Mother, Curator Jessica and I took off for Steele this morning – eight miles from the Arkansas border – to photograph a Bootheel farmer I met at the Altenburg museum last week.
No journey ever takes us from Point A to Point B directly back to Point C, so we wandered around in New Madrid County for a bit, then meandered all over places that I’m not sure even the Lady in the Sky who lives in my GPS has ever heard of.
Let me explain the division of labor here: my job is to drive and keep us from getting killed by wayward 18-wheelers. The job of the Road Warriorette is that of Navigator, responsible for directing the Driver toward food and lodging (and, as we will find later, Natural Breaks).
We left New Madrid with the sun high in the sky and decided to find some roads that skirted the Mississippi River, some of which must have followed the paths of drunken cows. Shortly after I pointed out that we had already been through a particular intersection at least twice, we ended up going down a road aptly bearing a sign, Dead End, that led to a well-kept Sugar Tree Ridge Cemetery.
With the sun going down on one side and the moon coming up on the other, I suggested that Mother might want to start rationing the cookies we had brought along: “This might be a long night.”
A farmers work is never done
We weren’t the only ones picking our way though the dark: we spotted lights on farm equipment dotting the countryside.
We hadn’t seen a car behind us for an hour, but the moment I stopped in the road to take this photo, I heard the whizzz of one passing us. I’m glad he had room to pass: most of the bridges out there were labeled “One-Lane Bridge.” They didn’t bother to note that the road wasn’t much wider than the bridge.
A natural break
With 43 miles to go, my Navigator gently suggested that the trip would be much more pleasant for her if we would stop at the next convenient place for her to take, as they say in the Tour de France, a “natural break.”
While waiting for a chance to get back on I-55, we spotted this one-eyed truck coming toward us. Navigator Jessica asked if I had ever played “padiddle.”
Having led a sheltered life, I had to confess that I had heard the phrase, but didn’t know exactly how to play it or exactly what it was. My navigator demurred providing details.
Basic rules of Padiddle and Pedunk
Google being our friend, I was enlightened by the Urban Dictionary: A game in which you look for cars with headlight or foglight out (padiddle) [also spelled pididdle] or tail light (pedunk) and call it out. When someone correctly calls a padidle or pedunk, all members of the opposite sex present must remove an article of clothing. Example: Padiddle! You have to take off your shirts.
Our trip from Missouri to Ohio has just become a lot more interesting.
As always, click on the photos to make them larger. Alas, there are no padiddling photos available.
Three Church of God in Christ congregations would gather in New Madrid on the first Sunday in September to hold a church service, then walk through downtown New Madrid to the Mississippi River where they would hold a baptism.
I don’t know what drew me there in 1967 – so far as I know, The Missourian didn’t run any photos of it. Before the month was out, I transferred to Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, and started the next phase of my career. In fact, I look back at this set of photos as being kind of a “final exam” before I left Cape. It was the culmination of everything I had learned stumbling around in photojournalism with no real guidance.
Except for making a few prints for my portfolio, most of these pictures have been sitting in a filing cabinet for close to half a century. Last summer, I made a concerted effort to find the people in the pictures, much like I’ve been doing with the Smelterville project.
I walked up and down the New Madrid streets near the church, talked to people on their porches and attended Sunday church services to show the photos around. I went on wild goose chases to Sikeston and a tiny community near Bird’s Point.
Bishop Benjamin is still alive
I finally caught a break when I received an email from Beverly Armour Gilyard: “This is my dad, Elder B. A. Armour (preacher on the left), many, many years ago when the saints were still baptizing once a year in the Mississippi River. wow!!!!!
Not long after, Martha J. Armour-Dunmore, wrote, “I’m also the daughter of Bishop Armour and I was home to visit and saw the picture. Showed my father and he says he conducted the baptisms with JC Pullen (preacher on the right). Not sure who the child in the photo is, but he says he conducted them every year for 7 years. This is a wonderful photo of my father. We had a very long conversation about this.”
After trading emails, we set up a meeting on Wednesday with Bishop Armour, his wife. Osie and Granddaughter Sondoia Armour West in Hayti. Elder Robert L. Bell, Jr., was also there. We went through all the photos trying to put as many names to faces as possible. The challenge is that different combinations of people remember different things.
When I got back to Cape to download the nearly two hours of video I shot, I was disappointed (that’s a mild term) to discover that I had exactly one minute and 35 seconds of content. I had gotten sloppy since I had been shooting so much video on my Perry county project that I thought I knew what I was doing. I had a wireless mike clipped to Bishop Armour and my video camera audio meter was bouncing around like crazy, so I assumed that I was capturing it. What I had neglected to do was to press the RECORD button on the camera. I had a few still photos and lots of audio captured by my digital voice recorder, but I wanted to see the rich expressions of Bishop Armour while he was telling his stories.
“That was Beverly Armour in high school”
Feeling extremely sheepish, I contacted Elder Bell and Sondoia to see if they thought Bishop Armour would be up for another meeting if I hadn’t tired him out too much (he’ll turn 90 next spring). All was GO, until I got a message saying that he had taken a fall and we would have to postpone until Saturday.
Mother had said it had been years since she had been to Hayti, so I popped her in the car, assuring her that the follow-up interview shouldn’t take more than 20 minutes since I knew what ground I wanted to cover. Fortunately, Bishop Armour had bounced back from his fall quite nicely. Mother was greeted like she was a long-lost friend. The house was full of warmth.
Daughter Beverly was down visiting from Atlanta. “I’m IN one of those pictures,” she exclaimed. “When I first saw this, I thought, ‘Oh, my God. That was Beverly Armour in high school. That’s Beverly.'” [Beverly is the girl all the way on the right side of the picture.]
As it turned out, 20 minutes turned into nearly two hours. Bishop Armour hadn’t told me of his World War II Navy years where he served in the Navy aboard an LST. You’ll see that next Memorial Day.
Looking to ID more photos
The Armours are well-versed in social media. All the time we were talking, they were texting and bouncing photos back and forth to folks who might help ID or confirm the names in the pictures.
To that end, I’m going to post a gallery of the whole take so they have a common place to see the photos. I figure most of my readers are going to busy with Thanksgiving activities and won’t be around anyway. If you see someone you recognize or have participated in a Mississippi River baptism, I’d love to hear from you. Click on any photo to make it larger, then click on the sides to move through the gallery. The little girl above is one person, in particular, I’d like to track down.
Mother and I drove down to the Mississippi Mudd in New Madrid for dinner. She likes frog legs and they are reputed to have big ones (the reputation is deserved). I had a hamburger steak with bacon wrapped around it and covered with some great grilled onions and peppers that added flavor to the meat.
It was getting late in the afternoon, so we took a drive up on the levee and down to the waterfront where I shot the baptism in 1967.
Lined with walkways
Cape’s riverfront has a nice walkway that has been extended recently, but I really like the high overlook you get from this arrangement. Another nice thing is that you could watch the river when it gets high, unlike at Cape, which has to close the floodgates. I bet the view of a flooding Mississippi is spectacular from the long pier in the background.
Look at the cat
I got out of the car with a medium length zoom, figuring all I was going to take was an overall photo. A piece of paper blowing in the wind near the water’s edge caught my eye. I looked at it for a few more seconds, then turned to go back for the body with the longer telephone lens so I could shoot this white cat in the lower right part of the frame. I don’t know what he was hunting, but he was working hard at it.
Click on the photo to make it larger.
Strange stone structure
I heard childish voices coming from this stone structure. Kaceja Thomas, who is a high school freshman, didn’t know if it had any special significance or if it was just a neat place to play. Her brother who claimed to be 7 didn’t slow down enough for me to get a good photo of him. For the record, Sis said, “You’re not 7, you’re 6. I should know. You’re my brother.”
I’m textually inept
I printing this cropped version of Ms. Thomas because I told her she could go to the library to see her photo this morning. She gave me her cellphone number, but I’m not exactly sure how to transfer my digital camera photos to her. I can think of a convoluted way to do it, but I really need a 10-year-old kid to show me a simpler way.
Project cost $4.1 million
A 2001 Missourian story said the riverfront park and levee improvements cost $4.1 million. The project wasn’t just to make a pretty park. City officials said large rocks which kept the levee from eroding made upkeep difficult. Filling in the rocks with dirt and planting grass over them made the area easier to mow.
The plan was to build a lighted walking path with benches for seating and improved parking, tables for public use and amphitheater seating in the Riverfront Park. The boat ramp and boat parking were to be improved also. It looks like mission accomplished to me.
I wish Cape had a park where tourists – and locals – could get a gander at the river without leaving their cars. New Madrid has done it right.