Monday, November 23, 2009

Vacation, Day 3, 10/23/2009, Part 2

After lunch, which many Southerners call dinner, we made a stop at the Fred's Store in McComb. Why, we wondered. Milton's answer was something along the lines of, "If I get what I want, I'll show you. I'm going to see if I can get something for free." Huh? All I can say, is come back later on, and I'll show you just what he ended up getting for free.

I couldn't resist these clouds disappearing into the distance like a row of giant gray Twinkies on a clear plastic cookie sheet. We rode north up I-55 towards Jackson, Mississippi, our ultimate destination Miss Eudora Welty's house in the Belhaven neighborhood.

An interesting highway sign, Calling Panther Lake.

I have never seen this before. I thought highway signs got printed/worked on/whatever in a shop somewhere and were merely installed alongside the highway.

Almost there.

I can't count the times the I've driven to Miss Welty's house before she died in 2001, just to park out front and sit there for a few minutes, quietly thinking about her being inside the home she so dearly loved. "Hi, Miss Welty," I'd say out loud before starting the car to drive home. Now I would walk through her front door in a little over an hour. Awesome.
I had knocked on the front door once in 2004, not too long after I'd interviewed master gardener Susan Haltom for the Jackson Free Press, the alternative newsweekly in my hometown. (See the article below.) I wanted to make sure it would be OK for me to take Mama for a quick look at the garden. Miss Welty's niece Mary Alice came to the door and graciously said that it would be OK. What a privilege.

A close-up of the sign out front of Miss Welty's house. I took these photos from Kay's truck as we waited first for the arrival of my brother. He was to pick up Mama and take her to the hotel to get her settled while I toured the house.

Go to Eudora Welty House to take the virtual tour of the house and the one of the garden. Here's the article I wrote for the Jackson Free Press in 2004, about the revival of the Weltys' beloved garden and the woman tasked with making it ready for the public.

Susan Haltom

by Lynette Hanson
April 7, 2004

Can you even imagine your first job right out of the University of Mississippi being curator of exhibits at the Old Capitol? And then, almost 20 years later, when you’re back with the Mississippi Department of Archives and History—part time—being asked to go check on Miss Welty’s yard? And having that turn into a 10-year-long odyssey of cohesive research and tireless effort that culminated this past weekend with the opening of the garden at Eudora Welty’s Belhaven home?

That’s just what’s happened with Susan Haltom, 50, since she graduated from Ole Miss in 1975. The mother of three sons now lives on 13 acres in Ridgeland where her family settled 15 years ago after travelling around the country during her husband Jim’s medical training.

Haltom vividly remembers talking with Miss Welty back in 1994. “We were in her living room, and it was so poignantly sad when she said, ‘I can’t bear to look out the window and see what’s happened to my mother’s garden.’”

With the help of volunteer labor—people still volunteer to weed today—the honeysuckle and poison ivy were pulled off the beds. “Then we just watched,” she said.

Essentially, the same thing is still happening—the uncovered garden is there for us to watch, just the way Miss Welty and her mother used to do. Visit now and enjoy the pale lavender azalea, beside the arbor entrance to the garden, and the aptly named Lady Banks rose. She’s at the east end of the 50-foot trellis separating the upper and lower gardens and resembles nothing more than the muted yellow hoop skirt of a Southern belle, gently rippling in a spring breeze. Splashes of color are everywhere—lavender verbena, red poppies, blue ragged robins, white spirea and sweet alyssum, jewel-bright phlox and larkspur.

“When we restored the garden, we kept it true to the spirit of the place—a term people use in the study of her literature but we can appreciate in the garden, too,” Haltom, now a full-time garden designer, says. The time period selected for the restoration is 1925 to 1945, the first 20 years the Weltys lived in the house.

As we sat in the arbor at the center of the trellis, Haltom looked around for a moment and said, “I wish she could look out and see it now.”

Come back tomorrow for how we met up with my brother, H, a quick driving tour of parts of downtown Jackson, and all about our hotel and then our supper with H and his sweet wife, V.

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