Coast Lines - April 2021
- by Ellis Anderson
Community consensus can help Bay St. Louis set our course for the future, so bring on a new Comprehensive Plan.
- by Ellis Anderson
As the holidays draw near and infection rates break new records, the possibility of gifting the virus is a prospect we can avoid.
- by Ellis Anderson
The Mississippi Department of Health/University of MS Medical Center now offer free statewide drive-thru Covid testing. You do not need a doctor's referral. To qualify, you need to have some Covid symptoms or been exposed.
It's extremely simple to make an appointment through their online system! Click here.
Want to see a snapshot of how your Mississippi county has fared with infection rates over time? Click here.
After fifty years of adoration, a Paul McCartney fan shares an intimate moment with him - along with 18,000 other fans.
- story by Ellis Anderson
While my dad was a church elder, he was a lively 42 years old in 1964 and possessed an extremely curious nature - and a love of puns. The band’s name caught his fancy as much as their advanced press. I could tell he was looking forward to seeing the Beatles as much as me and my older sister, Diane. My family didn’t live very far from the church, but Daddy drove faster than usual. He turned on our clunky console set as soon as we got in the front door.
My mom served us all pound cake and milk before settling on the sofa next to Daddy. Hailing from deep Appalachia, she generally viewed any new trend like the Beatles with suspicion; if something was fun it was likely to be an instrument of Satan. Like rock n’ roll. And mini-skirts.
On the other hand, she felt a great fondness for Elvis. One of the Jordanaires who backed up Elvis was Ray Walker and Ray was a leading member of our denomination. That fact completely offset Elvis’s devilish hip-swiveling routines.
Mom was sure Ray would convert Elvis any day now. She could just tell by Elvis’s rendition of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” that he’d eventually choose the straight and narrow path – ours. The one where any dancing at all was a sin.
Diane, seven years older than me and an actual teenager, possessed reams of Beatles knowledge she reeled off while we waited for the show to start. John was married with a son while the rest were single. There’d been an earlier drummer before Ringo, Pete Best. By the way, Ringo’s real name was Richard Starkey.
She and I nested on the floor right in front of the TV, ignoring our mom’s warning that the radiation would zap us blind if we sat that close. At the time, no one realized I was already legally blind. From sofa distance, all I could see on the TV screen were grey blobs moving around.
I thought the world was blurry for everyone, and that while the extra radiation made things clearer on TV when I sat close, it was a dangerous habit. That night, the risk seemed worth a lifetime of darkness.
When the Beatles began playing against a backdrop of shrill screams, the bright sounds that flooded my ears were unlike any I’d heard before. The supremely simple songs weren’t overwrought with croons and warbles and horns and back-up singers.
Yet the music kicked up its heels, unlike the time-worn tunes by the forlorn folk singers I admired. The four cute boys on stage wearing preppy suits and jumbo-bowl haircuts performed their songs with unpretentious energy and merry spirits. I sat mesmerized, wanting the music never to end.
My sister helped make that happen. She used some of her baby-sitting money the following week to buy the Brits’ first album, “Meet the Beatles.”
Passion overtook me one afternoon while I listened to the album alone, mooning over the stark blue tinted faces on the cover. I circled the handsome head of my beloved and wrote – in ballpoint pen – “I Love You, Paul!”
Diane was apoplectic when she saw it a few days later.
“You idiot!” she screamed. “You not only ruined the album cover, you wrote on John’s picture!”
She was right. I’d gotten the two singers confused. My embarrassment lasted until the album was lost in a move decades later.
“I haven’t forgotten,” Diane says now when I remind her of the incident. “But I have forgiven you.”
There’s a little edge in her voice that makes me wonder.
After the album cover incident, Diane’s attraction to the Beatles faded. Her devotion to Elvis redoubled as his acting career soared. So my sister never learned of more serious damage to her album. Since my school let out hours before hers, I’d spend afternoons quietly playing the album in her room on her portable record player.
Over and over and over.
I learned the words to every song.
While I adored the songs, there was a greater purpose to my memorization. Somehow, at some point in the future when I was an actual woman, Paul and I would have a chance meeting. The details were fuzzy in my fantasy, but he’d invite me to sing with him. Our voices would harmonize perfectly on every tune, our tones becoming twins. His heart would instantly be mine forever. That was my destiny. I just knew it.
But by the time I'd learned all the songs, word for word, deep grooves in the vinyl distorted the sound. The crackle and hiss of scratches marred those clear, dear voices.
I repeated the same crime 15 years later.
As a college student learning to play the song “Blackbird” in my little studio apartment in Nashville, I played the White Album song repeatedly. After finding one of the fingerings on the neck of my guitar, I’d put it aside, stand up and go to the record player, pick up the stylus and move it back. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
Forty years later, the price of a new album seems a small price to have paid for learning the song that’s brought me so much joy, so many times. With that mysterious musicians’ alchemy, my hands seem to have brains of their own when I play it. They move independently, without conscious direction from me.
Sometimes I watch as if they’re someone else’s hands. The left hand scoots up and down the guitar's fretboard, putting pressure on this string and that, while the right hand plucks the proper strings at a precise moment needed to create Blackbird’s melody. How do they do that?
I don’t know. Playing an instrument eventually becomes a miraculous process that by-passes the ego, connecting the player’s soul directly to a universal power. I believe all musicians feel this. It gives us a joy like no other. It’s the reason we’re always encouraging kids to take up an instrument.
Paul and I never did meet and Linda snatched him up before I made it out of middle school. The only time we’ve been in the same room – if you can call it that – is when he played in New Orleans this May.
A nosebleed seat turned out to be a great advantage, giving me a stupendous overview of the event. We didn’t need front row seats to catch the good will the former Beatle radiated.
And I finally got my invitation to harmonize with Paul. Along with 18,000 other people, I lifted my voice as he led us all in song. I hadn’t been the only one wearing out the albums. We all knew the words. The intensity of the show wrung tears from my friend and me several times. Glancing around, I saw tissues dabbing at eyes everywhere.
And then Paul played Blackbird.
Alone on a darkened stage, he fingered the acoustic guitar with utmost confidence. He knew the brains in his hands were not going to falter. I struggled not to sob because it’d shake my own hands that held a phone, capturing the moment for me. Crisp and pure, each perfect chording became a sweet spear that pierced my heart.
When Paul finished the song and the roars had died back, he asked the audience, “How many of you tried to learn how to play Blackbird?”
A surprising number of hands shot up all across the stadium. Maybe one in ten.
Paul laughed. “And you never got it quite right, did you?” he asked.
We all laughed with him. It was true. Even though I’d worn out a record learning, I had caught a few notes in the songwriter’s performance that differed from my own version.
But "Blackbird" isn't a song about perfection. It's about having broken wings and still being able to fly.
Dedicated to Jeannette Bolte, who made the experience possible (and was the perfect concert companion), and to Bill Morrison, who sacrificed his own concert ticket to me in the interest of journalism!
A roving robot named after an English butler becomes a beloved new pet, despite the skepticism of the family dogs.
- story and photos by Ellis Anderson
My mom was the perfect example. Since my bedroom was next to the kitchen, I’d go to sleep hearing her pack our lunches for the next day, or stitching away at her sewing machine.
When Mom knocked on my door at 6am to wake me for school, I’d smell the coffee she’d already brewed, and the bacon crisping in her favorite cast iron pan. She’d have already set the table for Dad and me.
On chilly winter mornings, my mother urged me to stand in front of the den fireplace to warm up; the split logs would be already glowing since she’d made the fire an hour before.
Mom saved the noisier task of vacuuming for afternoons. Back then, vacuum cleaners had the decibel level of a bull-dozer and weighed about as much too. My five-foot tall mother would drag the behemoth into a room and wrestle with it, contorting herself in attempts to force the attachments beneath beds and behind furniture.
Of course, my dad pitched in around the house too, but he mostly took care of the more interesting outdoor tasks. Edging the sidewalk or taking out the garbage could turn into a real adventure if you spotted a raccoon or possum. So when pressed into labor, I generally tried to land the outside assignments.
If that ploy wasn’t successful, I would even offer to scrub the bathroom to avoid vacuuming, I hated the big Blue Beast. The infernal monster hurt my ears and spewed dust if you accidently sucked up a sock. The attachments never attached properly, so they'd fly off, at times causing bodily harm.
Scarred by her own childhood experiences with the Blue Beast, my older sister, always a meticulous housekeeper, has also detested vacuuming her entire adult life.
A few years ago, my sister became the first person in my circle to recommend a robot vac. She claimed it randomly scooted around the room without any human direction whatsoever, minding its manners and doing an excellent job. I was skeptical. How could a round thing clean corners?
Her son, a musician who dotes on his cats, later gave an even stronger endorsement: “I think the floor’s already clean, but when I empty my Roomba, I can’t believe all the cat hair it still managed to pick up.”
This made a bigger impression. We own two dogs and one of them, Sherman, a white German Shedder, produces great snowdrifts of hair year-round. Still, the price tag of the new-fangled vacuum kept me pushing my conventional upright around – but only when the drifts - and the guilt - piled up.
A gift card and a Black Friday sale convinced me to take the plunge finally. I brought new Roomba home and set it loose in my living room. Within ten minutes, a flashing light warned me that its container was filled. Although I’d cleaned the room with the upright a few days before, in the space of an hour I had to empty the Roomba’s dust bin two more times.
The pint-sized robot came with its own app, which I loaded onto my phone. The app asked me to name the vacuum.
Using a woman's name was out of the question. Besides, I’d always wanted an English butler, like Giles, the one actor Sebastian Cabot played in the popular 60s TV show, “Family Affair.”
I typed "Niles" into the app.
Like any proper British butler, Niles exhibits great dignity. The dogs learned to respect him within a few days. Our small terrier, Jace, at first tried to protect his toys from the relentless rolling machine. Since Niles showed no fear and is clearly an Alpha, Jace now snatches playthings out of the vacuum’s path and hides them in another room.
Sherman, who was bushwhacked once when Niles emerged from beneath the sofa and ran over his tail, is wary. Although he's five times the size, he retreats into his kennel when the robot rules the room.
I too, think of Niles as a plucky personality. If he's supposed to be working, but has suddenly fallen quiet, I know he's not loafing. I worry that his battery might have run out beneath the sofa. Or I get concerned when Niles sounds a distress call (likely by sucking up a sock) and I run to the rescue.
I thank Niles on a regular basis. Profusely. Although I have evidence that Sherman is still shedding as much hair has ever, I only see it now when I empty Niles’s dust compartment. The drifts in the corners have utterly vanished.
Best of all, so has my perpetual guilt.
Shoofly Magazine publisher Ellis Anderson looks back to the first Cruisin' the Coast event in 1996 - and her introduction to the Pat Murphy Band.
- story and photos by Ellis Anderson
It’s a classic car show that takes place in Biloxi, they tried to explain. But it’s in Gulfport as well. And it’s even coming to Bay St. Louis. There’ll be live music too! Do you have a poodle skirt I can borrow?
It was very confusing to me. An event takes place in a single location, right? And hey, even though I’d moved over from New Orleans with several costume boxes, I was sadly lacking in poodle skirts.
Later, we’d all learn that Cruisin’ was sort of like a progressive dinner party, drive-thru style. A large part of the fun for participants was, well, cruising. Antique or vintage car owners would register in Biloxi and have their passes stamped at each of the participating coast cities.
They’d all roll down the coast road in their antique cars, enjoying the scenery and getting a good gander at other collectible cars in the process. Slews of vintage automobile fans from around the region were expected to attend. They’d have the opportunity to time-travel back to when car seats rumbled and fenders had fins.
Except, there weren’t that many cars to look at in 1996. In that inaugural year, only 374 vehicles participated. Spread out across 70 miles of coast, the showing didn’t make an enormous visual impact. But I didn’t care – the festival was a huge success to me: I’d gotten to hear the Pat Murphy Band for the first time.
My neighbors had also clued me in about the band. I listened to them rhapsodize about Pat (you can’t help but dance!) and his wife Candy (Lord, can she belt ‘em out!), and the other musicians (those horns, the rhythm, the lead!).
I found out first hand when the Pat Murphy Band kicked into its first set on Saturday afternoon of that inaugural Cruisin’. I was helping a customer in the gallery, when the music from the courthouse stage slid in through my open French doors. The boogie beat beckoned.
I rushed the customer out, stuck a note on the doors and locked them. Next door, a large crowd had already gathered before the stage. With the courthouse as a backdrop, people swung and swayed and the burden of responsibilities and cares that every one of us shoulders got dropped to the ground as we danced.
When the first Cruisin’ was over, organizers might have been disappointed, but participants sure weren’t. They returned home to Hattiesburg, or Baton Rouge or Mobile and told their friends. Who told their friends. Who started polishing up their cars for 1997.
From 1996 – 2004, I watched each one of the Crusin’ events from the front porch of my Main Street gallery. The rest of the year, I rarely looked twice at the design of a ride, but during that week, the car craze proved to be contagious and I oogled with the rest of specators. For one whole week, Bay St. Louis, drenched in a lovely 1950s charm straight out of Mayberry, RFD, became a movie set from the past.
But seeing the Pat Murphy Band was always the highlight for me. Although the stage got moved eventually so it wasn’t right next door, I was always swaying in the crowd when they played.
The event's grown past anyone's expectations. According to the official Cruisin’ the Coast website, in 2017 more than 8,300 vehicles registered. Participants hailed from forty states. Antique car enthusiasts flock to the coast by the thousands, to catch the chrome, the costumes and the brightly colored cars, glistening under coats of paint so rich and syrupy, you can almost taste the fruity flavors.
Pat’s band has morphed into “Sippiana Soul” these days. John Bezou is still tearing up the lead, while Pat’s cranking on the keyboards and Candy’s reminding us all that while heartbreak is inevitable, music and movement and great friends make it all worthwhile.
Catch “Sippiana Soul" during the 2018 Cruisin' at the Beach/Court St. stage, on Saturday, October 6, 1pm - 2pm.
Poodle skirts not required.
For a full Cruisin' schedule of Bay St. Louis/Hancock County events only, click here for the Shoofly Magazine's Upcoming Events page!
These three fun itineraries for idyllic days in "The Bay" are tailored for fitness buffs, families with children and BFFs who want to explore Old Town's shops. You won't go hungry either, with our local eatery suggestions. Feel free to mix and match at will - you really can't go wrong.
- itineraries and photos by Ellis Anderson
Start the morning with breakfast at Lulu’s on Main (126 Main Street, inside Maggie May’s). Fuel up with one of her specialties like fried chicken beignets or a BLT with a scrumptious bacon remoulade sauce.
Pick up your copy of the historic walking/biking tour at Lulu’s or click here for the digital version. The Old Town Biking/Walking Tour winds 1 1/4 miles through the town’s lovely historic district, and the guide recounts colorful snippets of the past.
The tour winds up near the Starfish Café (211 Main Street) with its garden-to-table menu – literally. Many of the creative and delicious dishes are made with ingredients harvested from the front garden. The menu changes seasonally – but look for local favorites, like grass-fed beef burgers, fish tacos with mango slaw and veggie spring rolls.
After lunch, check out Green Canyon Outfitters (108 S. Beach Blvd). Perched in the top floor of the French Settlement building, it's the only retail shop on the beach and a must-see for new residents who lead an active lifestyle. Green Canyon proves one can find big-city brands on the coast. More pluses? One of the best views of the harbor and beachfront scene - and it's dog-friendly.
Rev up again by biking or walking the serene beach path (start at the Washington Street pier). This five-mile paved trail runs between the peaceful beach and an old-fashioned two-lane coast road that hasn’t changed much in the last 50 years. Along the way, keep an eye out for skimmers, osprey, pelicans, and even bald eagles.
Don't have a bike? You can rent them at Bodega (just off Beach Boulevard at 111 Court Street). Feeling more adventurous? You can also ply the local waters with kayaks and paddle boards, also available for rent there. If you want to explore the Jourdan River Blueway, a few miles north of the Bay, click here for the map.
Afterward, you won’t have to dress up to enjoy dinner at Trapani’s Eatery (116 N. Beach). It’s one of Jimmy Buffet’s favorite watering holes on the Gulf Coast. Reward yourself with the fried green tomatoes with crabmeat or feast on the low-calorie raw Tuna Poke.
The family-friendly Buttercup Café (112 N. Second Street) is located in the heart of Old Town and offers dining both inside and out. The younger set will crave the fluffy pancakes that smell like birthday cake when they’re served. Adults will want to sample local favorites like the crawfish étoufée omelets.
Then pile into the car and head out to INFINITY Science Center in the western part of the county. The museum exhibits and a free bus tour of the adjacent (and restricted access) Stennis Space Center complex give a glimpse into the science behind space travel. Interactive exhibits like the Carnivorous Plants Conservatory and seasonal tram rides through the surrounding wetlands give lessons in natural habitats.
During summer months, drive to your next stop, Buccaneer State Park (1150 South Beach Boulevard, Waveland). The extraordinary wave pool and water park are open seven days a week all summer (closes after Labor Day). The Sea Dog Galley offers hamburger/hot dog basics.
During the rest of the year, grab lunch at the INFINITY Café and set out for the Louisiana/Mississippi border for a swamp tour. Cajun Encounters is only 15 minute drive from the science center. They offer two-hour boat tours - even off season – with three early afternoon tour times (see the schedule at www.cajunencounters.com). Expect to see all types of wildlife in the majestic Honey Island Swamp. Get your cameras ready during warm weather, the alligators will be basking. The tours last about two hours and everyone will be sad when it’s over.
Finish your day back in Bay St. Louis at Cuz’s Oyster Bar and Grill (108 S. Beach Blvd.). it has both patio and indoor seating. The younger set can devour fried shrimp and catfish while the adults will dig into specialties like raw and grilled oysters and boiled seasonal seafood.
Breakfast at the Mockingbird Café (110 S. Second Street) gives any day a special start. They offer some of the best biscuits in the south (homemade jams available!), specialty coffee drinks and if you’re feeling especially celebratory, order up a strawberry-lemonade mimosa or Bloody Mary to go with the pulled pork and grits or chicken with waffles.
The commercial district of Old Town BSL isn’t large at all, but it’s evolved as two sections, clustered around the first and second blocks of Main Street. Each “block” has its own distinct personality. The Mockingbird is a touchstone for the “Second Block.” It’s right next door to the vast Century Hall (112 S. Second Street), a renovated historic gem that contains more than a dozen shops.
Check out Bay Life Gifts for beachy décor and gifts and Gallery Edge for contemporary art. Also on Second Street you’ll find Smith & Lens Gallery (106 S. Second Street), Magnolia Antiques (200 Main St) and Social Chair (131 Main Street) and Antique Maison (111 N Second). A bit off the beaten track (only a few blocks), is Antique Maison Ulman (317 Ulman Ave.). This enormous building is stuffed with finds and treasures. You can rest your feet in their tearoom and garden - you may need to!
On the actual second block of Main Street, the three “must visits” are the anchors. French Potager (213 Main Street) is known for florals and exciting finds. Gallery 220 (220 Main) is one of the oldest artists co-ops in the state, while next door is California Drawstrings (216 Main Street), a boutique specializing in chic, artsy natural fiber clothing.
It’s a quick half block stroll past churches and the historic courthouse to get to the “First Block” area. The focus is on lifestyle and fashion here. The enormous building at 126 Main serves as home to several shops, brimming with art, stylish boutiques and home décor. Check out bijoubel Boutique and Joan Vaas (next door) for high-end clothing and jewelry without the sticker shock.
End the day at a restaurant that’s been featured in national publications like “Vogue.” The motto at Sycamore House Restaurant (210 Main St.) is “come casual, we supply the elegance.” The menu offers classic coast fare with inventive twists. Local favorites include the “flautas of the day,” the tenderloin and the fish of the day. Save room for divine homemade ice creams (the salted caramel will make you swoon) or one of the best crème brulees in South.
In the century since it'd been constructed, the building had served as a school, a community center and a place for healing broken lives. But no one had ever called it "home."
- by Ellis Anderson
Like the day I first saw Webb School. Biking up Citizen from the beach, at the second stop sign, I came to a dead halt. The white building across the intersection seemed more windows and porches than walls. It looked like some decrepit West Indies plantation house, with the main living area on the second floor. Eight windowed doors opened up onto the deep veranda. How had it landed in this neighborhood of modest historic cottages and ‘60s ranch style homes?
The white building beckoned me onto the property, and I stood under the boughs of three giant oaks looking up at it. After a while, it became clear the place hadn’t been built as a house. It had a civic feel to it. Maybe a city hall? A school?
On the concrete facing to the front steps, “Rebos” had been painted in bright blue. The place seemed abandoned, so I walked up the front steps. Curtains blocked the windows on doors, so I couldn't see in to confirm.
I biked back to Main Street, and began asking my neighbors. Yes. It’d been an elementary school, built in 1913. Starting in the 1960s, it’d become a community center of sorts, with city offices, and space for programs like scouting and art classes. In the early ‘90s, it’d been bought by a non-profit that used it for 12-step group meetings. Everyone had started calling it Rebos House. Those in the know explained that Rebos was “sober” spelled backwards.
I biked over often after that, approaching from either the Depot or the beach, my heart lifting a bit whenever the school came into view. I had carved out a small efficiency in the gallery building on Main, but in a few years I planned to buy a real home in Bay St. Louis. Something historic. A place that I could lavish with love for the rest of my life.
But the school didn’t seem logical. Even if I could scrape together the money to buy the building, I’d done enough renovation projects in New Orleans to know the scope of this one would be gargantuan. I’d be going it alone since I was single. And a working artist. It’s a career path that demands nerves of steel. Graph an artist’s income and it usually resembles the path of a bungee jump. Off a very high bridge.
The years passed. Offers I made on other houses in the Bay didn’t go through for one reason or the other. But in 2002, when I heard that Rebos House might be coming up for sale, instead of approaching the owners and making an offer myself, I tried to persuade a friend of mine to buy it. By that time I’d turned 45 and some common sense was finally starting to take root.
When my friend passed on Rebos, a wild idea took hold in my mind. It grew rampantly overnight like a jack-in-the-beanstalk seedling, feeding off my longtime dream like Miracle-Gro. Overnight, the thick leaves of possibility smothered the straight new shoots of sensibility I’d been nurturing.
Still, I called my long-time accountant in the morning.
“I know it’s crazy, but I want to make an offer on that place,” I said. I expected Gina to talk me off the cliff.
Instead, she pushed.
“You drove me by there eight years ago and told me that building was going to be your home someday. You gotta do it.”
So I made an offer. The non-profit’s board accepted. I shook in my boots. I drove my old boyfriend by to see the vast, ramshackled building.
“Aren’t you glad we’re not together anymore?” I asked after a quick tour. I was joking.
“Hell, yes!” he said, not joking at all.
The Rebos board cautioned me that the building had some deed restrictions, something to do with "historic stuff." They didn’t know exactly what. So I rooted around in the courthouse to find details. I discovered the building’s original name, Webb School. The deed had terms I didn’t understand. Designated Historic Landmark. Permanent Easement.
I decided to call Mississippi Department of Archives and History and find out more before the closing the following week. But I’d be cagey. I wouldn’t let them know what building I was buying. After all, I might not want state officials looking over my shoulder during the renovation, right? I didn't yet understand their job as stewards of the irreplaceable assets of the state.
After a few pass-alongs, I was connected to a man named Richard Cawthon. I introduced myself. “I’ve got a contract to buy a historic building on the coast, and the deed says it’s a Historic Landmark. What does that mean exactly?” I said.
“Which one is it?” Cawthon asked, not bothering with pleasantries.
Nervous suddenly, I hedged. “Uh, I’d rather not say right now. But it’s somewhere in Hancock County.”
“That means it’s one of five buildings,” Cawthon said without pause. “It’s either the courthouse or the train depot, the Second Street School, the Old City Hall or Webb School. Which is it? I presume you’re not buying the courthouse.”
I came clean. I found out that a Landmark is the highest architectural designation that can be bestowed by the state. At the time, there were only about 500 in the entire state. The program works to save the most important buildings for future generations of Mississippians as part of our shared heritage.
The designation came with restrictions. Mississipppi Department of Archives and History even has a say with what happens to the inside of landmarks. Every major change would have to go through the state for consideration.
“Will you allow me to make the interior changes needed to make it livable as a house?” I asked.
I was told I’d have to submit scale drawings. The Mississippi Landmarks board would approve or deny. Although they only met once a month, I was in luck. The next board meeting was in three days.
The closing was the following week. And I couldn't close on a building I couldn't make into a home. That gave me seventy-two hours to come up with plans.
I wasn’t married to an architect then. So I took a tape measure to the school and measured and imagined and drew up sketches on graph paper I normally used to design jewelry. Those days are a blur now, I didn’t sleep much.
The MDAH guidelines stated that they wanted the character of the building to remain intact. Chopping the space up by creating lots of permanent interior walls was forbidden. I'd learn later, after architect Larry Jaubert became my husband, how much of a wonder Webb School is. The ingenious architect John Henry had used a support system that made the building incredibly strong without walls or columns to break up the huge, high-ceilinged classrooms.
So I sat in the middle of those old schoolrooms at Webb for hours and tried to listen. It was a happy building, generations of children’s laughter and song embedded in the walls. A lot of the windows were boarded over, but the light still was magnificent. Why would I want to change that? Why would I try to remake it into the average suburban house?
On my sketchpad, the two grand classrooms became two large apartments. I'd live in one and rent out the other. The two cloakrooms in the back became kitchens. The central hall, a library accessible from my side. The former schoolrooms would become loft-style living areas – with plenty of room on each side for dining, living and and a partitioned off bedroom area.
On the morning of the meeting in Jackson, I faxed several graph paper sheets of scale drawings to the MDAH office. I knew the board would be expecting formal architectural renderings. I imagined them snickering at my amateur efforts and then shaking their heads. I saw the eye-rolls. I imagined the different ways they’d tell me “no.” But since they’d been gracious thus far, I guessed they’d at least be polite about rejecting my plans.
The call came finally. “We voted. It was unanimous,” the official said.
I sighed with disappointment. On some level, I’d known it all along.
“Yes,” he said. “We all voted yes.”
to be continued....
Coast Lines - Oct/Nov 2017
One man helped shaped the creative heart of Bay St. Louis in ways that will happily reverberate for generations to come: meet Jerry Dixon.
- story by Ellis Anderson
It read, “Something Wonderful Is Always Happening...”
Kat turned to her mother, Jean Hammett. “Mom, you need to see this. Something really interesting is going on.”
Jean came to the window and the women waved down to the sign poster. He waved back and the car pulled away.
Bay St. Louis changed forever. Jerry Dixon had come to town.
At first, Dixon opened a small metaphysical bookstore in the enormous building he’d purchased. He called the place “Serenity,” as if that's what customers could expect to find. The small sign on the door was replaced with a large painted one mounted on the building’s roof. It had the same message, writ large: Something Wonderful Is Always Happening…
The three ellipses trailed off, leaving it to the viewer’s imagination exactly where good things were happening. But if you asked anybody in town to tell you what it said from memory, they’d forget all about the ellipses and swear it said “ in Bay St. Louis.”
It didn’t matter what the sign said or didn’t. Good things did start happening in the Bay. Interesting things. Flower baskets began appearing, hung from street lights. Informal gatherings were often held at Serenity, a wide range of speakers sharing their expertise and interests. Jerry would often stand outside his front door and engage longtime locals and visitors alike in conversation, so Serenity became a community touchstone.
The art gallery grew gradually, but eventually encompassed most of the building. Dixon rented out individual spaces to artists or entrepreneurs who he wanted to nurture. Nancy Blance opened a used book store. John McDonald, the portrait artist, set up his studio there. Kat and Jean became gallery mainstays, showing their work there for nearly two decades. Artist Vicki Niolet remembers having one of her first shows at Serenity in the late 1980s, sharing the spotlight with fellow artist Brenda Randolph.
“I was just starting out as a working artist and to be honest, my work back then probably wasn’t good enough to show in a gallery,” says Vicki, whose artistic career since has won her national recognition and awards. “But Jerry wanted to encourage me. He gave me the confidence to push forward.”
Folk artist Alice Moseley credited Jerry Dixon for her decision to move to Bay St. Louis at age 80. In 1989, Moseley and her son, Tim, came to exhibit in a Main Street art festival. Her booth was in front of Serenity Gallery and when a storm came through around noon, Jerry helped Alice move her paintings inside. He invited her to remain set up in his gallery for the rest of the day.
Tim remembers that Alice returned to North Mississippi with a Bay St. Louis real estate booklet. About a month later, the retired schoolteacher called Jerry Dixon and declared she was moving to the Bay.
“But Alice,” Dixon said. “You don’t know anybody here.”
“I know you!” Alice said.
Tim says it was a move his mother never regretted. She became a fixture in Bay St. Louis and Jerry would visit with her every Monday afternoon when Serenity was closed.
When Alice passed away at the age of 94 in 2004, hundreds of people attended her memorial service on the Depot grounds. Today, the Alice Moseley Folk Art Museum in the Depot is one of the town’s major attractions. It's just one example of the amazing Dixon trickle-down effect.
“Scores of people moved here because of Jerry Dixon,” says Tim. “He was the glue that held the early art community together.”
“I can’t tell you how many times I heard the same story,” says Kat. “People would tell me that they found their way off the interstate into Bay St. Louis and then discovered Serenity Gallery and met Jerry. By the end of the afternoon, they were shopping for real estate.”
I can testify to the truth of that. In a large part, I’m in the Bay because of Jerry Dixon.
In 1994, after fifteen years of living and owning an art gallery in the French Quarter, I was ready for a change. I’d visited the Bay’s art galleries during a small event called “Second Saturday” and toyed with relocating.
By that time, a lively art colony was taking shape - Bay St. Louis would soon be recognized as one of 100 Top Art Towns in the country. Jerry Dixon’s friends (and artists) Keith Karlson and Tony Eccles had opened Mississippi Gallery across the street from Serenity. Jerry and Keith had cooked up the concept for a monthly gallery walk.
They were joined by others, like nationally-recognized modernist jewelry authority, Marby Schon, and her husband, Andrew Tilden, who operated a gallery at 110 S. Second Street (where the Mockingbird Café is now). And Vicki Niolet - by then a Bay resident thanks to the influence of Jerry - had recently opened Paper Moon on Main Street (Gallery 220's location).
Every artist I met encouraged me to make the leap, but Jerry was especially welcoming. I began combing Bay St. Louis for a building that could serve as my home, studio and gallery. Finally, a decrepit Creole cottage next to the courthouse won my heart. The problem? It wasn’t for sale.
I went into Serenity Gallery one afternoon, seeking Jerry’s advice.
“Well, darling,” he said. “I’ve always had great luck just knocking on the door and asking.”
It worked. Less than a year later, after renovating the building, I opened the Bay St. Louis location of Quarter Moon Gallery.
Through the next ten years, whenever I had a problem, Jerry lent a hand. Whenever I became discouraged, he offered words that lifted my spirits. I was only one of many, many people who counted on his wisdom and guidance.
I teased Jerry back then by calling him the Godfather of Main Street. Kat referred to him as the Mayor of Main. “He sweetened the place in every way imaginable,” she says.
Vicki has another honorary title for Jerry, "He's the closest thing to a saint I'll ever know."
Jerry sold the Serenity Gallery building months before Hurricane Katrina. The storm destroyed his art-filled historic home in Cedar Point. A few years later, his longtime partner, Wayne, passed away. Trying to regain firm footing, Jerry moved to Natchez, where several other Bay residents had relocated.
But the longing wouldn’t let up. Jerry visited often, kept up with friends. This spring, he returned to the Bay for good, to the delight of all who knew him well. And to the delight of newcomers too.
Recently, a woman who moved to Bay St. Louis a few years ago asked if I’d met her new neighbor yet.
“He’s the nicest man! His name is Jerry Dixon.”
Startled, I asked if she was talking about THE Jerry Dixon.
She had no idea what I meant. She didn’t know that Jerry had lived here before. Or that the town she’d fallen for had been shaped in pivotal, permanent ways by the love and dedication - and vision - of this humble, diminutive man.
So I write this little history for her, and for those to come who will also give their hearts to this very special place.
A place where something wonderful is always happening…
Free Willy Gone Wrong
An impulse to save a crafty crab ends well for the creature, but its rescuer has reason to wish she'd eaten it instead.
- story and photos by Ellis Anderson
Folks back home thought I was joking when I reported that shrimp were so plentiful in Louisiana they were used as filler for sandwiches, and you could buy these delectable creations called po-boys from corner markets. Which I did almost daily.
Friends took me to Smitty and Maggie’s at West End for my first meal of boiled crabs. We sat on picnic tables outside at dusk and and swatted mosquitoes as they taught me the proper techniques. While I’d never worked so hard for a small morsel of the meat, by the end of the evening I understood the lengthy ritual increased the meal’s pleasure, allowing more time for conversation and laughter.
In the ’90s, after I’d moved to Bay St. Louis full-time, I found myself contemplating a crab boil, so a friend and I drove out to Bob’s Crabs in Lakeshore on an exploratory mission. The business headquarters consisted of a small cinderblock and screened building on the banks of a canal, wire crab traps piled high outside, open boats tied to pilings.
Inside, a large rectangular holding tank was tucked into one corner. I peered in the shallow pool and found it held several inches of water, but no creatures. We pressed on to the adjoining room, which held more tanks.
Bob was helping a customer who was buying up all the available live crabs for a family reunion. They’d corralled all the ones in the front tank and were now depopulating the rear ones. Frantic crabs raced around the shallow pools, easy targets for the tongs Bob wielded with expert accuracy. He snagged them and dropped them into seething bushel baskets.
Returning to the front room to wait our turn, my friend and I noticed a single crab, motionless in the corner of the empty tank. The tank was a tan color and this sole survivor had cunningly camouflaged itself in the shadows. While the others had scrambled to escape, this one had frozen, like a fawn or baby bird, hoping the predator would miss it and move on. Even Bob’s expert eye had passed over it.
The idea occurred to me that this intelligent crab should be rewarded. Saved from the boiling pot. Why perhaps this crab represented the next evolutionary step up for its species! It obviously had developed a reasoning of sorts. A cunning that overcame panic.
When Bob returned and the customer left, I told him I wanted to purchase the single crab.
Are you planning to eat just one? he asked.
I answered that I intended to release it. Then I gave my reasoning: It’s smart, so it should be out there enhancing the gene pool, I said.
Bob was polite enough not to ridicule me outright, but that can’t have been easy, especially with my friend rolling his eyes and snickering in the background. Yet he fished out the dark crab with his tongs, declaring it a female. To me, that seemed an omen: She would go forth and propagate more intellectually superior crustaceans.
Single crabs didn’t merit a basket though, so Bob asked me to hold up a bag. But I had no idea the extent of a crab’s reach. During the awkward transfer, the beast unfolded a claw and fiercely clamped onto my thumb. I shrieked with pain and dropped the bag.
In a whirling dervish frenzy, I hopped up and down shaking my hand, hoping the creature would let go before dismembering me. Bob and my friend weren’t much in the way of help; howls of laughter bent them over. They were useful only as witnesses to this spectacle of woman versus crab.
Bob finally recovered enough to snag my tormentor with his tongs and pulled her away from my hand. My thumb bled freely onto the concrete floor. Bob led me over to a sink to wash the wound, and then dispensed a Band-Aid.
I’m thinking you’ll be eating it now? he said, wiping at his eyes.
I asserted that the incident had merely convinced me that the crab was as courageous as it was intelligent. Yes, I was still going to turn it loose.
Bob said something about biting the hand that releases you and said there’d be no charge.
I’m not going to guess how many times Bob told that story over the years.
But he never knew the real ending. Once we hit Beach Boulevard, I pulled over and parked, then clambered down the seawall steps with my hard-won prize to face the Mississippi Sound. While my thumb still throbbed mightily, this was a Free Willy moment. I could tell.
Cautious now about the long reach of those crane-like claws, I put my entire body weight behind the throw. I hurled the crab from the bag, aiming to get her several yards out.
It worked. She sailed through the air toward freedom and her future — without taking any of my flesh.
But I didn’t see her hit the water. My pitch threw me off balance. My sandals skated beneath me on the slime-covered seawall steps. I slid like a luge toward the water, feet first. My backside slammed the concrete and hammered against each step all the way down.
My friend helped pull me from the water, filthy and drenched and covered with algae that stank. He struggled to keep a straight face, without much success. For a good five minutes, laughter cut off his sentences before he could finish them.
I might have laughed too if I hadn’t hurt so much. For weeks after, I bore the blackened bruises of the afternoon, a generous double-dip in humiliation and hilarity. The only balm was the thought of generations of ungrateful crustaceans who would soon be carrying the genetics of Bob’s Chameleon Crab.
Several years later, I returned to Bob’s Crabs, this time as a magazine photographer. My mission was to catch shots of Bob at work on the water, plying his age-old trade. I introduced myself as if we’d never seen each other before. While certain he wouldn’t have forgotten the event, I was relieved when he didn’t seem to connect me with the goofy crab-bite victim.
We left before dawn, motoring his skiff through the mists toward Bayou Caddy, then out into the sound. The sweeping sky, the hiss of wind across the water and birds silently winging overhead wove a fabric of total tranquility. I began to envy a profession that started each workday with such beauty.
Bob cut back the motor and coasted up to his first trap. When he began emptying it into a crate, I crouched down in the bottom of the boat with my camera, seeking the best angle.
Hey, you better back off a little, the fisherman said. Those crabs have got a hell of a bite.
The rising sun behind Bob’s head made it hard to see his expression, but there was no way to miss the wide grin.
A Newcomer's Reconciliation
Learning to see the invisible net of community - woven from both past and place - enriches the life of one suburban transplant.
- by Ellis Anderson
I was baffled. After being a part-time Bay resident for years, I’d just moved over full-time from “the city.” In New Orleans, one attended the grand opening of a business expecting to receive, not to give.
But since I’d blown my party budget by hiring a great band, there wasn’t much left to spend on refreshments. So my answer was, how about bringing a little snack, like potato chips or pretzels?
On the designated night, hundreds of people – or at least it seemed like hundreds to me – streamed down the sidewalks toward the gallery, plates of food held before them. Friends had to fetch more folding tables to hold the feast. Soon every available surface on the gallery’s porch was filled with casseroles and cakes, shrimp pastas and sandwiches, salads and brownies.
At one point in the party, an astonished friend who’d driven over from the city asked who my caterer was.
“They are!” I said, gesturing toward the crowd gathered on the gallery’s front yard and dancing in the driveway.
Tears sprang to my eyes several times that night. I’d never imaged such a generous a community could exist. I felt embraced, like the new member of an extraordinary tribe.
But I didn’t know enough local history then to understand that I’d always be the new kid on the block. Being a real local is an accident of birth. While newcomers may live here for decades, if someone in Bay St. Louis or Waveland says that they’re a native, it’s likely their ancestors settled here two centuries ago. Or longer.
A short time after my gallery opening, one local startled me by saying his family had been residing in Hancock County for nearly 300 years.
That’s a good example of hyperbole, I thought.
Then he explained that his direct ancestor had been one of D’Iberville’s crew members when the explorer claimed the territory for France.
Later, I’d see censuses from the early 1800s, filled with names of my neighbors. Like Dubuisson and Dedeaux, Morain and Ladnier, Labat and Socier. Necaise, Quaves, Garcia, Lafontaine, Baribino and Seal. While the spelling and pronunciation of the names may have changed a bit over the centuries, for the most part, the families’ attachment to this place has not.
I try not to be jealous. My own heritage is more free-floating, although I did trace one ancestor back to the 1700s. My multiple-great grandfather, Isaac Anderson, fought in the Revolutionary war. Then the Scotch-Irish immigrant homesteaded as far from civilization as he could, settling in a remote corner of North Carolina’s Appalachia.
But the Great Depression scattered his descendants from that Blue Ridge cove. By the 1960s, only one of my mother’s six siblings still lived in Ashe County. My parents landed in Charlotte, where I grew up. In just a few hours we could drive to my mom’s hometown of Crumpler (which boasted one general store/gas station/post office) – but it was light-years from the city.
Charlotte’s population was exploding at the time. To further entice developers, the city sold its birthright: thousands of irreplaceable historic buildings were razed, ones that graced its streets and served as emotional anchors to its citizens.
Residents swung in and out of Charlotte's teeming ranch-house neighborhoods so fast the Welcome Wagon had to chase them. I graduated from a newish high school 100 times the size of Crumpler. Its 1,500 students were pulled from a 10-mile radius. Our most popular community gathering spot on the weekends? The mall.
I moved away for good in 1976. While I missed my parents, I never once felt homesick. That particular malaise requires connection to a place. While Charlotte’s got a lot going for it, endearing it’s not.
Many millions of suburbanites like myself have been raised without a stabilizing core of long-term residents in their neighborhoods. In cloned and characterless landscapes jammed with strip malls and billboards, gas stations and fast food joints, we find nothing to cherish.
Then, there’s life on the Mississippi coast.
It seems everyone who grew up in Bay St. Louis has their favorite childhood fishing spot, or tree, or place on the shore where they have watched sunrises. They experienced their first kisses on the porch swing of their aunt’s house, or the steps of the old city hall.
They can point to just about any cottage in town and reel off the names of those who grew up within those walls, who was born in the back bedroom or married in the yard. They might transport you with a story about camping in that very attic with other rambunctious kids, determined to catch a ghost.
Longtime locals can stand before an empty lot and perhaps see a three-story house that no longer exists – and its roofline their grandmother walked across as a girl, just to satisfy a dare. Or they can gesture to the spot on the beach where their daddy launched a sailboat he and his brothers built over an idyllic summer.
Coast natives see threads of continuity running everywhere through the landscape. They can pick up an end anytime they choose and follow it back generations.
These ties are invisible to newcomers at first, but I can see more every year I live here. Each story told by a local reveals another strand that’s woven into an astonishing, yet invisible net of fellowship.
While it may not be my family's net, simply knowing it exists imparts a certain kind of peace.
After a seemingly endless summer, the first cool evening of the fall has coast residents turning off the A/C and reveling in fresh air.
- story and photo by Ellis Anderson
Animated Vs. Animals
The Pokémon GO craze may have more people walking around outdoors, but they're oblivious to local flora and fauna, in pursuit of tiny cartoons.
- story by Ellis Anderson
The Company of Trees
It turns out the trees are social beings that have feelings and can communicate. Some folks aren't surprised.
- story and photos by Ellis Anderson
A Shoofly Way of Life
A change of name kicks off an International Shoofly Awareness campaign, in hopes of reviving a fine and neighborly tradition, while creating a new Mississippi export.
- story by Ellis Anderson, artwork by Zita Waller