There is a comfort in old things; things with wear and shine from use. A sort of permanence that escapes the tools and toys of the modern world. What is more reassuring than a ragged King James Bible held together by tape, faith and an old person’s hands? There is no such charm to be found in today's gadgets designed for immediate obsolescence.
When I visit an antique store, flea market or old homestead, I look for what is broken; a tool with a cracked handle patched with tightly wound wire or metal plate, a chipped plate or cup, furniture with excessive wear and flaws produce by time and use. These things have a story to tell or at least one I can imagine.
A few years back, I purchased a dough trough from an antique dealer in south Mississippi. It was rough, made of soft wood and unsealed, showing wear with cracks and gouges. It was not well formed by a craftsman, purely utilitarian in design.
True or not, the story behind it led me to hand over a few dollars and carry it home.
The dealer said, "That's not the type of dough trough that you would find in a plantation home or almost any home. Those would be made of oak or walnut and of better form. This trough came from a slave kitchen where the cook would make bread for the field hands."
My imagination took hold and visions of an old woman filled my mind; a woman with gnarled fingers from too many years in the fields, now too old for such work, kneading dough, stirring a pot, swatting flies and children who come too close before wiping the sweat from her brow with her apron.
There may be no truth in any of it but I’m ok with that.
I find myself using a Kindle more often these days. It serves a purpose and fulfills needs and provides convenience. But there is no character in a Kindle; no dog-eared pages, no hurried handwritten notes in the margins, no folded pages of favorite passages. All the things that say that this book, this tool, belongs to someone with passion, practiced skill and their own story to tell.
Our modern world is full of lies. Not that lies were not prevalent throughout human history, but it’s different now. We are bombarded with them in every aspect of our lives and we comfortably accept them. Not just lies of men with overturned lives who have done wrong and seek to escape the consequences or those who seek to do wrong with the best of intentions but lies of every degree, small and grand. Lies that fill every crevasse of modern existence, some with little intent or purpose interposed amongst the grandest of deceptions filling our airways.
The reality is that we love to be lied to. We seek lies like treasure. They give us comfort telling us we are successful, beautiful and noble creatures but only if we buy a product, donate our money, follow a cause or vote their vote. The politician, the actor lie to us. We know they lie to us. They know that we know that they lie to us yet we stand to applaud and cheer, seeking their approval and attention.
The lies we tell others hold no comparison to the lies we tell ourselves. That is the one truth that spurs this world of lies. We lie to ourselves, constantly and with impunity …. about diet and health, integrity and intent. Truth is uncomfortable, creating conflict and separation and exposing our character. Truth is a messy affair. You can’t blame people for preferring lies.
Well, I’m at it again…. In 2016, I published “Murder in Rural Hill” and was gratified by the interest shown in the tale of a century old murder case. We sold copies all over the United States and even in a few foreign countries. The book generated a lot of discussion and brought some additional information to light about the unsolved murders of Janie Sharp, Walton Permenter and Ben Walker.
I put the story aside for awhile and worked on other material including “Bones of Mississippi,” which I just recently published, but the story of Janie Sharp continued to resurface. This classic and factual “who done it” leads the reader down one path only to diverge into a tangle of intrigue, suspicion and lies.
“The Tragedy of Janie Sharp” is an expansion of the tale, providing more local history, more detail about the life and sad death of the family man, Walton Permenter, and the intriguing possibility of an eyewitness to the crime.
Now available on Amazon in paperback and ebook form, the Book Mart in Starkville, Barbara’s Place and other local outlets soon. As always, signed copies of both books are available at our office, 875 S. Columbus (next to Louisville Utilities) and we will be at the Red Hills Festival on May 27th in downtown Louisville.
We will also be in Ackerman at the Choctaw County Library on May 25th at 6:00 pm and in Carthage at the Leake County Library on May 26th at noon. If you have the opportunity, come by and visit with us for a lively discussion of Mississippi history and, of course, the case of Janie Sharp.
As always, thank each and every one of you for your support. The marketing and publishing of a regional book is challenging in today’s world and is without doubt a labor of love. Make an effort to support all our local writers. Without them many tales would never be told.
If you look for a way to be kind – you will inevitably find one
If you look for a way to be offended – you will inevitably find offense
If you seek excuses, they will present themselves
If you pursue anger, you will inevitably catch it
If you look for a way to be productive, it will reward you
Life is short – seek what is worthwhile.
The reason I’m not a Democrat: Everyone has rights but only a few have responsibilities.
The reason I’m not a Republican: Everyone has responsibilities and everyone has rights but a few have more rights than others.
The reason I’m not a Libertarian: Everyone has the right to do just about anything they want and their only responsibility lies with themselves.
The reason I’m not a Socialist: Everyone has the right to what you have and you have the responsibility to accept that cheerfully.
The reason I’m not a Communist: No one has any rights or responsibilities.
The reason I’m not an Anarchist: Everybody has the right to do any damn thing they want and to hell with the responsibility.
The reason I’m not a Fascist: Everyone’s rights and responsibilities are dictated by the needs and whims of those in charge and I’m pretty sure they won’t let me be in charge.
Over the last generation, we have come to demand rights but recoil from responsibility, to value our humanness beyond reason. The childish belief that we have somehow overcome our human baseness and bodily urges; those primal thoughts that we push to the back of our brains in civil discourse but that surface in our actions and sins to generate short term pleasure and success at the expense of our value to ourselves and those around us. That if we speak well and shout our morality and empathy to the world, we are somehow noble creatures. And all the while failing to acknowledge a power greater than our own.
We’re just living to sin. God told us that from the beginning. We’re always looking for another way to sin. Nowadays, we just can’t face all those grand ideas and thoughts of the folks before us – folks who learned lessons from hardship and struggles and with the disposition to ponder them. As a result, all we can do is turn faith into religion, education into indoctrination, strength into guilt – just to have more excuses to sin.
We don’t have the wherewithal anymore to think about much – souls as deep as a pinprick – hearts as weak as water- encapsulating our world into 280 characters and jiggling asses on a tv screen. All our great minds do now is look to find ways to free our time so we can sin a little bit more. We’re about as weak now as we’ve ever been in human history. It ain’t gonna end well.
Social media has brought it all to a head, making it all too easy to tell a lie, believe a lie and share a lie. We just skating across the surface of truth like a water bug… too damn scared to look below the surface – scared of what we might find lurking beneath the waters. Our leaders recognize this and revel in it; encasing their lies in half-truths that they know we want to believe; leading us to stand in the streets donned with vagina hats or childishly storm the halls of government; separating us by our lightly held ideologies to prevent reform that would end their power.
Corporations - too cowardly and irresponsible to stand on principle; blurring the lines between business and politics. Charity has become a marketing tool instead of a virtue. Instead of making a good product at a fair price, we’re supposed to buy their junk because they are kind, noble and tolerant. All the while telling us that our lives will be diminished unless we take their pill, eat their food, drive their car or sufficiently acknowledge that women poop.
Religious leaders who have turned from faith and worship the mighty dollar, social acceptance and a perverted concept of love of our fellow man.
We’ve corrupted our language so that we don’t have to deal with the truth; celebrities and pseudo-intellectuals telling us that truth is in the eye of the beholder, that for some black is white, good is bad and science is the new God until its truths conflict with their agenda.
All patronizing their base with soundbites full of half-truths, false empathy or masked hatred. A grand design to ensure that we can’t clearly see reality beyond the pile of manure accumulating on our doorsteps. Ralph Waldo Emerson said that the end of the human race will be that it will eventually die of civilization. He might be right.
He had asked about her husband, the first one. "Was he a good man?"
She was silent for a moment and he feared that he had crossed a line in their friendship. She looked across the table, adjusted her glasses and responded:
"How a man’s remembered ain’t got much to do with what he done. The world ‘ll take care of that. If they like what he did, then they’ll hold em up to the light and let him glow. If’n they don’t, they’ll forget him or make him a devil until the world changes again and just flipflops him into another thing he never was. He was good to me. I guess that's all that matters."
Florence was the casserole queen of Humchittbee County – not just the casserole queen of the Baptists but the undisputed royalty of all the church ladies – be they Baptist, Missionary Baptist, Methodists, Presbyterians, Pentecost or Church or God. She had every situation and every denomination covered with a covered dish.
While others had their usuals that they provided on a regular basis- broccoli and rice, squash or green bean, Florence always had the right dish for the right occasion and crowd. For funerals, she would choose the type and size of dish based upon the deceased’s age, family size, church size and standing in the community – providing two if the situation demanded it. Goulash, macaroni and cheese, Frito pie, lasagna, scalloped potatoes, Chili Mac, cheesy tater tot bake, nacho chicken, shepherd’s pie, the list went on and on.
For those home from the hospital, she gauged the dish based upon their dietary requirements. She had even been known to drop off casseroles to local menfolk whose wives were away on bus trips or visiting relatives. If the need was dire- she managed to provide gallons of chicken and dumplings.
Florence kept her recipes close, never divulging any of her secrets. This was a source of irritation for those who cared about such things. When asked for a recipe or even just an ingredient list, her response was, “Dear, I don’t follow a recipe. I just put in a little of this and a little of that. But I’m glad you like it, bless your heart.”
Over the years there had been a few that attempted to compete with her – some who thought she was too old to keep up the pace or had just worn that crown too long. They tried newfangled recipes to throw her off but it was to no avail. She bested them all. A fancy smancy dish from the pages of Southern Living was no match for Florence’s tomato pie or her creamy chicken with bacon. Over the years, the challengers grew fewer and were usually limited to the young wives of new preachers and displaced Yankees trying too hard to fit in.
Four times a year, Florence would take a few days to round up her pyrex and corning ware that had been scattered across the countryside – be it nine inch or twelve, oval, round or deep dish. She kept a written list of who had what and made sure that sufficient time had passed for those in mourning, before requesting the return of her dish.
Florence passed away awhile back. She went quietly and peacefully in her sleep. Having no children, it was left to the women of her church to begin the process of cleaning out her home and disposing of her personal property.
They started by cleaning out the pantry, fridge and freezer. – They were surprised to find that Florence had two freezers – the smaller one dedicated to nothing but frozen casserole dishes.
They are not surprised to find a date on them indicating when they were made but were dumbfounded to find names on them labeled with freezer tape. As they looked closer, they saw that the names included people in the nursing home, people fighting cancer and almost everybody in the church over the age of 80. One church lady even found one with her own name on it. She was a bit unsettled to say the least.
A caucus was called around Florence’s kitchen table. Some expressed outrage. Other’s reacted with humor and were curious as to the type of casserole assigned to each individual. Each one was examined and a list of the names were made purely for reference. All were a bit dumbfounded. After two pots of coffee, the decision was made to never speak of the matter again and the casseroles were dispersed among the church members (minus the freezer tape).
Later that day, tucked in the back of a cabinet, behind cans of asparagus and creamed corn, the preacher’s wife found a small recipe box filled with index cards – index cards neatly printed and alphabetized, cards with the keys to the casserole kingdom of Florence.
By the next Christmas, the church had raised more than $10,000 from the sale of its latest cookbook, “Secrets of the Casserole Queen” and over the objections of a few of the womenfolk of the church, a small plaque in honor of Florence was placed on the cabinet door over the gas stove in the kitchen of the family life center.