Saturday, January 28, 2017

Hidey Holes and Local Folks Part Two

Three Sisters Pie Company and The Elbow Lounge...

This is one of Three Sisters Pie Company's pies,
but not the pie I had today.
In the Books and Boards bookstore, which just opened in December 2016 (I've already written about), a new business inside the bookstore has come online, as well. It's called The Three Sisters Pie Company, and as the name implies it sells pies. It also sells pie-ettes, which is a good way to salve a sweet tooth without the sin of eating a slice of pie. Three Sisters also sells specialty drinks, coffees, and they always keep a pot of regular, no frills coffee for people like me. I like to go in, have a dessert and drink more than a single mug of coffee, and read the Commercial Dispatch, or browse books. The owner's name is Rachel. On Facebook, there is the story of the pie company and how it came about, which you can access here. I would suggest visiting Facebook to find out more.

The whole store is well lit and both the bookstore and the pie company stay open until 10 p.m. every night except Sunday, when they close at 7 p.m. Both businesses are closed on Monday. The new pie company draws customers. I was in there today and almost every table was filled with customers; the store was full of browsers, and one of the local authors, whose reading I attended a couple of weeks ago will be having an event in the store when his new book comes out...

Rachel is the owner. She's the
one with the apron.
But I digress. Today I had a slice of the salt and honey pie, topped with cashews. How to describe its taste and texture? It sort of reminded me of one of my elderly aunt's pies, where you just get this delicious filling. It's light of texture, bursting with flavor, and goes away all too quickly.

I was there another evening in the bookstore/pie store, because it was the first night the pie shop was open. As things usually happen, I met another interesting person, who struck up a conversation with me. His name is Rob Swindol. He and his mother own The Elbow Room Lounge, just off 5th Street North and 2nd Ave North (a side-street entrance), and neither Rob nor his mother took offense when I said I would include it as another of Columbus's "hidey holes."

Anyway, small town, it turns out that Rachel, the owner of the pie company also makes the crust for the pizzas they serve at the Elbow Room, so guess what? After I left the pie store that night, I went over to the Elbow room and ordered a pizza and a Coke (don't drink alcohol, me-self), and of course, Rob and I continued our discussion of Columbus, where Rob had come from.

One of two rooms in the Elbow Room Lounge. The
other room is where the musicians play and is also a
game room.
He and his mother bought the Elbow Room three years ago, when they returned to West Point, just slightly north and west of Columbus (about 18 miles). Barbara, Rob's mother, returned from California; Rob returned from Boston. He said that he wanted to recreate the pub atmosphere like those in Boston. Rob grew up in West Point. The bar was established, circa 1952, though Rob says no one is sure of the exact date. Nonetheless, Rob and his mother have brought new life to the bar.

I returned there on a Wednesday night for open-mic night. That's where musicians sign up for the evening and each group or individual does a few songs. Rob had said that some of the people who perform are quite good, and I have to say that he's right. As I've learned and now experienced in several ways, music and literature and art are part of the state's DNA. If for no other reason than to get away for a couple of hours, I will no doubt return to the Elbow Room Lounge for a break from my solitary evenings with my twin calicoes.

On my first time at the Elbow room, as Rob and I were talking, a young man by the name of Michael Williams came in and asked permission to put up a poster announcing the screening of his latest movie. My ears perked up, because I wondered if Michael might be the film maker I had read about who lived in West Point and had already produced an award winning film called Ozland, and as it turned out, he was. The new film is called The Atoning. I watched the trailer on YouTube, and I have included it below in the usual video section of this blog.

The screening for the new film will take place at the Malco Cinema here in Columbus. Tickets to the screenings are $10, available in advance at "shendopenfilms." The screening at Malco Cinema is Thursday, Feb 2 at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Hidey Holes and Local Folks

Columbus, Mississippi Slowly Revealing Itself

As of this writing, I have lived in Columbus, Mississippi, for almost eight months. In some ways it feels like I've just arrived; in other ways it feels like home to me. My house is familiar, although I'm still discovering little things to repair or thoroughly clean. I'm still stunned that surfaces don't gather dust the way they do in southern New Mexico.

Let's call this Airline Road, although it
could also be Bell Avenue.
As for Columbus, itself, parts of the town are intimately familiar to me now, but I'm still discovering little hidey holes, small locally run business in unexpected places, and even more cafes and watering holes that I discover from just taking different streets I haven't been down, yet. It's a bit confusing sometimes, because it seems that Columbus has a penchant for giving several names to streets that are also highways, or along a street, part of it might be one name, while another part might be another name...I know. That's the mystery and discovery that often confuses. On the way to a cafe a neighbor told me about the other day, I took her directions, and ended up on either Airline Road or Bell Avenue. I'd been this way before to get my driver's license. The road passes by an animal shelter, a city or county jail, across a creek, and finally intersects with Highway 69. A strip of it has over-arching trees, and it's one of the delights of discovery that constantly surprises me.

Cafe Unique in what must have been a
residence at one time.
There are at least eighty-four restaurants in Columbus, although I'm sure that includes everything from locally owned to chain restaurants to fast-food joints. But the total number is always shifting as it does anywhere, so who really knows the tally? A couple of days ago I discovered (actually my neighbor told me) a locally owned Southern food cafe called Cafe Unique. It's at 94 Airline Rd and intersects with Highway 69. Cafe Unique sits on a corner of the intersection. Yes, it looks like a home was converted to the restaurant, and that's okay, that makes it one of the delightful places to experience a great meal. I've also heard about another great place to get beer and sandwiches somewhat out on the edge of town, a place called Proffit's Porch. Maybe later. And none of this involves the kind of eateries I suspect are on the other side of the Tom Bigbee waterway. Maybe one of my posts will actually be a list of all the home-grown cafes in town.

But back to Cafe Unique...

I had the turkey, lima beans, sweet potato casserole, cornbread, Southern sweet tea, and for dessert homemade pecan pie. The servings were so large that I have made three meals out of that visit. I will go again on a Friday for the catfish. There were only two people running the place, which appeared to be a mother and son. They were both friendly and politely indulged my gushing about moving here from the desert, discovering I love catfish, and other bits of conversation. But I mean, really, I was delighted with this place, just as I have been with other eateries around town.

I passed up the chance to try the pig's feet, okay? I just might one of these days, but not now. The meal, which included a meat and two sides, as well as cornbread and sweet tea was a whopping $7.33, so I can stretch my dining-out dollars, because I'm sure I can leave with leftovers. I cut up what was left of the turkey and alternately had some of it, along with the lima beans in a white rice dish, and there was even enough of the chopped turkey, to which I added sweet peas to dress up a Ramen Noodles bowl. I didn't claim I was always eating healthy, but nonetheless I've trimmed down three belt notches.

On the west side of Columbus, Mississippi is the Tom Bigbee River, which connects to the Tennessee River and is sometimes called the Tenn-Tom waterway. Here's a rather quaint video explaining the importance of this waterway system. North of here, in Aberdeen, MS, the waterway was a good way to move cotton; today, it's even more commercially viable in Columbus, with their lock and dam system. Some readers might find this video interesting. To me it's just another discovery about my chosen home.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Books & Boards Event

New Downtown Bookstore has "Spoken Word" Event

Spoken Word Event at Books & Boards
Open just a little over a month, the Books & Boards bookstore held a well attended event January 12 from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. I was glad to see that three other members of the Writers and Storytellers' Guild of Columbus showed up for the night. I thought it might be similar to a poetry slam, where members of the audience take the mic and read poetry. It was like that, but anyone could put their name in a jar. At the event, the emcee drew a name and called on the reader. I attended but hadn't even remotely thought of reading anything, but then I found out that the other three members of the writers' group had decided to read, and having my Android phone, I was able to open my Kindle Reader and I chose an essay that I recently included in my book, Slices of Real Life.

I won't dwell on the fact that I read, nor that the first name out of the jar was mine, so I had a chance to open up the readings. I'm not a very good impromptu speaker, but the essay I chose to read part of was about my parents, why I had returned to my hometown to "take care of them" when in actual fact, they took care of me just as much as I did them. So I had to stop reading occasionally and fill in a few details.

The bookstore had received another part of their backorder and had also set up a couple more shelves, so it's looking better and better, and with well over thirty people attending the event, even the somewhat large space was comfortably abuzz with laughter and conversation before the readings began. I was also glad to see that a reporter from the city newspaper, The Commercial Dispatch, was on hand talking to people, taking pictures, and I presume with the intent of writing an article for the newspaper.

Richard Wright, one of Mississippi's most
famous authors, perhaps best known for his
novels Black Boy and Native Son
Maybe in another post I said that I moved to Columbus with certain expectations, after having visited here, researched the town, and gotten a good feeling about the kind of environment the town and its people create. I have not been disappointed, and even after almost eight months, I find very little to change that impression. Part of the expectation was that Columbus would be a place that is friendly to the arts, music, and books. Even though until December First there was only one main bookstore in town, in the mall, Books and Boards has come in with guns blazing, and they have a busy schedule of events and plan to feature local and Southern writers. Last night's event was an opportunity for about a dozen readers to share their work.

Southern writers are recognized throughout the United States, of course, but they are also recognized throughout the world as unique and powerful writers. I look forward to attending the events when Southern writers are in the store. I have a lot of discoveries to make, aside from the usual, well-known writers like William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, and Tennessee Williams.

Jill Conner Browne was born in Tupelo
Mississippi and focuses on women's
empowerment issues.
The unexpected and what I thought was the most enjoyable reading of the night was a last-minute person that the emcee encouraged to read after he had emptied the jar of volunteer writers. This last reader wanted to make sure, before he read, if there would be any objection if he read something...erotic. He said if anyone objected he wouldn't read it. No one objected, but even then, he held the room in suspense, reading other poems, and teasing that now he would read the poem he had promised, making sure once again that no one objected. Everyone laughed. He read his erotic poem and parts were a bit graphic, but... one objected. And that was a major expectation I had of what people in Columbus, Mississippi, would be like—open minded, intellectually energetic, and of course polite.

I'm looking forward to attending other events at Books and Boards and also watching the stock flow and building up my library of Southern writers. I'll never be a Southern writer, even though I now live in the South. No matter, one of these days I hope to have gleaned enough of Mississippi's character and soul to place a novel here. I also hope I learn a thing or to about writing from these southerners.

I've included a biographical video of Richard Wright. I discovered his work when I was in college and I have never forgotten the power of his words.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

New Downtown Business in Columbus, Mississippi

Welcome to Books & Boards..."A Clean Well-Lighted Place"

A Clean Well Lighted Place
This is one of the newest locally owned businesses to open up in downtown Columbus, Mississippi. Books & Boards is a bookstore that also sells board games. You can also rent the games. The store carries a select inventory of new books and is heavy into local and southern writers. It also carries used books.

The store is located at 422 Main Street, Columbus, MS 39701

In addition to the bookstore, there will be an in-house pastry and coffee shop. These are joint business ventures for this new enterprise. You can get more information about this newest business on their website: B&B has only been open for a little over a month, as I write this, and they are still working on their inventory, but it is fun to visit the store even as they are expanding their stock and about to open the pastry/coffee shop.

I discovered this delightful addition to downtown Columbus, when I was searching for a parking place, so that I could attend the event at the Columbus Arts Council—a reading by Michael Farris Smith of his latest book at the Arts Council's Southern Writers Series, which will be going on all year. I just happened to park near the Books and Boards store on the same side of the street, and as I was walking past, I saw that it was a bookstore. Of course I went in for an initial look around, and then after the reading at the Arts Center, I returned for a closer look.

The owner of the bookstore is Ashley Gressett, and the phone number for the store is (662) 798-0859. They are open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. and on Sunday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. I was delighted to see that Ashely wanted to provide the downtown area a late night place to hang out. Most of the downtown businesses close shop at 6 p.m. and few are open on Sundays. The exceptions of course are the downtown restaurants, like Huck's Place and a couple of others. But to me, nothing is more enjoyable than being able to hang out in a bookstore that also has coffee and treats. Add to that the potential of getting involved in the board games there, and your evening is complete.

I visited with Ashely at length last night, January 6, on my way back from Waffle House. It was around 20 degrees outside, and it was great to be in a warm environment. The night before, when I first discovered the store, there was a surprise birthday party going on inside, and last night when I went there, people were sitting around one of the larger tables playing Uno. I think it will take a little while for people in Columbus to discover that there is a late-night place to hang out that is quite different from the atmosphere in a restaurant. I come from a much larger town than Columbus and one of the things I've missed about a larger city is businesses that stay open past 6 p.m. Books and Boards is one of those places in Columbus, and I'm glad to see it open.

What better way to end this post about a bookstore than to also present a surprising high school right here in Columbus. It is among the top five high schools in the United States. That's right. Mississippi might have the reputation for sub-standard education, but that's not always true. The presenter for this video lives across the street from me. One of the retired professors at Mississippi University for Women (which is now co-ed) lives next door to me.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Happy New Year from Columbus, Mississippi!

Or...Wringing the Neck of 2016

For me, 2016 was a sea change year. It was for Cliff, as well, but as of yet, things haven't finished working out for him. His house is still up for sale, his parents have moved to Rosebud, Texas, where they reportedly love it. They now live out in the country, the Hill Country of Texas, which is an important distinction from most of the rest of Texas.

I never dreamed that I would ever own property, but especially a home. That was the major development for me, actually buying a house, closing on it in April, and moving into it in May. All the rest of the blogs in this site have been about living here. With the new year, I'd like to look forward. I feel certain that Cliff will sell his house and that his own move to Columbus will come about. But I can't do much from here to help him out, so he's busy, and the best we can do is talk to each other every day.

I will be busy here in Columbus in the new year. I've got possible clients lined up for my editorial evaluations, the three books I published as ebooks in 2016 will be published as hard copy books in 2017. In fact, the covers are done and waiting to be sized to the format of the hard-copy books.

I look forward to continuing to work with the other writers I've met, here in Columbus, mainly through the writers' group I joined in June of 2016. And I will be attending my first ever book reading from a Columbus, Mississippi writer. I ordered one of his books too late to read it for the reading.

I'm finally going to get the outside of my house (aluminum siding) power-washed, which should remove the accumulated grunge and stains from the vines that had been growing on the house for several years. In fact, I spent a great deal of time in the fall digging up those vine roots and pulling them out from behind the siding, as well as getting rid of the foliage in one of the front flower beds (roots and all). I'm going to let it go to grass and just leave a few nice shrubs against the wall. One of the major cleanups in 2016 was getting all the overhanging tree branches cut off. They'll be back, but I had to cut back several years of neglect and overgrowth when I moved in.

I know...Ellie-Mae look longingly outdoors.
My twin calicoes will turn one-year old in March of 2017—and maybe their growth rate will slow down. At nine months old, they seem to be as big as bobcats, but I suppose that's an exaggeration. In August, when I had them spayed, they only weighed 4 pounds each. I'm sure they weigh twice that now. When I'm lying on my stomach, Ellie will climb onto my back, and kind of massages it, and it feels like an adult human masseuse working the kinks out of my muscles. Mae climbs onto my legs or feet and her sheer weight clamps me to the bed. (Not really on either of these accounts but it's almost true.)

By the time winter is over in March, I will have lived through all four seasons, here in Mississippi. Just like everywhere else I have ever lived, locals say something similar: if you don't like the weather, wait five minutes and it will change. But it is rainy here, compared to the desert—except this past summer Mississippi was in a drought and the desert got more than the usual amount of rain. But the rain is back, now, and I understand that winter is one of the rainiest seasons, here.

The video below is an interview with Richard Grant who was originally from England, then New York, and finally Mississippi in the Delta. Look for Dispatches from Pluto.