DeSoto Magazine November 2020

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November CONTENTS 2020 • VOLUME 17 • NO.11


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Stepping Up: Companies Help Fight COVID-19


Homes for the Holidays: ​Family Vacation Rentals

Porch Portraits: ​Capturing a Year to Remember

departments 16 Living Well Diabetes Service Dogs

42 On the Road Again ​Ponchatoula, Louisiana

20 Notables ​The MAX’s Coleman Warner

44 Holiday Gift Guide 68 Homegrown Meraki Roasting Company

24 Exploring Art ​Cartoonist Marshall Ramsey

72 Southern Gentleman ​Santa’s Wish List

28 Exploring Books ​“The Rising Place”

74 Southern Harmony ​Mark Edgar Stuart

30 Southern Roots Holiday Wreaths

78 In Good Spirits ​El Guapo Bitters & Syrups

34 Table Talk City Tasting Box 38 Exploring Destinations ​Hernando’s “Dickens of a Christmas”


80 Exploring Events 82 Reflections ​Less Than Perfect Turkeys



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editor’s note | NOVEMBER

Surviving and Thriving ​This year has been a doozy and many folks are feeling a sense of loss – for loved ones who succumbed to COVID-19, for homes destroyed by hurricanes and fires, and for jobs and businesses that have disappeared. Life has changed for all of us. Yet, we still can be thankful, especially for the angels among us who have found creative ways to give back and make life better for others. ​DeSoto’s annual giving back issue focuses on several businesses and individuals that have stepped up to assist during the COVID-19 pandemic. Nashville writer Tom Adkinson looks at some well-known companies in the area that shifted gears to produce much needed products – from face masks to hand sanitizers and more. ​ Look closely at Karon Warren’s feature story, “A Snapshot of Quarantine,” and you may see someone you know. Photographers in Corinth and Memphis used their talents to support local businesses and cheer up folks who were quarantining at home. The holidays are special times for family get togethers, and writer Pamela Keene looks at “Homes for the Holidays,” featuring vacation rentals where generations can gather for fun and relaxation. She offers tips for finding safe rentals that best suit everyone’s needs. ​I am especially thankful for all the talented writers who bring us interesting and informative stories every month. I am also grateful and extremely proud of the

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recognition that DeSoto Magazine received last month when three of our stories took awards from prestigious organizations. Jackie Sheckler Finch’s story, “Dolly’s Loving Legacy,” about the legendary Dolly Parton received a third-place award during the Midwest Travel Journalists Association’s Mark Twain Awards ceremony. The Society of American Travel Writers Association (SATW) recognized both Debi Lander for her “Road Tripping on the Natchez Trace” story and me for my “Food Walking Tours” story. Debi won second place in the magazine category while I won second place in the food and travel category. Congratulations to everyone, and next year we’re going for firstplace wins. ​ In the meantime, we’ll be bringing you lots more great stories. ​ Happy Thanksgiving!

CONTRIBUTORS Tom Adkinson Michele Baker Jim Beaugez Cheré Coen Mary Ann DeSantis Jason Frye Pamela Keene Tracy Morin Karen Ott Mayer Karon Warren Kevin Wierzbicki Pam Windsor PUBLISHED BY DeSoto Media 2375 Memphis St. Ste 208 Hernando, MS 38632 662.429.4617 ADVERTISING INFO: Paula Mitchell 901-262-9887 SUBSCRIBE:

on the cover There’s no better helper than a dog, even if they can’t rake leaves. Service dogs fill a role that makes life bearable for those who need help. Be sure to read on page 16 how the Diabetes Alert Dogs raised in Oxford’s Wildrose Kennels are helping diabetics cope.

©2020 DeSoto Media Co. DeSoto Magazine must give permission for any material contained herein t o b e re p ro d u c e d i n a n y m a n n e r. Any advertisements published in DeSoto Magazine do not constitute an endorsement of the advertiser’s services or products. DeSoto Magazine is published monthly by DeSoto Media Co. Parties interested in advertising should email or call 901-262-9887. Visit us online at

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living well | WILDROSE KENNELS

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Top Dogs By Tracy Morin | Photography courtesy of Hub City Service Dogs and Mallard Media

Service dogs at Wildrose Kennels are bred and trained to assist those with diabetes and, ultimately, save lives. November marks Diabetes Awareness Month, but there is a subset of silent helpers in the fight against the potentially dangerous effects of this widespread disease, and one of which many people aren’t aware: diabetes alert dogs. ​ Even those who do know about these four-legged lifesavers may not realize that some are born right here in Mississippi. Tom Smith, owner of the Oxford, Miss., outpost of Wildrose Kennels, explains that his company breeds and trains Irish and British Labradors, producing dogs with various skill sets, including the now-trademarked Gentleman’s Gun Dogs, adventure dogs, companion dogs, and diabetic alert dogs. ​Though Wildrose was founded in 1972, it was brought to Mississippi in 1999, when the University of Mississippi Police Department Chief Mike Stewart established its Oxford location. Smith has a long history with Wildrose Kennels. He purchased his first dog in 2008, became an associate trainer in 2010, moved to general manager in 2014, and purchased the business at the start of 2019. ​ “Every type of dog we produce revolves around impeccable obedience and public access,” Smith explains. “We start the super scent series at one-and-a-half weeks old, introducing scent to them — one day a bird scent, the next day a diabetic scent. We alternate. The puppies’ eyes and ears aren’t even open yet, but their noses work.” ​ Introducing scents early is called “imprinting,” and the earlier this technique is introduced, the more entrenched that instinct becomes as the puppy grows older and as the skill is developed further. Most types of training continue until the puppy is eight weeks old, but those selected for diabetic alert purposes receive extra work until they are one year to

14 months old. During this time, the trainers focus on all the necessary obedience — essentially, continuing the early scent work and training them to alert in cases of low blood sugar. ​“We watch our breeding very closely, and we want to produce game finders, so we want our dogs to use that nose that has developed over millions of years to find game and food,” Smith notes. “We can funnel that, for diabetic alert dogs, to focus on the diabetic low blood sugar scent.” ​ For this purpose, dogs are far more highly attuned than human beings; they can detect low blood sugar simply by smelling their handler’s breath, which triggers them to alert the owner. And, as they get older, they can even alert from the other end of the house, Smith says. Their noses are that sensitive. ​ After being placed in a home at 12-to-14 months, the handler continues to work with the dog, using a local trainer to help if needed. Once the dog has those skills entrenched, the handler can do the work himself, rewarding the appropriate behavior. ​ “It’s no different than a drug-sniffing dog — they don’t care about the drugs, but they know if they alert to them, they get a reward, like a tennis ball to retrieve,” Smith explains. “These dogs have been trained for birds for hundreds of years, so we’re just redirecting that to another scent.” ​ Diabetes alert dogs are trained with the help of those who have the disease. They allow their blood sugar to get lower, then spit on cotton balls, which are then frozen for later use. The trainer will insert the cotton ball into a small tube and introduce that to the puppies. The dog is also trained to alert the owner, often with a device called a bringsel, which Smith describes as a small bumper that the dog can bring to the diabetic to say, DeSoto 19

“Check your blood sugar.” ​ “Some handlers want different alerts,” Smith adds. “They might want them to approach and paw them, for example. It’s a personal preference.” ​ Smith estimates the Oxford facility has placed 30 or more diabetes dogs in homes over the years. And, in fact, dogs can be even more reliable than modern technology. Smith notes that, for those wearing a glucose monitor, dogs can alert 20-to-40 minutes before the monitor goes off. Needless to say, he has received a plethora of positive feedback from owners over the years. ​ “A gentleman in New York still talks about how many times that dog saved his life,” Smith says. “And we used to place diabetic alert dogs not as hunting dogs, but we’ve found they can multitask. Even if they’re hunting, the diabetic scent will override their hunting, and they’ll go to the handler to alert.” ​ Smith points out that owners receive not only steady companionship from a canine pal, but a lifesaving agent that can allow them to live their lives with more freedom — without the fear of a diabetic episode when away from home. ​ However, would-be owners must think ahead to receive the properly equipped four-legged friend. “People don’t realize how long the training process is — we train only dogs that are born at Wildrose, and it’s such a long process,” Smith says. “Humans smell in parts per million. Dogs smell in parts per billion.”

Based in Oxford, Miss., Tracy Morin is an award-winning freelance writer and editor with a passion for covering food, beverage, beauty, and boxing.

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Coming Home to The MAX By Pam Windsor | Photography courtesy of The MAX

Meridian native Coleman Warner returns home to help shine a light on the Mississippi Arts + Entertainment Experience. It might seem as though Coleman Warner has been preparing for the position of Director of Development at the Mississippi Arts + Entertainment Experience (The MAX) his entire life. His many years as a newspaper journalist, his work over the past decade at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, and even his time on the Board of Directors at The MAX has given him the perfect blend of combined experience to raise funds, build partnerships, and boost membership. The job has also brought him full circle, back to the hometown he left as a teenager. “I love Meridian,” Coleman says. “I was born here. My mother was a theater instructor at the community college, my father was a lawyer and a politician, and I lived in Meridian until I was 13 years old.” 22 DeSoto

He moved away after his parents divorced but maintained a strong connection and still has family in Meridian. It is also where he met his wife, who at the time was a schoolteacher at the very school he attended as a young boy. As development director, Coleman looks forward to shining a light on Meridian, and encouraging people to visit The MAX and learn more about the many talented artists, writers, and musicians with ties to Mississippi. A partial list includes iconic names like Elvis Presley, Jimmie Rodgers, William Faulkner, John Grisham, Charlie Pride, Tammy Wynette, and Oprah Winfrey. It’s surprising to see so many famous names from such a small state. “It’s a great story to tell,” Coleman explains. “It’s diverse, it’s historic, and that appeals to the journalist side of me.

The storytelling part of it, digging into the personal histories of these various artists and where they came from, what they had to overcome, how they tapped into the wider currents of the creative world, then had an impact far, far beyond Mississippi.” Warner notes that while his work at the National World War II Museum as director of the President and CEO Emeritus Office may have involved different subject matter, the approach is still the same. At both museums, he says, the goal is to highlight history through storytelling. “The National World War II Museum was able to tap into people and their stories from all over America and beyond, then feed those stories back to reconnect the dots of history,” Warner explains. “The mission was powerful and farreaching, and The MAX is similar in that regard. If you think of somebody like Leontyne Price, Elvis Presley, Eudora Welty, Tennessee Williams, George Ohr, B.B. King, and some of these other artists, their reach was, in many ways, worldwide.” While these writers, musicians, and artists are known as legends in their chosen fields, most people don’t realize their Mississippi connection, he attests. Warner and others at The MAX are working to change that. Once travel restrictions imposed by the coronavirus begin loosening up, Warner plans to begin speaking to different groups across the state and elsewhere to let people know about The MAX and all it has to offer. He says encouraging people to commit to becoming members will be key to its long-term success. It is another takeaway from his time at the National World War II Museum. “Their membership base there was national in scope and that proved critical over and over again, especially

after Hurricane Katrina,” he says. “And I think the potential membership base for The MAX, which is currently in the building phase, can be very much national in scope. You have Mississippians who’ve moved away to other parts of the country and beyond, and you certainly have the threads of these musical and other artistic influences that reach all over the country.” And while The MAX showcases talented Mississippians who have made their mark on arts and entertainment in the past, Coleman says the museum is also focused on the future. “One of the things I’m going to be asking as I go to other communities around the state is who is the most interesting emerging artist in your community? Who is big in music, visual arts, theater, or even pottery or cooking that you identify as a person that’s going to be a big deal one day if they get the right platform?” He and others at The MAX believe they can play a critical role in inspiring young people to not only appreciate the arts but inspire them to envision themselves as artists. “The living, breathing, important mission of The MAX is not to just celebrate historical or cultural icons,” Warner insists, “but to help identify and inspire the next generation. And that sort of forward leaning part of the mission is very exciting to me.” Pam Windsor is a Nashville-based journalist who writes about music, travel, food, culture, and extraordinary people.

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VISIT Senatobia! The five star city

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exploring art | MARSHALL RAMSEY

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Drawing People Together By Jim Beaugez | Photography courtesy of Marshall Ramsey

Taking a cue from musicians who offered internet concerts during the Covid pandemic, editorial cartoonist Marshall Ramsey put his pen to work with online art classes. Nationally syndicated cartoonist Marshall Ramsey takes the “at-large” portion of his title at online news hub Mississippi Today seriously. Over the past two-and-a-half decades in the news business, he’s likely flipped an odometer or two roaming the state to speak to civic groups and other gatherings about his Pulitzer-nominated work and inspirational life story. Like most business and leisure travel, COVID-19 stopped that cold in March. But Ramsey didn’t waste time complaining. He began thinking of ways he could use his talents to help others through the crisis. “I kept watching videos of all these bands [performing] from their homes, and I was thinking, ‘I wish I had some musical talent,’” says the Mississippi Today editor-atlarge. Then he landed on a solution. “I can’t get out and talk to people, per se, but I can talk to them online, and I can either do it through coloring sheets or I can do it through Facebook drawing lessons.” He decided to do both, and by mid-April he was running weekly Facebook Live drawing sessions, which have logged more than 40,000 views. Ramsey took time to talk through his creative process and drawing techniques in the videos while answering questions and weaving in anecdotes from his colorful life experiences. He has also published 85

coloring sheets of Mississippi landmarks through Mississippi Today that students and teachers can use in their studies. Even though students can’t physically travel, he wants them to feel like they can get there through their imaginations and learn about their state in the process. “What’s really neat is seeing the kids’ artwork [and] coloring sheets, and if they watched me draw something and they tried to draw it themselves,” he says. “If people want to see how I draw, great, but if they sit down and draw, too, that’s good therapy. I think everybody’s just tired [right now], and so if I can give people a break and teach them how to draw for an hour, then it’s definitely worth an hour of my time.” While viewers from as far away as England have logged onto his sessions, Ramsey has been surprised by some viewers closer to home. When he was fresh out of college and working as a janitor, he dreamed of being an editorial cartoonist. A book written by Yazoo City, Miss., native Zig Ziglar inspired him to make that dream a reality through hard work and perseverance. Through his Facebook Live streams, he brought that association full circle. “I got a very nice note from Zig Ziglar’s daughter saying how much she enjoyed it and sharing it with her grandkids,” he marvels. “He was probably one of the greatest motivational speakers of all time, so I was like, ‘this is a kind DeSoto 27

of neat, full-circle thing.’ So, you never know who’s going to watch.” Ramsey knows people in Mississippi have plenty of experience dealing with natural disasters, from Hurricane Katrina in 2005 to the tornado outbreak last April, which saw a 2-mile-wide EF4 tornado plow 67 miles through several communities, including Bassfield and Soso. It was the third-largest tornado ever recorded in the U.S., and its track was visible from satellites orbiting Earth. But this disaster is different. “You can’t see or touch a virus, and even if you contract COVID-19, there are no guarantees of the symptoms or severity you’ll experience,” he says. “Some carriers never know they have it, while others, tragically, succumb to its effects.” During challenging times, though, he believes Mississippians lead by example. “In Mississippi when things get bad, we get good,” he says. “I definitely saw it after Katrina. I worked on the Coast a lot after the storm [and] got to see people live everything they learned in Sunday school.” He has overcome significant personal challenges, as well. In 2001, Ramsey was diagnosed with a malignant melanoma that shook his world. Since receiving a clean bill of health, he has devoted time to the American Cancer Society and the Melanoma Research Foundation and raised $13,000 for cancer research by running the Marine Corps Marathon. He has also been named a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize twice and become an author of several books. “At the end of the day, if you can put something out there that’s positive and helpful, and can give one person a lift, I think that’s a really good start because we’re all in this together whether we want to admit it or not,” he says. “I think as soon as we realize that and start helping each other, I think we’re going to be a lot better off.” Jim Beaugez is a freelance music writer based in Mississippi. Follow him on Twitter @ JimBeaugez.

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exploring books | THE RISING PLACE

A Tale that Transcends Time By Mary Ann DeSantis | Photography courtesy of The Wild Rose Press, Inc.

A story about grief and grace, faith and forgiveness, hope and healing takes readers back to an age of innocence prior to and during World War II. ​ Most authors write a book and wait years to get a movie deal. For David Armstrong, the process was reversed by his sheer persistence – and luck. “The Rising Place,” a novel set in the somewhat fictional town of Hamilton, Miss., was released as a book in June 2020 although a movie by the same name came out years earlier. ​“That’s a funny story how it happened,” says Armstrong whose day job is serving as the Chief Operations Officer for the City of Columbus. “I am a great fan of filmmaker and producer Tom Rice, who was premiering a movie in Jackson. I stood outside the theater doors and insistently handed him a manuscript for ‘The Rising Place.’” ​ Although Rice initially didn’t want to take it, he told Armstrong that maybe he would read the manuscript on the plane. 30 DeSoto

​ “One year later, Rice called me and said he wanted it to be his next feature film,” Armstrong recalls. “We came to a monetary agreement over film rights and he developed a shooting script.” ​The movie went on to win 16 film festival awards before opening in New York and Los Angeles. What seems like a fortunate stroke of luck, however, almost killed the idea of publishing the deeply moving tale in book form. ​“I thought it would be a piece of cake to sell the manuscript as a book, but publishers want the film rights when they buy a manuscript and I couldn’t give them that,” he explains. ​Luckily for Armstrong and readers, Wild Rose Press took a chance on the “The Rising Place” and published it as a trade paperback and e-book. After the book was published, a

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friend told him there really was a small town named Hamilton in northeast Mississippi. For the book, Armstrong had created a fictional Hamilton near his native hometown of Natchez. ​ The story takes place during World War II, but many of the issues transcend time – like unwed motherhood, grief, racism, and unrequited love. Armstrong chose to tell the story of Emily Hodge and her friends through letters she wrote to Harry Devening, the father of her unborn child who served as a pilot during the war. ​“Several agents rejected the story because they didn’t like the epistolary form,” says Armstrong. “I don’t recall why I chose this style; it was like Emily Hodge was dictating those letters to me.” ​ An epistolary novel is one told through the medium of letters written by one or more of the characters. The form presents an intimate view of the character’s thoughts and feelings, and it conveys the shape of events to come with dramatic immediacy. Those epistolary traits weren’t lost on Armstrong. ​ “One day, Emily Hodge appeared in my brain, and it was like she was telling me her story so I merely transcribed what she was saying,” he explains. “When I write, it’s like I’m watching a movie on a big screen, and I’m just writing what I’m seeing and hearing.”

​ Armstrong got the idea for the story after reading a daily devotional in The Upper Room magazine about an elderly schoolmarm who supposedly lived an “unknown” life. He mulled over the idea for a while – something he often does for his books – but a mystical “nudge” to write the story came from his favorite author William Faulkner. ​ “One Sunday night, I had this vivid dream where I saw Faulkner riding a white horse around the courthouse square in Oxford. I woke up from that dream about 4 a.m. on Monday and immediately started writing Miss Emily’s story,” says the 1978 Ole Miss law school graduate. ​ The supernatural is not so strange to Armstrong who grew up in a haunted house in Natchez and served as mayor of the riverfront city for one term. After a career as a lawyer and prosecutor in Natchez as well as being an administrator for DeSoto County, Miss., he now resides in the circa 1833 Lincoln House, one of Columbus’s most haunted antebellum homes. ​ “I grew up around it [paranormal activity] so it doesn’t bother me,” he says with a laugh. “I sense they like my presence.” ​ He uses his experience in his latest book, “The Third Gift,” which was released in October. The coming-of-age novel set in Natchez focuses on a teenager who tries to appease ghosts with gifts. ​ “It’s really funny, but it’s also heavy. I wrote it as a screenplay first,” says Armstrong, who taught screenwriting at the DeSoto Center of Northwest Mississippi Community College when he lived in Southaven in the early 2000s. ​ Both books, he says, explore many of the same universally human qualities, struggles, and conflicts. It’s the indefatigable human spirit that Armstrong wants readers to remember from his stories. ​ “Life is about surviving, but it’s also about loving and being loved by others, being hurt and learning how to forgive, and growing spiritually,” he says. “I hope, too, that readers will come away with a sense that, to know true friendship, you have to be willing to reveal who and what you really are to others.”

A lover of Southern literature, Mary Ann DeSantis is the co-editor of DeSoto Magazine. She is a Laurel native and a graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi.

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southern roots | HOLIDAY WREATHS

“Placing a wreath on your front door lets friends know you’re ready for the holidays.” Bibb lettuce Angie Tacker, Hernando Flower Shop

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Welcome Home:

Make Your Own Holiday Wreath BY Pamela A. Keene | Photography courtesy of Hernando Flower Shop and Pixabay

Let creativity be your guide when making beautiful holiday wreaths.

​ The fresh smell of evergreens greets visitors on the front porches of homes across the South. From the scents of pine to the fragrance of mixed cedar and Fraser fir branches, you know it is holiday time when people dress up their doors with wreaths and garland. “There’s nothing better than fresh greens during the holidays,” says Angie Tacker, owner of Hernando Flower Shop in Hernando, Miss. “Both for Thanksgiving and Christmas, placing a wreath on your front door lets friends know you’re ready for the holidays.” Although pagan in origin, in Christian beliefs wreaths bring with them a history of symbolism. The round shape signifies eternity, the unending circle of life. Using evergreens represents growth; holly branches with bright red berries are a reminder of the red blood that Christ shed on the cross. Ivy intertwined on a wreath signals affection. Some people create separate wreaths for each season. Choosing fall colors – rich oranges, deep golds, and burgundy reds – works well for Thanksgiving, especially when using natural materials. “Get into the holiday spirit early by crafting a fall wreath in early November,” Tacker advises. “You can include miniature gourds or pumpkins, fall leaves, springs of wheat or silk sunflowers. Add some whimsy with a small plush figure, like a turkey or a pilgrim.” Anything goes for Christmas wreaths this season, but evergreens reign supreme. Whether you take a traditional approach with Christmas red and green or add some elegance using glittery gold and sparkling silver, evergreens set the tone for the holiday season.

“Boxwood, evergreens, and pine are some of the most popular materials for making wreaths today,” Tacker says. “They last the whole season and require little more than some spritzers of water every few days to keep them looking fresh. As a foundation for the wreath, they are versatile and provide a nice background for florals, ribbons, small artificial birds or pine cones.” Angie recommends using a wire wreath form. “Available in many diameters, wire forms are easy to work with because you can cut your plant materials into flexible branches and secure them to the frame. Be careful not to trim them too short; the goal is to provide an appealing shape that’s graceful.” Use shorter pieces wired together to add bulk. Wrap the stem ends of the branches with floral tape, especially if you’re using pine or fir, to keep the sap from dripping. Once you’ve covered the form, it’s time to begin embellishing. “Choose a theme for your wreath, then stick to it,” she says. “It’s tempting to find many different pretty items to use, but simplicity is better. For instance, if you want to use a floral theme, don’t overdo it. One nice spray of flowers, such as some elegant red roses with a few berries or a grouping of silk poinsettias and mixed greenery, makes a nice focal point toward the bottom on either the left or the right side. By weaving some wide ribbon among the evergreens and finishing with one or two smaller flowers diagonally opposite the larger spray, you’ve created a balanced design.” For a natural wreath start with willow or grape vines twisted into a circle. Tacker suggests adding a larger cluster of red berries and pine cones offset to the left or right of DeSoto 33

the bottom. Complement it with another smaller bunch diagonally across. “This is a very simple way to make a wreath that has a woodsy or rustic flair, but you can make it more elaborate by using dried plant materials, like spray-painted okra, shiny magnolia leaves or nosegays of lavender, thyme, and rosemary,” she says. Williamsburg-style holiday wreaths frequently include fresh fruit, such as apples, clusters of holly or cranberries, lemons or oranges, small pineapples and groupings of walnuts wired together. “Browsing the internet is an excellent way to determine the type of wreath you’d like to make,” Tacker says. “With sites like Pinterest and ways to search for all kinds of holiday themes, it’s easy to become overwhelmed with ideas. Pick a few that you admire, find out if the elements are available to you, then begin. “Making a wreath may be a challenge at first, but the more you practice and get comfortable with the process, the more you’ll let your creativity be your guide.” What You Need to Make Your Own Wreath Most wreath-making materials can be found at craft stores.

Materials: - Wreath form of wire, willow or grape vines or Styrofoam - 20-gauge florist wire, florist tape or zip ties - Sharp floral shears or garden pruners - Foliage as a base - Ribbon - Miscellaneous decorations such as artificial fruit, pine cones, birds, wired together bunches of nuts or candy canes Pamela A. Keene is a freelance journalist based in Atlanta who writes about gardening, travel, and lifestyle. Growing up in Florida, her holiday memories include cutting cedar branches in the wild for her mom to decorate their front door.

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table talk | CITY TASTING BOX

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Memphis Travel Box

Sugar Spice Tasting Box

Memphis in a Box By Mary Ann DeSantis | Photography courtesy of Emilee Robinson Photography

When the pandemic brought her City Tasting Tours to a halt, Memphis native Cristina McCarter turned to e-commerce to promote the city’s unique food culture. The adage “When one door closes, another one opens” rings true for Cristina McCarter, a food entrepreneur whose love and enthusiasm for Memphis and its culinary scene is apparent. For more than four years, she led tourists and locals through downtown Memphis with her City Tasting Tours. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit; restaurants closed and tourists weren’t traveling to the Bluff City. The food tours came to an unexpected halt. And the adage about friends helping each other through hard times was also true. McCarter threw out the idea to her best friend about putting the tastes of Memphis in a box. “I knew it sounded a little crazy,” she says, “and I knew I couldn’t do it alone.” Her bestie Lisa Brown was all in with the idea. It helped immensely that Brown also had a food background and marketing experience. As business partners, they launched City Tasting Box, a boutique e-commerce shop, in September. The boxes are filled with a selection of packaged goods from established Memphis restaurants and chefs, up-and-coming local food artisans, and Memphis-inspired crafts.​ “I was already thinking about doing something a little extra… something more for the tourists to take home after their food tours,” says McCarter. “After restaurants closed because of COVID, I had to think of a way to keep promoting the Memphis food scene.”

As a marketer, Brown knew the idea for tasting boxes would “blow up and get big.” In just over two months, the duo went from a concept to a business. On the first day alone, they packed and shipped 65 boxes nationwide. “We started by thinking about who we wanted in the box,” says Brown. “Cris introduced me to local chefs in the city that she knew through her city tasting tours. We also wanted to let people know about all the other food artisans in Memphis.” Their vision of promoting local eateries and supporting minority-owned businesses was a hit with vendors, especially those who had already been a part of McCarter’s food tours. Jo Beth Graves, owner of Grecian Gourmet Taverna on South Main Street, supplies the house-made Greek vinaigrette for the Support Local Box that McCarter and Brown created. “We are very fortunate to have a long-term relationship with Cristina. She came in as we were getting ready to open three years ago, and we made her a Greek Nacho, which she featured on her food tours,” says Graves. As the pandemic extended into summer, Grecian Gourmet Taverna had to shift gears. The restaurant worked with McCarter to develop virtual video tours and then meals were delivered to customers. “We had to redirect our excitement into other things like the videos and City Tasting Box,” says Graves. “We think Cristina is a great asset to the restaurant community and to DeSoto 37

the city. Not only are the boxes promoting the city and local businesses, but she is highlighting us [restaurants] all together as a group.” Currently, two different tasting boxes are offered. The Support Local Box (retail $64.99) features a mix of artisan foods showcasing Memphis’ unique food culture. In addition to the Grecian Gourmet vinaigrette, the smartly designed box also features gourmet popcorn, tea bags, homemade granola, Italian seasoning, and wildflower honey. The Memphis Travel Box (retail $74.99) is a collection of the city’s famous barbecue sauces, seasonings, and classic comfort food staples including cookies from Makeda’s and pork rinds from The Wing Guru. The colorful packaging was designed by Memphis artist Mia Saine. The boxes make great gifts for food enthusiasts, corporate teams, tourists, and locals. One unexpected market has turned out to be former Memphians. “Half of my best friends now live out-of-state, and they are homesick for Memphis food,” says McCarter. “It’s a definite market.” With the holidays around the corner, a Sugar-and-Spice Tasting Box will become the newest addition. “It will have a plethora of different things like spices, oils, local popcorn treats, and more,” says McCarter. Although creating this new e-commerce company has been exciting, McCarter misses the daily camaraderie she had with vendors and chefs as well as her customers. “I miss the tours a lot. I definitely love guiding people through the city and showing them that Memphis has a lot to offer. “It’s also hard not to have personal contact with vendors,” she says. “I’m used to having in-person conversations, not just over the phone. I hope to help customers connect with the vendors who are represented in the box.” Brown adds that they hope to capture the vendors’ stories in the boxes. “Every vendor has a story and they shape the Memphis food scene. Our vendors and customers are the north star that keeps us on track and focused.” Mary Ann DeSantis is co-editor of DeSoto Magazine.

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exploring destinations | DICKENS IN HERNANDO

Christmas Open House: Nov. 14th and 15th Hernando Dickens of a Christmas: Nov. 14th, 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. For information, call 662-429-9092 or visit 40 DeSoto

A Dickens of a Christmas By Karen Ott Mayer | Photography courtesy of Joey Brent and the City of Hernando

Culture, history, and storytelling will reflect the Victorian era in a special holiday celebration in downtown Hernando, Mississippi this month. As the 2020 Hernando “A Dickens of a Christmas” unfolds, the costumed characters and colorful stories take on an even richer meaning this season. With Americans facing the holidays during a challenging and historic period in our history, this particular Christmas celebration moves in tandem to the turbulent Victorian times. “Charles Dickens championed the downtrodden and wrote about the collision of the old and new,” says Robert Long, curator and director of the DeSoto County Museum. Last year, Long served as the “coachman” for horse-drawn carriage rides during Hernando’s first Dickens of a Christmas. This year, Hernando’s Christmas Open House is set for Nov. 14 and 15 and will include the Dickens of a Christmas event on Nov. 14 from 1 p.m to 5 p.m. Hosted in conjunction with the Hernando Chamber of Commerce, the Dickens celebration will feature local businesses decked out in holiday décor to recreate Charles Dickens’ timeless holiday tale, “A Christmas Carol.” Local merrymakers will dress in period-authentic clothing to match the Victorian theme. Hernando was incorporated in 1832 around the same time as the famed Victorian era, and just 11 years before Dickens penned the legendary story.

Planned events include floral and wreath making, pet pictures, cookie decorating, dancing, live music caroling, and carriage rides. The Dickens event reflects the wide span of the Victorian period which lasted from 1837 to 1902, ending with the death of Queen Victoria. This period also coincides with the Reconstruction period immediately following America’s Civil War. Beginning in 1865 and ending in 1876, DeSoto County and the rest of Mississippi were federally occupied with Union troops and under the governing control of federal officials. “This time period (Victorian) includes a broad sweep of history covering slavery, Civil War, Reconstruction, the yellow fever epidemic and the removal of Native Americans from the Southeast to the West,” explains Long. Through storytelling, reenactments, tours and celebrations, visitors and locals can gain a deeper understanding of how this time period influenced Mississippians in all walks of life, he adds. “The costumes of this event aren’t just a reflection of Anglican white style at all,” Long says. “The famous Ida B. Wells is an example of one African American woman who DeSoto 41

dressed in Victorian finery, reflecting the styles of the day.” Hernando falls within the Mississippi Hills National Heritage Area which was designated by Congress and President Barack Obama in April 2009. MHNHA is one of only 55 National Heritage Areas in the United States and is bounded by I-55 to the west, Highway 14 to the south, and covers 19 full counties and portions of 11 others. “MHNHA represents a distinctive cultural landscape shaped largely by the dynamic intersection of Appalachian and Delta cultures” says Mary Cates Williams, executive director of the Mississippi Hills Heritage Area Alliance. MHNHA provided the City of Hernando with $2,000 through the Community Grants program to support the Dickens event. According to Matheny, the Historic Carriage Ride Tour, co-sponsored by the City of Hernando and the Historic DeSoto Foundation/DeSoto County Museum, seeks to inform and chronicle in a creative and entertaining way, an in-depth and comprehensive look at the lives and livelihoods of residents, including the African American population, during the mid-Victorian period in DeSoto County history. Visitors will hear about historical events like the Cotton Panic of 1873 and the great yellow fever epidemic of 1878. “The tour makes an impact upon our community, providing a glimpse into that turbulent period in world history in which the industrialized world was confronting the agrarian-based planter society in the Victorian-era South,” says Matheny. “Factories and sweatshops were fast replacing the need for manual labor in cotton, indigo, and rice fields of the American South.” Homes erected in DeSoto County during this period reflected the fashionable Victorian architectural style of its day, which was predominantly Italianate. Traditional Federal style and Low Country Antebellum-style architecture also existed. Contra dancing, originating in 17th century Britain, was a popular form of dance that became fashionable in the U.S. during the 18th century. Hernando Contra Dancers are scheduled to demonstrate this enduring dance form during the event. Costuming is also key for the Dickens of a Christmas celebration. “The addition of period-era clothing adds an important component and enhances the experience for the guests,” says Matheny. “The clothing creates an atmosphere in which the clothes become the scenery of the time and something that the visitor will always remember.” ​Period-era costumes for the event will be given to the DeSoto County Museum to be used for other historic events throughout the year and reserved specifically for the Hernando Dickens of a Christmas each year. ​Many project partners are helping with the event, including the DeSoto County Museum, City of Hernando, Hernando Contra Dancers, and DeSoto County Sheriff’s Department, among others. Christmas lights on Hernando's town square

Freelance writer and editor Karen Ott Mayer has lived in Mississippi for 20 years, chasing Mississippi stories – and those who write them.

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on the road again | PONCHATOULA, LOUISIANA

, a l u o t a h c n o P Louisiana

8:30 — Some of the country’s sweetest strawberries grow around the historic town of Ponchatoula, which is where Berrytown Corner Café gets its name. Start with coffee and beignet bites, the New Orleans dessert that arrives hot in small round balls stuffed with delicious ingredients such as the café’s special strawberry filling. For those who prefer a savory breakfast, the menu contains paninis, omelets, and breakfast burritos. 10:00 — Ponchatoula’s chock full of antique and collectible shops, many of which are housed in buildings dating to the early 1900s. “America’s Antique City” remains the perfect place to find those unique holiday gifts. And because Ponchatoula’s also known as the “Mayberry of the Deep South,” you might meet locals with some colorful stories. Noon — Paul’s Café straddles a corner at Pine and Southeast Railroad, open from early morning through lunchtime. In addition to regular menu items (and strawberry daiquiris!), lunch means specials, delicious South Louisiana standbys such as shrimp étouffée or red beans and rice. Best of all, there’s patio dining to allow for social distancing and to enjoy great fall weather. 1:45 — You’ll learn quite a bit about Ponchatoula history at the Collinswood School Museum, but there’s so much more waiting in every little corner. It’s free to enter and, in addition to its history lesson located in an old school, there’s an outdoor garden, Civil War and World War II memorabilia, antique quilts, Native American artifacts, and much more! 3:30 — At 101 E. Pine St., across from the Collinswood School Museum, is the town’s historic locomotive, once used by the Louisiana Cypress Lumber company in the early 1900s. 4:00 — Take a walkabout through town and visit the memorials and sculptures. The USS Ponchatoula Memorial at 101 E Pine St., commemorates the local scrap metal drive by the Ponchatoula High School that was the largest in the country during World War II. In honor of the faculty and students’ contribution, the U.S. government christened a ship called the MS Ponchatoula that set sail on July 30, 1944. 4:30 — Sculptures around town include “The Lesson,” a farmer teaching his young children how to stem a strawberry using a spoon, and the “Conservationist,” paying homage to the town’s Native American ancestors. The Strawberry Farmer Memorial Wall honors the 2,400 local farmers who grow the sweet berry, and the Strawberry Sculpture is a selfie hotspot. 5:00 — Ever want to see a gator up close? How about one so ancient he’s enormous? “Ole Hardhide,” who serves as the town’s mascot, lives at 10 E. Pine St. 5:30 — Two quaint Airbnb’s exist in downtown Ponchatoula, allowing visitors to relax close to the action. Le Roost in the circa-1925 Old Nehi Building sleeps six and includes two private bedrooms and a sofa pullout in the living room. A one-bedroom accommodation is available at Quarters Above the Courtyard. 6:15 — Grab a curbside dinner at one of Ponchatoula’s many restaurants to enjoy at leisure in the historic accommodations that come with kitchens and patios. Be sure to include a bottle of wine from Pontchartrain Vineyards.

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To plan your visit:

Upcoming Events: Louisiana Renaissance Festival November and early-December Weekends This annual festival, allowing visitors to take a trip back in time to the 16th century English Village of Albright, celebrates 20 years in 2020. Plans are for the family friendly festival to open weekends in November and early December, but check website for updates. The fair features hundreds of costumed artists, entertainers, medieval foods, jousting, dancing, and much more.

Ponchatoula Antique Trade Days and Arts & Crafts Fair Nov. 1-3​ More than 200 local and national vendors gather in downtown Ponchatoula for this annual event, allowing visitors to double their antique fun in “America’s Antique City.” Shop for handmade crafts, antiques, and collectibles — in addition to entertainment and children’s events.

Louisiana Quilt Trail You may have witnessed quilt blocks throughout the South, those colorful quilt squares on barns, houses, and businesses. Louisiana also has a quilt trail with many quilt blocks found throughout homes and businesses on the “Northshore” of Lake Pontchartrain, north of New Orleans. Compiled by Cheré Coen

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holiday gift guide | FOR HER




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her 15


1. Boots, Center Stage Fashions, 324 W Commerce Street, Hernando, MS 2. Haute Shore puffer purse , SoCo Hernando, 300 W Commerce St, Hernando, MS 3. Jewelry, Center Stage Fashions, 324 W Commerce Street, Hernando, MS 4. Sneakers, Bon Von, 230 W Center Street, Hernando, MS 5. Barefoot Dreams cardigan, julie Vos bracelets, The Pink Zinnia, 134 West Commerce Street, Hernando, MS 6. Stackable rings, Custom Jewelery, 2903 May Blvd Suite #105, Southaven, MS 7. Bundtinis, Nothing Bundt Cakes, 5338 Goodman Rd Suite 127, Olive Branch, MS 8. Kitzi pearl necklace and earrings, Cynthia’s Boutique, 2529 Caffey Street, Hernando, MS 9. Cardigan sweater, Upstairs Closet, 309 East Main Street, Senatobia, MS 10. Face and eye masks, Paisley Pineapple, 6542 Goodman Road, Olive Branch, MS 11. Leapard cardigan, The Speckled Egg, 5100 Interstate 55, Marion, AR 12. Sneakers, Upstairs Closet, 309 East Main Street, Senatobia, MS 13. Prenelove Bag, Paisley Pineapple, 6542 Goodman Road, Olive Branch, MS 14. Soap, salts, body butter & Shower oil, Magnolia Soap and Bath Co, 3075 Goodman Rd E, Southaven, MS 15. Scooples jewelry, The Speckled Egg, 5100 Interstate 55, Marion, AR 16. Snake mules, The Speckled Egg, 5100 Interstate 55, Marion, AR

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holiday gift guide | FOR HIM













1. Madman mini tools, Bon Von, 230 W Center Street, Hernando, MS 2. Books, Magnolia House, 2903 May Blvd, Southaven, MS 3. Collegiate Work Gloves, House to Home, 8961 US-51, Southaven, MS 4. Corkcicle, Ultimate Gifts, 2902 May Blvd. Suite 102, Southaven, MS 5. Brown Dog socks, SoCo Hernando, 300 W Commerce St, Hernando, MS 6. Coasters and bottle opener, Cynthia’s Boutique, 2529 Caffey Street, Hernando, MS


7. Bottle Opener, Ultimate Gifts, 2902 May Blvd. Suite 102, Southaven, MS 8. Collegiate Tervis, Mimi’s on Main, 432 W Main St, Senatobia, MS

9. Fieldstone T-Shirts, Mimi’s on Main, 432 Main Street, Senatobia, MS

10. Vintage Jackets, The Shack Antiques, 7035 Depot St, Olive Branch, MS

11. Swig Slim Can Coozies, Commerce Street Market, 74 W Commerce St, Hernando, MS 12. Winchester Rifle, Guns & Fine Jewelry., 570 Goodman Rd E, Southaven, MS

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holiday gift guide | FOR THE HOME










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1. Big Green Egg, Complete Home Center, 32 E Commerce St, Hernando, MS 2. Door hangler, Front Porch Boutique, 9094 Goodman Rd., Olive Branch, MS 3. La-Z-Boy recliners and sofas, Wilson Furniture, 225 Washington St, Collierville, TN 4. Vintage photographs by Jim Shackelford, The Shack Antiques, 7035 Depot St, Olive Branch, MS 5. Lamp with pottery base, The Lamp Shade House, 4870 Summer Ave, Memphis, TN 6. LeCreuset dutch oven, Mimi’s on Main, 432 W Main St, Senatobia, MS 7. MudPie pitcher, Ultimate Gifts, 2902 May Blvd. Suite 102, Southaven, MS 8. Outdoor pillows, Keep It Casual, 106 S Industrial Rd, Tupelo, MS 9. Pendant light, Magnolia Lighting, 470 US-51 N, Hernando, MS 10. Christmas ornaments, House to Home, 8961 US-51, Southaven, MS 11. Santa's Reindeer Pillow, Olive Branch Florist, 9120 Pigeon Roost Rd, Olive Branch, MS 12. Tin Red Truck, House to Home, 8961 US-51, Southaven, MS 13. Mississippi pottery, Bon Von, 230 W Center Street, Hernando, MS 14. Barefoot Dreams Blanket, Blessing Beads, Thymes Fraiser Fir Candle, The Pink Zinnia, 134 West Commerce Street, Hernando, MS 15. Mercury glass candle lanterns, Cynthia’s Boutique, 2529 Caffey Street, Hernando, MS 16. Dough bowl by Alex Ladner, Cynthia’s Boutique, 2529 Caffey Street, Hernando, MS

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holiday gift guide | FOR KIDS & TEENS












1. Warmies stuffed animals, Bon Von, 230 W Center Street, Hernando, MS 2. Miniature rolling pin and 3 festive cookie cutters, Cynthia’s Boutique, 2529 Caffey Street, Hernando, MS 3. Stoney Clover pouch, Ultimate Gifts, 2902 May Blvd. Suite 102, Southaven, MS 4. Barefoot Dreams teddy bear & blanket, Magnolia House, 2903 May Blvd, Southaven, MS


5. Bath bombs, Magnolia Soap and Bath Co, 3075 Goodman Rd E, Southaven, MS

6. Melissa & Doug play sets, Commerce Street Market, 74 W Commerce St, Hernando, MS 7. Monogrammed duffle, Front Porch Boutique, 9094 Goodman Rd. Olive Branch, MS 8. MudPie outfits, Southern Traditions, 120 W Bankhead St #A, New Albany, MS 9. Noah's Ark play set, Mimi’s on Main, 432 W Main St, Senatobia, MS

10. Scented squishy pillows, Merry Magnolia, 194 E Military Road, Marion, AR

11. Gift certificates, DeSoto Snow and Creamery, 5627 Getwell Rd, Southaven, MS

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Hand sanitizer from Cathead Distillery

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When coronavirus and COVID-19 entered our vocabularies, companies across the region stepped up to assist in the pandemic fight. By Tom Adkinson Photography Credits: Blue Delta Jeans, Thomas Wells/Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal; Vanguard Soap, Cathead Distillery, and Vestige Restaurant

By now, we know the official coronavirus rules: Wash your hands, wear a mask, and keep socially distant. There’s a corollary, too: Help your neighbor. Many companies around our region shifted gears to help us get through the pandemic. Here are four examples that make us proud. DeSoto 51

Vanguard Soap in Memphis

Blue Delta Jeans

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Vanguard Soap

Vanguard Soap in Memphis usually labors under the radar, although it is a big company with a national reach. It’s almost a certainty that you’ve bought Vanguard soaps, both bar and liquid, but you’ve not seen the Vanguard name. T h a t ’s b e c a u s e Va n g u a r d manufactures private-label goods that are sold in practically every drugstore, grocery chain, and big-box store in the country. It doesn’t name names, but Costco is a known client, so a bubbly product with the Kirkland brand really is a Vanguard product. When COVID-19 hit, and everyone everywhere was washing hands many times a day while singing the “Doxology” (that works as well as “Happy Birthday”), the nation needed soap more than ever. That’s why the federal government deemed Vanguard a critical industry and told it to keep production lines humming. Retailers kept running short — Vanguard’s normal annual production of 70 million bars would prove insufficient — so employees dove in and management hired reinforcements. “The employees at Vanguard know our business is supporting society’s needs,” says company president Les Bramblett. “They are a great group of people who have done all they can to help.” Bramblett says a third shift was needed, and with that came even more employees in production, warehousing, and logistics. More than a dozen signed up quickly, and 30 more have joined since last summer. Absorbing all those employees came at a time the entire operation had to initiate social distancing. The employees’ response and the entire company’s esprit de corps mirrored another time when Vanguard answered the call of duty. It was founded in 1943 during the thick of World War II and immediately was part of the national wartime infrastructure.

Cathead Distillery

Even folks who never have enjoyed a vodka tonic or a good bourbon can raise a toast to Cathead Distillery in Jackson, Miss., for its work combatting the coronavirus. What does Mississippi’s first distillery have to do with this medical challenge? Everything, if you need virusDeSoto 53

Vestige Restaurant

free hands but aren’t near soap and water. Cathead’s distilling operation that normally leads to gin, vodka, bourbon, and liqueurs also can lead to hand sanitizer — a suddenly scarce commodity. “In mid-March, we received federal guidelines about using our equipment to make hand sanitizer, and we were rolling within a week,” says distillery co-founder Richard Patrick. The need was great, and Cathead cranked out the precious liquid from three facilities. Production lines buzzed all three shifts, and 85 more employees were needed. “Most of those 85 came from hospitality industry businesses where employees had been laid off,” Patrick explains, noting the irony that people who normally might serve a Cathead cocktail now manufactured an entirely different Cathead product. The earliest production was sold at cost to municipalities in coronavirus hotspots for free distribution to Mississippi citizens. Patrick said more than 40,000 bottles got into Mississippians’ hands that way. Subsequent recipients included hospitals and first-responder agencies. Cathead hand sanitizer now is retailed at major grocery chains and online through the distillery’s website. Demand has diminished, so 24-hour production isn’t required anymore, but Patrick says the distillery can restart the process in a heartbeat. The distillery’s normal philanthropy is rooted in music and regional culture, particularly support of musicians and the blues, but the pandemic added to that. “We’ve always wanted to be invested in supporting our communities,” Patrick says, noting that making hand sanitizer was a community support activity he never imagined.

Blue Delta Jeans

It’s actually not a stretch from sewing custom-made jeans that sell for several hundred dollars a pair to cranking out coronavirus-fighting facemasks that cost, well, a whole lot less. That’s what Blue Delta Jeans in Tupelo, Miss., discovered this 54 DeSoto

spring, according to CEO and co-founder Josh West. Blue Delta Jeans entered the fashion business in 2012 intent on using skilled, but bypassed, textile workers to make ultra-top-quality denim jeans with American components. That meant Texas-grown cotton that had become Texas-milled denim was artfully sewn into custom-measured jeans by adept Mississippi workers. The company was making a mark for itself until March 29, West recalls. He, the company COO, and the chief marketing officer were scattered around the country at special events when the world stopped. Once back, they faced a choice. “Either we send all our employees home, or we start making PPE (personal protective equipment), specifically masks,” West says, remembering America’s scramble to secure PPE from around the world. Blue Delta Jeans immediately chose to help. In just four days, they were ready to roll. They had the labor, the patterns, and the equipment, and just the right fabric was right under their noses, in a manner of speaking. A neighboring company, Tullos Supply, had an abundance of a tight, spun-bound fabric used in furniture manufacturing that is ideal for masks. Lab testing at Mississippi State University proved it worked. The first masks went to places with immediate need, such as hospitals in Tupelo, Jackson, and Memphis. Later, a connection was made with the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency for broader distribution. “All of this speaks to the ingenuity of Mississippi business,” West says. By autumn, the 50-employee company was splitting its time between masks and jeans, and as West observed, it will keep making PPE as long as the state needs.

Vestige Restaurant

Vestige is one of those restaurants you find and immediately start describing to your friends because the food is so good and its backstory so interesting. The culinary

backgrounds of coastal Mississippi and northern Japan literally are a world apart, but they blend together nicely in downtown Ocean Springs. The two cultures are united by owners Alex Perry and Kumi Omori, who also are husband and wife. Just last year, the James Beard Foundation tapped Alex as a semi-finalist in its Best Chef: South category. “From a small village in northern Japan to a small town in south Mississippi, I can’t say either of us thought the machinations of the universe would lead us here,” Alex Perry says, noting how seasonality, sustainability, and locality influence Vestige’s menu. Of course, the pandemic threw a spatula into the gears of regular restaurant operation, and a period of only carryout service began. Every restaurant in the region hit the same dilemma, and that led to an out-of-sight problem — farmers didn’t have the customers they normally would, and they were composting or plowing under their crops. “Learning that led to our ‘aha moment’ when we said we had to do something to help the growers,” Perry explains. Vestige added a new business category — selling food boxes directly to consumers. It took whatever was available, gave farmers a way to sell their crops, and inspired people to use fresh products as they began cooking at home more than they ever had. “People were buying food boxes the day of harvest,” Perry says. “You can’t get any fresher than that.” Initial boxes were colorful mixes of tomatoes, strawberries, cucumbers, eggplants, summer squash, green beans, peppers, and other items. Autumn picked back up with heirloom turnips, second-crop tomatoes, radishes, peppers, delicata and butternut squashes, sweet potatoes, and more. An extra touch included bouquets of fresh flowers.

Nashvillian Tom Adkinson, a member of the Society of American Travel Writers, washes his hands, wears a mask, and longs to travel more. Some of his travel articles are displayed at

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Dr. Jennybeth Hendrick (left) and sister Anna Lee Hendrick

A Snapshot of Quarantine By Karon Warren Photography Credits: Front Porch Project Corinth: Courtesy of Lisa Lambert, Bill Avery and Michelle Gifford Quarantine Memphis: Courtesy of Jamie Harmon/

Photographers in Corinth and Memphis used their talents to support their local communities with front porch portraits, all while social distancing. DeSoto 57

Corinth Photographers Michelle Gifford, Lisa Lambert and Bill Avery

Kirk, Jaisa and baby Rhett - Easton Emerson

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In February, no one could image what the following months would hold for the world: an almost total shutdown of daily life. Kids out of school, many workers sent home to work remotely if they could work at all, restaurants and shops closed, no inperson church services — the changes were unfathomable. At first, everyone thought it would be a short-lived furlough. But as time went on, it became clear that nothing would return to “normal” any time soon. With that reality came fear for many: Would I lose my job? Would I have to close my business? What can we do to help those around us survive this difficult time? As the coronavirus pandemic started to take a toll on businesses, some photographers stepped up to snap photos to support local businesses and to document the unprecedented time of quarantine.


For three Corinth photographers, one solution was The Front Porch Project Corinth. Inspired by a similar project in Louisiana, photographer Lisa Lambert reached out to fellow photographers Bill Avery and Michelle Gifford to see if they would be interested in photographing families who, in turn, would support local businesses as payment. The way the project worked was simple: Instead of paying the photographers for the photo session, participants would purchase a gift certificate from a local business as payment. Once they received their photos, participants posted them on social media and tagged the business they supported. “We thought it was a great idea to help our local small businesses, particularly restaurants,” Avery says. “We in Corinth do not have a lot of good eating places, and I just hated to see any of them go under due to the pandemic. It was a great way to help many of our struggling small businesses to stay afloat. Also, selfishly, I wanted something to do as I was bored sitting at home.” So the trio put out sign-up sheets on social media and advertised the project to as many folks as possible. The response was immediate; in fact, 185 people signed up for the program. That included Dr. Jennybeth Hendrick and her sister, Annalee Hendrick. “I’d seen other small towns doing it,” she says. “I grew up in Corinth and know many DeSoto 59

Tom & Nita Parson

JJ and Sherry Jobe

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of the small business owners here and wanted to support them.” For her part, Hendrick purchased a gift certificate to Smith, a steakhouse in Corinth. “It was an easy way to support friends,” Hendrick says. “And it was fun to do it with my sister.” Hendrick also says she thought the project was a great way to promote local restaurants in the area. “I learned about smaller momand-pop businesses in the community, places people may not know about,” she says. One business who received support was Ginger’s in Corinth, which sells clothing, gifts, and accessories. Owner Ginger Stockton says she saw people posting on Facebook saying they had purchased a Ginger’s gift certificate as part of The Front Porch Project Corinth, and it meant a lot to her to see such support from her community. “I was very grateful that people thought enough of us to support us in the community,” Stockton says. “It reinforced the commitment people had to our community and wanted to support local businesses.” Although they don’t have a firm number of how many businesses benefitted from The Front Porch Project Corinth, Avery says they estimate it to be between 60 and 75. “We know many of our participants bought certificates for more than one business,” he says. “Several told us as many as three.” Avery says while most supported businesses were restaurants, many participants also purchased gift certificates for gift and clothing shops, nail salons, hair dressers, barbers, and health food stores. “It would be nice to know how many dollars this project created for our small business community, but there’s just no way to know,” Avery says. “My gut feeling is they were very generous.” That generosity extended to Avery and his fellow photographers. “The most surprising aspect was that folks wanted to pay us for doing the project,” he says. “We refused payment, but I had two that had purchased restaurant coupons for me by the time I got to them to do their photos.” DeSoto 61

QUARANTINE MEMPHIS - Barbara Schroeder


A similar project took place in Memphis, courtesy of photographer Jamie Harmon. On March 16, he started Quarantine Memphis, wherein he set out to photograph residents at their homes. Although participants weren’t asked to purchase gift certificates for local businesses, each participant received a free 15-minute photo session and a link to their photographs as Harmon’s way to give back. “I didn’t want it to seem like I was making money, although I did receive some donations,” he says. “I wanted it open to all. I didn’t want people to feel like they couldn’t afford it.” In the beginning, Harmon just wanted to document people during the pandemic shutdown, which initially was planned to be two weeks. “I thought, ‘This would be interesting to capture for the two weeks people were sent home,’” Harmon says. “It was unprecedented in the country. But I realized it wasn’t going to stop, and this was important.” As Harmon started photographing people in their homes, he realized this went beyond documenting a pandemic shutdown. “It became therapy for me and the people who signed up,” Harmon says. Even though he was shooting photos through glass doors or windows or standing more than 6 feet away, the photo sessions became a way to reconnect with others. Nearly 1,000 people signed up in April and May alone, and Harmon shot 820 sessions through early June. He spent much of June editing the photos, and started shooting again in July, but took a break when the weather turned hot. He has resumed once more, and completes about one shoot a week. He still has 400 remaining on his sign-up list, which remains open. “Even if this [pandemic] went away, I still enjoy photographing people at their homes without coming into their homes,” Harmon says. “When the rules changed, it meant I could only work this one way, which made more dynamic images. I think I’ll continue because the people are all so different and interesting and just want to be seen. It feels like it has a higher meaning than just a portrait session. A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi, Karon Warren has been writing her way through the pandemic at her Ellijay, Ga., home.

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Seas the Day

By Pamela A. Keene Photography courtesy of Leigh McNeely, Moon Hollow Farm, Rosetti Cottages, Seas the Day


Seas the Day

Rosetti Cottages

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The big question each holiday season: Who’s going to host the holidays this year? With nuclear families spread across the country from sea to shining sea, settling on the right location for a family celebration of the holidays presents challenges. Who’s going to host? Who’s cooking? Where will everyone stay if there aren’t enough sleeping rooms and bathrooms? Do we all go to Mimi and Papa’s house where we all grew up? Thanks to vacation rentals, the answer has been simplified: Pick the spot for its amenities and nearby activities, then rent the right sized home to accommodate everyone. From homes with eight bedrooms to a cluster of homes that afford more privacy, a myriad of choices can turn a big decision into fun for all. Leigh Neely and her family have enjoyed vacation rentals for the holidays for almost two decades, traveling from their permanent homes to Pigeon Forge, Tenn., to create memorable holiday celebrations. “Our holiday tradition started innocently enough,” says Leigh, who with her late husband Richard picked the Smoky Mountains for the first year. “Richard always loved the mountains so deciding on the general area was simple. We fell in love with it that first year and have been going back to Pigeon Forge almost every year since.” The Neely family had lived in nearly a half-dozen states before Leigh and Richard moved to Leesburg, Fla., 20 years ago. “Our three children were all scattered, including one son who lived overseas for 15 years in Great Britain, plus we never really had a house that meant home,” she says. “It made sense to pick somewhere that everyone could be together during the holidays. And now that my oldest grandson is off at college, it’s even more meaningful to have this special time at least once a year.” The family plans their time to share responsibilities; different members fix meals and at the holiday meal they may order a turkey or main dish, then supplement it with favorite family recipes. Part of their success is recognizing that they don’t need to be joined at the hip for the whole week. “Many times, we’ll have breakfast together, then head out to do our own things. The girls like to shop, plus there are go-karts, miniature golf and enjoying everything the Smokies has to offer, and exploring Pigeon DeSoto 67

Moon Hollow Farm

Forge. It’s just a perfect time.” ​ Over the years, they’ve stayed in different rental properties, but they always make sure that there are enough sleeping rooms for the adults, typically with their own separate bathrooms. The younger grandkids may have their own slumber party spaces. “It’s a great time for all these cousins to get to know each other better,” she says. “We pick the place based on the number of us who will be there, and then we split the costs among us. It’s worth every penny to have this special time.”


​ Vacation Rental By Owner came on the scene in the mid-1990s as a place for owners to rent out their homes. Other companies followed, including Airbnb and Home Away, offering get-away properties all over the world, from flats in Florence, Italy, to bungalows in Alaska and everywhere in between. ​ Karen Ott Mayer and her husband Kole Conley own Moon Hollow Farm in Panola County, Miss., 45 miles south of Memphis off Interstate 55. Opened in 2015, the rural farm was previously run as a traditional bed and breakfast before COVID-19. “We both love our 26-acre farm so much that we want to share it,” says Ott Mayer. “People now book the whole twobedroom, two-bath house called the Country House, a 1923 oversized bungalow with kitchen access. Guests can roam the farm and garden, enjoy the firepit and vineyard and just relax. It’s perfect for families and there’s plenty of room. Although 68 DeSoto

it seems like we’re way out, we’re only about three miles off I-55 and easy to find.” With 62 miles of scenic shoreline, Coastal Mississippi offers temperate climate in the winter months and a wide selection of activities for the family. In Ocean Springs, the Cottages at Rosetti Park offers two restored homes that can be rented together to maximize the amenities, including the inground swimming pool and hot tub. “We just love this area and how quaint the downtown is,” says Vicki Rosetti-Applewhite, who owns the property with her husband Roger. They also own the adjacent Rosetti Park, site of concerts and special events. “After Katrina, this was the only area that had intact buildings and we’ve made it our home.” In Port St. Joe, Fla., Julie and Todd Layman offer “Seas the Day,” a spacious four-story home that’s right on the Gulf. With eight bedrooms and eight-and-a-half baths, plus an elevator, the home can accommodate large families. Built in 2014, it can sleep up to 24 guests. It has a private heated pool and three kitchens. “We’re really close to downtown Port St. Joe, a typical Florida Panhandle small town with shops, a Piggly Wiggly nearby, and great restaurants,” she says. “The beaches are uncrowded almost any time of the year and during the holidays, the weather is generally moderate. It’s a great time to come to the beach.” To book during the holidays, she recommends calling about eight months in advance. “During the summer season, people book a year or more ahead because of the location.” Renting a home for the holidays can provide a chance to spend quality time together without putting the burden of cooking and cleaning on one family member. It’s a way to share

Rosetti Cottages

the time and create new traditions. Leigh Neely shares her perspective. “You know, the magic is to have a house where we can all be in one place, like when the kids were little,” Neely says. “That’s where the true joy of the holidays comes from. For us it’s like coming home.”

Neely Family

Pamela A. Keene is a travel journalist and photographer based in Atlanta who writes about the Southeast, with topics ranging from lifestyle and gardening to human-interest and personality profiles.

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Coffee with Soul, Youth with a future Michele D. Baker | Photography courtesy of Staci Lewis Photography

The non-profit Meraki Roasting Company focuses on developing youth first and then perfecting an ideal cup of coffee. Ben Lewis believes anything is possible through good coffee. He sees the proof every day at Meraki Roasting Company, where young men and women are carefully handcrafting their lives along with the lattes. Since it opened four years ago in downtown Clarksdale, Miss., Meraki has become a destination café for coffee lovers drawn to specialty brews made from beans roasted on-site. “Meraki (muh-RAH-kee) is a Greek verb meaning ‘to do something with soul, creativity, and love; to put a piece of yourself into your work,’ and it is the foundation of everything

we do here,” says Lewis, Meraki’s program director. Meraki is just one of the successful programs of Griot Arts, a Clarksdale nonprofit focusing on the arts, education, and workforce development for young adults. “The idea came from Town Hall meetings where local youth explained they were struggling with the age-old dilemma of no experience/no job,” Lewis remembers. “They wanted to provide for themselves, but they couldn’t get their foot in the door to begin. And, because they’re teenagers in a rural area, they wanted somewhere to hang out.” DeSoto 71

The Meraki Roasting Company and its café on the corner of Third Street and Sunflower in the heart of town offer up a “triple shot” solution: The youth selected for the 16-week program, who are called “fellows,” earn a wage, gain valuable professional skills, and experience for future employment. They have also cultivated a safe and creative space for local youth of all ages to gather. “Meraki sometimes feels like a paradox because it has two different halves,” explains Lewis. “First, as part of the Griot Arts family, it values and follows the three Cs: creativity, community, and compassion. Second, we’ve got this coffee roastery, which on its face is a business, but by definition, we won’t really ever be completely self-sustaining, because that’s not part of our model. For example, we buy only ethically sourced beans in small batches from reputable coffee brokers. We often know the name of the cooperative or family who grew the beans, and they are more expensive, which cuts into our profit margin. But sustainability and fair trade are core values.” Meraki also schedules more baristas per shift than are necessary to take care of customers. “We know that our fellows need the feedback and collaboration of the team,” explains Lewis. “And, we have huge turnover in our staff, as every four months a new cohort arrives to be trained. We understand that Meraki is a launching pad to other things.” Fellows are selected for their willingness to learn and grow, and their ability to commit to the intensive program. So far, all of the candidates have come through word-of-mouth. “We meet weekly with each fellow to see where they are on their individual learning plans, which are based on their strengths,” says coordinator Laurel Keller. “We do group classwork on topics like professional appearance, résumé and interview skills, financial literacy, and money management. Then, there are scheduled shifts at 72 DeSoto

the café, where fellows serve as baristas, tidy the space, check out customers, and fill the coffee subscriptions.” The Meraki microroasters offer several blends for discerning coffee lovers: Sunflower Soul (dark blend from Ethiopia), Mighty Mississippi (robust from Guatemala), Streetcar Decaf (Mexico), and the Meraki Signature blend (Colombia). Muddy Water (Sumatra), a robust seasonal blend, has become so popular that it may be added to the regular rotation. There’s even a “Roaster’s Choice” which changes according to the culinary moods of the artisans. Subscriptions are hand-delivered to Clarksdale patrons and mailed everywhere else. “It’s not just about coffee and jobs,” Lewis continues. “Our fellows also learn those untaught soft skills that are so important. Things like communicating across lines of difference with people who don’t look like you or think like you, or collaborating with others to keep the team healthy, or learning the forethought and planning skills needed to let your future boss know you’ll be late for your shift.” Lewis fondly remembers another former fellow (now graduated) whose temper ran as hot as the coffee. “He improved so much. I took him along to a festival to run the coffee cart,” says Lewis. “Afterward, I complimented him on his professionalism with the customers and with keeping the booth organized. He was so surprised — he told me he’d been upset most of the morning by the pressure of taking and filling orders, tidying up the space, keeping the cups stocked… but he used his new skills to deal with all that. Until I pointed it out, he didn’t have any idea just how far he’d really come. “It’s like the fable about the man walking along the beach and throwing individual starfish back into the sea,” concludes Lewis. “Ultimately, Meraki is here for that one student standing in front of you.” Michele D. Baker is a freelance travel writer and blues music lover in Jackson, Miss. She has three cats, too many books, and always takes cream and sugar. Read more of her work at

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southern gentleman | MEN’S GIFT GUIDE

Handmade knife by Trey Geary

Santa’s Wish List By Jason Frye | Photography courtesy of TKTK

Looking for the perfect holiday gift for your Southern Gent? Here are some suggestions for hard-to-buy-for men who have everything. Congratulations, you’ve made it to the end of 2020. As this longest year in history comes to a close, we’ll gather together with friends and family — some of us in person, some of us over FaceTime or Zoom — and celebrate. Which means the two toughest questions remain to be answered: What do you want for Christmas? and What am I buying X for Christmas? ​ Southern Gentlemen, I have a confession: I don’t know what your special someone wants, so I can’t help there, but I know what you need for Christmas. Before I reveal your holiday must-haves, prepare yourself. Remember the Sears “wish book,” and how you’d dog-ear pages of toys and bikes and telescopes and circle the ones you wanted most? We’re doing that now. Grab a sharpie — the fat kind to mark these pages well — and circle your favorites. Then dogear the pages of this story and put this issue of DeSoto in a prime spot where your spouse or partner can’t help but find it, read it, and head right to the store to get you the gift of the year. ​ All the meat. Certified Angus Beef delivers big flavor and they also deliver meat right to your door. How about 8 pounds of filets, ribeyes, and strips? Or just filets? Or only 74 DeSoto

ribeye? They’ve got it and you want to grill it. ($99-$219, ​ Southern Subscription Box. Made South is a monthly gift box packed with hand-selected items from at least seven small Southern businesses. Boxes vary by month, but expect to find snacks and sauces, barware, everyday carry items, and more. ($114, ​ Boxes Galore. Sample the sauces and rubs that make Martin’s Bar-B-Que so damn good with a basket, bucket, or set ($34-$98, Get the taste of Asheville, N.C., sent right to your home with a box from Asheville Goods. Every box has coffee, chips, cookies, mugs, glasses, snacks, and more right from the makers in this hip mountain town ($40$60, Lift a hand-blown glass. Speaking of Asheville, Lexington Glassworks makes hand-blown whiskey, wine, and rocks glasses; tumble cups; decanter sets; and more. ($45-$255, ​ Relax all afternoon. Pawleys Island Hammocks makes a hammock for just about any occasion: camping,

Leiper’s Fork Distillery

loafing, lounging, and laying around. Woven or quilted, on a stand or hang-it-yourself, it’s comfortable every time. ($170$280, ​ Grillware. Lodge cast iron, based in Tennessee, makes exceptional products. One of my favorites is the Sportsman’s Grill ($125,, perfect for camping or a meal for two. Charleston, S.C.’s, Smithey Ironware makes polished cast iron pans that are restaurant quality without breaking the bank. Try the No. 10 Cast Iron Skillet or Chef Skillet, a great first piece ($100-$295, In Roanoke, Va., Heart and Spade Forge makes my favorite kitchen pan, a hand-forged carbon steel skillet that cooks like a dream ($125-$550, Schwing’s SOS — Stainless Oyster Shells — lets you grill oysters without worrying about bits of shell, and these dishwasher-safe beauties are perfect for making Oysters Rockefeller ($35-$40, ​ SeeMore improvement in your putting. Pick up a new putter from SeeMore putters, a Tennessee-based golf company who supply several PGA TOUR pros, including Zach Johnson, who used his SeeMore putter to win the Masters and British Open. ($200-450 ( ​ Whiskey Road Trip. Pick up tickets to the Southern Whiskey Society and head to Franklin, Tenn. At the Southern Whiskey Society, you’ll have the chance to sample food from a dozen Franklin- and Nashville-area chefs, and taste more than 70 whiskeys from across the South. VIP tickets include topnotch single-barrel picks and early entry into the event. Tickets are $89-$299 ( ​ An Elegant Knife. Pocket knives can be handy, but they can also be works of art. T. Geary Art Jewelry of Nashville makes stunning fixed-blade and folding knives using the finest steel and a blend of rare woods, metals, and semiprecious stones. $400-700 (

​Signed First Editions. In Franklin, Tenn., Joel and Carol Tomlin run Landmark Booksellers, a bookstore specializing in literature of and about the South and packed with more than 2,000 signed first editions. “To Kill a Mockingbird,” the novels of William Gay, collected poems of Robert Penn Warren, and plenty of other outstanding books grace the shelves. Prices vary from $20-$4,500 ( ​ BMW Driver’s School. No, you’re not getting a BMW (most of you, anyway), but you are headed to Spartanburg, S.C., for a day or two of learning to handle a high-performance auto. Practice drifting, learn defensive and evasive maneuvers at highway speeds, practice driving across the wet skid plate, and, finally, take a lap around the road course. 1-Day: $849; 2-Day: $1,699 ( ​Join The Gun Club of Tennessee. In Franklin, Tenn., The Gun Club is putting the “country” back in country club in a posh setting designed to delight the outdoor enthusiast. Shooting ranges and instruction, hunting, fly fishing, archery, ATVs, hiking, lodges, a cigar lounge, a whiskey bar, a restaurant, and more. Initiation: $15,000; Dues: $300/month (

Jason Frye writes about travel and food and documents every mile and every bite on Instagram where he’s @beardedwriter. Though he doesn’t intend this story to be his Christmas wish list, if someone (like his perfect wife) decided to surprise him with a thing or two off this list, he wouldn’t be mad about it.

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southern harmony | MARK EDGAR STUART

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Folk Beef on the Menu By Kevin Wierzbicki Photography credits: Folk Beef album cover: Kyle Taylor. With John Prine: Courtesy of Mark Edgar Stuart. Onstage: Jonathan Thomason. “Mark Blue”: Jamie Harmon.

Memphis nice guy Mark Edgar Stuart may sing political commentary in his new extended play record, but his continuous message is ‘Be nice!’ Mark Edgar Stuart has a beef with you. The singer songwriter, one of the most-beloved players in Memphis, isn’t in an argumentative mood. The beef in question is merely Stuart’s latest batch of songs, released under the title “Folk Beef.” “‘Folk Beef ’ is a little six-song EP that I decided to release during the pandemic,” Stuart says. “Most of the songs had already been recorded; I was never really sure what to do with them because they were a bit of a departure from my other stuff. I was having more fun in the studio, playing electric guitar and not being so serious.”

Delivered with his usual guy-next-door vocal style and generally with upbeat melodies, the songs on “Folk Beef ” clearly reflect the fun Stuart had recording them. But there’s some serious commentary going on too. “Color Wheel” is a sort of ‘state of the union’ with lyrics depicting America as ‘red, white, and black & blue,’ while “99 Percentile Blues,” a jaunty Vaudeville-recalling bounce, presents a barbed view of those in power from Wall Street to the White House. “There is a theme to ‘Folk Beef ’ and it’s pretty relevant to current events,” Stuart explains. “It’s my fault as a songwriter. I can’t just make things up out of thin air; it has to DeSoto 77

be a personal experience or events happening around me... I haven’t caught too much flak for ‘Folk Beef ’ yet, fingers crossed.” If the reception that ‘Folk Beef ’ has gotten so far is any indication, Stuart won’t be getting any flak about any of the songs. Fans instantly gobbled up the tasty platter, buying every single copy of the physical release and creating a steady demand for digital downloads. It’s a small bright spot for Stuart during the pandemic, a tough time for all where musicians, unable to earn a living performing live, have been hit especially hard. Reflecting on the pandemic, Stuart says, “It hasn’t been easy. Shows have been non-existent except for a gig for a fleet of pontoon boats at Woodland Lake in Eudora, Miss. That was a hoot! “I also played a gig recently in Newport, Ark, something I had booked almost a year ago. It was outdoors with precautions, so I felt okay doing it. Unfortunately, nobody really showed up,” he says. “I needed the money; musicians are in survival mode right now. It’s such a weird line to toe. You gotta pay bills but you want to be safe too. Then there’s the ‘shaming’ if you do decide to play a gig.” Stuart has taken advantage of the way many artists are currently making a few bucks, by presenting livestreams. “Web shows have been a lifesaver,” says Stuart. “Playing gigs on my phone for 50-100 Facebook fans has proven to pay better than any show I’ve ever done in front of a live audience. “The music community here in Memphis has been awesome too. We’re a tightly-knit group of music folk. Music Export Memphis, Arts Memphis, and Musicares have really stepped up to the plate and put their money where their mouths are.” Fans of John Prine know that Stuart can sometimes sound like the late singer, in both voice and style of presentation. Not surprisingly, the two had a mutual appreciation of each other. 78 DeSoto

“I love John Prine,” Stuart says. “The only times I’ve ever cried losing someone I didn’t really know was John Prine and Levon Helm. I wrote a song for my father called ‘Remote Control’ and I guess you could say it resonated with folks and became a local hit. It was about a time before remote control TVs, and I was my father’s remote control. “Apparently a friend let John Prine hear that song and he liked it. A few years later I met Prine after his Memphis show and I was introduced to him as the ‘Remote Control’ guy. He remembered my song and started talking about it. He’d obviously listened a few times. He was an amazing human.” Speaking of special people, Stuart has a strong reputation himself, not only for being a charming performer but also for being a swell guy. In asking him about what makes him so endearing, it was easy to imagine him blushing as he gave his answer. “Aww shucks! I’ve been doing it awhile and I’ve seen the world and I guess some folks have seen me. Be nice, that’s my secret. If only 20 folks show up to your gig, then those are 20 new friends who could’ve just sat their butts at home. Remain humble and grateful. The real life of a musician isn’t fame and fortune unless you’re the lucky 5 percent. It’s doing what you love and it’s certainly better than a ‘real’ job. Put in the time, build relationships, and make friends. Be nice!”

Mark Edgar Stuart with John Prine As a well-traveled music writer, Kevin believes that the real personality of a place isn’t revealed in its museums and historical monuments. The act of discovering a talent like Mark Edgar Stuart in Memphis is a way to see into the city’s soul.

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in good spirits | EL GUAPO BITTERS & SYRUPS

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A Dash of Flavor By Cheré Coen | Photography courtesy of Christa Cotton/El Guapo Bitters

El Guapo Bitters & Syrups of New Orleans can add a unique Southern flavor to cocktails and cooking. ​ Distilling spirits is in Christa Cotton’s blood. Her parents opened Thirteenth Colony Distilleries in Americus, Ga., one of the state’s first distilleries, and she worked there while attending Auburn University. ​“I absolutely loved it,” enthuses Cotton, a Leesburg, Ga., native. ​So, when Cotton graduated college and headed to New Orleans to work in advertising, she missed what she calls the “hospitality side.” The city’s El Guapo Bitters came up for sale, a company specializing in additives that bring flavors to cocktails, so Cotton considered heading back to the spirited life. ​“I was nervous about acquiring it (the company) but my parents said, ‘If you don’t do it, we will,’” she explains. “So, I did.” ​Cotton bought El Guapo and its line of cocktail bitters in 2017 and immediately began working with food scientists to develop unique flavors. The company sells bitters that include such delectable combinations as Cucumber Lavender, Pecan Chicory utilizing pecans from her uncle’s Georgia pecan farm, and Love Potion No. 9 with floral notes. There are even culinary flavors, such as the spicy Crawfish Boil and Gumbo with hints of Louisiana’s “Holy Trinity” — Creole tomato, celery, and bell pepper. Both culinary bitters work well with Bloody Marys. Syrups include Ponchatoula strawberry syrup, a seasonal product made from spring Louisiana strawberries, and the holiday Candy Cane Syrup enhanced with fresh mint, a nice addition to coffees and hot chocolate or topped on mint ice cream or waffles. The creamy and spicy sweet potato syrup took a recent Good Food Award and doubles as a replacement for the sugar cube in an old fashioned or a substitute for maple syrup on pancakes and waffles. ​New this year will be vanilla bitters aged in used rum barrels from Roulaison rum of New Orleans and sage syrup “to sage away 2020 from your life,” Cotton describes with a laugh. Both will arrive on the market in time for the holidays. ​ El Guapo products can easily do double duty for

special events such as Thanksgiving and Christmas. Cotton recommends whisking together Pecan Chicory bitters, heavy whipping cream and powdered sugar for a tasty topping on pies as well as Irish coffee or eggnog. (Check out the detailed recipe on the El Guapo website). ​ We leave you with Cotton’s favorite cocktail this time of year, an old fashioned enhanced by her bitters and syrups to warm up a chilly night. Cheers! El Guapo Black Old Fashioned 1/4 ounce El Guapo Spiced Pecan Syrup 2 ounces rye whiskey 1/2 ounce amaro 4 generous dashes El Guapo Chicory Pecan Bitters One large ice cube Luxardo cherries Directions: In a rocks glass, pour rye, amaro, syrup, and bitters. Stir to combine. Place one large ice cube in glass and garnish with one skewered Luxardo cherry. El Guapo Pecan Old Fashioned 3 ounces bourbon 1/2 ounce El Guapo Spiced Pecan Syrup 8 dashes El Guapo Chicory Pecan Bitters 1 large ice cube 2 Luxardo cherries, yard flowers and leaves, to garnish Directions: In a mixing glass filled with ice, combine bitters, syrup and bourbon. Stir with a bar spoon to combine and strain into a lowball glass. Place one large ice cube in glass. Garnish with cherries and any other desired accoutrements before serving. DeSoto Magazine Co-editor Cheré Coen doesn’t discriminate among spirits when writing this column but she must admit, the Southern combination of bourbon and pecan bitters in an old fashioned makes her heart swell.

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exploring events | NOVEMBER Christmas Open Houses: November 6 - 8 Cleveland, MS Columbus, MS November 7 Senatobia, MS November 7- 8 Tupelo, MS Corinth, MS

Illuminating the Word: The St. John’s Bible Through January 10, 2021 Dixon Gallery & Gardens Memphis, TN Illuminating the Word: The Saint John’s Bible presents the story of the book’s creation, exploring the relationship between faith, art, and the written word. The exhibition features more than thirty original unbound folios, including illustrations for the scriptural accounts of Creation, Esther, the Genealogy of Christ, and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. For more information visit or call 901-761-5250.

November 8 New Albany, MS November 10 Holly Springs, MS November 13 - 14 Grenada, MS November 14 - 15 Hernando, MS Marion, AR November 15 Batesville, MS November 19 - 21 Greenwood, MS November 22 Oxford, MS Grammy Museum Mississippi presents Stronger Together: The Power of Women in Country Music Through December 13 Grammy Museum Cleveland, MS Stronger Together: The Power of Women in Country Music will take visitors on a journey through the history of women in country music, from the early years and post-World War II, to the emergence of Nashville as a country music mecca. For more information visit or call 662-441-0100.

Van Gogh, Monet, Degas & Their Times Through January 10, 2021 Mississippi Museum of Art Jackson, MS For more information visit or call 601-960-1515.

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Willie Mitchell and the Music of Royal Studios Through September 5, 2021 Grammy Museum Mississippi Cleveland, MS The legendary studio that was instrumental in shaping the sound of Memphis soul will be celebrated with a new exhibit. The exhibit will tell the story of the iconic studio— one of the oldest in the world that continues to operate today—and the late Willie Mitchell, who ran the studio and produced many artists on its label, Hi Records. For more information visit or call 662-441-0100.

Del McCoury Band November 7 Germantown Performing Arts Center Germantown, TN Two shows: 1:00pm and 3:30pm. Del McCoury is the most awarded artist in Bluegrass history, winning nine IBMA Entertainer of the Year Awards. For more information visit or call 901-751-7500.

Peter Anderson Arts & Crafts Festival November 7 - 8 Ocean Springs, MS This festival is named in honor of the late master potter, Peter Anderson, celebrating the arts with more than 400 booths of artists and crafters from throughout the United States and beyond. From oil paintings to pottery, handmade jewelry, digital portraits, American folk toys, metal works and so much more, spectators can enjoy a festive weekend of live music, coastal fare and more than 100 shops, restaurants and galleries set amongst 300-year-old oak trees. For more information visit or call 228-875-4424.

St. George’s Art Show November 7 - 14 Memphis, TN Each year, St. George's Independent School and the Parents Association host an exhibit and fine art sale featuring local and regional artists. This year's Art Show will be held online only. For more information visit

North Mississippi Allstars November 14 Germantown Performing Arts Center Germantown, TN Two shows: 1:00pm and 3:30pm. Bring your chairs, choose a spot on the lawn, purchase beverages and snacks from the full bar, and settle in for an afternoon with the North Mississippi Allstars. For more information visit or call 901-751-7500.

Hernando's A Dickens of a Christmas November 14 Hernando, MS 1:00pm - 5:00pm This special event will recreate the atmosphere of Christmas in Hernando during the Victorian Era. Visitors can enjoy the Christmas farmer's market with holiday wares, wassailing in the historic downtown, historic carriage rides, children's ornament decorating, selfies with Santa, and more! For more information visit or call 662-429-9092.

Cedar Hill Farm Christmas Tree Farm November 21 - December 20 Cedar Hill Farm Hernando, MS There is no admission to the farm during Christmas! You just have to pay for your tree, the hayride is free! Tree prices are $9.00/ft – Cypress & $10.00/ft – Blue Ice, for our choose & cut trees. The prices vary based on height for the pre-cut shipped in Fraser Firs. For more information visit or call 662-429-2540.

Southern Lights Southaven, MS November 26 - January 3, 2021 Celebrating 20 years. Every night benefits a different charity. For more information visit

Small Business Saturday November 28 Support local businesses! The goal of Small Business Saturday is to remind consumers that they play a key role in helping the small businesses in their community thrive, and encourage them to get out and shop and dine at local businesses.

50 Nights of Lights November 14 - January 3 Cleveland, MS Over 100,000 lights will transform Cleveland, Mississippi into a winter wonderland this holiday season. Join us for lights, Santa, music, shopping, dining, and more. For more information visit

War Horses For Heroes presents Veteran’s Day Picnic November 15 1:00pm This year, our Veterans Day Fundraiser has gone virtual! You bring the picnic and we will bring the music, with our Virtual Battle of the Bands. For more information visit

Hernando's A Dickens of a Christmas

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Less Than Perfect Turkeys By Mary Ann DeSantis | Photography courtesy of

Thanksgiving Day memories do not always reflect the picture-perfect painting we all strive to imitate on the fourth Thursday of November. The first Thanksgiving I can remember was shortly after I turned five years old. My memories do not look anything like Norman Rockwell’s 1942 “Freedom from Want” painting; instead, I retain a rather bizarre image of a headless turkey running through my grandparents’ back yard. For some ungodly reason, the menfolk in my family thought it would be a good idea – or maybe a more authentic experience – to butcher a turkey for the family gathering. Considering we lived near downtown Laurel, Miss., and not on a farm, I still find this decision rather baffling decades later. I didn’t witness my grandfather taking an ax to chop off the turkey’s head, but I did see that poor creature’s body upright and running for what in my impressionable mind seemed like the entire afternoon. In actuality, it was probably just a few seconds. I next remember my grandmother straddling a large metal basin plucking feathers, and she did not look pleased. She certainly didn’t resemble Rockwell’s matriarch all prim and proper in a clean apron. Of course, the testosterone-infused family members who had developed the brilliant idea in the first place had disappeared during that messy ritual. Unfortunately, (or maybe fortunately) I do not remember much else about that particular Thanksgiving. I suspect I didn’t eat any turkey – and I’m still amazed I didn’t become a vegetarian at the age of five. Nevertheless, I did eat turkey again and even tried 84 DeSoto

to cook a few of the grocery store varieties myself. Shortly after college, I was living far from home and decided to cook Thanksgiving dinner for some friends. I knew enough to remove the gizzards and neck bone from the bird’s cavity, but I failed to tie up its legs securely. An hour or so later – with guests looking over my shoulder – we peeked into the oven to see Tom Turkey sprawled out spread-eagle in an unappetizing position. Thank goodness I had learned how to perfect cranberry salad. Years rolled by and my husband took over the turkey roasting. He was rather good at it, but one year he decided to use his new smoker. Smoking meat is not a fast process, and it can go downhill rather quickly. That year, the bird looked perfect but it was dry and tasted like wood. I vaguely remember someone mentioning something about eating cardboard. Although I’ve since had some picture-perfect Thanksgiving meals, I find it enlightening that the ones I remember most are less than perfect. The best memories were not the meals, but the laughs and times we shared with family and friends. Our family numbers have dwindled over the years, and I cherish those memories more than ever. And I always smile when a turkey receives a presidential pardon every November. After all, that’s one bird that won’t be running around headless in someone’s backyard haunting small children for a lifetime. A native of Laurel, Mary Ann DeSantis is the co-editor of DeSoto Magazine. She and her husband usually eat with friends on Thanksgiving, but she does supply the cranberry salad.

The road to 2021 is easier in a Tundra. 2021 Toyota Tundra Trail

Happy Thanksgiving from Chuck Hutton Toyota!


Our goal is to provide all customers from Memphis and north Mississippi the best in new Toyota models, quality used vehicles, exceptional auto repair and car service, and high-end OEM car parts. Because we are the only locally owned car dealership in Memphis, our mission is to always treat our customers and community with the care and respect that they deserve. When you are ready to purchase a new vehicle or have your own serviced, look no further than Chuck Hutton Toyota, a family-owned dealership committed to our community.