Warriorette Shari’s friend Barb Goza Chambers flew in from California to see her Mother, Betty Goza, in January. They always like to go on a ramble when she hits town.
Betty in Walmart last year
I don’t pay much attention to people in stores, so I was surprised when Betty waylaid me in the Jackson Walmart last December. If I had been looking up, I’d have recognized that big smile anywhere.,
They decided they wanted to see the Big Oak Tree State Park, in Mississippi county. I’m pretty sure the soles of my shoes melted the last time I was there because the earth’s crust was still cooling.
I shudder when I think of big trees
The Missourian printed a picture of a big tree and wondered if it had set a state record.
Well, before long, we were flooded with people who claimed THEIR tree was a record-breaker, too. Guess who got to drive all over hell’s half-acre taking tree pictures and picking ticks off his young body. The only solace I could take while scratching chigger bites was that each tree was worth five bucks and mileage.
The only thing worse than trees was when the paper made the mistake of running a photo of a couple guys holding up a big snake in front of the newspaper’s front doors. Not long after that, we were given a “No more snake pictures” edict because the huge reptiles were freaking out passersby and the advertising staff.
Barb and I decided to head out on a boardwalk to hunt for the promised big trees. We should have read the display at the head of the walk before we took off.
The sign would have told us that five of the 12 champion trees were like this specimen of the former 17’7″ Quercus macrocarpa that fell in 2009.
The day was a bit chilly for the jacket I grabbed, so we didn’t do the full walk. On the plus side, we didn’t encounter any mosquitoes.
The best part of the trip
The best part of the trip was the journey back to what passed as civilization (New Madrid). We took some small roads that let us parallel the Mississippi River where we could see the chutes, islands and oxbows it makes.
New Madrid was a welcome sight because all that meandering left my van breathing fumes, something I didn’t share with my passengers.
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.