October 31 ~ November 1

We think of Angela and Stephen today exchanging their wedding vows and their rings and binding their marriage on the date, in the way and at the location of their choosing. 

May their love grow throughout the years ahead .... as they travel through life together.

Congratulations, dear ones.

Our thoughts, prayers and love are with you.

 

November 1, 2003

Click here to go to Stephen & Ange's pages ... see pictures of their marriage, pictures from the beginning of their trip and read excerpts from their emails.
Heading south-west from Carterville, Georgia and driving through Rome, we crossed into Alabama north-east of Gadsden gaining an hour as we set our clocks to Central Time.
During our drive to Gadsden we came to the conclusion that having yard sales on your front lawn or grouped together at a spot next to a country store must be a common Saturday activity in this region.  If not having a yard sale just sitting on the front porch and watching traffic pass by is not uncommon either.  We stopped in at a couple but did not finding anything worthy of carting home.  
In Gadsden we stopped in at a grocery store.  A grocery store gives a unique snapshot of a community.  Not only the groceries they eat, but how neighbours interact with each other and the store's staff.  The shelves certainly had packaging we are familiar with but it was at the meat counters and in the produce section that we easily recognized we weren't in BC:  smoked hog jowls, pigs feet, turkey neck, salt pork, collards, big bags of grit, green peanuts and roasted peanuts, bulk pecans as well as other unidentified local cuisine.  
The people were friendly with each other and to us and a familiar "y' all" rang with each greeting and farewell.  
South of Gadsden we had a lovely picnic (with our newly purchased groceries) at a rest stop.  It was our first picnic since leaving Ontario.  The facilities were very clean, very pretty, the temperature 27c (87f), sun shining hot and bright. 
Terry beat Sherrie (just!) at a game of cribbage while we munched on fresh roasted peanuts in the shell ~ well, we didn't actually eat the shells ~ they were roasted in the shell.  
Brochures showed so many things to do in and around Birmingham that we decided to make our night's stop on the north-east fringe of this Alabama city that boasts a population of 933,300+, more than 1300 churches, 11+ tv stations, two daily newspapers in a 3358 square mile metropolitan area.
Checking in early gave us an opportunity to do a load of washing and drying before heading out for the night.  Entertainment was a first for both of us ~ greyhound racing.  
As we are not gamblers (all Sherrie's bets were only written on a score pad) the evening was not only fun but inexpensive.  

On paper Terry lost $4 and Sherrie was up $1.40 ~ sort of makes up for the crib game earlier in the day, don't you think?

November 2, 2003

Before going to church there was time to wander along the "Walk of Freedom" and view the statues, art work and reflective ponds in the park across the avenue from the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church.

Forty years ago when American civil rights and racial tensions were at a peak, a bomb exploded in the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church  basement and four young girls were killed.  The church became a lighting rod reminder of man's inhumanity to man ... it also became a place of love and forgiveness.  

Although proud of their history (the church conducts tours during the week and is across the street from the Civil Rights Museum and the park we had just visited), on Sunday it focuses on worship.  The worship time was filled with music and praise in a very relaxed and joyous atmosphere.  We enjoyed it very much.

Afterwards we had an opportunity to meet a few of the parishioners including Ms. Ford who was celebrating her 59th year in this particular church and boasted an age in the 80s.  A delightful lady with the most friendly smile and twinkling eyes. 

We came away from the experience feeling humble and refreshed.  

At a rest area, we changed from our sunday-go-to-meetin' clothes and into duds more suitable for the 30c (86f) temperatures of this sunny day.  A salad and more peanuts were consumed and two hands of crib played before our trip continued south-west through Tuscaloosa heading to Meridian, Mississippi.  

Terry repeated a Groucho Marx's joke ~ many of which ... including this groaner ... should be laid to rest although the moment seems ripe to repeat it just one more time.  "Where do they send sick elephants in Alabama?"  Can you see Graucho making stretched out strides around the stage in his over-sized shoes, big rain coat and twiddling fingers on a fat cigar, "Why," he would continue with the expression of a man all-knowing, "Tusk-a-loose-a" and a rubber chicken would fall from above.

 

November 3, 2003

We left Meridian after spending some time over breakfast to look at brochures and maps.  So much to do in Mississippi and the weather encourages us to linger in this unique state.  We headed west through the pine region to Jackson.  There we made a quick pit stop for Sherrie to get her nails done [in a mall ~ a mall is a mall is a mall no matter where you are]. 

 It didn't take long and we were off again ... this time heading north on Hwy 49 through fabled Madison County, past swamp lands and cotton fields where the cotton bales, the size of a train's box car, stood ready to go to the cotton gins.  
Along the roadside white fluff collects against the grass edge much like the white fluff of cottonwood trees does near home ..... but this white fluff is Mississippi cotton!  

At Belzoni, "the Catfish Capitol of the World" the Humphreys County Art's Council and the Development Foundation along with the City of Belzoni this year unveiled "Catfish on Parade.  

These creatively painted custom fiberglass catfish, standing five feet tall, are sponsored and displayed in front of local businesses in this quaint Delta town. Beauty queen "Miss Small Fry" complete with tiara stands in front of town hall,  "Dr Mack Cat" in front of the doctors office, 

"Blues Cat" stands with his guitar outside an accountant's office "because when people come out, they are often singing the blues", "D. Fin-der Esquire" is at the entrance to a lawyer's office, and just outside the newspaper office pulling apart his brown suit to reveal blue tights with a big "S" on a red crest is "Super Cat" ... others, thirty-three in all, entertain pedestrians and keep smiles on the faces of tourists.
At the Belzoni information centre they gain a renewed perspective on catfish and changed out thinking that catfish were just an oversized mud-suckers.  

Catfish's reputation as a heavy-tasting, deep-fried food had to change before it could find a place at restaurants and dining rooms across the nation.  Once pond-farming improved flavor and quality control, catfish could be repositioned from a regional Southern staple to an international entree.   

The new, light-tasting flesh of catfish lends itself as easily to low-fat cooking as to gourmet recipes.  Deep frying remains the most popular method of preparation in the South, only now, with farm-raised catfish, it tastes better than before.

In the area around Belzoni millions of catfish are farm-raised in ponds.  Thirty years ago, the people of the Delta farmed crops and caught catfish on the side.  Today, many of the same people are farming catfish on former rice and soybean fields.  Local farmers, feed suppliers, fisheries experts, food processors and transporters pooled their knowledge and experience to turn a leisurely recreation into an industry. 
  If the clay soil of the Delta region hadn't prevented leakage from the ponds, if there hadn't been plenty of water available in large underground aquifers ... the story might've been different.  But the catfish proved to be the right fish, at the right time, in the right place.  
Catfish in the wild are bottom-feeders, which sometimes makes their flesh taste muddy.  For farm-raised catfish, the key to quality control was to turn them into surface-feeders, reversing millions of years of evolution.  With the invention of floating feed pellets - based on the feed used to raise hogs and chicken-  the feed floated and the catfish followed and the world got a new dish for the table.
Catfish costs less per pound to raise then beef, pork or chicken.  Sources report that a single pound of beef requires 8 pounds of feed; pork 4 pounds and chicken 3 pounds.  Catfish only requires 2 pounds of feed. So, catfish ... at least here ... is reasonably priced and is considered an environmentally conscious food source.
In Mississippi, a land where "Cotton is King" catfish farming has enjoyed phenomenal growth since its introduction.  In Humphreys County, farm-raised catfish now accounts for 52% of all agricultural revenues, ranks first among all crops and employs over 2,000 people. The Guinness Book of Records has deemed catfish farming to be note worthy:  70 percent of the catfish in the US is produced n Mississippi and Humphreys County accounts for one-third of Mississippi's production - therefore the designation of " Catfish Capitol".

 

North of Belzoni, catfish ponds stretch over miles.  White heron stand like sentries - or perhaps more accurately, like vultures - at the edge of catfish ponds surveying the easy feeding grounds.  

Next door, more cotton fields.  September is cotton harvesting month, but we saw a few fields that had either not been harvested or partly harvested.  Stopping at one we picked some cotton and took some pictures.   
Once we were settled in Greenwood, we went out in search of a restaurant that was recommended for catfish.  On our arrival we found the place closed but Terry found a door open and went in.  The owner was surprised to see someone but pleased we had searched him out from a recommendation by two ladies at the catfish capital Information Centre.  
He gave us a recommendation to another restaurant so off we went. 
The catfish was deeeelicious !!   A white meat like cod or halibut but lighter in texture and more delicate of taste.  Wonderful.  Every bite was savored.  Tarter sauce was served on the side but not needed.  Before we finished, we were already making plans to have catfish for our next dinner.

 

November 4, 2003

Election Day in Mississippi. 

Just a few miles west of Greenwood, we visited the Florewood River Plantation State Park.  

We first went into the Visitor's Centre Museum ... a brick structure built in the Georgian Style which offers a self-guided pictorial tour of the story of cotton and its impact on Mississippi, the southern US and the world.  

One of our questions was "Is cotton indigenous to the US?"   The first information board answered our question.  

Cotton production first began in India.  Yarns made from cotton found in the ruins of Mohenjo-Daro, a city in the Indus Valley, can be traced to 3000 BC.  By 200 BC cotton cultivation and conversion reach Europe via Asia Minor and the Mediterranean.  Although cotton was grown and used by pre-Columbian Indians, it was first introduced into the Eastern Seaboard of the US by the Spanish colonists of Florida.

The expansion of cotton production in the South was given impetus by the invention of the cotton gin in 1793.  While visiting a Georgia plantation, the versatile inventor, Eli Whitney, invented a machine to solve the problem of separating the lint from the cotton seed by using wire teeth on rollers to tear the cotton from the seed.  It came at an opportune time.  Along with the industrial revolution in England and a population explosion in Europe, the invention of the cotton gin gave the South the opportunity to create rapidly the "Cotton Kingdom".

Transportation in the antebellum (prior to the Civil War) South was hampered by the slow development of adequate highway and railroad systems.  Therefore, long distance commerce used the region's rivers, which became the great highways of the Old South.

The lack of adequate transportation facilities was a vital factor in the rule of "King Cotton".  Cotton did not spoil like wheat and corn which waiting for transportation and was more easily transported along the rivers, dirt roads, and railroads of the South.  

Oxen often died hauling wagonloads of cotton weighing as much as 3000 pounds along the slow and tortuous route between the two Mississippi cities of Jackson and Vicksburg.  Such difficult trips were unnecessary when by the 1840s railroads between commercial centers in the South helped to offset the disadvantages of the region's poor roads and huge amounts of cotton began to be moved by "burden cars" and stored in depots throughout the South.

For those farms or plantations that touched the river bank, shipping cotton was much easier.  Steamboats would stop at the waving of a handkerchief or lantern that signaled there were dollars to be made from freight or passengers.  In season, the boats would be loaded to the pilot houses with cotton, each bale marked by its owner's distinctive pennant, causing inside passengers to live by lamplight.  

In the nineteenth century, mechanization was slow coming to cotton farming.  Experiments with mechanical cotton pickers were begun in earnest after the Civil War, but this bottleneck was not broken until the 20th century.  Today, mechanization and modern technology have been applied to every aspect of cotton production.

Research into uses for cotton have found its seed rich in protein and adaptable to human consumption.  Cotton is truly a miracle plant.  It now can supply two of man's most basic necessities - food and clothing.

Outside the museum we paused and looked at the cotton plants in different stages of growth - including the different coloured blooms.   Out on the plantation itself we toured through the buildings. 

The Carriage House and Tutor's Room are part of the same building.  

The tutor's room was sometimes used as a guest house. Even though the tutor educated the planter's children the tutor was an employee, above a servant but not on social par with the owner's family.
In the fall, when cattle, hogs and wild game were slaughtered, the smokehouse would aromatize the autumn air with hickory smoke. Next was the double privy.  
Within easy access to the big house, the privy would most often be masked by a trellis and flowering vine.  This particular double privy had two doors - one for women and the other for men.  At some plantations the privy would share the same building as the laundry house - at this one the buildings were separate.  With what we deem to be busy lives today, it is difficult to imagine having to boil water to wash clothes and then instead of throwing them into a washing machine having to scrub each article on a wash board and then rinse it enough times in clean water to remove the residue.  All that after having taken time another day to make soap from animal fat and lye. 
It is appreciated that those owning plantations had slaves to do such things but not all people had slaves or servants.   Other buildings on this plantation included the domestic servant's quarters (which reflected that their status was higher than a field hand), a commissary or storehouse; a sewing/loom room (which in the winter months would have been bustling with mending, garment and quilt making); a church/school house  
where the tutor would have taught (subjects including Latin, English, history and humanities with focus on the classics) the plantation children as well as those from nearby plantations and where the slaves would sing their spirituals and pray on Sunday afternoon;
a pottery shop and a hospital where slaves were taken immediately at the first signs of malaria, yellow fever or deadly illness; 
a blacksmith shop where the smithy's skills would include wheelwright work, wagon repairs as well as horse shoeing; a wagon shed; gristmill; sawmill; livestock shed; barn; a sorghum mill where cane sugar was produced by turning the crusher with mules to produce a juice which was then boiled to convert it to syrup - the main source of sugar (it took approximately 10 gallons of juice to make one gallon of syrup); gin building where the cotton would be brought in large woven baskets via mule then ginned (seeds separated from the cotton lint) and then the lint pressed, baled and sent to the dock landing for transport by river to a cotton port;rows of slave quarters (on this plantation they were 'double houses' like a duplex) where two families divided by a single wall would reside with the simplest of bed pallets, primitive tables, utensils and a wood burning fireplaces.  
The planter's mansion, often referred to as "the big house", was the most imposing structure on any plantation.  Spacious galleries (porches) gave shade on both front and back.  Doors and windows were placed to maximize cross-ventilation.  The design of the house and it's furnishings were often brought from as far away as England and France.

To prevent the possibility of fire and to minimize heat in the big house, the cookhouse (pictured left) was located adjacent to the main dwelling.

Surrounding the buildings were field crops and row crops and closer to the buildings, orchards and vegetable gardens.  Unless perhaps you were part of the plantation ownership family, it is not a life most would strive for with today's mentalities and softness and a look back helps us appreciate what we have today.  One of the many benefits of travel.
From the plantation, it wasn't much farther west in the little town of Indianola that we popped into the Indianola Pecan House where they buy, sell and crack pecans.
The store was full of pecans with a wide variety of flavour coverings as well as pecan and Mississippi souvenirs.  After sampling (the chocolate covered one was just decadent) we carried away a 340g (12oz) bag of crispy honey pecans.

We had no sooner got up to speed heading west when we saw some activity at one of the catfish ponds, so we turned around and headed back, made a "U" turn and parked on the side of the highway.  We must have stood there with binoculars and camera for forty-five minutes while up to their waists in the ponds men made their circle of nets smaller and smaller and within the nets the water increasingly splashed with activity of fish.  At a certain stage the men moved in with different equipment which had a net bucket that they lowered into the teeming mass of fish, scooping them and dumping them into containers that would take them to the processing plant.  It was all just as we had seen on the video yesterday at the Catfish Capitol Information Centre.  

Just a "stones throw" further down the road, at Leland, we made another stop.  This time at a Jim Hensen Museum. "Leland," they say and so did Jim (of Muppet fame), "is the birthplace of the frog" - Kermit.   Jim was born in nearby Greenville on September 24, 1936, but the first twelve years of his life were spent in Leland. Jim enjoyed exploring the shoreline of Deer Creek alone or with friends. 
The original Kermit was made by Jim Henson in 1955 from his mother's discarded spring coat.  Kermit started out as an abstract creature but became a recognizable frog over two television specials preceding the beginning of "Sesame Street". 
Even then Kermit was only Sesame Street's roving reporter but his popularity grew and he took the staring role on The Muppet Show, made five feature films and even hosted Nightline, Larry 
King Live and The Tonight Show, was Grand Marshall in the 1996 Tournament of Roses parade and was there for the presidential inauguration celebration of Bill Clinton.  All from a humble beginning and imagination. 
At Greenville we turned south on Hwy 1 in the direction of Vicksburg. 

As we checked into accommodations we asked, "Where can we get the best catfish?" and without hesitation Michelle said, "The Lucky Fisherman" and started giving directions.

From the outside The Lucky Fisherman is not a pretty place and is plunk in the middle of factories lining the highway.  Their customers are the factory workers and other locals.  We were a novelty ... especially "y'all bein' such a long way from home".  Wooden rectangle tables and wooden benches with backs furnished the open space and simple down home plastic tumblers to hold sweet ice tea or plain ice tea (served with a couple of packets of Sweet & Low) and plastic plates and bowls - many supporting chips.  
We had three ladies of varying ages dotting on us saying "y'all must have some of this" and "the way we make this is ..." and "here's how you peel a shrimp" and "this is called 'tarter sauce'".  Their hospitality was genuine and they each kept checking back to see how we were getting on. 
The buffet was plentiful and we were trying to select some of the local specialties.  We passed on the macaroni and cheese so they brought us two full dessert bowls " 'cause it's a favourite with folks".  Indeed, we noticed that the locals took heaping spoonfuls of it to go along with their other smaller selections.   Between us we tasted (along with the macaroni and cheese): turnip greens, fried okra, deep fried oysters, catfish (yum!), butter beans, grilled quail, potato log, fried shrimp, corn on the cob, bar-b-que rib tip, boiled shrimp (only one - too spicy) coleslaw, corn bread and finished with lemon ice box pie.
With very full tummies we parked the car in front of our motel room and took a constitutional.

November 5, 2003

The Vicksburg Visitor Centre was our first stop and presented the first good look at the Mississippi.  The Visitor Centre itself was photographic with antique appointed parlors and a wide columned porch overlooking the river complete with reed seated rocking chairs.  

The next hour we spent on a scenic self-drive through Historic Vicksburg guided by a map indicating attractions to view along the route - such as the site where Coca-Cola was first bottled in 1894 and the Old Court House where, during the Civil War while the city was under siege, Union prisoners were housed and after Vicksburg fell the site where General Grant raised the US flag and reviewed his troops.   
Many of the old mansions are now serving as bed and breakfasts. 
Driving south on Hwy 61 about midway between Vicksburg and Natchez, we pulled into Port Gibson, the town General Grant said was "too beautiful to burn".  We drove into the commercial area and took a picture of the domed Claiborne County Court House then went in search of the "beautiful" part.  Not accomplishing our task, we went back out to the highway and turned south again.  That's when we had an opportunity to understand the "beautiful".  Mounding up gracefully on both sides were southern mansions of various sizes, well kept on manicured lawns.  
When the highway reach the Natchez-Trace Parkway that runs diagonally across the state, we turned onto it and began a most pleasant and peaceful drive along sun dappled roadways floating under arched canopies of trees - some shawled in hanging moss; trimmed grass roadsides flowing to open floored forests, dried mudded creek beds, snake fenced fields and inviting picnic areas.  
First stop in Natchez was the Visitor Welcome Centre where we made inquiries.   
Shortly afterwards we were sitting in a surrey with a fringe on top (makes you want to break in song doesn't it?) and to the clip-clop sound of horse's hoofs we rode through the old section of Natchez while listening to our driver's slow southern drawl.     One n-ice th-ing abawt ta s-aw-th-er-n dr-awl is that thay tawk so slow y'all have t-i-me ta fig-ure - owt wh-awt it is thar say-in.
The most impressive house is named  "Stanton Hall".  The property is substantially smaller than its original size but even now it  occupies an entire block.  The two story structure boasts a 70 foot long central hallway that run through the house to assist with ventilation.  Three other rooms with, 16.5 foot high ceilings, complete the main floor.  Our driver informed us that when it was built in 1857 no money was spared to build it in the grandest manner and the total costs reached $85,000.   During it's lifetime it fell under neglect and much of the estate lands subdivided.  It was purchased  about 1938 for a cost of $16,000, when few people had jobs, let alone monies, to spend on ruined mansions.  
It has taken a great deal more than that to refurbish it to its original grandeur.  The impressive trees surrounding this exceptional mansion are century old live oak trees.
Thinking we would move on to Louisiana, we crossed the Mississippi (those who want to break into a rendition of "Ol' Man River" can go ahead) and went to the Louisiana Welcome Centre.  Armed with brochures and recommendations, we returned across the river to Natchez Mississippi to spend the night.  

Natchez would mark the southern most point on this trip.

November 6, 2003

Once again we crossed over the Mississippi (this time to the tune of "it's a treat to beat your feet on the Mississippi mud").  At the tiny town of Archie, we turned north.   Just a tiny bit further we went through Jena with a sign saying "Welcome to Jena ~ a place to call home".  We didn't 'cause that would be silly ... when the phone rang no one would be there to answer it. 

Along the way we passed convicts in white pant with wide black strips, working on the roadside.

We paused at Winnfield, the home of colourful Governor Earl K Long who, along with his family have long been famous (or is that infamous) in Louisiana and Washington DC and was the subject of the 1989 Disney movie "Blaze" starring Paul Newman as Governor Earl Long and Lolita Davidovich who portrayed his girlfriend and stripper, Blaze Starr.

Taking country roads, we worked our way up to Junction City and crossed into Arkansas.  We had planned to stay at the Comfort Inn on the outskirts of El Dorado, but when we asked directions at the Hampton Inn they pointed to a bare lot across the street then encouraged us to stay with them - offering an attractive room, at an attractive price.  Very nice with warm hospitality.

 

November 7, 2003

First time Terry had biscuits and gravy for breakfast.  We did a driving tour through town.  It looked like many of the other US towns we have driven through - impressive government buildings, large churches and lots of them, and newly revitalized downtown boutique shopping streets ~ an attempt to claim back some business from Wal-Mart and attract tourist dollars.  

The weather has turned cooler and giving us light showers.  Terry has changed, from wearing shorts, back into jeans and Sherrie has replaced sandals with socks and hiking boots.  But it is not as cold as the freezing temperatures being reported back home.

Showers turned to heavy rain as we drove towards Magnolia.  At one point we drove through a strip of land about 300 meters wide that appeared like a tornado had passed through flattening trees and causing severe damage to a trailer court in which some homes seemed to have simply been abandoned. 

Texarkana straddles the Arkansas-Texas border.  Still raining we took the most direct route to Dallas and secured accommodations on the east side on a peninsula in Lake Ray Hubbard.  

For dinner we went to the Saltgrass Steak House ~ hey! we're in Texas!  We noticed a sign on the wall that said 

 "In accordance with local alcoholic beverage laws, it is required that all guests join our private club in order to be served alcoholic beverages.  To enroll you as a new member, your server is required to take your drivers license and scan it into our membership tracking system.  We apologize for any inconvenience and hope you enjoy your visit to Saltgrass." 
Some counties in Texas are "dry" and the restaurants use the "private club" membership to get around the liquor laws.  Some memberships cost one or two dollars and some area restaurants have banned together to create "one club" membership that will cover numerous establishments.  

Our waitress sent us home with two complimentary small loaves of Saltgrass beer bread and two containers of their honey-butter.

 

Continue to November 8, 2003