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Saturday, April 4, 2009

Cool Cats at the Shanty Shack

Shantybellum has been adopted by two feral kitties, who aren't so feral since Elodie, the cat whisperer, worked her magic on them. We saw them last summer when they were just a few weeks old, but couldn't get to them on the other side of the fence before Mama kitty stole them away to unknown places. Three little kitties - a calico, a long-haired gray, and a solid black.

About six months later, Elodie saw Bella, the calico, in the backyard and set a trap.

"Elodie, don't you be catching any cats," Tommy said, "We don't need any cats hanging around here. Besides, I'm a dog person," he added. He was promptly ignored.

She caught the gray first and took it to the vet, Dr. Gregg in Vidalia, to have her spayed. She was such a gorgeous cat, Dr. Gregg found her a home right away.

So then we caught Shanty, the black magic cat, and took him to Dr. Gregg's to be neutered. Next day we got Mama kitty. Off to the vet. No more babies for this tired mama, who had been seen bringing mice to her kittens when they were living in their secret place. Finally, we caught Bella, the calico.

No one wanted the three remaining kitties, so we brought them back, realizing they'd never be tamed, but willing to offer food nonetheless. Elodie started staying outside while they ate from the other side of the yard. Before long, they knew when she called, "Here, kitty, kity!" that meant dinner, and before long they were running at the sound of her voice. She moved the food a little closer. Finally, they agreed to eat right next to her as long as she wouldn't try to touch them.

Then one day, Elodie managed to stroke Bella's back.

"Ooh! That's feels, good," she said. "Could you scratch a little more to the right?"

Before long, Bella was letting Elodie pick her up and snuggle, although Shanty still had his doubts. Finally one day, she caught Shanty off guard and he realized that he might like to spend the rest of his days being fed and massaged. Those two cats can purr louder than the Evinrude we used to use out on the river.

Okay, well, Shanty doesn't like to be held, but he's affectionate to a fault as long as you leave him on the ground. The mama cat has completely disappeared, although Elodie saw her once last week for the first time in several months. She seemed well fed, so we're hoping she's partaking of our thrice and four-times daily feedings.

Oh, and Tommy? He's fallen in love. I think it's safe to say he's a cat person now. A cool cat person.

As much as we'd like to bring them both inside, we know all about the whole cat-allergy problem, so there's no need to get your dander up about cat dander. They're outside cats.

Y'all meet Shanty and Bella.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

200 Years of Liberty

His small face illumined by the flames, four-year-old Robert Stratton watched, awestruck, as fire consumed the family home dark night in 1948. The house his ancestors had built in 1850 was a conflagration that filled the night sky. You can read about it here.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Stormy Weather

Way back in 1840 Natchez experienced some of the scariest weather possible -- an F5 tornado that stretched all the way across the river and still some, and was so powerful, it killed more people than it injured. If you've never read his columns on Natchez history and the surrounding area, Stanley Nelson provides some of the most well-researched, most fascinating accounts about this country's beginnings in The Concordia Sentinel.

The tornado story gives first-hand accounts in two parts, which you can read here and here.

Image ID: wea00218, Historic NWS Collection
Location: Near Jasper, Minnesota
Photo Date: 1927 July 8

The Garter, the Sword and the Veil

The Garter
“Guard this with your life,” said Stella Jenkins Carby as she handed over a scrapbook made for The Garter Girls, a group of women in Natchez, Mississippi, who began a wedding tradition around a bridal garter in 1946 that still continues. 

Stella’s daughter, Bettye Jane Carby, was the thirty-fifth girl to wear the coveted garter when she said, “I do,” to husband Charlie Roberts on December 13, 2008, at the Carby’s home in Natchez.

The garter was made by the late Mrs. Howard Pritchartt, Sr. for Buzzy Parker, when she married Bobby Crook in 1946. Buzzy and her friends, decided to share the garter, which would see them through marriages and births, war and peace, riches and despair, and beyond.

Rather than having the groom toss the garter, the girls decided it should be passed down to their children. 

They made some rules:

1. Can only be worn by a daughter or a son’s bride
2. Can be worn by Mabel (Raworth’s) children (an honorary member who was not part of the original group)
3. Can be worn once by any person to get married
4. Can be worn on 25th anniversaries (and now on 50th)

The first photo of the garter girls was taken by Mrs. Helen Jenkins, whose son, Sonny, was Bettye McGehee’s beau. He would later become her husband.

“She took the photo to send to Sonny in World War II,” remembered Sallie Ballard, one of the original Garter Girls. “He was flying the Hump in Burma. We were at the Beltzhoover’s pool at Green Leaves, and we were all sophomores, maybe juniors,” she added.

“The bigger girls at the pool all had cigarettes, so we all got cigarettes from them and posed. It was the first year two-piece bathing suits were available to the public, so it was kind of shocking.”

It’s too fragile now to actually wear, but is still reverently passed from one girl to the next, all descendants of the original seven girls, whose friendship lasted throughout the years — Mary Ann Brandon Jones, Bettye McGhee Jenkins, Virginia Beltzhoover Morrison, Sallie Junkin Ballard, the late Dunbar Merrill Flinn, the late Buzzy Parker, the late Mabel Conger Raworth and the late Alma Cassell Kellogg Carpenter.

“Once somebody had worn it, you kept it until somebody else needed it,” recalled Mrs. Ballard. “After [my daughter] Dix got married and the garter was hers, I remember telling [my late husband] Basil, ‘If by hook or crook our house catches fire, grab up all the family pictures and — whatever you do — get the garter.’”

Mrs. Ballard continued: “Basil looked at me and said, ‘I’ll go back into a burning house for family pictures, but not that garter. If it’s that important, you need to take it and put it in a lock box at the bank.’”

And that’s exactly what she did, as have many others burdened with the onus of such responsibility.

The Sword

“Be very, very careful with these,” said Joie Morrison as she handed over family photos. “Please don’t let anything happen to them.”

Standing in the hallway of a house that has been owned and lovingly cared for by her family since 1849, and surrounded by heirlooms such as bone china attributed to John James Audubon, a family Bible dating back to 1670, and old Natchez silver made by Natchez silversmith George MacPherson, it is clear that care should, indeed, be taken. The members of this family are keepers of the flame, stewards of history and tradition.

The story of the sword begins at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.

“Unfortunately, this is all oral history, as the best stories always are,” said Ruthie Coy, Joie’s cousin and the niece of Joie’s mother, Virginia Lee Beltzhoover Morrison.

According to family lore, the sword was picked up after the battle of Waterloo by a French soldier whose grandson joined the Confederate army and was in Colonel Daniel Beltzhoover’s unit — Watson’s Louisiana Artillery. It was in Vicksburg where the grandson was mortally wounded, and as he lay dying gave it to “Colonel Dan.”

Can’t you just imagine the young soldier, mortally wounded, his lifeblood leaking out onto the Vicksburg soil, gasping, Colonel Dan, suh…cough!

What is it, son?

Mah sword, suh. Please, take it. It belonged to mah grandfathuh at Waterloo. Cough! Suh, guard it with your life!

Later, when Colonel Dan’s horse was shot out from under him, the bullet struck the scabbard of the sword and cracked the sword, itself.

“See, here’s the bullet hole,” said Joie, pointing to the scabbard. She pulled out the sword. “We still have the whole sword, but it broke it right in two.”

Still, the story has a happy ending: the family uses it to cut the family wedding cakes at Green Leaves.

“The first wedding that we know for sure it was used in was my mother and father’s [Ruth Audley Beltzhoover and Richard Conner] wedding in 1945,” said Ruthie Coy, “when he was on leave from the Army Air Corps during World War II. We have an account…of my grandparents’ wedding there in 1891, but no mention of the sword. The latest was my niece, Denise Conner Hiller in 2007.”

But if you want to use the sword to cut your cake, the keepers of the sword agree: get married at Green Leaves. The sword stays put.

The Veil

It was in 1848 when Fanny Turner married Lemuel P. Conner, wearing the beautiful lace veil that would also become a tradition at Green Leaves weddings.

“The weddings have been held at the church, in the parlors, and in the back garden,” said Coy. It was actually a Britton family [of Melrose Plantation] tradition, but then included us again when my mother and father married.”

Denise Conner Hiller, who was also the last to use the sword, was the last to use the veil, as well.
“Denise was the fifth generation to wear it,” said Coy, who included a list of all the family members who have worn the veil.

“My favorite part of the story is how jealous all her girlfriends were because she had all this fabulous ‘old stuff’ for her wedding.”

Ruthie recalled that when Denise wore the veil in 2007, the keepers kept careful watch.

“Oh, she didn’t wear it to the reception,” she said. “As soon as she walked back down that aisle, we snatched it off. Well, not really,” she laughed. She had wedding photos taken in it, but we weren’t going to chance it getting danced on.”

With their careful care the keepers ensured the veil will be here for future generations.

How does a tradition become a tangible link to the past and a generous gift to the future? 

You guard it with your life.