June 19, 1925

Dad in 1926 at his first birthday, and at age 18 in 1943, serving in Indo-China.

Riding into the sunset, November 27, 2017
Posted in Family, Texas, Young County | 7 Comments

Finally Friday: What’s on your agenda?

I double dog dare you to jump through this hoop.
Just hanging around killing time and the occasional tree.

Swing on by later if you have time.
Feeling all washed out?
Try changing your perspective.

Happy Friday, Gateway to the Weekend. Oh, wait, it’s all weekend all the time now. 🙂

Posted in Country Philosophy, Ecosystem, landscape architecture, Mississippi | Tagged , | 5 Comments

Meanwhile, back in Itta Bena with the Favara family…Part II

John Favara’s Southern Cafe & grocery store

Last week, I looked at John Favara and his family, Part I. Since then, I have reached the conclusion that I could write a book about the Favara family and their lives in Itta Bena and beyond. When I was visiting in Itta Bena for the Ralph Lembo Blues Trail Marker unveiling, I kept thinking about the importance of immigrants in the history of this country. We who immigrated (that is all of our families of origins unless we are descendants of Native Americans) literally built this country. I opined to Rand that if I had been a guest speaker at the ceremony for Ralph Lembo, I would have talked about immigration, using it as a teachable moment for social empathy. A number of Italians emigrated from their native Italy to immigrate into the Mississippi Delta.

Italians were not the only immigrants to the Mississippi Delta, nor the only ones successful. I have uncovered many stories of people who were Jewish, Chinese, Asian Indian, and Latinx and what they brought to their adopted communities. Certainly, one cannot overlook the role that Africans played in the Delta either–through the involuntary servitude of enslavement and after.

The John Favara of Southern Cafe was born Giovanni Favara 1870 in Cornice, Italy. If you have ever researched census records, you know that dates of birth are often estimated, and that names may be misspelled. As the records were handwritten, they also may be illegible in places. John Favara was also listed as Favoro in some of the Itta Bena records. Newspapers also often misspelled names, thus other clues were necessary to gain as accurate a picture as possible. He and his wife Josephine, born Giuseppa Domina in Ceflu, Italy in 1884 had 7 children: John Hamilton, Jr., Sam S., Josephine, Lena, Joseph C. , Stella, and Ralph.

Southern Cafe, 1979. Retrieved from The Greenwood Commonwealth, Feb 25, 1979

John Favara opened his Southern Cafe in 1911, and named it for the Southern railroad that bisected the two sides of Front Street. The depot sat across the street from the Southern Cafe, making the cafe convenient for passengers from the train.

The 1905 Sanborn shows no brick buildings on this block of S. Front Street. The fire of May 1905 destroyed an entire block and totaled 16 businesses. Contracts to rebuild of brick were let within days of the fire.

1905 excerpt of S. Front Street, retrieved from https://www.loc.gov/collections/sanborn-maps/?q=Itta+Bena+Mississippi

By 1909, every store on the first block of Front Street, the first two blocks of Baskett Street on both sides, and six of ten stores on the second block of Front Street were brick. The only restaurant identified was still the frame building near the west end of the second block.

1909 excerpt of S. Front Street, retrieved from https://www.loc.gov/collections/sanborn-maps/?q=Itta+Bena+Mississippi

By 1918, all but two stores in the second block were brick. John Favara had built his restaurant next to his grocery store mid-Front street in the final vacant lot showing in the 1909 Sanborn. In the 1920 census, he was identified as the proprietor of a restaurant instead of grocer.

In 1921, Favara bought the Mahoney Building on the corner and adjacent to the bank on Baskett, and owned a number of brick store buildings on S. Front Street by 1924. In 1928, Favara “completely remodeled” the restaurant, and it was described as “modern and up-to-date”, “all new fixtures” in the “latest style” and “artistically decorated and arranged” with large fans for cooling and “gorgeous lighting” to “add a soft glow to set off the beautiful pannelled [sic] mirrors surrounded by well finished mahogany” (The Clarion-Ledger, Aug 15, 1928, p. 10).

Joe Favara ran the cafe most recently. The Greenwood Commonwealth, Feb 25, 1979.

John Favara, Sr. died in 1941 after suffering a heart attack while opening his restaurant. Josephine died in 1970.

The Greenwood Commonwealth, Feb 2, 1986
Posted in Diversity Equity and Inclusion, Historic Downtowns, Mississippi, Mississippi Delta Towns | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

Cleaning out the closet

In the New Mexico space shuttle, waiting for take-off
We planned the future worlds we'd build.
After 4 wondrous and tumultuous years of trade-offs 
Sacrifice and time could yield.
We loosed reins amidst sun and sand in New Mexico's plains. 
Embarking on journeys seeming so far away in that first step
Forging ahead to places not yet dreamt.
Stepping in dinosaur tracks steeped in time
Crawling below ground in caverns carved with dolomite and lime
Standing near canyon's edge in awe
Breathing in all that we saw
And all that was ahead.

Posted in Acts of Restorative Kindness, Ecosystem, Family | Tagged , | 9 Comments

South Rail Trail

I will get back to the Itta Bena story next, but for a little fun and relaxation, I walked a leg of the South Rail Trail for the first time Saturday. I need to increase my exercise, and there is no safe place to walk unless I get in the car and drive. When we first moved here, I walked the road across the highway, but it got increasingly more dangerous as people speed on a narrow dirt road and dogs run loose. And then there was the day a woman stopped and asked, “How far you have to go, honey?” I said I was just walking for exercise and lived in the house on the hill across the road. She replied, “Don’t go too far; it is getting late” before she turned into the driveway just past me. Frankly, it was the dogs running loose that stopped me from walking on that road.

The Rail Trail is on the old Mississippi Central Railroad bed that ran between Oxford and Water Valley. It is always busy, filled with mostly students, but community folks also.

Even though it is hot and humid here, I correctly surmised that due to the abundant tree cover, it would be cool enough for a short walk. I planned 10 minutes and then turn around. There are trails that veer off into the woods from the rail bed, but I avoided those: ticks and the unknown are not my cup of tea these days.

Still, it was a pleasant view from the rail bed, and relaxing and calming, so I would occasionally stop to take a quick photo with the phone.

A small rivulet ran under the rail bed and pooled on the other side.

Other than two small patches of sunlight, under the electric lines right of way and where the paved walking trail behind an apartment complex meets the rail bed, it was shaded and pleasant the entire distance I walked. I ended up walking 20 minutes and then turning around, so a total of 40 minutes in this calming place, for a total of 1 mile since it was at the .5 marker when I turned around. It will likely take a while before I can go the entire 5 miles of the trail. Rather like varying one’s exercising routine, I will return to Itta Bena before I come back to update the rail trail visit two.

Posted in Ecosystem, Mississippi, Oxford, railroad lines | Tagged , | 17 Comments

John Favara’s Southern Cafe in Itta Bena: Part I

In the early 1900s, Front Street in Itta Bena was on both sides of the railroad tracks. The business district developed first along the south side of the tracks. In my earlier trips to Itta Bena, I had not paid much attention to the south side, but while waiting for the Ralph Lembo marker unveiling in May, I took a couple of photographs. This story is focused on the second building, to the right of the vine-covered building. It was the long-time home of John Favara’s Southern Cafe.

Tracking down the story was a little complicated, so I will break this topic into several smaller posts. The one-story painted brick building was last used as Tyrone’s Sports Bar and Grill, but apparently not in the last 10 years. That appears to be the metal awning that has fallen on the sidewalk–It was still mounted in 2009, and the building had a relatively recent paint job, but it’s been all down hill since.

Mississippi Department of Archives & History lists it as c.1905, and describes it as:

…1-story painted brick…flat parapet…decorative corbelling at cornice…6-panel transom in wood frames…

The dates for Itta Bena buildings are complicated by the fact that a “disastrous conflagration” in 1902 destroyed six stores along Lake Front, as well as fires destroying parts of down town Itta Bena earlier in 1897 and again in 1905. But first, how did John Favara end up in Itta Bena? Giovanni “John” Favara immigrated from Cornice, Italy, arriving via New Orleans. Apparently, he came with his brother who was two years older, in 1898, according to the 1900 US census. He was 25 and single, living in the home of his brother B. Favara, a 27 year old grocer. John’s occupation was listed as fruit peddler. John, his brother Biaggio, and B’s wife Philamina and their daughter were the only Favaras in the 1900 census. Biaggio and Philamina had a son in 1901, whom they named John B. Giovanni “John” and Guiseppa Domino (Josephine or Josie) married in 1901 in Itta Bena, although she, too was born in Italy and immigrated.

In 1910, Itta Bena census listed John Favara, born 1860 in Italy, married to Filomon, and who immigrated in 1894, and was a grocer with sons John, 12, and Sam, 4, and daughter Josie, 10, and also the above John Favara. It is unclear why the John who arrived in 1894 was not in the 1900 census, but I assume he lived elsewhere. I am unable to locate him and his wife in any 1900 census for the US, but it is possible he/they returned to Italy and then came back to the US, perhaps for the purpose of marriage? He is listed as Alien and not naturalized in the 1910 census. There is no indication these two John Favaras are related, but that also complicated utilizing newspapers due to the similarity of the names.

Visible left to right in the photo of Front Street: 207, c. 1915, 211 Southern Cafe, c. 1905, 213, c. 1909, 215, c. 1919, 219, c. 1909 per MDAH/HRi. Next, I will look at those buildings, and specifically the Southern Cafe, using the Sanborn Fire Insurance maps from 1905, 1909, and 1918.

Will there be surprises? Stay tuned to see!

Posted in Historic Downtowns, Mississippi, Mississippi Delta Towns | Tagged , , , | 13 Comments

Those amazing opportunities cleverly disguised as problems

Sometimes if you have been snoozing instead of paying attention, things can sneak up on you. We all know a lot of “sneaking up” occurred in the last year and I was no exception. Even though I was fortunate to retire in May, and have a lot of time and ability to avoid contact with others, that also brought less activity and changes in eating. Normally at work, I was taking 3 flights of stairs at least 4 times a day and sometimes more. I walked significant steps to and from class, across campus to other offices, from the parking lot to the building. I generally ate healthy options.

So while my weight did not go up, my cholesterol did. By a lot. Last year, I was not a risk factor. This year, I was. I think my doctor is amazing: skilled, competent, knowledgable, well-read on recent research and practice, engaging, respectful, and a partner in my health care. I am also knowledgeable and well-read on health care aspects that relate to my needs and my desire to live my best physical and mental life. I take him seriously, and I take my role in my health seriously. I came home from that visit Wednesday and began to make changes.

If I had my way, every doctor’s office would have a licensed master’s level social worker (LMSW or LCSW) and a Registered Dietician (RD) on staff. That has increasingly become the norm in many medical practices, for screening, assessment, and referral. It is well-known that there is a connection between mind, body, environment, and health. I think we have all heard “diet and exercise” as a mantra for what ails us, and yes, it is true. I have read and heard plenty about controlling many health issues with diet and exercise. The trouble is, if I do not know “what is in the diet” I need, it will not help.

I am not going to discuss my health needs here–it is not relevant. What is relevant, is knowing where to find the information we need to take better care of ourselves. Typically, when I need reliable information, I use webMD, Mayo Clinic, or National Institutes of Health data. When I searched for “diet to lower cholesterol”, the one I chose was the National Institutes of Health Your Guide to Lowering Your Cholesterol With TLC: Therapeutic Lifestyles.

While I am knowledgeable about many aspects of health (having been a medical social worker as well as taught medical social work and Human Behavior and the Social Environment which includes risks and resilience across the lifespan), it was clear to me that after only beginning to read this 85 page booklet that when we hear “diet and exercise” without some more specific information, it does not tell us what we need to know. For the past 2 days, my “tracking” of diet has significantly changed. In order to be successful at this, I have to track not just calories, but total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, soluble fiber, dietary cholesterol, and protein. Sugar would be important to track normally, but since I am monitoring the TLC diet, it already factors in low or no sugar foods, but I still look at the sugar content and am mindful.

Why does this matter? Because on a diet to lower LDL (“bad” cholesterol and triglycerides) and raise HDL (“good” cholesterol–and fortunately my HDL is good, though it can be improved and that is my goal), if you do not track these (as in keep a list of this content every day for the foods you eat), you do not know what you are putting into your body. (Note: the TLC also includes sample meal plans for a variety of cuisines including American food, Southern food, Asian food, Mexican food, as well as daily calorie intake for 2500, 1800, 1600, and 1200 calories for each cuisine with those contents already tracked. That would be a great option for the person who did not have the time or inclination to track them on your own–I find doing the tracking helps to motivate me as I see progress toward goals, and gain knowledge and appreciation for the process.)

We all know that when there is immediate and rapid change, we are all as happy as a duck in water. What is hard is to sustain it. Reminds me of a saying I learned when I worked in addictions, about the AA 12-step program: “it works when you work it.” While I have recognized changes (weight, energy, sleep, and “feel good”) since last Sunday, those have increased since I began this process Wednesday. That is important, because the more positive reinforcement we give ourselves, the more likely we are to stick with it long enough for it to become a lifestyle.

For those of you who walk and bike, thank you for posting about it. For the uplifting nature pictures that soothe our souls and remind us of our oneness with the universe and each other, I love these reminders and reinforcers about the pay-offs, and how they add not only to our health and well-being, but to the opportunity to experience more joy, gratitude, and compassion in our lives–for others and for ourselves.

Acknowledgements:

I miss you Peggy, and I thank you for all I learned from you and the experience of you in my life for the past year. I am grateful for Jean at Social Bridges, Beth at Small Simple Things of Life, Linda Re at Between the Gateposts, Betty at Chambers on the Road, Anne at Mehrling Muse, John S at Taps and Ratamacues, Sheryl at A Hundred Years Ago, Wichita Geneaologist at Ups and Downs of Family History, Katie at A Virginia Writer’s Diary, and Anna Blake at Anna Blake for the particular learning and understanding that each of you have gifted me.

Posted in Acts of Restorative Kindness, Ecosystem, Mississippi | Tagged , , , | 9 Comments

Nothing like a little early morning excitement at the bird feeder

Sheriff road block

When I went out this morning to feed the cats and the birds, I could see flashing blue lights through the fence. (The red and black truck cabs and the yellow heavy equipment were not on scene yet.) One sheriff vehicle was blocking one side of the lane, and the other, blocking the opposite. I saw my neighbor walk out of his house and stop in the road to take a picture, but I could not see anything else for the stand of trees. Given the neighbor was taking a picture and then walking further up the road, I surmised it was traffic related, but there were no sirens and everyone seemed calm. Back in the house I went and back to bed.

What is left of a pile of logs

On the second trip out (hearing loud noises woke me), the yellow heavy equipment was dragging logs up the road and piling them on the side of the road–just beyond this truck (which was also not there at the time). I surmised that a loaded logging truck had turned over, or at least the trailer had and that they were clearing the road, which was just around the curve past where the men are standing. Again, I was not ready to be up and at ’em that early, and back in the house and back to bed I went.

Reloading the logging truck

On the third trip out, I took my camera. They had brought in yet another piece of heavy equipment and this one was re-loading logs onto a trailer.

Loggers? rolling a log out of the ditch into the road

I heard them pull out as I was finishing breakfast. On my way back from town, I could see down the road and there is still one emergency vehicle working, and it appears to be an electric company truck, so there may have been pole damage.

Reporting for Taylor Hill News, this is Suzassippi.

Posted in Mississippi | Tagged , | 2 Comments

What happens when I pay attention? The benefits of listening and observation.

Grant, R. (2015). Dispatches from Pluto. New York: Simon and Schuster Paperbacks.

“I love it when a plan comes together” (John ‘Hannibal’ Smith, The A Team, 1983-1987). I do, too…and sometimes, I love it when a plan falls apart. When it does, it presents another opportunity, or what I once heard referred to as “standing in the inquiry, not in the circumstances.” Much of what I have learned about myself, and the way the world works for me, is through what I call ‘relentless self-honesty.’ As they say at Preservation in Mississippi, it ain’t all moonlight and magnolias.

When the universe is speaking to me, I have learned to listen. It is one of the ways I embraced and nurtured the concept “It’s okay to make mistakes while learning.” In a world that often tries to cover up mistakes, I work toward the courage to shine a light on them, dissect them, and thus, keep learning. Sometimes my students would comment on ‘how much I knew’ or the skills I had. I would respond “I did not know this or could I do this after my first social work class.” In teaching, when I made a mistake, I owned it, and talked about what I learned from it. One of the greatest social work group leaders, authors, and educators whom I admire tremendously says, “Beautiful mistakes from which we can learn.” If we cannot accept our mistakes, we cannot move forward.

So when John S asked if I had read Dispatches from Pluto and recommended it, I was intrigued. I enjoy John S’s writing and what I experience in reading his work. I had heard of it, but truthfully, until I looked it up, I did not even recall what it was about. In a preview, I could read the prologue and the first chapter. I logged on and ordered it from my local independent bookstore–the world famous Square Books in downtown Oxford. It was ready for me to pick up in a short while, and I headed downtown. It was Sunday afternoon, and beautiful weather, and people love Oxford, the Square, and Square Books. Randy said, “Good luck.” I said I would just park off the Square and walk.

Another message from the universe?

As I turned off toward the free parking (also ‘available’ parking!) 3 blocks from the Square and rounded the corner looking for a space, I spied this building at the top of the hill–smack dab in the middle of this fairly new parking area. As I often do, I said out loud:

I think that might be the Oxford Community House! Built by the National Youth Administration! I think I found it!

I had walked, driven, and Google-map driven all over the area of North Lamar a block from the courthouse square (where it was proposed to be built) searching for it several years ago and no trace of a building that looked even similar turned up. I could find nothing that indicated its demolition, but also, nothing that indicated it was standing or where it was if not where it was allegedly built.

Series 2018-National Youth Administration Work Projects Photograph Album, 1937-1939. W. P. 5160 #896 Oxford Community House, Lafayette County. NYA I-B2-36. Retrieved from http://www.mdah.ms.gov/arred/digital_archives/series/2018/detail/3735. Courtesy Mississippi Department of Archives and History
Same view in 2021

The Mississippi Department of Archives and History Historic Resources Inventory lists houses as ‘houses’ and commercial buildings as ‘commercial’ unless it has a particularly historic name, like Faulkner’s Rowan Oak, or Ammadelle. A search of houses on Lamar would have yielded nothing helpful anyway, since the Community House was not on Lamar…or even north of the courthouse. But, I did confirm by searching the street address that this is the home of the current Oxford Park Commission, and that the Craftsman Bungalow was constructed 1938. The HRI reported a corner stone indicating Youth Conservation Corps 1938. I could not find a corner stone anywhere, but also, the NYA was never connected with the Civilian Conservation Corps, which focused on conservation projects, and parks. NYA was part of the Works Projects Administration, specifically for youth. They built many of the community houses (community centers) in Mississippi, as well as gymnasiums and buildings for schools, particularly in the rural areas.

While I was thrilled to discover it, I was concerned by the lack of maintenance for such a significant building. Not only is the stonework beautiful, the stones were quarried by the NYA at the Longview quarry in Pototoc county. The cypress shingles that were cut by NYA at the Longview sawmill have long since been replaced. The cost was $15,000. It was the third building of its type in Mississippi, second largest, and housed home demonstration clubs, county library, dining room, kitchen, auditorium and manual training school for boys. The woodworking shop was located in the exposed basement (rear double doors under the stairs). It also included a carpenter’s apartment.

While still an imposing building, there is external wood damage to eaves and gables. A sign on the door indicated the Oxford Park Commission will be moving to new headquarters. I hope that means the building is about to experience some repairs so it will still be standing for another 84 years. Just in case, I will follow up and see what the plans are.

Now some might think this is all coincidence. I like to think of it as a message that observing, paying attention when someone gives you feedback and a suggestion pays off. Without my first mistake, and getting that corrected, and owning up to it, John S would never have suggested Dispatches from Pluto. I have already learned a great deal in the four chapters I have completed since Sunday afternoon. To discover the Oxford Community House constructed by the National Youth Administration is still extant is just like a present from the universe saying “Thank you for listening.”

Posted in Acts of Restorative Kindness, Historic Downtowns, Mississippi, National Youth Administration, New Deal Administration, Oxford, Oxford Square | Tagged , , | 8 Comments

Rethinking the opportunity to be present, or “No judging”

Sometimes the universe presents you with a message you just cannot ignore. I once had a client many years ago who said in one of her sessions that she had needed a lesson in humiliation. I am not a fan of humiliation myself–thinking it has no useful purpose. I thought what she really meant was a lesson in humility. She described being out walking with her little dog and not having a poop bag and the dog pooped on someone’s lawn. The man who lived in the house came outside and yelled he was tired of people letting their dogs poop on his lawn and not having the decency to clean up after themselves. She took her dog home, came back with a bag and picked up the poop, went up to the door and in tears knocked and said she was so sorry and apologized over and over. I do not remember if he was gracious about her apology or not, but to her, she had “needed” some humiliation to remind her she was in no position to judge others for their behavior. After the trip to Itta Bena, I get now why she said humiliation and not humility.

I also am not in a position to judge others, but sometimes I still do. I was focused on my disappointment that there was no marker in front of this store that had been home to Ralph Lembo’s music store and where he had helped make history in recording Mississippi Delta blues musicians, and was frankly shocked at the new paint job. But first, look at how the store looked when I was there in 2018:

Peeling faded paint and an orange door. An apparently empty and unused building. I cannot determine when the restaurant was there. The Mississippi Department of Archives & History shows a photograph of the store (same yellow paint, but turquoise doors and a turquoise, pink, blue, and yellow Chevy’s sign taken in 2008. The building was for sale.

The fact that a group of young men rented the building, painted it, no doubt cleaned it up and did some repairs is really very significant. Instead of a vacant building, it is one that is useful and used, bringing income to someone and available for rental by others, according to the sign in the window. Commenting on the color of paint was not only judgmental, it was unnecessary. They are the colors of their fraternity–old gold and purple–and probably represent a noble purpose. My comments about absence and lateness were also judgmental and unnecessary. Anyone in a small rural community who is doing anything to keep a community alive and productive deserves congratulations and support. I cannot unsay it and no one can unread it, but I can acknowledge I was wrong and do my best to set it right.

My focus has long been on staying present and being here, and especially in the past year when we have all struggled with so much. Thursday was a day that was for celebrating Ralph Lembo and the community he lived in for most of his life. It was a day for celebrating the many people who helped make the blues trail marker a reality, and for the many people who continue to be invested in the small rural communities across America. Of course there are imperfect people in those communities, just as we are everywhere. And sometimes, the universe has to remind me that I am one of them. If you are one of the folks who read the post on the Itta Bena marker before I revised it, I hope you will accept my apology for leaving dog poop on your lawn. I got a bag and came back to pick it up as soon as I realized that as a guest in a community, I was out of line. On occasion, I still have to remind the tiger to lie down by my feet and I will let him know if I need him.

Posted in Acts of Restorative Kindness, Country Philosophy | 8 Comments