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FOR MEMBERS OF MAGNOLIA ELECTRIC POWER

A family’s

CHRISTMAS

RIDING A

CAROUSEL DECEMBER 2020

WRITING ABOUT

THE BLUES

TASTY

HOLIDAY DIPS


on the menu

outdoo scene around the ‘sip involvement TECHNOLOGY SIMPLIFIED – BIGGER co-op AND BETTER gardening Wow! A Simple to Usesouthern Computer Designed Especially for Seniors!

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outdoors today picture this my opinion grin ‘n’ bare it

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To me, Mississippi means plucking a watermelon from its vine and eating it on the spot. Walking across the field to a neighbor’s house to share the fresh produce you have just gathered from your summer garden and hoping the neighbor is just as excited as you are. That’s Mississippi to me. by Florence S. Young of Noxapater. She is a member of EMEPA

What’s Mississippi to you?

by Michael Callahan Executive Vice President/CEO Electric Cooperatives of Mississippi

What do you treasure most about life in our state? Send your brief thoughts to Today in Mississippi, news@ecm.coop or mail to P.O. Box 3300, Ridgeland, MS 39158

DECEMBER 2020 | TODAY 3

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The laughter continues as I encourage them to catch those little creatures so we can use them as bait on our next fishing adventure.

STEVEN Date_____

A frog, a butterfly here and there, and an influx of earthworms that would have worked themselves above ground to escape the overflow of rainwater that filtered into their hibernation.

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To me, Mississippi means enjoying the laughter of my grandkids as they rumple across the wide-open yard, showing excitement over every little creature in their view.

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Mississippi is...

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sleep until lunchtime. And speaking of lunch, I imagine the family gatherings will be smaller as grandparents and older relatives try to keep themselves safe from COVID-19. My parents have already informed me that a Zoom Christmas is just fine with them. Holiday hugs are gone, unless you can figure out how to hug someone from 6 feet away. Forget about Christmas smiles. You can’t see a smile hidden under a mask. Still, please wear your mask. I’m afraid Christmas 2020 is going to be very different from the Christmases of the past. However, even though our celebrations and traditions might have to change this year, Christmas will never change. Christmas is about hope, love and faith. Hope for our future and the future of mankind. Love of ourselves, our family and our neighbors. Faith in God, that regardless of what we have to deal with in this life, He will always be there for us and as proof He sent us his only Son. Everyone has suffered in 2020. Some lost their jobs, others couldn’t work and suffered financial hardship and many first responders and medical professionals worked long hours and put themselves in harm’s way so that others may live. So, as the year comes to an end, it’s hard for me to deny that we all could use some faith, hope and love. If hanging your Christmas lights early does that for you, then go ahead, I won’t argue. Well, not until 2021. But for now, in 2020, from myself and the entire electric cooperative family, have a safe and Merry Christmas and here’s to a Happy (and much better) New Year!

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Everyone knows from past columns that I am a HUGE fan of Christmas and I have opined on everything from Christmas greetings to Christmas movies. However, despite all my Christmas cheer, I was taken aback to see folks hanging Christmas lights the first week of November! We haven’t even buried Halloween and my neighbors were hanging Christmas lights. Actually, they are paying someone to hang lights for them, which in my book is cheating. Until you and your spouse have hung Christmas decorations, you never really know how strong your marriage is! It’s been 31 years and counting for us. Normally this would give me cause to rant about keeping holidays in order and not overlooking Thanksgiving, but this is 2020, so these are not normal times. This will be the first Christmas any of us have experienced during a pandemic. I would imagine that there will be no Christmas festivals or parades. My annual trip to the City of Canton’s downtown square to see the lights and get our annual picture of the family in a horse drawn carriage won’t happen if the event is canceled. The kids’ picture with Santa is probably over as well. I love seeing my 23, 20 and 17-year-old kids gathered around Santa. It reminds me of the children that got so excited on Christmas morning. Now, my wife has to drag them out of bed, or they will

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Hope, love and faith


in this issue

5 southern gardening Cool season gardens

7 scene around the ‘sip A look at special people and places around Mississippi

5

11

outdoors today A month of celebration

14 local news 18 feature

The Lewis family of Purvis has been turning on the lights for more than 30 years

18

24 on the menu Holiday dips

27 mississippi seen

The Official Publication of the Electric Cooperatives of Mississippi

Vol. 73 No. 11

OFFICERS Kevin Bonds - President Eddie Howard - First Vice President Randy Carroll - Second Vice President Ron Barnes - Secretary/Treasurer Michael Callahan - Executive Vice President/CEO EDITORIAL STAFF Ron Stewart - Senior VP, Communications Steven Ward - Editor Chad Calcote - Creative Director/ Manager Elissa Fulton - Communications Specialist Rickey McMillan - Graphic Designer Kevin Wood - Graphic Designer Chris Alexander - Administrative Assistant EDITORIAL OFFICE & ADVERTISING 601-605-8600

Acceptance of advertising by Today in Mississippi does not imply endorsement of the advertised product or services by the publisher or Mississippi’s electric power associations. Product satisfaction and delivery responsibility lie solely with the advertiser. • National advertising representative: American MainStreet Publications, 800-626-1181

Circulation of this issue: 461,059

Non-member subscription price: $9.50 per year. Today in Mississippi (ISSN 1052-2433) is published 12 times a year by Electric Cooperatives of Mississippi Inc., P.O. Box 3300, Ridgeland, MS 39158-3300, or 665 Highland Colony Parkway, Ridgeland, MS 39157. Phone 601-605-8600. Periodical postage paid at Ridgeland, MS, and additional office. The publisher (and/or its agent) reserves the right to refuse or edit all advertising. POSTMASTER: Send all UAA to CFS. (See DMM 507.1.5.2) NON-POSTAL AND MILITARY FACILITIES: send address corrections to: Today in Mississippi, P.O. Box 3300, Ridgeland, MS 39158-3300

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Christmas of yesterday and today www.todayinmississippi.com

On the cover

24

Elves fill up a tree as part of a popular Christmas light and wood cut out display in Purvis put on annually by the Lewis family. Photo by Chad Calcote.

And we think you’re going to love ours. So let’s work together: As electric cooperatives, we were built by the communities we serve—and by members just like you. 4 TODAY | DECEMBER 2020


thrive in cool-season gardens

Collards such as these Tiger collards perform best when grown in the fall and winter, and they produce even until spring.

and open-pollinated types. MSU Extension Recently, I sang the praises of my recommends the following varieties for favorite cool-season vegetable and exMississippi gardens: Vates, Top Bunch, plained how it is both edible and ornaGeorgia LS, Blue Max, Champion and Tiger. mental. Kale is a multitasking super food Like lettuce, collards also can be grown that is really easy to grow from seed. in containers. Growing leafy greens in conBut there are other great cool-season tainers is more manageable and requires vegetables like lettuce and collards. I conmuch less weeding. You will be surprised sider these must-haves for my garden, how many plants will grow in a tight space and they also are easy to grow from seed, when you grow them in containers. Even especially in containers. if you only have a small patio, balcony or The cooler months of winter are the sunny kitchen window, you can still enjoy perfect time to grow lettuce. Lettuce can Baby leaf lettuce is easy to grow at home in containers, fresh greens. tolerate frost and light freezing temperaallowing gardeners to grow their own for salads all winter Be sure to place your containers where tures. And when temperatures are cool, it they will be easily accessible. This can be on your patio, doordoesn’t get bitter like it does when grown in the heat of summer. step, or even windowsill. Keeping them accessible will allow you You don’t even have to grow it in your normal vegetable to maintain them well so you can enjoy fresh salads through garden. Try growing lettuce in containers to save money and the winter. add spice to your landscape. Most retail garden centers have seeds readily available, or you I like to grow both baby leaf and mini head lettuce. The mini can order them online. However, the increased gardening interest heads are the perfect size for individual salads. There are many due to the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in shortages of many types available, and I like the mini romaine and mini buttercrunch varieties of vegetables. the best. So, if you want to grow some of these leafy greens, don’t wait. Mini head lettuce is perfect for bi-weekly succession planting. If you’d rather not start yours from seed, many garden centers Sow the seed densely, much like sowing grass seed, and then you should be offering transplants of these leafy greens that you can can harvest lettuce after about 21 days. grow instead. If you don’t grow your own, you can buy baby leaf lettuce in the grocery store, usually sold as mixes of several varieties and colors. Whether home-grown or store-bought, these add mealtime interest. Collard greens are another classic leafy vegetable for our Mississippi gardens. by Dr. Gary The best-tasting collards are those grown in the fall through Bachman the winter and into the spring. This makes sense as collards don’t tolerate high temperatures very well. Like our other leafy greens, Gary Bachman, Ph.D., Extension/Research Professor of Horticulture at collards are very appreciative of cooler temperatures, even frosts the Mississippi State University Coastal Research and Extension Center in and freezes. The colder temperatures intensify their flavor profile. Biloxi. He is also host of “Southern Gardening” radio and TV programs. He lives in Ocean Springs and is a Singing River Electric member. There are many varieties of collards available, including hybrid DECEMBER 2020 | TODAY 5


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scene around the ‘sip

by Steven Ward When kids would spot it for the first time, they would ask their parents if they could take a ride. But that’s when the attraction was in a Pearl furniture store. Now, children from all over Mississippi and visitors from other states will be able to hop on while visiting a popular state museum. Miskelly Furniture in Pearl has donated an antique carousel to the Mississippi Agriculture and Forestry Museum in Jackson as a new exhibit. The large, antique carousel has been owned by Miskelly Furniture since 2004, when it was purchased from Felimana Luna Amusement Park in Argentina. For years, customers would ride for a $1 donation at the Pearl store. All proceeds were then donated to a different charity every year, according to a news release. “We chose organizations that were dedicated to helping the children of Mississippi,” Oscar Miskelly said in the release. “The carousel has generated more than $200,000 in donations. Recipients included The Little Lighthouse, Make-A-Wish Foundation, Big Brothers/Big Sisters and Mississippi Children’s Home Services.” Miskelly admitted the fixture of 16 years is hard to part with, but said the move ensures that more visitors will enjoy the ride as the museum hosts thousands of children, much more than the retailer. “We want to see more Mississippi children have the opportunity to ride on a real antique carousel,” said Miskelly. “We know the Mississippi Agriculture and Forestry Museum will care for it as we have, so it will circle around for many more years.” But how did the Miskelly family wind up with a vintage carousel in the first place?

“We got the idea from another dealer in Virginia years ago. The thought was to identify an icon that we would be identified with that ties us to family. So, when you think of a circus carousel there are generally fond memories and nostalgia associated with an old-fashioned carousel,” said Thomas Miskelly. “After that, it was natural to tie it to children’s charities. The store was actually built with the location of the carousel in mind.” The carousel will be disassembled at the furniture store and taken in pieces to the Mississippi Agriculture and Forestry Museum, where it will be reassembled on the grounds near the Children’s Barnyard and Multipurpose Building. “Over the next couple of months, we will be building a new structure to house the carousel and get it ready for operation. The proximity to the barnyard, pavilions and multipurpose building will create an exciting new dynamic for birthday parties hosted at the museum, as well as fun for our daily visitors,” said Hayes Patrick, executive director of the Mississippi Agriculture and Forestry Museum. “As a result of the generosity of Mississippians just like the Miskellys, the Ag Museum has excelled for four decades in providing a memorable experience for its guests. I would like to thank the Miskelly family for contributing to the joy and excitement our visitors will experience for decades to come,” Patrick added. Mississippi Commissioner of Agriculture and Commerce Andy Gipson also thanked the Miskelly family for the donation. “I want to thank Oscar Miskelly and the entire Miskelly Furniture family for their generosity, and I look forward to seeing the joy their donation brings to all the families that visit the museum,” Gipson said. DECEMBER 2020 | TODAY 7


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Guralnick first started writing reviews of shows he attended in the U.S. for the English blues magazines, Blues Unlimited and Blues World. “It was this sense of a larger community, as hungry as I was for insights and information, that led me to approach the great Mississippi bluesman Skip James in the summer of 1965,” Guralnick wrote in “Looking to Get Lost.” “There could have been no more unlikely interviewer than I, and certainly no one burdened with a greater degree of self-consciousness, but I had witnessed Skip’s astonishing performance at the Newport Folk Festival the previous summer, just after his rediscovery in a Tunica, Mississippi hospital, and his even more astonishing reclamation onstage of the weird, almost unearthly sound that characterized his remote 1930 recordings.” That interview kicked off Guralnick’s extraordinary career. In another chapter, Guralnick remembers the experience of hearing Robert Johnson’s Delta blues for the first time. He was only 17. “Listening to songs like “Crossroads,” “Me and the Devil” and “Hellhound on My Trail” over and over, trying to absorb the locutions, getting some sense not just of the strangeness of the music but of the unmistakable familiarity of its emotional terrain was an unrecapturable moment,” Guralnick wrote. One of the most fascinating pieces in the book is a fresh take on Elvis Presley’s career through a unique and personal portrait of Presley’s manager, Colonel Tom Parker called “Me and the Colonel.” Visit www.peterguralnick.com for more information about the book and the author.

STEVEN Date_____

by Steven Ward Mississippi used to feature an electric guitar and the phrase, “Birthplace of America’s Music” emblazoned on state license plates. That was no accident since cultural history has illustrated that the blues, country music and rock and roll were all created by people who were born on the state’s rich, fertile soil. Biographer and music journalist Peter Guralnick walked with and interviewed many of the state’s musical giants and has written about their grand contributions to music history. Guralnick penned the prize-winning, two-volume biography of Elvis Presley, “Last Train to Memphis” and “Careless Love” as well biographies of Sun Records’ owner Sam Phillips and 1960s soul crooner Sam Cooke. His other books, “Lost Highway” and “Feel Like Going Home” collect profiles of many rock, blues and country legends that hail from Mississippi. A good chunk of those profiles is the subject of Guralnick’s newest book, “Looking to Get Lost: Adventures in Music & Writing,” a memoir that delves into his writing process as well as his memorable encounters with music icons over the last 50 years. “Looking to Get Lost” features chapters on Mississippi musical heroes Skip James, Willie Dixon, Robert Johnson, Tammy Wynette and Howlin Wolf as well as a piece on Malaco Records in Jackson. Other chapters in the book highlight visits with Bill Monroe, Jerry Lee Lewis, Solomon Burke, Merle Haggard, Ray Charles, Chuck Berry, Allen Toussaint and Eric Clapton. The first artist Guralnick ever interviewed was bluesman Skip James in 1965.

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THE BLUES ADVENTURES OF PETER GURALNICK

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mississippi seen events

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scene around the ‘s co-op involvement

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mississippi is...

mississippi marketplace u outdoors today d the ‘sip picture this my opinion ement

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enthusiasm for them. Add a good dog to the mix, and December is the month for celebration and the clear focus December squirrels, due partly to trees being bare of foliage, of many during this time is Christmas. A grand period of are a grand experience. And they are superb as the makings reverence, reflection, giving and togetherness it is. We of a community stew. would all do well to contemplate its true meaning and From a personal perspective, I find that church gathpause in deep gratitude for The Gift Christmas brought. erings and family festivities for a week or so before and Hunters have justifiable reasons to anticipate December then during Christmas garner a great deal of my time. No because of the month’s impact on their pursuits. There may complaints here; I am enriched by be a few extra days off work to them and don’t choose to neglect hunt or perhaps a Christmas gatha single one. These are elements of ering of family and friends affordgreat import. I have not abandoned ing time in the field with individuals deer, but I no longer pursue them who are not regularly collected. with the gusto of past days when I But the primary impact this month would slide into the dinner doings has is that all game seasons, save still wearing orange. wild turkeys, are open at least a Small game permits a more few days within this timeframe. Kinton, dressed in 18th century attire, often pursues squirrels with rational schedule. A couple hours of Likely the most recognized and his .32-caliber Tennessee-style flintlock rifle. There is magic in the early morning or late afternoon in anticipated season among them smoke and rumble of a flintlock. Photos by Sam Valentine. the squirrel woods are the solution. across the Magnolia State is for I am still outside and enjoying offerings of nature but still deer. And a big plus for a large portion of the state is that involved with those elements which, in the grander scheme the rut is on. This rather brief period sees bucks rambling of life, mean the most. widely and one may show up most any time during the day. Hunting season is here and it is at full throttle. Enjoy it. This possibility encourages hunters to sit tight, keep eyes And I close with a sincere wish: Merry Christmas and Happy open and conclude, with validity, that a buck may break New Year. cover at any moment. But deer are not the only game legal this month. Practically all small game common to the state can be pursued. Squirrels, rabbits, raccoons, waterfowl — most all are permitted during some of those days housed by December. And the small game is simply too good to ignore. by Tony Kinton There seems in the past decade an increased interest in small game hunting across the state, especially in the arena Tony Kinton has been an active outdoors writer for 30 years. He lives in of squirrel hunting. They likely hold the second or third slot Carthage and is a Central Electric member. Visit www.tonykinton.com in popularity today, but hunters are showing a new spark of for more information.

DECEMBER 2020 | TODAY 11


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SCAM ALERT! You have to stay one step ahead of the scammers as they are constantly changing how they try to separate you from your money.

We recently had a member to report she received a phone call from a scammer. The member knew she had paid her bill and called to report the scam to MEP. What we discovered is that scammers now have a new method. At the end of the phone call, they will provide a 1-800 phone number and request that you call to make a payment. After explaining that the scammer told our member that she owed money, the scammer gave her a phone number to call. Hmmmm… sounds like it could be legit because they are not demanding payment during the phone call. Our member knew she had paid her MEP bill so she called our office to report the incident and provided the phone number that had been given to her. One of our billing supervisors immediately began to investigate and called the number provided. She listened to a recorded voice on the other end of the line reporting they were from Entergy and the company was experiencing a high volume of calls coming in and if she wanted to pay, she could “push pound.” So, our supervisor pushed pound and got a real person who asked her if she wanted to make a payment. When she said she would like to speak to his supervisor, he promptly hung up! The MEP member who reported this scam owns a small business. We aren’t sure if they are targeting businesses as they have in the past, or if they will try this with an individual. If you ever get a call like this, please hang up. If it leaves you in doubt, you are always welcome to call the office at 601-684-4011. To our members, we urge you to be very aware that these calls 12 TODAY | DECEMBER 2020

are scams and MEP would never personally make a phone call requesting a payment. If MEP should give you a call, it would be in the form of an automated system giving you a “friendly reminder” that your bill is due. Here is a reminder on how you can make payments on your MEP bill: • Pay at MEP (counter or drive-in window) • Pay through the SmartHub app • Pay online by visiting mepcoop.com • Pay by phone by calling 601-250-2444 • Pay at a MEP kiosk (located in Tylertown, Liberty and the MEP office) • Pay at two local banks (Pike National Bank and Citizen’s Bank) Please know we will never call you and tell you that your payment is due now and/or you must purchase a cash card to make the payment. Be very aware of the scammers because they are out there with many different scenarios. Remember to never give your personal information to anyone over the phone, especially anyone who has called you! If you have doubts about payment options, call us at 601-684-4011. One last reminder, please share this information with your friends and neighbors. Please talk about this matter so that no one you know gets scammed.


Many of the displays in the park are donated from area residents, with many following a continuing theme. Many of the displays have added items each year. The 40+ acre park is flooded with displays of every description, ranging from Noah’s Ark featuring a pair each of numerous animals from elephants to mice, the 12 Days of

DECEMBER 2020 | TODAY 13

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Christmas, a manger scene, ice skaters, carolers, the Iwo Jima memorial, Christmas trains, a gingerbread house, Santa’s elves and a space set aside as Toyland. Each year, Christmas in the Park features an honorarium or memorial which is purchased by individuals. One year candy canes were available, snowflakes, candles, angels and bells have also been offered from time to time. The park’s displays are updated and reworked annually to keep Christmas in the Park fresh to visitors. Many visitors comment each year how they enjoy touring the park, and some families make an outing of the trip, frequently stopping to eat either before or after driving through the park. A drive through the park takes 20-30 minutes. An estimated 30,000 people view the park each year during the holiday season. The Christmas in the Park committee of volunteers, an arm of the Walthall Chamber of Commerce, oversees the annual event, which begins with preliminary work and setup in late September. The committee meets year round to discuss and finalize displays and additions to the park each year.

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Santa and his band make an appearance at the Holmes Water Park stage, one of the many displays purchased and donated by a local resident, to Tylertown’s Christmas in the Park.

A 40 ft. tall Christmas tree is the popular 12 Days of Christmas display, another of the hundreds of lighted Christmas displays at Christmas in the Park in Tylertown.

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Tylertown’s Christmas in the Park has grown from its simple beginnings in 1998 to a well-known holiday event throughout the state, including nightly driving tours. The light display at Holmes Water Park is located just to the east of downtown Tylertown on Hwy. 198 at the Magee’s Creek bridge. Thanksgiving night, Nov. 26, the park opens for drive-through traffic, from 6-8:30 p.m. through New Year’s Eve. Use the Hwy. 198 entrance at the Magee’s Creek Bridge. Admission is $5 per passenger vehicle, $10 for commercial vans and $20 for buses.

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Tylertown holiday light show returns this season

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Christmas in the Park


ACCOUNT MANAGEMENT AT YOUR FINGERTIPS! SmartHub allows you to manage all aspects of your Magnolia Electric Power account.

With SmartHub you can: ✔ Report An Outage ✔ View A Live Outage Map

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A R E FA M I LY A N D F R I E N D S Everyone at Magnolia Electric Power wishes you and your family a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Our business office will be closed on Dec. 24 and 25 for Christmas and Jan. 1 for New Year’s Day. Call 601-684-4011 or use the SmartHub app to report a power outage or emergency. Linemen will be on call. 14 TODAY | DECEMBER 2020


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Visit Treasury.MS.gov.

2

David McRae is Mississippi’s state treasurer.

Search for money in your name, a family member’s name, your church’s name, your business’ name or even a favorite organization’s name.

3

If there is money that you believe may belong to you, claim it. Our team will then get to work verifying the information.

DECEMBER2020 2020||TODAY TODAY15 15 DECEMBER

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out with this economy-boosting effort. I am proud of the work my team is doing to return this money. We’re conducting our own investigative work and proactively reaching out to those we believe are the rightful owners, but you can play a big role in this as well. We know this has been a tough year financially for many in the state. But your State Treasury is here to serve and I’m hopeful this effort will bring you a little relief. My great-grandfather grew up on a farm in rural Rankin County. He opened his first department store in Jackson at the turn of the century. Like today, that wasn’t the easiest time to start a business. World War I was coming. The 1918 flu pandemic was around the corner. And the Great Depression wasn’t far behind. But my great-grandfather understood one thing very clearly: If we were going to weather the economic tides, our family couldn’t be in the department store business; we had to be in the customer-service business. For 100 years, we were. That same customer-service mindset is at the center of what I’m now doing as Mississippi Treasurer. With that in mind, if you don’t have internet access or cannot visit Treasury.MS.gov, please call our office at 601-359-3600. We would be happy to help you begin your search. Have a safe and happy holiday season.

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by David McRae Looking for a little extra cash this holiday season? Then, I’d like to ask you to do something right now: Take out your phone and go to Treasury.MS.gov. Scroll down and type your last name in the unclaimed property search box. Is there money listed for you to claim? If so, claim it. You see, it’s sometimes very difficult for banks, credit unions and even retail stores to find the rightful owner of certain monetized property, such as an electricity bill refund issued to your former residence, the remanence of a long-forgotten savings account or an inheritance left by a late relative. The reality is that people move, families lose touch and the money that’s left behind goes unclaimed. After five years, entities turn that money over to the state to find the rightful owners. We call this unclaimed property. Since January when I entered office, the Treasury’s Division of Unclaimed Property has returned more than $15 million to Mississippians. It’s important to note the money we return in unclaimed property is not the state’s money — it’s not taxpayer money either. It’s your money and it’s simply the State Treasury’s responsibility to return it to the rightful owners, which is precisely what we’re doing. Fifteen million is a lot to pump into Mississippi’s economy right now, but we still have millions more to return. With that in mind, I wanted to personally invite every Mississippian to help

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back to Mississippi – Some may be yours


Mutual aid planning and ‘The Biloxi Meetings’

by Derrill Holley In August 1995, three years after Hurricane Andrew tore through the southern U.S. and devastated its coastal communities, co-ops there were still rebuilding and sorting through a maze of federal reimbursements and other paperwork left in the storm’s wake. Amid the difficulties and knowing that the next Andrew could be right around the corner, a handful of the region’s newer statewide safety and loss control directors got together in Biloxi, to see if they could find a better way. That small, informal meeting would continue every August thereafter and eventually expanded to a consortium of 20 statewide associations. It’s still an informal gathering, with no name or charter, but the work they do has serious implications for co-op preparedness when disasters strike. “The conversations focus on large-scale mutual aid challenges and how members of the co-op network respond,” said Martha Duggan, NRECA’s senior director of regulatory affairs. “It gives the statewide storm coordinators an opportunity to talk about what worked well and what could have worked better, and it also provides a chance to plan for disaster-related challenges that we’ve learned to accept as certainties.”

The value of face-to-face That first Biloxi meeting involved safety and loss coordinators from Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Florida joined the following year. After Andrew — a devastating Category 5 storm that cut a massive swath of destruction mainly through Florida and Louisiana — co-op rebuilding efforts brought more than 700 mutual assistance personnel to the region. Affected co-ops spent years sorting through reimbursement issues with the Federal Emergency 16 TODAY | DECEMBER 2020

Management Agency (FEMA), and coordinators began to see that unprecedented mutual aid challenges could not be managed in the same way as routine outages that required only a few days help from neighboring co-ops. What those founding members also realized was that while the regular contacts among co-op peers are critical, it’s the deeper personal connections that help in building broad, long-term plans. “There’s something about sharing a meal with someone and having face-to-face conversations that helps to build trust,” said Gerald Gordon, vice president of safety and loss control for the Electric Cooperatives of Mississippi. “When we need to talk about complicated challenges in the midst of a crisis, we already have solid relationships and a lot of confidence in the information we’re getting from others on the conference call.” The meeting has continued to be in Biloxi ever since, with the exception of 2005 and 2006, when damage from hurricanes Katrina and Rita forced them to move it, and this year when COVID-19 forced its cancellation. Hurricane Katrina, which slammed into the Gulf Coast on August 29, 2005, and Hurricane Rita, which made landfall near the Texas-Louisiana state line three weeks later, were the greatest tests of the group’s then-10 years of work. The twin storms brought thousands of co-op staff and contractors to the region and led to more than four months of intensive mutual aid operations. “Between the two storms, nearly 10,000 co-op personnel and contractors were involved, so it was a pretty long process,” said Mike Bergeaux, the recently retired director of loss control for the Association of Louisiana Electric Cooperatives. “We would not have been able to rotate crews in and out and deal with some of the other widespread challenges without the coordination and planning that occurs at those meetings.”


Availability awareness As safety and loss managers for their statewide associations, many of the meeting participants also coordinate safety training for their member co-ops. They know the crew chiefs and most of the operations employees who are likely to volunteer for mutual assistance work, and they’re also familiar with the infrastructure and operational environments those crews most often encounter. “We have some awareness of what’s available in a state beyond the limits of a local co-op,” said Peggy Dantzler, vice president of loss control and training for the Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina. “With the help of our contacts in other states, we can broaden access to skills, equipment and supplies that can really make a difference following major disasters.” According to Dantzler, the Biloxi meetings offer opportunities to discuss things like changes that might affect interstate transportation or issues surrounding transmission access. The result: less time spent on basic issues when emergencies occur. “When our conference calls take place related to anticipated events, we’ve often been able to arrange for several states to send out emergency transportation waivers that co-op crews will need to reach their destinations, avoiding costly delays,” Dantzler said. Also addressed are local or regional circumstances that might affect the level of available mutual aid. “We know that Louisiana’s co-ops can often field about 80 people, and Missouri is a state with a lot of resources, so they have committed about 300 when needed,” Bergeaux said. “Statewide coordinators have awareness of what each state can comfortably offer and what types of vehicles, equipment and other specialty gear they can temporarily release without disrupting local or statewide operations.”

Shared expertise and technology Over the years, the Biloxi meetings have also helped build consensus around the adoption of technologies that not only help co-ops during major restoration efforts but also improve response to local outages. When he was vice president of safety and loss control for the Electric Cooperatives of Mississippi, Michael Weltzheimer helped develop software applications that many statewide associations now use in incident management for outages requiring mutual aid. “Requesting help is as simple as logging in and telling us what the anticipated need is,” said Weltzheimer, who is now safety and loss prevention resource coordinator for Federated Rural Electric Insurance Exchange. “With the names and skill sets of employees, and the equipment in reserve or available for temporary release already in the database, responding co-ops can quickly offer details on the help they’re able to provide.” As co-op technology has improved, meeting principals also

got involved in development of applications to help guide visiting crews and contractors. “Crews traveling across seven states to get to where they’re needed can face climate conditions they’re not used to,” said Larry Detwiler, director of loss control, safety, and compliance at Kansas Electric Cooperatives. “They need to know what types of supplies like seasonal clothing could be needed … awareness of the hazards they might be facing, particularly if they are working in terrain and weather conditions they are not really familiar with.” The annual August meetings often include discussions about equipment availability, including portable substations, drones and mobile mechanic shops. Software developed with encouragement from the group allows for tracking and assignment of crews and equipment. But protracted mutual aid efforts covering multiple co-op territories often require more than line crews, bucket trucks and digger derricks. “We’ve found ways to include warehouse people, administrative staffs, and operations managers and communicators in our scheduling app,” Detwiler said. “Knowing that qualified, committed staffers who understand how co-ops operate and are available can give beleaguered managers the comfort to allow key staff … to see about their own families and take necessary breaks.” And as more co-ops recognize the value of direct dialogue with members through social media, communicators who can step in remotely are being added to mutual aid rosters, said Joe McElroy, director of safety for the Michigan Electric Cooperative Association. “Co-ops are doing much better jobs getting information out when storms occur,” he said. “So supporting those efforts when the affected co-ops’ staffers need a break just makes sense.” But as the technology available to electric co-ops and their members has improved, potential mutual aid needs have also expanded. Recent statewide storm coordinator meetings have included discussions about sharing incident details through social media outlets. “Our outage information sites provide more information explaining to members the challenges we face with big outages,” Mississippi’s Gordon said. “What they don’t see are the features that allow us to use the co-op-facing side of those apps to manage crews.” Instead of stacks of legal pads and note slips piled on desks at various locations, crews are assigned, deployed and monitored in real time, and anyone who needs to track their locations or status has access to the same information. “That mapping data can be shared with the co-ops and contractors sending in crews to help,” Gordon said. “We can tell them to log in to a mobile device, enter a job code number and they have instant access to useful details.” DECEMBER 2020 | TODAY 17


Turning lights into joy for over 30 years

18 TODAY | DECEMBER 2020


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by Steven Ward inception in the 1980s. Evelyn Lewis was just look“For years the Lewis family ing for a place with Christmas has brought tremendous joy lights that she could visit with and happiness to our area her nieces. through their Christmas light “We would drive around evdisplay,” said Randy Wallace, ery year, about 50 to 75 miles Pearl River Valley Electric around to look at Christmas general manager. “The work lights. But we didn’t see anythey put into their display thing worth a dang. We could makes us all proud to call just as well drive down our south Mississippi home, and own street and see lights that we are extremely honored were just as good,” Evelyn, to play a part in their yearly 83, said recently. tradition.” And that’s when Evelyn and That tradition carries on in her sisters and other family 2020 — COVID-19 or not. members started putting up “This year we are asking vistheir own Christmas lights at itors to wear masks and social their Purvis home. Linda Roberts, on the ladder, places an elf in the hole of a tree as part of the Lewis family’s popular “Elf Tree” display. Evelyn Lewis (below) said distance,” said Deborah Lewis, “It just grew from there. the tree is a popular favorite of children who visit the house each holiday. 47, Evelyn’s niece. Each year, we just put more Each Lewis family member has a certain job each year in and more lights up,” Evelyn said laughing. putting on the massive Christmas display. That was in 1989. Today, more than 30 years later, the Barbara Lewis, Deborah’s mother, cuts out the wood Lewis family continues to adorn their home, expansive gardisplays. The cutouts were painted by Barbara, Deborah den, trees and land with shiny and sparkly lights and erect and Deborah’s late father, Frank Lewis. cut out wood displays to create a Christmas wonderland in Evelyn, a master gardener, is also an artist and the main Purvis that visitors come from all over to witness. person who is responsible for all the detail work on the That first year, the family put up about 5,000 lights. displays. That number grew to nearly 200,000 lights and more than 300 wood cut outs. Barbara created the electrical layout and wiring. The Lewis family are longtime members of the Pearl Evelyn and her sister Linda Roberts, 74, put up all the River Valley Electric Power Association. That power has lights on their 2-acre spread. been powering up their famous Christmas display since its

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“It takes about two weeks to get all the lights up,” Evelyn said. Linda’s husband, AM Roberts, 81 and son, Kris Roberts, 47, help with the wood displays that go on the roof. The family also has a hot chocolate station on the backyard porch and an area where they sell family-made arts and crafts to help pay for each year’s light extravaganza. “During the time the lights are on it takes all of us to keep an eye on everything. I man the shop that we have set up on the carport each year while Evelyn and Kris handle the hot chocolate stand. Linda usually greets the visitors as they come in and explains the rules to them. Barbara is normally on the front porch answering questions people normally have,” Deborah said.  The wood cut outs feature every possible Christmas scene you can imagine: Santa and his reindeer, Santa and his elves, Santa and Mrs. Santa Claus, The 12 Days of Christmas, snowmen, the traditional Christmas story, the Little Drummer Boy, carolers, 20 TODAY | DECEMBER 2020

angels, the North Pole, a “Toyland Express” and a Christmas list are just some of what visitors will experience. The light display is something special. “Parents will take their children through the path three or four times,” Evelyn said. Deborah said there are plenty of times children will start crying when their parents say it’s time to go. “They just don’t want to leave,” she said. The preparation each year takes a lot of time and hard work. “For a lot of families, this is how they start their holiday season. We do it because so many people enjoy it. The kids get so excited. It becomes a magical place,” Evelyn said.


If you go

Nov. 26 to Dec. 25 5:30 p.m. until 9 p.m. Dec. 26 to Dec. 31 5:30 p.m. until 8 p.m. 280 White Chapel Road Purvis, MS 39475 For more information, call 601-466-3679, email lewislightsandcrafts@gmail.com or visit the family’s Facebook page at Lewis Lights & Crafts.

DECEMBER 2020 | TODAY 21


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mississippi marketplace on the menu outdoors today scene around the ‘sip picture this my opinion co-op involvement southern gardening

grin ‘n’ bare it

with Rebecca Turner

Guests will flip for these Christmas dips The holiday season is here, and if there was ever a year that needed some Christmas cheer, it is 2020! For many families, Christmas is the most meaningful holiday full of traditions, joy and hope in a Savior born. Tis’ the season for bright lights, sparkly ornaments, caroling and cooking seasonal, signature recipes. Out of storage comes our Christmas dishes, cookie cutters and Corningware, ready to take food wherever there is a festive celebration. My grandmother’s vintage Christmas china set makes its debut on Dec. 1. We enjoy drinking coffee and eating everything from weekday dinners to a full-blown holiday feast on dainty dishes adorned with holly and angels playing holiday horns. The last month of the year is often the busiest, with a calendar full of entertaining events with family, friends, church and workplace colleagues. An array of festive appetizers and finger foods help set the tone for parties, giving guests the opportunity for casual, friendly banter while munching on delicious dips, chips, spreads and crackers. A good holiday dip is a perfect snack to balance out all those Christmas cookies. And when done right, a good dip recipe can guarantee a future invite to the next seasonal shindig. And, in my opinion, an appetizer should tease your taste buds while leaving room for the main course. 24 TODAY | DECEMBER 2020

Amid the cheeseballs, cocktail meatballs, and pigs-ina-blanket, try serving a dip without the guilt: substitute reduced-fat or fat-free plain Greek yogurt for mayonnaise. If you can’t part with your mayo, spoon in one tablespoon at a time till you reach your desired consistency or taste. Often, you can spare several hundred calories by just being mindful of how much goes in. Go lighter on the toppings and use half the amount of nuts and other add-ins. With pecans and nut prices on the rise, this can help save money, too. If a recipe calls for crushed pecan or walnut pieces, sub in half the amount with peanut pieces. Never underestimate the power of a great dip to get a party off to a merry start. Serve them with whole grain pita or, ideally, sliced veggies. Try some less-than-usual options such as asparagus, or in-season vegetables like chicories, parsnips and radishes along with the standard carrots and celery. Creamy and flavorful, try the pumpkin pie dip and spice up your starters with the cranberry salsa. Both so tasty, guests won’t know they’ve been lightened up.


INGREDIENTS 12 ounces fresh cranberries ½ to 1 teaspoon minced garlic 1 to 2 tablespoons can diced jalapenos, drained ½ cup cilantro, finely chopped 3 scallions, thinly sliced 1⁄3 cup fresh lime juice 2 tablespoons granulated sugar Salt and pepper to taste

INGREDIENTS 1 8-ounce package low fat cream cheese, softened 1 cup pumpkin puree ½ cup confectioners’ sugar 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice 1 8-ounce container frozen whipped topping, thawed

1. Combine cranberries and 1 quart of water in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil and boil for one minute. Cranberries will begin to pop; do not overcook. All you need is for them to soften, not cook down. Drain. Let your cranberries cool before mixing in with the rest of the ingredients.

2. Mix in pumpkin puree until smooth.

2. In a mixing bowl combine the garlic, jalapeno (start with 1 tablespoon and add more if you like it spicy), cilantro, scallions and cranberries. Mix by hand, squeezing some of the berries to a pulp and leaving the rest whole.

1. Beat cream cheese in a bowl with an electric mixer until smooth.

3. Stir confectioners’ sugar and pumpkin pie spice into mixture until evenly mixed. 4. Fold in whipped topping. 5. For the best flavor, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate it for about two hours.

3. Add lime juice, sugar and salt and pepper to taste. 4. Serve with chips, pita bread or festive crackers.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Rebecca Turner is an author, registered dietitian, radio host, television presenter and a certified specialist in sports dietetics with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. A lifelong Mississippian, she lives in Brandon and has spent the last decade offering no-nonsense nutrition guidance that allows you to enjoy good health and good food. Her book, “Mind Over Fork,” challenges the way you think, not the way you eat. Find her on social media @RebeccaTurnerNutrition and online at www.RebeccaTurnerNutrition.com.

DECEMBER 2020 | TODAY 25


mississippi seen

mississippi is...

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mississippi marketplace on the menu Christmas Candlelight Tours at Landrums outdoors today Homestead & Village, Dec. 5, 12 and 19. Laurel. Many planned events were canceled Step back in time and take a Christmas walking scene ‘sip because of the around COVID-19 crisis, so the we picture this tour of the past with thousands of white lights have had far fewer events to feature and candlelit pathways. Beautiful Christmas tour our working homestead over in this space as a result. As more areas my with opinion co-op involvement music, 85 buildings, enjoy hot chocolate, marshmalof Mississippi open back up and groups and organizations feel comfortable about holding public events, we intend to include those details here. So, if you have an upcoming event for February or January, please email the details to news@ecm.coop. Events are subject to change or cancellation due to COVID-19. Please confirm details before traveling.

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Trees of Christmas at Merrehope, Nov. 23 to Dec. 30. Sundays – Nov. 22 and 29 and Dec. 6, 13 and 20. Meridian. Tour exquisitely decorated historic homes, Merrehope and F.W. Williams. 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Sundays. 905 Martin Luther King Dr. Details: 601-483-8439. Merrehope.com. Cider Circle Café, Dec. 7. Picayune. Jackie Stewart’s “Women on Mission” of Picayune’s First Baptist Church will be hosting the 6th Cider Circle Cafe in conjunction with the Picayune Christmas parade from 4 p.m. until. Serving pizza, sandwiches, and steaming bowls of red bean and rice and jambalaya, topped off with delectable homemade sweets. All proceeds donated to the “United Missions Offering.” First Baptist Church, 401 Goodyear Blvd. Details: 601-566-3424.

15 South. Admission $10, children 3 and under are free. Details: 601-649-2546.

Traditions Show and Sale, Dec. 10 and 11. Greenwood. Attending the show will be Mrs. Thad Cochran with antique linen, Lisa Paris with fine art, Fran Riddell Renaissance Collection with antique cultured pearl bracelets, John Oliver Dowdle with interiors and accents, Caroline Taylor with engraved and monogrammed jewelry, and Antique Restorations repairing porcelain, china, crystal and glass. 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. The Alluvian, 318 Howard St. Details: 662-453-9197. MS Gulf Coast Beekeepers Association. January 2021. (Dates TBD) Group to offer free, basic beekeeping mentorship program outdoors with individual mentors. Mentors live in Jackson, Harrison, Stone and George counties. Pre-registration required. Details: 601-716-5557 or 847-529-6493

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Walt Grayson is the host of “Mississippi Roads” on Mississippi Public Broadcasting television and the author of two “Looking Around Mississippi” books and “Oh! That Reminds Me: More Mississippi Homegrown Stories.” He lives in Brandon and is a Central Electric member. Contact him at walt@waltgrayson.com.

DECEMBER 2020 | TODAY 27

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was so cold our feet would stick to it. We played hide and seek in the infinite cubbies, corners and closets of that house. There was an old upright radio at one end of the living room that we kids were forbidden to touch — a radio that hadn’t worked since World War II. We sifted through granddaddy’s magical collection of arrowheads and oddities and got down his scrapbooks of articles about the strange things that appealed to him — fivelegged cows and published arguments that Jesus must have died on Thursday and not Friday. We sat down for meals together as a family. We instinctively knew we were an integral member of that group of folks. Bound with an invisible bond to them that we didn’t have with any other category of people on earth. Not our friends at school, not our church congregation, nobody else. The presents we got for Christmas were nothing compared to what they gave us — a sense of belonging. A purpose for being that you don’t get from just opening stuff from under the tree and then peeling off to play video games.

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Christmas season seems to have no beginning and no end these days. Just a vague lull and then a mad dash. You can buy Christmas trees online yearround. Same thing with watching Christmas movies on cable. Some of our friends who have the extensive outdoor displays of lights spend half the year putting them up and taking them down. Even at our house, we leave at least one mantle decoration all year for a glance of cheer. This year my exuberance for Christmas hasn’t been as keen as in years past. Too much else going on — COVID-19, politics and work. Maybe it’s just me. My dad never seemed to let anything get in the way of his Christmas spirit. But he had a definite date upon which the Christmas season arrived at our house. Dec. 1 was the day. There was no thought of Christmas at Halloween. There was little thought of it at Thanksgiving. But by sunset Dec. 1, the tree was up and all of us kids would decorate it that night after school. Having a “bad” Christmas back then wasn’t even in our vocabulary. Some years we got better presents than other years. But “Christmas” itself was always Christmas. Christmas was more of a feeling than a thing; more an experience than an event. I have tried to replicate that Christmas season experience for our kids and grandkids. Other than the mechanics of it — decorating a tree and stuff — I feel as if I haven’t been very successful. But thinking back, my Christmases were populated with aunts and uncles and cousins gathering at grandma’s house at some point during the Christmas season. The smell of coffee and bacon cooking on the wood stove drifting up the stairs woke us up. We would climb up out of a feather mattress and it seemed the floor

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