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Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Suicide is Painless

People will go to any lengths for fame, won't they? In the May, 1800 edition of a Natchez Newspaper, Thomas Thackwood advertized his upcoming public suicide by pistol -- one shot for the abdomen and another for the brain (his own, that is), promising his audience plenty of staggering, convulsing and grinning.

Heck, if you've got nothing better to do on a Sunday afternoon, why not?

"C'mon, honey! Grab the kids. Let's go to the killin'."

Not to be outdone, however, he warned readers not to be taken in by claims of Mr. Touchwood, whose public hanging, Thackwood claimed, would only be staged.

I don't blame him. If I'm going to a killing, it better be the real deal.

You can read the ad here.

And, yeah, I couldn't resist: Mr. Thackwood went out with a bang.

*Posted by Elodie
*Photo not the man in the story. Just an old photo.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

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.

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
475 Liberty Road
Natchez, MS 39120

Mailing address :

P. O. Box 549
Natchez, MS 39121

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Falling Leaves

Perhaps it would be better if I don’t speak.

Reflect the silence back into the water,
listen to the evening come to help the night begin its dark trip behind the  sun.

The winter apples turn.
Fall nudges summer gently to the side,
and the light burns amber, realigns itself
so shadows  lengthen early.

The pages of this book that will not
be lain aside rustle toward its solitary end.
The dead revisit, though they are far away.
Anticipation turns to fear
that winter will not forgive.

Silence becomes prayer.
Breathe the honeyed quiet,
and brace yourself for the tilting
of the world.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

So long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Good Night...

I bet I've lost over 35 friends and parents of friends in the last ten years.  Sometimes it seems as though I have more dead friends than live ones.  And this past week, I lost a really special friend, Andre Pascalis Volant de La Barre of New Orleans.  

I only knew Andre for the last ten years of his life.  He was -- shall we say -- special.  Andre was handsome, brilliant, funny, outrageous and, most of all, kind.  He was one of the kindest people I've ever known.  I saw Andre clothe people who needed clothes, feed people who needed food, give encouragement and spiritual support to those who needed it most.

Andre was from New Orleans.  I'll post his obituary here, for there is nothing I can add, except that I've added a few stories told about him at the party honoring him after his funeral services.  My wish is that you all meet and know someone as special as Andre.  And recognize that person for who he or she is while they are still alive.

Andre, here's to the memories:

Andre Pascalis Volant de La Barre

  • "an incredible man. thank your for your bright and generous..."
    - scott symmank

Andre Pascalis Volant de La Barre, beloved event planner and philanthropist, passed away Thursday, November 2, 2017 at the age of 59. Mr. de La Barre, the eighth generation of de La Barres in Louisiana, was preceded in death by his father, Francois Duffossard Volant de La Barre. He attended De La Salle High School, Louisiana State University, and the Parsons School of Design in New York City. In addition to his work in architecture and design, he planned many of New Orleans' best-remembered events for more than thirty years. 

He was one of the Millennium Monarchs for the Krewe of Shangri-la. Mr. de La Barre was an enthusiastic community advocate and patron of the arts. His work benefitted a multitude of nonprofits, including: Save Our Cemeteries, the Audubon Institute, Planned Parenthood, Human Rights Campaign Fund, the New Orleans Opera Association, Liberty House, Southern Repertory Center, the New Orleans Museum of Art, the National Council of Negro Women, the National Council of Jewish Women, Preservation Resource Center, the United Services for AIDS Foundation, and the Vieux CarrĂ© Property Owners' and Residents' Foundation. "His Royal Highness" will always be remembered for the depth of his generosity, his razor-sharp wit, his ability to fill any room with laughter, and that time he wore cow print pants with his tuxedo jacket. 

Survivors include his mother, Mary Giovingo de La Barre; his sister, Maria Carmen de La Barre; his godchildren, Logan Carmen de La Barre-Hays and Sales Volant de La Barre; and his cherished weimaraner, Camelot. Relatives and friends are invited to attend the Memorial Service at LAKE LAWN METAIRIE FUNERAL HOME, 5100 Pontchartrain Blvd. on Monday, November 13, 2017 at 6:00 p.m. Visitation will begin at 4:00 p.m. until service time. Interment will be private. To view and sign the online guest book, visit
Also, please enjoy these memories that were shared by his friends:

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

In a Hollow Space

A Hollow Space 
By Elodie Pritchartt

"The big sweetgum by the front gate finally died." 

Every death affected him these days, animal or vegetable. 

"Oh, really?" I answered, still unaware of its significance in the scheme of things.

"I took the tractor and went down to the gate to cut it down the
 other day." 

He crushed a pecan with a hammer. Shells skittered across the counter and spilled onto the floor.

"I hooked a cable onto it, up high so I could pull it down, you know?"

I nodded, having seen it done many times before. "

And then I went to cut a vee out so it'd fall the way I wanted it to. It's a big tree."

I shuddered. He had no business pulling down trees like that sweetgum. He was eighty-two, and still doing the work of a younger man. But to tell him otherwise would be cruel. Better to let him die quick and violent than to take away his power.

I remembered the time we brought the pony into town in the back of
 the Scout. The pony wouldn't budge. He was a stubborn brute with a mean streak. Finally, he reached down and picked up its front hooves and put them on the tailgate. Then he squatted down behind its hindquarters and lifted while we children watched, astonished, as muscles strained and bulged and 600 pounds of horse was heaved bodily into the truck bed.

Those boys are men now. They still talk about it in tones of marvel and wonder.

"Well, when I started making the cut, I got about six inches in, and realized it was hollow. So I worried that it might not fall
 the way I wanted. I called Power & Light and told them they’d better send some people out to cut it down. It could fall the other way and bring down those lines out on the road. You know?"

I nodded, quiet.
"It was the weekend. So I left it hooked to the tractor 'til they came out on Monday. They brought a crane and cut it off at the top, got it down to a manageable size. Then they said, 'Let's go ahead and pull it down with the tractor.' So we pulled it over. It broke about halfway up the trunk. And you know? It was the strangest thing." 

"What was?"

"When it broke, the front half of the trunk fell off, but left the rest of the tree standing. And inside the trunk, about six feet up, was a horseshoe hanging on a nail."

"You're kidding." 

"No. You should've seen the look on the faces of those men. That tree had to be over a hundred years old. And it was solid, all the way around. No knotholes, nothing. And six inches thick.

I had to see. Before we left the house, he put the cat outside. 

“Oh, no,” he said as he opened the door. “There’s a dead chipmunk out here. One of the cats probably killed it.”

“He's brought you a present.”  I smiled. He didn't. 

“I wish they wouldn’t. They’re cute little things and I hate to see them dead.”

It surprised me to see him so upset over a chipmunk. I could remember when we were little, and he’d come home with a deer he’d killed. He’d hang it from the rafters in the barn, make a cut all the way around its neck and set a hook into the skin. He’d attach a chain to the hook and attach the other end to the bumper of the Scout. Then he’d back the Scout up, pulling the skin clean off the deer. It was quick and bloody with a thick, coppery smell that hung in the air. He didn’t give it a second thought.

Now he spent his days putting out salt licks and corn, and chasing off anyone who dared try to poach a deer, in season or no.
 It was late afternoon and the light was slanting at sharper angles, sending shadows out across the field. We stopped by the workshop in the woods.

"See that metal post right there?"


"Okay, now look over there."

He pointed to another post some distance away.

“Those two posts are forty feet apart. If you take a string and tie it between the posts and measure 20 feet, that's where you'll find the water line for the house. I know because it broke one time and I had a heck of a time trying to find it. When I did, I made sure to mark it. I couldn't mark the exact point because it's in the roadbed, but you measure, and that's where it is.
 I'm probably the only person who knows that."

He sighed and his shoulders seemed to sag.

"You’re going to need to know these things when I’m gone.”

I nodded but couldn’t speak. 

“You know, when people die, it really doesn't matter who they were or what they did. They're only remembered by the few people who knew them, and once those people are gone, you’re forgotten. It's like you were never here at all."

I knew he was right. I’d thought it, myself, on occasion.
 We spied two deer eating acorns under the oaks before they saw us and fled for the woods. 

"Brandon died day before yesterday."

“Oh, no. ”

Brandon was the golden retriever he’d rescued a couple of years ago. He couldn’t stand seeing a dog without a home and he now had a pack of about 14 dogs. At least two or three times a day, they’d gather in the front yard. One would begin with short, high yips and within a moment the others would join in, howling and yipping at ghosts.  
Brandon had been a steady quiet, companion who never complained. 

“Remember how he chased after the car the last time you were here? A few days later he just lay down and died. He seemed just fine, and then he died.”

I wondered how old he'd been.  We stopped beneath the oaks from which the deer had fled. He showed me how to tell the difference between a buck and a doe.

“The scat the doe leaves looks like little round balls, like pebbles. See?” 

I looked.

“Now, look over here. This is a buck.”

Several mounds of scat, larger than the first, like little mushrooms bloomed beneath the tree among the acorns and the leaves. I thought about all the lessons I’d missed by moving so far away. 

By the gate, the trunk still stood as he'd left it. I looked down into the hollow. Twisted through the trunk was some ancient barbed wire that emerged again on the outside of the tree.

"Only thing I can figure," he said, "is somebody hung that shoe on that fence a hundred or more years ago, and the tree just grew around it." 

He reached in and pulled out the shoe where he'd hung it.

"Well, I'll be," I said, shaking my head.
 I wondered why the shoe hadn't become embedded in the tree. Who had put that shoe on the nail? How long had they been gone? Does anyone remember them? I tried to remember when barbed wire was invented. How many people had come and gone since that day? 

I remembered the arrowheads we'd found in the lakebed a few years before, just feet from that spot.

"I'm tired," he said. "I don't know why I'm always tired lately."

We started back to the house so he could lie down for awhile 
in the cool of the evening.

Friday, October 20, 2017

The Forest in Fall

She walks in dappled brown.
The trees, emboldened in
their bare embrace,
reach down, carress
her freckled frown
from their anchored
heights to touch her face

A pile of tiny bones,
ivory needles in forgotten
threads.  Small
among the roots and 
acorns put away,
peek out and shudder.
Hides itself away.

Circled round like fiddlefern,
tiny boxes -- vertebrae --
soft as chalk
and fragile whisper
under baby's breath,
"Don't leave."

She kneels, blinded by the dapples
darting through the trees
that sigh and shiver.
Enchanted by its size,
she lies beside it gently
Closes her eyes and smiles.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Cherry Grove

Cherry Grove: A Ghost Tale

All around the old place,
the dead visit. The
day he opened up the trunk

of that sweetgum tree,
and before we saw the
horseshoe hanging inside,

something brushed against
my face. I heard a nickering
far away, and the smell of oiled

leather and candlewax.
A few days later Lloyd
found an anvil half

inside an oak tree, back
by the old barn. It was ten
feet up that tree, and

the color of storm clouds
when the air smells like metal
and electricity breaks

it right in two. They say
a shipwright lived
there once. I know.

I've heard him hammering.
That was before the rumor 
of the slave revolt across 

the road. Nineteen men killed, 
tortured, all for the sake 
of a child's tale. A child

named Obey. No excuses.
The crape myrtle we cleared from
the back forty bled claret-

colored sap, and stuck inside
one old, stubborn knot
was a skeleton key.

The silver lying all around,
tarnished forks and bone-
china plates. Papa said

she burnt that house a’purpose,
took the tram to the train
and left town. Nobody

Ever saw her again.
But to be frank, I don't
believe it.

I saw her walking in the fog
one morning, early. Picking bones,
rearranging bricks,

breaking twigs over and over.
She saw me too.
We've been talking

back and forth, she and I,
between the branches.

~ Elodie Pritchartt

Friday, October 6, 2017

More on South-West by a Yankee - Treatment of Slaves 1835

A description of Natchez, written in 1835 by Joseph Holt Ingraham.
Offered without comment:

"Many of the planters are northerners.  When they have conquered their prejudices, they become thorough, driving planters, generally giving themselves up to the pursuit more devotedly than the regular-bred planter.  Their treatment of the slaves is also far more rigid.

Northerners are entirely unaccustomed to their habits, which are perfectly understood and appreciated by southerners, who have been familiar with Africans from childhood; whom they have had for their nurses, play-fellows, and "bearers," and between whom and themselves a reciprocal and very natural attachment exists, which on the gentleman's part, involuntarily extends to the whole dingy race, exhibited in a kindly feeling and condescending familiarity, for which he receives gratitude in return.

On the part of the slave, this attachment is manifested by an affection and faithfulness which only cease with life.  Of this state of feeling, which a southern life and education can only give, the northerner knows nothing.  Inexperience leads him to hold the reins of government over his novel subjects with an unsparing severity, which the native ruler of the domestic colonies finds wholly unnecessary.

The slave always prefers a southern master, because he knows that he will be understood by him.  His kindly feelings toward and sympathies with slaves as such, are as honourable to his heart as gratifying to the subjects of them. He treats with suitable allowance those peculiarities of their race, which the unpracticed northerner will construe into idleness, obstinacy, laziness, revenge, or hatred.

There is another cause for their difference of treatment to their slaves.  The southerner, habituated to their presence, never fears them, and laughs at the idea.  It is the reverse with the northerner:  he fears them, and hopes to intimidate them by severity."

Related posts:

Southwest by a Yankee

Monday, September 25, 2017

Cocodrie Bayou

I drive through miles
of cotton fields.
White tufts erupt
from bolls
like butterflies
from cocoons.

The Louisiana
delta spreads out,
offers herself
like a lover
with secrets.

She sings primitive
salutations to the sun,
gospels of slaves.

On one side, the fields;
on the other, dark, wooded swamp.

Palmettos punctuate the gloom.
Cypress and still water.

Mounds built by Indians
who weren't from India,
after all, remind me.

This place is ancient.

My father brought me hunting here.
His father brought him.
I miss them.

It seems so
long ago, but it is only an
instant, and I am
just passing through.

I am a storm in summer,
all rush and splash, bluster
and boom,
sudden but brief, leaving only
vapor when I'm gone.

Elodie Pritchartt

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Fake News by Vernon Rust

Vernon Rust
There are writers, and then there are storytellers.  Vernon Rust KNOWS how to tell a story, and his memoire, Fake News is filled with them.  Good stories, and true:

"WHEN I WOKE UP IN HOSPITAL, I COULD'NT move my arms or legs.  Oh, I wasn't paralyzed or anything . . . I was in four point restraints flat to the bed on my back.

OBVIOUSLY a victim of mistaken this only happens to crazy people, and after all, I, Vernon Rust of mediocre and fleeting songwriter fame, was a lot of things...but insane?

Insane? Mentally incompetent? Honestly?

That's just CRAZY talk! (however, several Doctors and judges seemed convinced enough otherwise to keep me a month or so, ...just to make sure)"

When a book starts like that, I've just GOT to read on.  And I did, almost in one sitting.

I discovered Vernon on a friend's Facebook page.  He was telling one of his impossibly good stories.  So I started following him, and was lucky enough to score a reader's copy of his book.  His stories are gritty and funny, and Rust makes no attempt to whitewash his past, which is punctuated with abusive fathers, illicit drugs, country music stars, rock-and-roll, creative genius, true love, financial highs and lows that are as high and as low as you can get.

Through it all, Rust maintains an optimism, a sense of humor and the wisdom that only one who has lived it all can have.  Rust is a country-music songwriter, and this book is a country-music masterpiece.  I recommend this book unreservedly.  Read it.  You’ll like it.  I promise. To purchase Fake News, go here.

To hear Vernon perform his songs, go here.