April 10, 2003
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A few miles north of Natchez, out in a very pretty area of pine woods, we found Springfield Plantation. Springfield bills itself as a working plantation, which is true if you count a few cattle grazing in the pasture as a “working plantation.”
We drove up the driveway, arrow straight and heading directly toward the four white columns of the mansion. Pulling off into a little parking area, we parked and climbed the steps to the door. There were three doorbells, and a note saying, “I'm here, ring all three doorbells and wait, it may take me a while.”
And so, after a wait of several minutes, the great front door swung open, and an elderly, white-haired master with sparkling blue eyes, wearing layers of bright blue sweaters with what looked like a coat of arms where a bow tie would usually go, invited us in. This was none other than Arthur E. La Salle, historian, restorer, and tour guide of Springfield Mansion.
Mr. La Salle told us we were his first visitors in three days, probably due to the near-freezing temperatures. He had only a few electric space heaters for comfort in that big, drafty place. He said he had lived all over the world, but Mississippi was the coldest place he had ever called home. He said he leased the mansion, working on restoration and living there, only leaving for a day every couple of weeks. History flowed from him like water from an artesian well.
Springfield Mansion was built in 1790, when the Natchez area was still a frontier. The window panes are 11 x 11" hand blown, crown glass, imported from England. The huge timbers for the floor and roof beams were all whipsawed on site, and the tongue-and-groove planks for flooring and ceiling were made on-site. Door and window frames are thought to have been made 24 miles away in Natchez, with wood transported there from Springfield, and finished work transported back.
The four huge, two-story columns on the front were built from pie shaped bricks made on-site, as were all the bricks that went into the construction of the mansion. The front steps, rising several feet, are carved from a single Cypress log. All metal parts such as door hinges were made in the blacksmith shop on the plantation. The interior, well why don't I just quote from the guidebook?
“…Magnificent Georgian-Adams-Federal cornices and mantels, hand carved in intricate punched, gouged, reeded, and fluted details.” This type of decoration had not been seen west of the Eastern Seaboard when Springfield was built, and the origin of these decorations is unknown.
Mr. La Salle told us about his efforts to buy Springfield when it had deteriorated to the point where the owners were using it for hay storage. Luckily, none of the irreplaceable crown glass windows were broken, and Mr. La Salle leased the mansion from its owners in 1977. He, with help from his sons, has labored ever since, restoring the mansion to its former glory.
In conversation, it became apparent that Mr. La Salle thought that everybody involved was probably better off in the plantation system of the south before the Civil War than they were ever after. He made reference to the “Damn Northern Conservatives” who in his opinion pretty well ruined the south forever. I thought about asking for my $6 tour fee back after such an insult, but decided he was probably referring to events long past rather than anything I should take personally.
After a time, it became apparent also that he really thought we would have been better off if we had stayed a colony of England, rather than going through all the trouble of fighting them in two wars. He also spoke repeatedly of the “Evil Garden Club” of Natchez, apparently referring to the garden club that owns several mansions there. I'm still not quite sure what caused his unhappiness with them.
Mr. La Salle's most interesting story was that of Andrew Jackson having married his wife, Rachel, at Springfield Plantation in 1790 or 1791. He has expended a great deal of time and effort researching this, and feels he has proved that Mrs. Jackson was actually still married to another man at the time of her marriage to Andrew Jackson.
If you remember your history, Andrew Jackson became a national hero by beating the British in New Orleans in 1815, and went on to be elected the 7th president of the United States in 1828. There was a good deal of slander by his opponents during the presidential election, with no proof that either Andrew or Rachel had reason to believe that she had not been divorced before the marriage. Rachel died soon after the election, having never set foot in the White House.
Having spent the hour Mr. La Salle told us it would take to have a “real” tour of the mansion, and knowing that we were going to be driving into a possible snow and ice storm, we were ready to be on our way. There were no shirts to be bought, so D bought Mr. La Salle's book, The Marriage of Andrew Jackson at Springfield Plantation, we thanked Mr. La Salle for his outpouring of most interesting history, and found our way back to the highway, heading north for Little Rock.
We crossed to the east side of the Mississippi River, and traveled more or less along the west side for a time, seeing huge Bald Cypress trees with their many knees protruding from the water. I think I once heard that it is the knees sticking into the air that allow Cypress trees to grow in the water.
We drove in light rain through Little Rock and on to Conway, Arkansas, stopping at a motel at 10 p.m. We were pretty apprehensive about the weather; snow and sleet were predicted for overnight. We considered making a run for Springfield, Missouri, in the dark, but it was already 32 degrees and raining, so thought daylight would be better.
In the morning (February 6th), we awakened to several inches of new snow. The temperature was still 32 degrees, but the roads were wet, with no ice. We debated taking the shorter two-lane road through the Ozarks or going far west to stay on four-lane roads with less hilly terrain. We checked at a truck stop and the report was the road was still good through the Ozarks, so we got rolling.
The drive through the mountains was beautiful, with snow hanging on the trees. The back roads must have been bad, because all the schools were out for the day. We passed great numbers of antique shops, all closed. The road in places was carved out of rocky hills, with sheer cliffs close to the road. The road ran along several high ridges, with great views of the tree-covered mountains and valleys. The altitude changes had our ears popping. We smelled fresh lumber, and then passed a couple of lumber mills, and a whole valley filled with stacks of fresh-cut lumber.
As we neared Branson, the rain and snow that had never really stopped turned to fog and sleet. We hadn't planned to be back to D's folks in Springfield until sometime the next day, so talked about going to Branson for the night. D was talking on the phone when we got there, so I drove right by, but she made me go back. The turn wasn't marked very well.
Mid-afternoon found us settled into a motel, and then the weather took a turn for the better. We drove the length of Branson, finding an Imax theater where we saw The Ozarks. We explored Branson for a while and went to the “Legends” season opening show. Great impersonations of Elton John, Patsy Cline, Faith Hill, Neal Diamond, the Blues Brothers, and Elvis. Very talented performers looked and sounded like the real McCoy. We had middle seats in the second row, not a very busy time in Branson.
When we got out of the show, the temperature had dropped to 23 degrees, and the parking lot was a skating rink. We eased out onto the very hilly main street of Branson, and gingerly drove back to the hotel.
February 7th, we woke to 16 degrees but sunny skies. D dropped off six rolls of film at Walgreen's and we checked out the huge outlet mall nearby. Got some good deals on stuff we might need sometime. We went back the Imax for an excellent show, Lewis and Clark, which brought home to me the incredible difficulties they survived on their trip up the Missouri and across the mountains to the west coast.
We picked up D's pictures at Walgreen's, and by the time we drove the 40 or so miles to Springfield, she had them all in a picture album.
We arrived at Don and Dorothy's at 2 p.m., and took them out to Culver's in the evening. Next morning, our plan was to eat lunch and hit the road. Don made a wonderful meal of roast beef, potatoes, gravy, salad, and creamed corn, with ice cream for dessert. He fed us at 10:30, but we fooled him and stayed almost until noon anyway.
Cat-Who-Barks had been following D around ever since we arrived, so we took her along, in spite of my idea that she would have a much more satisfactory retirement with Don and Dorothy. She was cranky and whiney until we moved her bed to a spot between our seats so she could think she was a human and look out the windshield at the sky instead of out the side window at the same sky.
We stopped at a rest area where the sinks were automatic, and when the water stopped, a hand dryer started right in the sink. D figured it out, but it was too advanced for me. I wiped my hands on my jeans; same as I do where they have those worthless hot air hand dryers mounted on the wall. What will they think of next? Suppose it's our tax dollars at work.
We sneaked around the west side of Kansas City to add the state of Kansas to our list of states for the trip. Good road, little traffic. We found what D considered the worst motel of the trip in Sioux City; the heater made more noise than heat. Not that I noticed, having so far slept through a major earthquake in Yellowstone Park when I was a kid, and Hurricane Camille as a teenager in Mississippi. Poor D, she says I snore and have sharp elbows, too.
February 9th, we started looking for excuses to not go home, knowing we could only postpone the inevitable. We stopped at Watertown, where we toured the Terry Redlin Art Center. This is a Do Not Miss place, and admission is free. I could have stayed two days, easy.
We left Watertown in sleet and wind, thankfully leaving the sleet behind after a few miles. We found our way home by early evening, greeted by extremely cold temperatures, having driven 4100 miles since leaving home on January 22nd.
I would like to publicly thank everyone who made our trip possible. Ben and Toid, thanks for putting up with livestock chores and frozen stock fountains in the below zero weather that plagued the homeland most of the time we were gone. Becky, thanks for taking care of the house chores. Linda, thanks for your help, too. Thanks to Peggy for helping Becky and Linda. Without all of you, this wonderful trip of a lifetime would not have been possible. Thanks again!
I was shaving my cat when the phone rang. I know that sounds like a
contrived opening line, but it was true. My cat had gone through some
winter depression and let his coat completely go, resulting in gnatty
dreadfulness to rival that of Bob Marley's. I'm not the kind of cat owner
that sits around brushing his cats; I just don't have time.
Anyway, there I was working away at Torgo's knots with a cheap electric
razor I found at some national shopping outlet, when the phone rang. The
caller ID read "Memories Amalga," which is better than "Unavailable," so
I answered it.
"Hello Sir, I want to take this opportunity to tell you about a unique
I knew as soon as I heard the over-friendly, highly trained voice that it was just the usual truckload from another telemarketer. In my opinion, telemarketers rank on the social scale one small step above dog fight promoters, so I gave the disembodied female voice on the other end of the line my usual dodge; I hung up. Not particularly original, I admit, but effective. Nor is my method polite, but calling people at all hours of the day attempting to defraud them isn't exactly Emily Post either, so I have no compunctions about slamming the receiver down like a spiked volleyball on a telemarketer.
After a week with my new razor, I turned it on myself. The tedium finally
got to me, or maybe it was just knowing that I owned an electric razor
and it was waiting there for me to take charge of my own destiny, I'm not
sure. But there I was staring back at myself from the mirror, bald as a
Hare Krishna at the airport.
I stumbled out of the bathroom, a bit dazed by my transformation. An
envelope stacked on top of my mountain of junk mail and bills caught my
eye with its provocative red lettering and sultry font: FREE SAMPLE!
I fished it out of the pile (Sometimes I don't get my mail for weeks, a reflex from my days of irresponsible personal finance.) and opened it. It was from some outfit calling themselves Memories Amalgamated and contained a small plastic pouch, apparently a medical sample of some kind.
I skimmed the enclosed cover letter and ascertained that it was "brainfood" of a "completely revolutionary" nature. A "safe, organic memory enhancer" that was supposed to restore memories that were long deteriorated. NOT A DRUG, they repeatedly stressed...
"Grandma, what's four times eight?"
"Thirty-two." Grandma answered politely, even though she had answered that question as many times in the last three hundred miles. I never could remember four times eight. In fact, I have to think twice about it now.
"Can we stop at the next Stuckeys?" I chimed. "I've got my eye on one of those giant pennies and I need more film for my camera.""
If you had ever traveled out west in 1974 in a giant landshark of a Cadillac, you know that there were Stuckeys souvenir and rock candy stores every 50 miles, and it was crucial that you hit every one.
I convinced Dad to pull over at The Colorado border and he snapped out the last picture on my last roll of Polaroid film. Mother and I stood feebly in front of the State line sign and allowed part of our souls to be whisked away for posterity.
I stripped away the sticky backing of the photograph and inhaled the sweet library paste smell, waiting patiently as Buddha for the images to materialize. Having canonized the moment, Father pointed the bow of our mighty ship westward.
I resumed my math assignment, somewhat annoyed with having to mix these beautiful, foreign landscapes with multiplication tables. Still, there was that giant penny, and who knows, maybe a coyote or a rattlesnake would show up. After all, our destination was California, where everything cool in the world ever came from, so who could complain about that?
"Grandma, what's four times eight?"
(To be continued)
Editor's Comments: It is interesting to note that Elaine and Don chose to write about their parents in the same era. They did not plan this but nice to get two different perspectives of that period of their family history. I, too, lived during those days -- but in an area that had already finished their pioneer days. Those were challenging times and make good reading!
I remember hearing about the early days of my parents, Harry and Cleo, and will try to refresh the memories of others.
Dad and Mom were married in 1926. The times were hard, but not as hard as the next few years to come. This was the time of the Great Depression: 1929 to 1939. To make a living, our Dad picked chickens at Swift's in Breckenridge and the wages were a few cents a chicken.
In about 1932, Dad was hired by the Dwight Farm & Land Co. This was a large farm comprised of rich stockholders in New York. There were (if my memory serves me right) 13 quarter sections in the farm. Dad was hired as foreman and supervised the Headquarters portion, which I believe consisted of six quarter sections of the land holdings.
Dad also operated the grain elevator, had charge of the grain coming in and operated the grain cleaning for seed. Dad did the upkeep on the three McCormick tractors. Dad's wages were 35 cents an hour and 10 hour days were standard -- including Saturday. Winters were spent cleaning seed grain and overhauling tractors and other equipment to be ready for another season. (I learned how to repair, as Dad put me to work when I was about 10.)
In 1935, the Dwight Farm & Land Co. decided to quit. A large sale was held. The land was then rented out to area farmers. Dad decided to go farming. He rented two quarters near Dwight, and as we lived in Dwight, it was handy. Dad worked at the Dwight Elevator running the corn dryer. This was night work and he got his farm operation going during the daylight hours, getting a bit of sleep between. This was hard for him and he spent a few months in bed with rheumatoid arthritis -- during 1936.
At this time, there were five of us children: Donnie, Elwood, Elaine, DeLoris, and Mavis. I recall Dad plowing at night with his 15-390. He made lights by putting kerosene lanterns in a cut down five gallon honey can. They afforded enough light to see the furrow.
In 1937 the crops looked good and Dad decided to purchase a new 10-foot grain binder. He arranged to buy it on the strength of the promising crop. It was delivered to our home -- but shortly came trouble -- rust consumed the crop. Mr. Lillegard told Dad not to worry about the $350, as the next year would be better. I remember that the next year had a fair crop and payment was made. Dad bought a railroad boxcar from Soo Line for $140, which was delivered from Hankinson to our little farm in Dwight.
In 1940 Junior was born. In 1941 the home farm was purchased. Most of the buildings then were moved to our new farm, just north of Dwight. Much work was required on this new farm, as it had been rented for many years and had not been kept up very well. We all worked hard to make the needed improvements.
It was in 1945 that I noticed my Mom was sick and not feeling very good most of the time. I never realized what was the problem until she had to go into the hospital. Erma, our cousin, drove out and told us we had a baby brother. This was in May. He was named Dwight after a famous WW Two general, Dwight Eisenhower, and another one named Douglas McArthur.
During the war years, the farming was made difficult by war shortages as I have told in another article, but prices were better and crops were better, too. These years brought prosperity to the farm. Our parents' lives grew easier. I am glad for our parents that they could have easier lives, as they certainly worked hard to achieve it and certainly deserved it.
I hope you younger folks get an idea of how your grandparents strived to survive the difficult days.
Dad taught me to drive, starting when I was only able to see out by sitting in his lap. I thought it was so much fun! All the years of his letting me practice in the fields, driveways, etc. made my driving test a breeze, when I got that far. His warning to me not to use the brakes so much as I approached a stop sign (going to wear them out!) still hangs with me to this day, when I ride with someone that does that ... makes me think what he'd have to say!
Then, after getting the longed for drivers license, I got to do the bill collecting and parts running for him. (Much to Mom's happiness, I'd guess.) Mainly trips to Buffalo, (we lived by Highland Store at that time) which had such pretty views on the way. I loved the newly found freedom!
Grandma and Grandpa Dake
The one memory that includes both Grandma and Grandpa had to do with the bathroom, strangely enough. My two sisters (Lisa & Stacy) and I used to be attached to the three youngest Anderson children at the hip during our younger years. Anyway, Grandpa (like most men) didn't have a clue as to why women had to use the restroom in a gaggle. Our little gang, minus the "Master of Ceremonies," (yes, we did realize he was a b - o - y ) received several scoldings, due to all of us being in the bathroom at the same time. I remember the situation occurring several times, so his scoldings must not have been too severe. And now that I think about it, I think none of us ever actually "used" the bathroom.
+ LETTERS TO THE EDITOR?
Just wanted to let you know I'm greatly enjoying your newsletter. D has told me much of her family history, but reading the firsthand accounts brings it to life! I get such a kick out of Doug's writing! He is so talented, describes things so well, his writing makes me feel as if I could have been watching the stories as they were happening. Keep up the good work.
PS I sent the last part of the travelogue using my Microsoft e-mail, I think that was the way you said worked best last time. If not, let me know, I'll try it another way.
You are not to suppose that you are through writing for The Bulletin.
I know you will be super busy for the spring season -- but when you have some time I am expecting you to do some more writing!!!! Thanks for the letter of support and for taking your time to do the travelogue.
A suggestion -- Give us a memory of your kid days!!! Your last edition came in perfect order, all the punctuation in order and the font is just fine -- your compliments to Doug are welcomed and agreed with -- BUT I submit -- you surely are a good writer yourself. I think our family has a gift of communicating (maybe a polite way of saying "a gift of gab") and I am pleased with the response from everyone.
Dear Murt, I do not have time to write much but I just have to write and tell you how much I enjoyed your story to the bulletin. It was just super, wonderful, the greatest, and marvelous. To bring back all those memories to all of us was most precious. You and Dwight shared lots together and that was nice too. Best of all you have wonderful memories of your grandparents.
Auntie Daisy (Mavis)
Running kind of late today, but I still wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed Carol's letter! Marlene's was very to the point; she has a gift there. As far as that "too old," crack, you are The Editor supreme, who took a little newsletter and turned it into THE BULLETIN! "Too old," my foot! I can feel this family tightening with every issue! Get in there and keep swingin', Chief!
Your proud son,
Thanks, son, I will keep trying!
We have enjoyed the bulletin very much. Wonderful for the family to keep in touch so closely. Without E-mail we would be very left out on the happenings of our relatives and their and our lives would just pass by with only a now and then visit a time or two a year and at funerals.
The memories part is so interesting when everybody shares memories. (I was wondering why the bulletins come in on my computer in a very wide manner. I can not print them off as the lines are too long. Is this normal for you and everyone else too, or does my computer need some adjustment?)
Grandpa Harry and Grandma Cleo had only one new car in their lives. A maroon 1949 Dodge. Don remembers that, too.
Maybe somebody out there can tell Mavis how to adjust her computer so the screen will hold the message -- without the lines being so long!!
Our Present Staff:
EDITORS: Mom, Grandma, Dorothy, etc.
Doug -------St. Cloud Correspondent
Rich---------Mr. In-A-Jam(b) &
Donna------Researcher for Memory Lane, etc.