'm not sure if it worked.

I moved away from Natchez in 1980, and don't know when or how Cee Tee died. He's one of those people I suddenly remembered years later and wondered what had happened to him. And whenever I think about him, it makes me sad. I hope there's a heaven for Cee Tee Kelly where everyone respects him, believes and admires him, and wants to be just like him. So long, Cee Tee. Thanks for the memories.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Do You Do Voodoo?

*Woodcut print "Karma" by Chelsea Semb

Shantybellum sports a couple of little Voodoo dolls in the kitchen. One of our guests, Chelsea Semb, was so enchanted she sent us an original piece of artwork she did after she returned home.

If you're not familiar with Voodoo, the word is derived from the religion known as Vodun, which originated in Africa and was brought to America on the slave ships. The word "vodun" means "spirit."

According to the website Religious Tolerance, the Vodun religion, which is practiced by 60 million people worldwide today, goes as far back as 6,000 years in Africa. The Vodun religion has many similarities to the Roman Catholic religion. You can read about it here.

Then there's Voodoo. Yes, that's the fun stuff we see in movies and horror tales. Voodoo is an evil, imaginary religion based on bizarre rituals rife with violence and terror where the dead can rise again as Zombies and people can be controlled and affected by the use of voodoo dolls and pins.

Practitioners can do good deeds with white magic or evil deeds with black magic. But who wants to hear about white magic? Let's face it. Black magic is lots more fun.

From the Religious Tolerance website:

"Sticking pins in dolls was once used as a method of cursing an individual by some followers of Vodun in New Orleans; this practice continues occasionally in South America. The practice became closely associated with Voodoo in the public mind through the vehicle of horror movies."

The first time I ever came across a Voodoo doll, I was traveling back to California, flying out of the New Orleans airport. They had Voodoo dolls in the gift shop complete with pins and instructions on where to stick 'em.

My little girl had been bothered by some bullies at school, and it struck me that this might be a fun and harmless way to let her vent her spleen and give her a feeling of power again. When I returned to LA, we got the doll out and said, "Hmph! Take this, mean girl," dissolving into giggles, happy with our new-found power.

Who knew a little Voodoo would do you so good? I do. And now you do, too.


*This just in: Patty Killelea made one of the dolls in the Shantybellum kitchen. Patty's a wonderful artist here in town. A lot of her art is centered around the Catholic Church and religious icons. They're gorgeous. Catholic icons....voodoo dolls. Maybe there IS a connection, eh?

Sunday, July 5, 2009

New Friends at Shantybellum -- Diana and Paul Gessler

*Click on the photos to see full size. They're wonderful! The first two pictures are four journal pages from the Gesslers' trip through Natchez and northern Mississippi. The third is the cover of Diane's book on New Orleans, which I plan to take with me on my next visit later this month.

There's a funny thing about Shantybellum. The little pink house on the corner seems to beckon to people with an artistic eye. About a month ago Tommy and I were standing on the porch next door when I pointed across the street.

"Look. Someone's taking a picture of Shantybellum."

"Well, Girlfriend, they're probably just horrified that anyone really puts those tacky pink flamingos in the yard. I told you not to do it. They just want proof when they go back home and tell their friends."

The Hawaiian-shirt flag was bad enough. But the day we put those flamingos on the lawn? All heck broke loose. My father called me on the phone:

"Elodie, listen. Everybody knows that pink flamingos are tacky, tacky tacky!"

For a minute there, I could actually hear the ghost of Bessie Rose (My dad's mother) fussing about people who have no taste. Ha! The flamingos stayed.

We waved at the couple, who rather than covering their mouths and sniggering, seemed quite taken with the place. So we went went over to say hello, and ended up giving them a tour.

Diana and Paul were on their way back home from New Orleans, and were looking around Natchez a bit before moving on. This is a couple who have combined their love of travel and their eye for detail with Diana's talent with a paintbrush.

Diana has written several travel books that she illustrates, herself, in beautiful, bright colors and published by Algonquin Books. Diana has books on Washington, DC; Charleston, SC; New Orleans, LA; the state of California, et al. Diana also gives classes on creating your own illustrated travel journal. In fact, the July/August issue of Southern Lady has a showcase of Diana's work in two spreads.

After a really pleasant visit during which Diana signed a copy of her New Orleans book for me (Thank you, Diana!), we sent them off to Ferriday, LA to visit Frogmore Plantation and the Delta Music Museum.

We hope they'll return someday soon to come see more of Natchez and the surrounding area, and that they'll enjoy their visit with us as much as we enjoyed ours with them.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Happy Fourth of July

Last night friends
gathered on the porch
perched on the edge of the bluff
over dark water, waiting.

No breeze blew.
Mosquitos feasted on our flesh
and sweat stuck the shirts
to our backs.

No reprieve.

We smiled. Sipped
cool drinks. Breathed.
Sweated. Remembered

our youth before
our bodies and our lovers
had betrayed us, and
we were beautiful and the
future was a bright,
shining possibility.

"When is dusk?"

Dusk. When it's dark.
Too dark to see what's left
of the sun's dying glow.

We smiled through
our pasts and our presents
and raised our glasses
to resilience.


And then the sky
exploded in a brilliant
ballet, light dancing
across the dark.

A celebration that
reminds us that
life is good, after all,
friends are dear
and we all share
a history

that no one can
take away.

I looked
around me.
All I saw was
light and color and

*Thanks to Margaret Perkins and Renee Adams for giving Natchez a beautiful, wonderful fireworks display

Bingo Starr at the Carriage House

Courtney has an article in the July issue of Country Roads Magazine about the new chef -- Bingo Starr -- at The Carriage House Restaurant here in Natchez.  You can read about Bingo and his new dishes here.

*photos by Elodie Pritchartt

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Road Trippin' Concordia Parish

Elodie's got an article in this month's issue (July) of Louisiana Road Trip Magazine. The article is in .pdf format, page 17.

*photos by Elodie Pritchartt

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Matters Familias - Daddy

In 1980, I married and moved to Los Angeles where I stayed for 27 years. As the years crept by, I began to worry about my parents, who were getting old, and I began to think it might be time to finally make the decision to come home.

I began visiting more often, and kept a journal of my visits. While looking through some old entries, I came across the following.

June 20, 2006

Now that I've been home a couple of weeks, my father and I have fallen into a routine of sorts.
It's more of a contest of wills than routine. He leaves messes; I pick them up; he complains loudly that he can't find anything because I've hidden everything. I return his withering, long-suffering gaze and reply that it's right in front of him or right where I told him to look.

"No, it's not," he says irritably. "When you're gone I'm not going to be able to find anything around here! I'll have to call you all hours of the day and night."

He's been a slob forever, and gets utterly irritated that I try to clean up behind him.

"Stop it," he protests. "If you keep cleaning, the housekeeper won't have anything to do and she'll quit! I have to leave enough of a mess to make it worth her while to come out here," he says as he tosses an old piece of ham onto the counter to wither and dry.

"Don't touch that," he warns. "Where the hell did you put my toothpicks?"

"Toothpicks? I never saw any toothpicks,"

"Dammit, Dee! Now, I'll have to go all the way to WalMart. They're the only place in town that carries them."

He hates WalMart.

"They're nice and flat and they're really cheap and come in a great big box. I can't stand the ones at Piggly Wiggly."

"Well, where were they?"

"They were right there on the butcher block. Oh, why do you have to hide everything?"

"Oh, good grief! They're right here under the napkins."

"Why on earth would you put them there?"

Suddenly his look of annoyance is replaced with one of sadness.

"Oh, it's going to be so grim when you're gone. What will I do?"

It was the sweetest, saddest moment I remember having in quite a long time.

We spent that afternoon working in the yard. I'd gone after the weeds full tilt when I first arrived, only to break out with a terrific case of poison ivy the next day.

Today the gardeners came -- a couple of women who share a house, a job and a life. The last time they worked for Daddy, they returned the day after they'd finished to clip his golden retriever, for whom they'd developed a special fondness.

(I'm horrible with names, and couldn't remember theirs not five minutes after meeting them, so I've invented names for them here.)

"He reminds me of our golden," said Jane. "And he just looked so darned hot."

That was all my father needed to hear. They were good people.

I showed them how I'd pulled huge, horrid vines from the azaleas a few days before.

"Somehow I got into some poison ivy while I was doing it," I said, showing off my battle scars. "See those big vines in that tree there," I said. "It was that stuff. I couldn't reach this one."

"Yup." the short one replied. "That's poison ivy, all right."

"Impossible," I said.

Each leaf was as big around as my hand.

"Poison ivy has small leaves."

"Nope. That's a fully mature poison ivy vine," she assured me. "I'm surprised you only got it as bad as you did."

I felt pretty foolish.

After discussing what would make nice plantings for the yard, Daddy handed me his wallet and an old pickup truck and sent us off down Kingston Road to the nursery. We picked out ten big, hardy crape myrtle trees -- seven Natchez whites and three crimson something or others -- and started back down the road.

The humidity had finally had enough of itself and grumbling with thunder, squeezed out a few fat, overdeveloped raindrops, which only served to muddy the already filthy windshield.

"I have no idea where the wipers are on this thing," I said nervously as the road disappeared in a brown, watery haze.

"I can't see a thing," said Jane.

"Uh, oh," said Joni. "Here comes a truck."

I tried to appear calm as my eyes searched for signs of roadway through the watered curtain.

"Aha! Here's the switch," said Jane, and we all let out horrified giggles as the wipers switched on and had absolutely no effect on the glass. We were about to die. The tanker truck and I managed to avoid each other, but not before making us stare mortality in the face.

Afterwards, I picked a clear track on the glass between which I could see and peered cautiously at the road until we'd managed to make it back to Daddy's house safely.

I'd assured them that Daddy would hook up the auger to the tractor and make fast work of any holes we needed to dig. Ahem. We spent the next three hours digging holes in the hardest, rock-strewn, clay soil I've ever had the misfortune to dig into.

After squirting each hole with a high-pressure stream of water to loosen the soil, we attacked the ground with shovels, pickaxes, hoes and posthole diggers. Two hours later, we three youngish women were covered in mud and sweat and blisters and wanted to sit down, but my 80-year-old father was still happily chopping away at the earth
with a posthole digger.

"By the time I hook up that auger," he'd say between blows, "...we'll have these things all dug!"

When we were done for the day, I asked Jane and Joni how much we owed.

"Here. Take an extra $10 for combat pay," I said, referring to my father's refusal to let us do anything the easy way.

"No kidding," said Joni. "Especially after making us ride with you in that truck in the rain."

Everyone's a comedian.

Tonight, as I turned out the lights and walked through the house before coming upstairs, I made one last trip to the kitchen. There, waiting to greet me was my father's Bowie knife sticking up in a big chunk of hoop cheese next to a pile of shredded red wax coating, beaded with oil that was soaking into the butcher-block counter.

I smiled, left it on the counter and went to bed.

*This just in from Casey Ann Hughes: "
I believe the women are Andrea & Brenda from Weeds & Things."

Thank you, Casey. I think you're right.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Phantom of Kingston Road

The first time I noticed him it was the holidays – I can’t remember if it was Thanksgiving or Christmas. I was driving home on Kingston Road when I saw the little white dog running down the road after a car. I slowed my car and he started running toward it. Then another car passed. His ears perked up as it neared; then as it blew past, he ran after it.

It was obvious what had happened; it broke my heart. How could someone just dump a little dog like that? You could almost hear him shouting, “Wait! Wait! You forgot me! Come back.”

As the car drove on, he gave up and trudged back toward his post by the gate where he’d been left. He couldn’t have weighed more than ten pounds. He was just a little terrier mix, cute as could be and desperate to find his family.

I parked my car and got out. He stopped, eying me -- wary and distrustful. Remembering all the dog advice I’d heard throughout the years, I tried to make myself as unimposing as possible, and crouched down on my knees, holding out my hand.

“Come on, fella,” I coaxed in my highest singsong voice – the one reserved for babies and pets. It almost never fails. “Come on, baby!”

But he wouldn’t come. If I tried to inch closer, he ran away, refusing to be bribed with kindness. So I went home to get something more tempting. I came back with cold cuts from the fridge. But he was adamant. All he wanted was his family, who he was certain were in the next car coming down the road.

The weather forecast for later in the week was for below-freezing temperatures. Lying in my warm bed, I wondered how he’d make it. The next day, my father and I set out a humane animal trap, baiting it with leftover roast and hiding it behind some branches so it wouldn’t be stolen. But no matter how many days we left it freshly baited, he wanted nothing to do with it.

In the meantime, we and several other area residents began putting out food and water for him, comparing notes on our efforts to catch the little scamp. Somehow he survived the cold weather, even seeming to thrive. He moved up onto the embankment by the road, where he’d sit like a proud watchdog, guarding his little kingdom by the Kingston Road, but still chasing after passing cars, certain his family would finally stop. Hope must spring eternal in the canine heart, too.

Every day on my way to and from town, I’d hold my breath, hoping he hadn’t been hit by a car. Often, I’d not see him at all, and wondered what had become of him. Then one day there he’d be, watching for cars and running after them, day after day, then week after week, the little white, elusive phantom of Kingston Road. I dubbed him “Phantom” in my mind, and saluted his "dogged" persistence. Some days he looked so cocky and proud I laughed aloud, and began to look forward to seeing him surveying his little kingdom.

Finally one day about three months later as my father crested the hill, he saw what we’d all been dreading. Phantom lay beside the road, perfectly still while a kind and concerned woman bent over him, looking for signs of life. He lay breathing but unconscious and broken. Daddy took him to the vet where he died later that night. It was painful and it was sad and it was all so unnecessary.

I often wonder about the people who left their little dog by himself on the side of the road at holiday time. I wondered if they ever traveled down Kingston Road and saw him bravely trying to recapture his people. I wondered if they had a happy Christmas. There are crosses along Kingston Road where people who’ve died in automobile accidents are honored, their memories cherished. There is no cross for Phantom; only regrets.

I regret not calling the Humane Society – something that in all my efforts, hadn’t occurred to me. I don’t know why. Perhaps they’d have been able to catch him and prevent a senseless death.

The local shelter is in the final push to raise money for a new shelter with more room and better facilities than the one they’re presently using with even enough room for the occasional horse, mule or other large animal.

In lieu of a roadside memorial for Phantom, I think I could honor his memory best by asking you, Reader, to make a donation to the Natchez Adams County Humane Society. And, please, please, don’t leave your pets to die painfully on a lonely road. The phantom of Kingston Road will haunt me for years to come.

Natchez Adams County Humane Society
392 Liberty Road
Natchez, MS 39120

Mailing address :

P. O. Box 549
Natchez, MS 39121

Please denote on check whether your donation is for the building fund or the general fund. Thank you. Only checks denoting that it is for the building fund will be used for the new shelter.

* Photo Credit: Http:// Thank you, Wizmo!

Sunday, June 14, 2009


I'm happy to announce that all the puppies have found homes. I'm keeping the mama dog, whom I've named Madonna. She's the sweetest, most gentle creature I've ever seen.

Yesterday Tommy, Guylyn Boles and I were driving around Concordia Parish investigating fun things for road trippers to do in the area when we took a detour off the main road near Lake St. John so Tommy could show us an old church he'd like to move and renovate. It was at the end of a gravel road.

On our way back, I saw something little and black in the roadway and realized it was two little puppies. So we stopped the car. I was ready to put the puppies in the car and head back home when more puppies began streaming up out of the ditch where they sought shelter from the unrelenting sun and heat, along with mom, who was tired and desperate for some help.

We counted eight puppies and could hear another one across the ditch. After knocking on someone's door, we found out they'd been dumped, along with a bag of food a couple of days before. The couple at the house had several dogs already and couldn't take them. Besides, they said, they were leaving town the next day. My car was too small for the dogs and three people. I had a case of canned cat food in the car, so I started opening cans and feeding the dogs.

While doing that a truck drove by with a man and a little boy inside. I begged them to take a puppy, but they refused and started on down the road. By this time, I was finished and climbed back into our car, but noticed the truck had stopped and seemed to be waiting for us to leave, which we did.

So first thing this morning I went back with my dad and his truck and got them. There were only seven of them. I'm fairly certain the man with the boy went back and took a pup. At least I hope so. We put the pups in back of the truck and let the mother ride in the back seat. After a few minutes, she forced her way into the front seat where she crawled down under my dad's feet on the passenger's side and curled up and went to sleep. When we got back to Natchez, she and the pups in back were all sound asleep. Poor babies! They were exhausted.

Anyway, these look like three little Catahoula Hound Dogs and four little Labador Retrievers. They're fat and playful and sweet and desperately need homes. We've got them in the chicken coop out at my dad's house.

If you or anyone you know would like an 8- to 10-week-old puppy, please give me a call at 601-431-7737,