History: a photo essay plus a few thoughts

Back in the summer, #3 son, his three older children (seventeen, fifteen, and eleven), and I “toured” my home town. His youngest, only six, stayed home; she’ll have to get the genealogy tour later, when she’s ready. Son wanted the grandchildren to learn about where I—and by extension, they—came from.

I worried that in Pontotoc, Mississippi, a town nestled in the red clay hills near Oxford (the home of Ole Miss), there’s not much to see: the square, now virtually stripped of the old trees I remember, with its Confederate monument. The store my dad once owned, now an antique shop. A museum housed in the post office, itself an historical building. The house where I grew up, and the one where my parents lived later.

It turned out to be a drizzling, sticky day, and I must admit when we left the hotel in Oxford that morning, I didn’t have high hopes. I anticipated bored kids and a general disappointment with grandmother’s roots.

I was wrong.

As we drove through town, I pointed out landmarks: the square, the courthouse (hard to miss), my dad’s store, the store on the corner that had once been my uncle’s grocery, the flaking ghost of an old painted grocery ad still evident on the side of the building.

After the post office museum where we spent maybe half an hour and the women volunteers told the kids stories and connected with me—”Now, you’re so-and-so’s daughter?”—we stopped by the Presbyterian church I grew up in. I had emailed the church ahead of time and learned that its doors are never locked; we were welcome to drop by any time.  No one was there, but we walked right in.

I had not been inside that church since my grandmother’s funeral in 1994. Indeed, my last three visits there had been for funerals, so maybe that gloom had affected my memories of the place.

This time, I was stunned by how beautiful and meticulously maintained the church is: the polished dark woodwork. The breathtaking stained glass windows. At the back of the sanctuary, the tall folding doors with the same stained glass that, during my childhood, partitioned it off and made it smaller and better suited to the congregation. The only times I ever saw those doors open were for weddings and funerals. They are a magnificent work of art and architecture tucked away in this unpretentious place.

It had never occurred to me to ask about the history of the stained glass; isn’t that terrible? But history means more to me as I get older. I intend to find out, and I will certainly share it with my children and grandchildren.

We explored: we lingered in the prayer room at the back of the sanctuary, its walls lined with books. We went upstairs to the room where I dressed for my first wedding when I was twenty-one years old.

So many memories for me. The kids responded with curiosity, love, and awe. They listened to my stories. They opened doors, peeked in nooks, touched things–the books, the glass, the dark wood–not in a bad way, but as though they wanted to take something of this place away with them and lock it in their memories, too.

There’s a photo I didn’t share here: one of me with the three grandchildren, standing in the narthex of the church. That one is private, a connection to them and a precious time we shared.

If you have not “gone home” lately, I encourage you to do it. More importantly, go with someone you love. Share the place. Share the stories.

If this piece inspires you to remember, share a memory here in a comment. If it inspires you to write a post, share your link. I would love to read about your special, remembered places.





Beating the Bah Humbugs

It’s December 21, eighty degrees in Jackson, Mississippi. I’m finally getting into the Christmas spirit, even though the weather forecast is scary, almost nothing is wrapped, and I came very close to dropping the lovely chocolate pound cake I made this morning. It’s a bit lopsided but okay and will go into the freezer to wait for family to come the day after Christmas.

I’ve made old-fashioned cornbread dressing and stashed it in the freezer, too. For holidays I make my mother’s and grandmother’s recipes with few variations. The traditions are important to my sons, and I’m glad. It’s a way of remembering and honoring those we love who aren’t around any longer.

I’ve cut cedar, holly, and magnolia (even a stalk of a yucca plant) and plopped it into baskets to dress things up a bit, inside and out. My mother and dad did that–nothing artificial for them. In fact, many years ago, my dad used to cut magnolia and holly out of their yard, mist it with water, and pack it in big plastic bags and ship it–yes–ship it to me because I didn’t have any, and everybody should have live greenery for Christmas, right?

Remembering that makes me both happy and sad. Holidays are like that. Holidays can be the toughest or the best of times, and sometimes a little of both. Even in the best times, for me there’s always nostalgia, a little melancholy. So many Christmases gone. So many people gone, too.

But I have memories. And traditions.

A few days ago, I had a bad case of the bah humbugs. I faced last-minute shopping and cleaning and cooking and decorating I didn’t think I had the heart to do. But the traditions kept nagging at me like whispering voices. What about Christmas dinner? And a centerpiece for the table? Live greens, of course. And music. There must be music! I hummed Christmas songs while I ran errands and got the last-minute shopping done. I listened to Christmas music while I cooked.

I ran across that chocolate pound cake recipe last week when I was going through an old file. My grandmother had torn it out of a Progressive Farmer magazine dated August 1958. The folded page has deteriorated and her handwritten notes are barely legible. I remembered her making that cake and how good it was, but I can’t recall ever making it myself. So I decided to try it. A revived, revised tradition. I could almost hear my grandmother talking me through making the cake this morning. I imagined her shaking her head at my sloppy ways; I’m not the cook she was.

There’s still a lot to do, but it’s beginning to look and feel like Christmas, after all. And I’m grateful. Treasure it, the voices sing. Remember. Make new memories for the ones I love.

From our house to yours–Merry Christmas!

Tell me about one of your holiday traditions–one that’s been passed down through generations, or one that you and your family have created for yourselves.

Weekly Photo Challenge: The Sign Says

The WordPress Photo Challenge this week asks that we post a picture of a sign and explain why we chose it.

I had a different photograph in mind when I went searching through my files, but I’ll save that one for another time.

Pogo wisdom
Pogo wisdom

This picture, taken near the Okefenokee Swamp a couple of years ago, isn’t very good, technically. But when I stumbled across it, I saw it differently. I saw those words with the brilliant sunlight and that clear blue sky and the trees as backdrop.

I don’t think I need to say any more.