Sunday, December 27, 2009

Celebrating Elvis and the South

Poems By: Patricia Neely-Dorsey
Tourism Attractions: Elvis Presley Birthplace, Reed's Department Store (est.1905 in Historic Downtown Tupelo), Tupelo Hardware Store (where Elvis got his first guitar)
Location: Tupelo, Mississippi
Tupelo is the seventh largest city in Mississippi and is located between Memphis,Tennessee, and Birmingham , Alabama, along U.S. Highway 78.
Tupelo is best known as the birthplace of Elvis Presley.
Photos: Courtesy of Tupelo Convention and Visitors Bureau

"The King"
(Elvis A. Presley)
born :January 8, 1935- Tupelo,MS

From poor and meager beginnings,
A young man began to sing;
From the small town of Tupelo,
A voice began to ring.
As surely as it's been said,
A man's gifts make a way for him;
This humble diamond in the rough,
Became a sparkling gem.
Velvet melodies and explosive rock,
Were the gifts he'd bring;
The world responded with resounding praise,
And pronounced this man "The King".

Copyright Patricia Neely-Dorsey 2009

"Reed's Dept. Store"
(Established 1905)

Reed's Dept. store in Tupelo,
Is the oldest in the town;
It was the place, as a child,
Where all our clothing needs were found.
Each year, in the fall, with my mom,
Before the start of school;
We'd go to Reed's for school attire.
This was just the rule.
When it was time for a winter coat,
It was off to Reed's we'd go;
So I'd be prepared for chilly days,
Or maybe even snow.
Reed's is where we'd always get,
Our uniforms for scouts;
If we needed a new cap or sash,
Reed's would have it, without a doubt.
Over the years, it stayed the same,
If we had special needs;
For fancy occasions or big events,
We'd always go to Reed's.

Copyright 2008 Patricia Neely-Dorsey
from Reflections of a Mississippi Magnolia-A Life in Poems

Reed's is located directly across from Tupelo Hardware Store, seen above, in Historic Downtown Tupelo where it is said that Elvis' mother Gladys bought him his first guitar.

Story of Elvis' First Guitar


The small town where I am from,
Gets its name from the Tupelo Gum.
No matter where in the world
That I might roam
This is the place that I call home.
Though I've been northeast for my education,
I've stayed fiercely southern in dedication.
In Memphis, I lived for many years,
By my own election,
And even still, there was that Tupelo connection.
At Elvis' Graceland fans come to mourn
But it's Tupelo, Mississippi, where he was born.
Tupelo is known as an All-American city,
If you've never enjoyed it, that's quite a pity.
It's so warm, so hospitable and so neat,
Everything about it to me is so sweet.
I love the trees, the flowers and the birds,
I can't really describe all its beauty in words.

Though many places in my life,
Have played a significant part;
It's Tupelo, Mississippi, y'all,
That still has all my heart.

Copyright 2008 Patricia Neely-Dorsey
poems from Reflections of a Mississippi Magnolia-A Life in Poems

Tourism Guide

Tupelo is hosting several gala events to commemorate the 75th birthday of their most famous native son.

Thursday January 7th
Downtown Tupelo at the Lyric Theatre
Ultimate Elvis Tribute winners Brandon Bennett and Bill Cherry in Concert with the EAS band
Find details at

Friday January 8th 10am
Join Marty Stuart at the Tupelo CVB to unveil a special exhibit of costuming including one of Marty Stuart's outfits and a jumpsuit on loan from Elvis Presley Enterprises, Inc.

Friday January 8th 10am
Official opening of the Sparkle and Twang exhibit at the Tupelo Automobile Museum.
The collection is a homage to music legends like Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline , George Jones, ect. and includes costumes, instruments, hand-written lyrics and personal mementos

Friday January 8th 1pm
Birthday Party for The King
Elvis Presley Birthplace
Free entry to the Birthplace
Birthday cake, Coffee and Punch
Visiting with Elvis fans from around the world
Special 75th birthday postcards and souvenier cups available for purchase

Friday January 8th 2-4pm
Marty Stuart Booksigning at the Tupelo Automobile Museum.
Marty will sign copies of his book "Country Music: The Masters"

Friday Janaury 8th 8pm
An intimate evening of music and storytelling with one of America's greatest talents, Mississippi born Marty Stuart: Live at the Link Centre
General Admission: $30 Balcony $25

The official hotel for the 75th Extravaganza is the Tupelo Hilton Garden Inn
Make reservations at

Tupelo is also an hour and a half drive from Memphis and Graceland, so check out both!

Tourism Links

Tupelo Convention and Visitors Bureau

Mississippi Division of Tourism

Visiting Mississippi/The Official Website of Mississippi

About Patricia Neely-Dorsey
Patricia's first book of poetry, Reflections of a Mississippi Magnolia-A Life in Poems, was published in 2008. Reflections makes a great gift idea, especially in a gift basket. She is currently working on her second book of poetry in her hometown of Tupelo. Check out more of her work and reviews in the October Stories By Month on this site in the archives.

Reflections of a Mississippi Magnolia-A Life in Poems

Order an autpgraphed copy from Reed's Gumtree Bookstore

Read more Elvis-inspired poetry in Beyond the Shadows of Graceland with work from Tupelo poet Heather VanHoose Truett by scrolling below.

COMING SOON: An excerpt and review from Literary Trails of the North Carolina Mountains: A Guidebook by Georgann Eubanks, published by UNC Press. Also, an excerpt from Conecuh People by Dr. Wade Hall, published by New South Books. This book was adapted into a play that is performed annually at the historic Red Door Theatre in Union Springs, Alabama.

Order Patricia's book at Amazon and other major book outlets.

Find out more about Literary Trails of the North Carolina Mountains: A Guidebook by Georgann Eubanks.

Find out more about Conecuh People by Dr. Wade Hall and the Red Door Theatre in historic Union Springs, Alabama, where his play is performed.

Beyond the Shadows of Graceland

Poem by: Heather VanHoose Truett
Attraction: Elvis' birthplace and boyhood home
Location: Tupelo, Mississippi
Photos: Courtesy of the Tupelo Convention and Visitors Bureau

"Beyond the Shadows of Graceland"

I ask my mom for memories
of Elvis.
Did she drool over him
on TV?
I know the glitz and glam
of Graceland.
I know the awful drama of suicide
and overdose
and rumors, “He’s alive.”
It’s hard to connect these stories
to my daily image of Elvis,
the shoebox house
on the “wrong” side of town,
just a mile or so
from my home.
In this town,
Elvis is still a boy,
still a homegrown small town man
who learned to play guitar
and sing in church.
When I hear the tales

of his generous heart,
of all the hope he gave away,
then I can picture
the man as the boy
in the little house
in Tupelo.

-Heather VanHoose Truett

Tourism Guide

Tupelo is home to the birthplace of Elvis Presley.
He was born in the "shoebox" house that still stands there. The house is now a major tourist attraction which draws thousands of visitors each year. Although Elvis became the King of Rock and Roll, he found his roots singing gospel music in a Tupelo church as a boy. Ironically, it is his gospel music that still sells so well today, inpsiring millions of fans with his faith and love that he found first in Tupelo. In this town, fans can visit the house where he was born, the church that he first sang in, and the hardware store where he bought his first guitar.

The humble nature of the Tupelo attractions are in great contrast to the glitzy attractions of Graceland but no less impressive for their inspirations on Elvis. Perhaps that is why he is still wearing his overalls in the revered town statue above. Tupelo citizens like to remember him, much as the poem evokes, as the humble but talented boy they knew growing up here in this special town. Please visit the links below to learn more about Elvis' boyhood home. Please also visit Celebrating Elvis and the South for more Elvis-inspired poetry by Mississippi poet Patricia Neely-Dorsey.

Tourim Links

Tupelo Convention and Visitors Bureau

Elvis Presley Birthplace and Museum

About Heather VanHoose Truett

Heather teaches poetry at the Main ARTery, an arts shop in downtown Tupleo. She also teaches creative writing in schools. Heather's work has been published in Devo'Zine, Group Magazine, Chicken Soup for the Soul: On Friendship, Slugfest Ltd, Everyday Musings,, Busy Parents Online, Abundance Press, Jackson Free Press and The Paintsville Herald. Her second book of poetry will be published next year.

Visit the Main ARTery on Facebook at:

Visit Heather's blog at:

Check out Heather's first book of poetry at:

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


Story By: Patrick Brian Miller
Tourism Attraction: historic Pendleton
Location: Pendleton, South Carolina
Photos By: See Special Note on Photos/Graphics at end

"Ohme, come on! We’re almost there!” yelled Tate to his grandma Ohme.

"Hold on, little one,” said Ohme as she struggled to hold onto her grandson’s tiny mittened hand. “I’m not as fast as a six year old like you. And we have to be careful crossing the street.”

Tate could barely contain his excitement as they stopped on Mechanic Street in Pendleton, South Carolina. The Village Green in downtown was lined with charming antique stores, restaurants, and beautiful 19th century buildings, but the real attraction for little Tate was a chance to see his favorite park covered in the magical wonderland of snow.

Across the way, through the heavy snowflakes of a cold Christmas morning, the cool white columns and rich red doors of the historic Farmers Hall seemed to beckon him on to the downtown Village Green, as if the pretty building were a grand front porch for the entire park. As soon as they crossed the road, he burst out of her grip and raced through the black tables and red umbrellas of the 1826 On the Green restaurant in front of the two-story hall.

Tate rounded the side of the Farmers Hall and jumped up in glee. The park was even more fantastic than he had imagined! The water oaks seemed as if they had been dipped in a magical coating of brilliant crystals. He had begged Ohme to take him here early in the morning before it all melted.

At the far end of the park stood his favorite building, the Old Guard House, with a bright red roof and white walls. Along the path stood the town’s tall ornamented Christmas tree. The iron lamp posts surrounding the Village Green were decorated with green garlands and warm red banners reading “Holidays in the Village.”

Tate pulled Ohme along the path down the center of the park toward the Old Guard House.

“Look, Ohme, there’s snow on the steps!”

“You be careful now, Tate. Snow is slippery. Stay off the steps.”

Tate raced for the Old Guard House, but he stopped short when he noticed a man lying on the red wooden bench.

“Ohme, he’s sleeping on your bench,” said Tate. “That’s your bench, Ohme.”

“Tate, you know I’ve told you before, it’s not my bench. The town put my name on the plaque as an honor for my volunteer work, but anyone can sit there.”

“But, Ohme, why is he sleeping out in the cold?”

“I don’t know,” she said, pulling him back. “You wait here a minute, and I’ll see.”

Ohme approached the bench cautiously. She and Tate were bundled up tightly with coats, hats, and gloves, but the man lying on the bench wore only a thin camouflage shirt, tattered pants, and worn boots. The unexpected snow storm had dropped the temperature to below freezing, and anyone who wasn’t protected from the cold was in serious danger.

She knelt down and nudged the man, whose face was curled up under his arm. At first he didn’t move, but then he stirred and rolled over. Most of his ruddy face was hidden behind a scraggly beard and long, unwashed hair. His black, glassy eyes seemed to slowly focus on her, as if he didn’t know where he was. She suddenly realized that this man was homeless and had probably spent the better part of the night on the bench in the cold.

“Are you all right, sir?” she asked.

“Yes . . . yes ma’am,” he replied in a surprisingly young voice. He must have been in his twenties.

The man turned his head around slowly, taking in his surroundings. “I’m sorry. I’ll leave.” He struggled to get up and pulled his arms tightly around his chest. She noticed a deep scar lining his neck.

“It’s Christmas,” she said. “Don’t you have any family to go to?”

“No, ma’am,” he said, standing up stiffly. “I’ll go.”

“It’s all right,” she said. “How long have you been sleeping on this bench?”

“I don’t know. I’m just passing through and had to lie down.”

“We need to get you out of the cold,” she said. “What is your name, sir?”

“Johnny, ma’am.”

“Where are you heading to, Johnny?”

“I was on my way to Greenville, hoping to find some work.”

“I guess you don’t have a car or a bus ticket?” she asked.

“No, ma’am, I was hitching. Didn’t have much luck in the snow storm last night.”

“Come with me, Johnny,” said Ohme. “We’ll get you into a warm place.”

Luckily, Ohme saw Sam, the owner of one of the antique stores, across the street. She and Tate led Johnny through the Village Green and over to Exchange St., where she got Sam’s attention.

“Sam, this man needs a place to get warm until he can take the bus. Could you bring him inside your store, and I’ll call my husband?”

Sam stared at the man carefully and then relaxed his gaze.

“Sure, I was just dropping off some things. Come on inside.”

Sam opened the door to the antique shop and followed them inside. Ohme went to the store phone and called her husband. She knew that her husband would handle things right. Sam watched coolly as the man went to a chair and sat down, rubbing his hands together for warmth. Sam finally stepped forward.

“Here, take my coat, son.”

“Oh, that’s all right, sir,” said Johnny.

“Go ahead, you’re shivering,” said Sam. Johnny reluctantly slid the warm coat over his filthy shirt.

After a quick call, Ohme walked back to Johnny and smiled.

“My husband is a doctor, Johnny. I asked him to check you over and make sure that you’re okay after being out in the cold for so long. We’ll make sure that you get a bus ticket and some warm food in you before you go, okay?”

“Thank you, ma’am,” said Johnny. “I’m sorry to be any trouble. I didn’t mean to fall asleep on that bench.”

“That’s my Ohme’s bench,” piped up Tate proudly. “The town put her name on it, but anyone can sit there.”

As Johnny warmed up some, his eyes seemed to focus more clearly on his surroundings. He leaned down towards Tate.

“Why do you call her ‘Ohme’?” he asked.

“That’s what I’ve always called her,” said Tate.

Ohme broke in with a gentle laugh.

“Johnny, when Tate was one year old, I had a knee replacement. Every time I would pick him up, he was so heavy that I would sigh, ‘Ohhh meee.’ I said it so many times that he started calling me that, and the name just stuck ever since.”

“Lots of kids have grandmas, but I’m the only one with an Ohme,” said Tate happily.

Johnny smiled for the first time.

“I like that name,” Johnny said. “I’ll remember that one.”

“Hey, Ohme, can Mr. Johnny come to Christmas with us?” asked Tate.

“That’s a wonderful idea, Tate,” said Ohme. “Johnny, would you like to eat Christmas dinner with us? There’s a big dinner planned with our friends at the Woodburn Plantation. It’s a special holiday fundraiser for the Pendleton Historic Foundation. It will be quite an affair with plenty of food.”

“Oh, ma’am, I couldn’t think of it,” said Johnny. “But thank you. I’m not much in any condition to be around decent folks right now. Best if I went on my way.”

“Nonsense, son,” said Sam. “I could lend you some clothes and take you over to my place to get cleaned up first. It’ll be fine. Be good to get some warm food before you go, wouldn’t it?”

“Yes, sir, it would,” said Johnny. “Are you sure?”

“If Ohme says it’s okay, then it’s okay with anyone in this town,” said Sam. “Ah, here’s Doc coming in now. He’ll see to you first.”

“Come on, Tate, we have to go get ready for Christmas,” said Ohme.

“Bye, Mr. Johnny,” said Tate. “We’ll see you at Christmas dinner!”

“I’ll be there, Tate,” said Johnny.

By midday, the sky was blue, the sun was shining, and—sadly for Tate—the snow was melting. As soon as he got out of the car at the Woodburn Plantation, he raced for the few pockets of white magic still clinging to the grass. Tate made lines of footprints in several patches and then turned to admire his work. However, the long tables under the large, pretty green tents in front of the four-story house quickly drew his attention.

He soon found Mr. Johnny with Mr. Sam, but the stranger he had found on Ohme’s bench looked entirely different now. He was wearing a clean pair of pants and shirt, a red tie, a nice gray coat like the men in church wore, and some shiny new black shoes. His beard looked less ragged, and his long hair was neatly combed and tied into a tail at the back. Mr. Johnny grinned at Tate.

“Are you feeling better, Mr. Johhny?” asked Tate.

“Yes, thank you, Tate,” said Mr. Johnny. He turned to Ohme. “And thank you for inviting me, ma’am. This is a beautiful house.”

“Woodburn is one of our biggest attractions in Pendleton,” said Ohme. “It was built as a summer retreat by a wealthy Charleston citizen in 1830. Woodburn is also a popular place to rent out for weddings and is open for tours during much of the year. It is one of our pride and joys of Pendleton. The Foundation holds reenactments and special events throughout the year.”

“I’m honored to be here,” said Johnny.

“And we’re honored to have you,” said Ohme. “You sure do clean up well, Johnny.”

“Thanks to Sam’s help and your husband’s,” said Johnny.

“Speaking of which, we still have your clothes in the car,” said Ohme. “I’ve had them washed and dried for you. Sam said he would drive you to the bus station after lunch. Before I forget, Tate go and get Mr. Johnny’s clothes and put them into Mr. Sam’s truck.”

“Yes, ma’am,” said Tate, always eager for a mission. He raced back to the car and climbed into the back seat. He found a bag of neatly folded clothes and pulled it out. Tate knew Mr. Sam’s big red truck well because he had once ridden in the back of it on a fishing trip with his grandpa. He held the bag tightly to his chest and ran towards the truck.

Naturally, it was more fun to race through the snow where he could find it. Halfway to the truck, Tate slipped, and the bag went flying onto the ground, spilling its contents all into the snow.

“Oh, no,” said Tate. He scrambled up and picked up the clothes before the melting snow could soak them. Tate turned around with a guilty glance to see if any of the adults had been watching, but they were all occupied. He carefully put the clothes back into the bag before anyone noticed. Just before he started back for the truck, he noticed something shining in the snow.

Tate put the bag down in the grass and bent down to pick up the new-found treasure. It was some kind of gold medal in the shape of a heart and had a man’s face on the front. There was a purple ribbon on top and a small white crest with three pretty red stars on it. Tate realized that the medal must have fallen out from one of Mr. Johnny’s pockets. He grasped it in his hand and picked the clothes bag back up. Tate raced again to Mr. Sam’s truck and put the bag in the back seat, but he kept the medal in his hand.

After accomplishing his mission, Tate ran back to the tables and sat beside Mr. Johnny. They were just saying the prayer, so everyone had to be quiet, but Tate was burning to ask Mr. Johnny where the medal came from. He listened as everyone bowed their heads in respect while the reverend spoke in a somber voice.

“Holy Jesus, we gather together today to celebrate your birth . . . We are the new Wise Men . . . We come from a wealthy nation, far away . . . But we bow down to honor You and your humble birth . . . We follow your shining star in the heavens . . . A star that outshines all the wealth of nations . . . We offer You all of the precious gifts that You have given us . . . Our love, our mercy, and our faith . . . Holy Father, we share these gifts with your children . . . We are the new Shepherds . . . We hear the angels sing . . . And we join in their glorious praise . . . Of the coming of a new king . . . Your divine Son, sent from heaven to earth . . We come to spread the joyful news . . . To our flocks, our little ones . . . And our weak, our needy . . . Our hungry, and our thirsty. . . Holy Father, bless this food as we prepare to share with others your love . . . Amen.”

As the adults began to eat the sumptuous feast, Tate finally got a chance to solve the mystery of the treasure.

“Mr. Johnny, this medal fell out of your bag,” said Tate. “Where did you get it?”

Mr. Johnny stared down at the medal with surprise, but then his eyes saddened.

“Tate, what did I tell you about handling other people’s things?” scolded Ohme.

“I’m sorry, Ohme,” said Tate. “It fell out. I just wanted to know what it was.”

“Give Mr. Johnny his medal back now,” said Ohme.

“It’s alright, ma’am,” said Mr. Johnny. “It’s fine, really.” He turned to Tate, and his face became very serious. “Tate, I got this in the war.”

“You were in the war?” asked Tate, even more fascinated now.

“Yes, but I was hurt,” said Mr. Johnny. “That’s how I got this scar.” He pointed to his neck, which still showed the ugly, ragged red lines. “A bomb exploded under our truck and almost killed me.”

“You must be very brave, Mr. Johnny,” said Tate. “I wish I could win a medal like that someday.”

“You know, Tate, my best friend was beside me in the truck,” said Mr. Johnny. “And he didn’t make it. I would gladly give up this medal if I could have him back again.”

“It’s called a Purple Heart, Tate,” said his grandpa. “It’s awarded to soldiers who are wounded in battle. It’s because of brave men like Mr. Johnny that we can have nice holiday dinners like this. They keep us safe. Johnny, we are honored to have a veteran at our table. Why didn’t you tell us before?”

“Times have been hard on me since I got out,” said Mr. Johnny. “I made it back alive, but I haven’t been the same person. I’ve made a lot of mistakes, as you can probably tell from where you found me this morning. But being here today with all you nice people makes me want to start over again.”

“Well, you’re always welcome in Pendleton, son,” said Mr. Sam.

“Thank you, sir,” said Mr. Johnny. “Thank you all. I will never forget this town.”

“And thank you for your service, Johnny,” said Ohme. “We are all so proud of you.”


Ohme smiled in delight as she wheeled her power chair alongside Tate through the huge crowd of families at Pendleton’s annual Spring Jubilee Festival. She always loved to see the dogwoods in their April bloom, but somehow the pleasant sight of so many children playing under their branches made their buds even brighter. She took in the rich scents of the freshly planted flowers around the Village Green and the delicious aromas of all the baked goods from the many vendors. The tents pitched throughout the Village Green teased her eyes with the best arts and crafts around. The strict judging had become well-known, and even getting approval to compete in the contest was a big achievement for any artist.

“You sure do make a handsome grandson in your Navy uniform, Tate,” said Ohme, proud of his service.

“I didn’t have time to change,” laughed Tate. “We just arrived in port this morning, and I came straight in. I didn’t want to miss the Spring Jubilee. We’re shipping out again next week, so I want to make the most of every day.”

“I’m proud of you, Tate.”

“Thanks, Ohme. It’s always great to come back and visit you in Pendleton, and the kids love it. Hey, let’s go see your bench by the Old Guard House.”

“I’d like that,” said Ohme. “You know, the library used to be in the Old Guard House. I have wonderful memories of reading there as a child.”

“It sure makes a great visitor center now, though,” said Tate.

Even after all the years of participating in the Spring Jubilee, Ohme never seemed to lose her excitement at seeing so many people enjoying her beloved town. She still remembered setting up Internet pages to promote Pendleton’s history and attractions, back when such innovations were still so new. She had had to learn how to email people and upload photographs and videos. Nowadays people took virtual reality tours instead of looking at web pages, but everyone still wanted to feel the magic of the real thing.

As they approached her bench by the Old Guard House, two men who looked to be in their late forties stood up and approached them. One’s face looked very familiar somehow, but Ohme couldn’t quite place him. Her memory wasn’t as sharp as it used to be. It was strange how she could remember the special things from her life so vividly but the smaller things slipped away so fast. The man’s hair was closely cropped and gray, but he stood tall and strong, radiating vitality and joy in his shining eyes.

“Miss Ohme?” asked the familiar man.

“Do I know you, sir?” she asked. “You look so familiar.”

“Yes, ma’am, my name is Johnny Hartford. We met years ago, right here as a matter of fact.” He looked up at her grandson. “And you must be Tate?”

“Yes, sir, I am,” said Tate. “Are you . . . Mr. Johnny from Christmas?”

Johnny grinned.

“You remember. The last time I saw you, you were about six years old. I’m surprised you remember.”

“Oh, yes, I remember you now, Johnny,” said Ohme. “You came to Woodburn with us. But we never saw you again after that day. How are you?”

“I’m doing well now, ma’am,” said Johnny. “Tate, I see you’re in the service now. A lieutenant, I see.”

“Yes, sir. I still remember finding your Purple Heart. I didn’t know what it was then.”

“This is my co-worker, Dale Adams,” said Johnny.

The other man bent down and extended his hand to Ohme.

“So nice to finally meet you, Miss Ohme,” said Dale. “Johnny has talked about you and Tate so many times over the years. Now I see what Johnny meant when he talked about this beautiful town of Pendleton.”

“What have you been doing all these years, Johnny?” asked Ohme.

“Well, ma’am, after I left here, I cleaned myself up and started out in life again. I went to school and became a paramedic.” He turned towards the pretty red bench, remembering that cold morning. “I never told anyone this, but I laid down on that bench to die that night. I had given up on life. Those war wounds tore me up so bad inside and out. Even the alcohol wasn’t enough then to block out the pain.” He turned back to them. “But the people in this town gave me hope and dignity again just when I needed it the most. I was very ashamed that day, but I became determined to change my life and make a difference. If you hadn’t taken care of me that day, then I wouldn’t be standing here right now. You saved my life, Miss Ohme.”

“Johnny is one of our best medics,” said Dale, sensing Johnny’s modesty. “He’s been awarded more citations than anyone else in our department’s history. He never gives up. I’d say he’s saved over a thousand lives on emergency calls over the years.”

“Well, I guess it’s a good thing that we invited you to Christmas dinner that day,” said Ohme.

“Yes, ma’am, it sure was,” laughed Dale.

“I have a great respect for paramedics and the work they do,” said Ohme. “Last year, we had quite a scare when my great-grand-daughter almost drowned swimming with friends in the Clinch River. Luckily, someone was there to do CPR, and he brought her back. But when the ambulance took her away, her friend’s parents were in such a panic that they never got his name. I’ve always wanted to thank that man for what he did.”

Tate noticed that Johnny’s face had suddenly become white, and Dale’s eyes had widened in surprise.

“Where did you say she was?” asked Johnny in a hoarse voice.

“The Clinch River in Virginia,” said Ohme calmly. “Oh, here’s my little darling now. Audrey, come meet someone very special.”

Johnny turned to see a five year old girl with bright blonde curls and beautiful blue eyes come running up to them. Her little face was beaming with a smile of excitement, but she stopped suddenly when she saw Johnny. Audrey looked up and studied his face carefully before turning to her father.

“Daddy! Daddy!” she yelled with glee. “That’s the man who saved me!”

“What?” asked Tate. He turned to Johnny, whose eyes were quickly filling with tears.

“Johnny did save a girl on that river last year,” said Dale. “He was off duty, though. Just happened to be fishing out there. Good thing, too, because no one else was around but the other two kids. When the parents finally got there, he sure let them have it for letting kids that young swim alone.”

Tate’s face had reddened.

“We never allowed her to visit that family again. Thank God you were there, Mr. Johnny. I never dreamed you would have been the one to save her.”

“Ohme told me that you must have been an angel sent to save me,” said Audrey. “Are you an angel, Mr. Johnny?”

Johnny leaned all the way down to her.

“No, sweetie, I’m not an angel. But sometimes God sends people to do the work of angels. Did you know that a long time ago, right here on this bench, your Ohme and Daddy were angels to me?”

“Really?” asked Audrey, intrigued.

“Yes,” said Johnny. “They saved my life just like I saved yours. If they hadn’t been there then, then I wouldn’t be here now. And I wouldn’t have been there to save you. But God sometimes looks out for special people like you, and Ohme, and your Daddy.”

“Well this is a special town then,” said Dale. “Wow, Johnny, you weren’t kidding when you said it was a magical place.”


“Ohme” Tourism Guide
I first ran across the real Grandma Ohme from Pendleton, South Carolina, when she became a fan of my partner, Patricia Neely-Dorsey. Nancy Hellams, better known to her grandson as “Ohme,” loved Patricia’s poetry book, Reflections of a Mississippi Magnolia-A Life in Poems. Nancy was also a big promoter of her home town, Pendleton. Intrigued by her nickname, I started checking out her many web articles on Pendleton, which are posted on a great service called Squidoo.

As soon as I found out the incredibly cute origin of the nickname, I just knew that I had to include that somehow in a southern story. As I read, the potential story just got better and better. Ohme was honored for her volunteer work by having a bench named for her in the historic Village Green in Pendleton’s downtown square, the site of large festivals throughout the year. The bench was right beside a charming historic building called the Old Guard House that now serves as the visitor center for this beautiful small southern town. The town had named her Queen for a Day, complete with a crown. The Village Green was surrounded on all sides by amazing antique shops, a wide range of restaurants, and gorgeous historic buildings. There were two antebellum estates nearby that hosted weddings and tours throughout most of the year. This was a tourism story just waiting to be written.

That’s about where the facts stopped and the fiction began. The plot for the short story “Ohme” is entirely fictional, save for the inspirations and settings above. I wrote the first draft of the story on Thanksgiving Day of this year. As you can imagine, it was a strange request to ask Nancy if I could use her as an inspirational character in a fictional story inspired by her and her beloved town. She declined to accept at first and was very hesitant about the idea.

More than one person, including my partner Patricia, had to convince her to at least give the idea a try. Also, I had to convince her, with absolute honesty, that her character in the story would be a personification of all the generous citizens of Pendleton. I read through some of the articles of the other citizens and was greatly touched by their stories of growing up in Pendleton. Of course, you can probably guess that it might still be a bit embarrasing to have someone write a story featuring you, even if the story is meant to promote the town you love.

The Village Green hosts a Fall Festival and a Spring Jubilee. Additionally, Pendleton holds a Freedom Fest at nearby Veterans Park during the summer. All offer great antiquing opportunities in the nine shops located in and near the town, along with delicious places to eat in the several restaurants and many vendors. The Spring Jubilee is the largest event and hosts a highly-competitive arts and crafts contest that is well known throughout the region.

In addition, the historic antebellum estates of Woodburn and Ashtabula offer a beautiful look into the past through charming tours. The Pendleton Historic Foundation still works hard to maintain and preserve these Southern treasures of architecture and elegance. Please check out the website links below to learn more about all these exciting tourism attractions and Step into the Story yourself.

Special Note on Photos/Graphics: all of these were gleaned from Nancy's Squidoo lenses or sent over by Nancy from other people. Lots of people are out to promote Pendleton, so please check her lenses below for full crediting. The three photos of Woodburn (taken throughout different seasons) all come from the Pendleton Historic Foundation, found in the link below. Please visit their site for more photos and information on these interesting sites to visit. You will notice the Old Guard House in some of the spring photos. The visitor center for the Pendelton District Commission is now located in the Old Guard House. These pictures come from Ohme's Spring Jubilee lense in the links below. Please visit their link below also for all the nearby travel opportunities in the area. All photos and graphics should be considered copyrighted. Click on any photo/graphic to enlarge. The beautiful dogwood photo came from cindy47452 at Flickr. Check out her other work at the following link:

Tourism Links
Antique Shopping In Pendleton

Meet the real Ohme

Meet the real Doc, Ohme's husband

Pendleton Historic Foundation (site for Woodburn Plantation)

Pendleton District Commission (offers wide range of tourism in the region-located in the Old Guard House!)

Town of Pendleton

1826 On the Green at Farmers Hall (restaurant)

Spring Jubilee (includes videos)

Ohme named Queen for a Day!

Official South Carolina Tourism Site

How I first came across Ohme
Nancy created a lens to promote my parter Patricia's book. Please visit her link included in Patricia's posting on this site in the October Stories By Month in the archive. Nancy's link to Patricia's book has some features, like video, that the SELTI feature does not. Nancy did such a great job promoting the book that I decided to include her link on the SELTI posting.

If you enjoyed this story and would like to read more tourism related literature, please join SELTI as a Follower by clicking on the Follow link in the top left of this site. Registering only requires creating a username and password for Google and will allow you to follow all of your favorite Blogs in one convenient place. Please also post a short comment under any stories that you like. Merry Christmas!

Coming Soon: Beyond the Shadows of Graceland . . . and later: an excerpt from Literary Trails of the North Carolina Mountains: A Guidebook by Georgann Eubanks, published by UNC Press.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

"Moccasin Gap"

Photos Copyrighted by Click to enlarge!

Story By: Patrick Brian Miller and Paige O’Hanley
Tourism Attraction: kayaking down the Coosa River
Location: Wetumpka, Alabama

Katie Swanson never thought she would make it this far. Neither had her best friend Meg, who had bet $20 against her stepping foot into the river, much less getting as far as the first rapid. Yet here Katie was, slowly meandering in a kayak down the pristine Coosa River on a beautiful spring morning. The river had a wild, fresh scent that permeated the air like an exotic perfume.

She had looked upon scenes like this from high atop bridge overpasses before, but now she was close enough to let her hand stray through the current. The sun’s rays shimmered across the clear blue water, sending back reflections of tall rock cliffs and deep green pines towering above her left side. She leaned back and savored the warm, gentle tease of the morning sunlight on her skin. Somehow, the tanning bed’s harsh radiation just didn’t offer up the same pureness, although it sure worked well in the wintertime.

Katie took great pride in keeping up her youthful, healthy appearance. Of course, like most beautiful girls, her self-image was something like a magic mirror that magnified all of her flaws. However, she dieted like crazy after any splurges. She knew the secrets of how makeup could freshen up a puffy face after a night of wild partying. Carefully shopping for the proper clothes was a must; she had done enough research on finding the perfect pair of jeans to write her thesis. The right jeans could make her legs look perfect. Sure, maybe someday she might be forced to see the inside of a gym to get the same results. Maybe when she was thirty. Until then, she would enjoy her early twenties.

Toning up her legs for this swimsuit wasn’t easy. Katie had walked the mall for hours while shopping for the perfect fit. Jason Truman would never know the lengths to which she had gone to make a good impression on their first date.

She had handled their first meeting on pure instinct. After Jason had told her what a big outdoors guy he was, he was amazed at how many interests they “shared” in common: hiking, camping, skiing, to name a few.

Jason had been so excited, in fact, that he had immediately invited her along on this kayaking trip with the church youth group that he led. No one was more amazed, however, than Katie when she heard herself instantly accept with equal enthusiasm. Fortunately, a church youth group didn’t require a skimpy bikini, and that had given her a lot of leeway. Finding the perfect swimsuit was only half the challenge and one she was better prepared for. But navigating across dangerous rapids in a kayak? How had she gotten herself into this situation again?

Oh yes, it was those shining green eyes of his. And the athletic build didn’t hurt at all. At 6’2, he had been the quarterback of his high school football team. But the real clincher for her was that cute smile that seemed to whisper straight into her heart: “I could be the one; are you?

Jason certainly wasn’t Katie’s typical type. For one, he was mature. He had graduated college with full honors and already knew not only where he wanted to go in life but how to get there. Instead of going to law school and then sliding into his father’s wealthy practice, he had chosen to pursue a career of selfless service. Jason Truman’s mission in life was to lead as many kids as possible to Jesus. He had started out as the full-time youth minister at a small country church, but he planned to move on to larger churches until he could eventually lead a national organization.

Naturally, Jason didn’t believe in smoking or drinking. Naturally, Jason could never know that both were regular habits in her life.

She had straightened up a little lately; after all, she still had to graduate college in a month, with Meg’s help of course. Beyond that, she didn’t have a clue what was in store for her. Finding the perfect guy seemed like a good starting point. Her mother had suggested finally coming to church again, and one day Katie had accepted. That’s where she had unexpectedly met Jason.

Keeping her vices of smoking and drinking from him for three hours was starting to seem like an impossible feat. Katie was already dying for a cigarette. Instead of steadying her nerves with a nice cold beer, she was left with a bottle of 100% pure mountain spring water. Katie cursed herself for not spiking it before the trip. What had she been thinking? Too late now. At least she could call up Meg and claim victory.

Katie pulled out her cell phone from a bag tied down to the back of her kayak. She punched up Meg’s number and grinned.

“Hey, girl, you just lost $20,” Katie said.

No way,” replied Meg. “You couldn’t be finished with the trip already.”

“No, we just got on the river ten minutes ago. We haven’t even hit the first rapid yet, but I just had to call you for bragging rights.”

You’re still on the river—with your cell phone? Didn’t they tell you to keep that stuff back at the camp?”

“There was some guy giving a speech or something before we left in the vans, but I was paying attention to Jason. I had to work my hair as much as possible before it got all wet. You don’t think it’ll be safe in my bag? I’m going to put it back up.”

Honey, I hope you have some kind of Ziplock for it ‘cause you’re in for a wet ride. Nothing’s safe unless it’s in an airtight, waterproof bag.

“Damn. I better see if anyone has one. Maybe Jason does. Hold on a minute; something’s going on. Everyone’s shouting . . .”

Katie’s arm dropped a little in surprise when she heard a loud gurgling noise up ahead. She saw the smooth water downstream breaking into frothy white waves, and she was heading straight towards them. Katie gripped her paddle in terror while still clinging to her cell phone.

Katie? . . . Katie?” came Meg’s voice, but the assuring sound of her friend on the other line was quickly drowned out by the roaring rapids.

“Here we go, kids!” shouted Jason not far away. “It’s River Falls, our first one!”

Katie’s stomach lurched as her kayak fell a couple of feet down into a swirling mass of cross currents. The waves snapped up and shocked her with a huge splash of cold water, which knocked the cell pone right out of her trembling hands.

The currents then whipped her small, light kayak one direction, then another. She desperately flailed her paddle into the river, hoping to stop herself from spinning. The guides had talked about how to steer, but whatever she was doing wasn’t working. Her kayak only started to spin even faster, whirling her into several dizzying 360° high speed turns. Katie’s eyes swooned as both banks of the river sped by her field of vision before her gaze finally evened out straight ahead. Her kayak slipped right back into a smooth, gentle current, leaving her heart racing with fear.

“That was awesome!” yelled out one of the many kids who had been watching.

“You’re amazing, Katie,” added Jason, paddling over to her. “You didn’t tell me that you knew how to do tricks.”

“Will you teach us how?” hollered out several of the kids.

Katie’s wide eyes slowly turned left, then right, before finally settling on Jason’s face, which was beaming with newfound admiration for her.

“Sure,” she whispered in a breathless voice. “Maybe on the next one.” Katie suddenly realized that her phone was gone. At least she was alive.

“Kids, that was some real skill,” pronounced Jason. “River Falls is only a Class 1 rapid, but she made it look like a Class 3!”

“Class 3?” asked Katie. “How many classes are there?”

“Oh, the highest is a Class 5,” said Jason. “What am I saying? You probably know that already. You must mean on this river. The highest class on this part of the Coosa is Moccasin Gap, which is a three. That’s the next one!”

“How far away is it?” asked Katie.

“About halfway down the river,” said Jason. “Maybe an hour.”

Now Katie definitely needed a cigarette. She had brought an emergency pack just in case her will power got too weak. She started scanning the river for some spot to sneak away for just a few minutes. Fortunately, Jason started paddling back to wait for the rest of the group coming over the first rapid.

A thin, long island up ahead looked like it might offer up the perfect hideaway for her secret mission. Katie slowly paddled towards the left side, hoping to get away from the group of kids surrounding her. She soon discovered, to her dismay, that her performance had greatly inspired all of them with her skill.

“We want to go with you, Katie!” they all shouted with glee.

“Hey, kids, let’s race!” she said. “I’ll go down the left side; you all go down the right side. First one to the end gets to ride with me on the next rapid!”

“Yea!” they shouted.

Katie watched in relief as the entire group splashed away like little water bugs skipping across the water—and away from her. Now, to find that place . . .

Katie looked down and saw the rocky bottom of the river just a few feet below her in the crystal clear water. She was suddenly all alone on the other side of the island. With a quick few strokes of the paddle, she slid into a rocky cove covered by ferns and trees. After a guilty glance around to make sure she was hidden, Katie dove into her bag and pulled out a . . . sopping wet pack of cigarettes. All of that splashing and turning must have soaked her small bag and everything inside. She tried in vain to click the wet lighter into a flame, hoping to perhaps dry out a cigarette enough for at least a drag or two.

The lack of nicotine in her body was quickly breaking up her ability to concentrate. She continued the rhythmic pattern of clicking the lighter, losing all sense of her beautiful, scenic surroundings. That is, until she suddenly noticed Jason pulling up beside her. She looked up in surprise. His face had fallen as he stared at her holding the lighter and half-empty pack of cigarettes.

“Oh . . . I didn’t know you smoked,” he said.

Katie glanced down at the incriminating evidence in her hands, and her brain suddenly jumped back into full speed.

“Oh, no,” she said. “I was admiring how pretty everything was when I saw these just laying out here on the shore. Can you believe how some people will dirty up such a beautiful river by just tossing their trash around? I was going to take these with me and throw them away when we got back.”

Jason’s face lit up again with incredible joy, as if he was a lost, broken-hearted puppy who had just found his master again.

“That’s so great that you care about cleaning up the environment like that,” he said. “I’m a little ashamed of myself. We’re all out here just to have fun, but you’re still willing to stop and do your part to clean up, even though nobody’s around to see you do it. I’m supposed to be setting an example for the kids, but you’re the one they should follow.”

Katie shrugged and returned a faultlessly humble smile.

“It’s nothing really. I just believe that every little bit makes a difference, even if it’s a small thing.”

“Small things add up,” Jason said. “I should organize a clean up for the next outing. I would have never thought of that if it weren’t for you. Thanks, Katie!”

Katie gratefully shoved off as quickly as she could after putting up the cigarettes and lighter. Things didn’t get any easier down the river. The more Katie paddled, the more her lungs cried out silently for nicotine. But she had to endure.

Temptation struck again when a large group of fraternity brothers passed them by. Unlike Katie, these guys were well-organized. They even had a special netted float in tow that carried a large cooler filled with ice-cold beer. When one of the frat guys noticed Katie eyeing the cooler like a cat ready to pounce, he quickly introduced himself as “Brad” and offered her one. That’s when Jason swooped in to decline for her.

Brad sized up the situation and politely wished them a safe trip, but he turned around one more time and noticed Katie’s mournful eyes as she watched the beer cooler drift away. As luck would have it, Katie ran into Brad’s group again about forty minutes later at Moccasin Gap.

Moccasin Gap was a large rock island in the middle of the Coosa River. Just below it and to the side were the best rapids on the river, but the island was also an ideal place to pull in and have lunch. Katie almost slipped while getting out of her kayak, but Jason was there to catch her. She fell into his arms a little too eagerly as he pulled her up, but he didn’t seem to mind.

Although Katie’s bag was still drenched with water, Jason and his kids had listened to all the safety tips given by the staff at Coosa Outdoor Center before they started the trip. They had packed a delicious lunch that Katie devoured in pieces whenever the kids distracted Jason’s adoring gaze away. After the quick lunch, she started to explore the island while Jason was giving a speech. She met Brad and his friends on the other side.

“Hey, there,” said Brad with a smile. “I was hoping to see you again. Are you guys traveling with Coosa River Adventures? I didn’t see you at the boat launch.”

“No, we’re with Coosa Outdoor Center,” she said.

“Oh, they’re great, too,” said Brad. “Are you having fun?”

“I can’t talk for long,” said Katie. She gazed directly into Brad’s eyes and spoke slowly and deliberately. “I’m going to set this water bottle down here. Then I’m going to walk away for a couple of minutes. When I come back, it would be great if it were filled up with beer instead of water. Do you think that’s possible?”

“Sure,” said Brad. “No problem, sweetie. Hey, you sure you don’t want to come with us? You might have a better time.”

“No, I gotta finish out this trip,” said Katie.

“You think maybe I could get your number?”

“Sure. Do you have anything to write with?”

“No, but I’ve got a great memory—especially when it comes to beautiful girls like you.”

Katie quickly recited her favorite pizza delivery number and made her way back. Sure enough, when she returned to get her water bottle, it had the delicious, soothing taste of beer inside. She swigged it all down in several long gulps before building up enough courage for the next challenge: taking on the rapids. Watching the other kayakers and canoers run the Gap wasn't soothing her nerves at all.

The winner of the island race was a cute little thirteen year-old girl named Denise. As Katie and Denise paddled out together towards the entrance to the rapids, Katie felt the powerful effect of the beer on her exhausted body. She had never exercised so much in her life, and her brain began to blur.

“I’m scared,” whispered Denise.

“You want to know a secret? I’m scared, too,” said Katie.

“Really?” asked Denise.

“You bet,” said Katie. Denise would never know just how scared Katie was. The first rapid had been a lucky break, but this one seemed a lot tougher. Katie watched in terror as several kayaks and canoes flipped over after going down the wall of water. Katie squeezed Denise’s hand one last time before the current whipped her in between the rocks. Her kayak splashed down nose first, sunk halfway into the water and then shot back up. A wave of water smacked her from one side and then another until she was finally knocked off the kayak and into the raging water. Katie squeezed up into a ball and allowed her life jacket to buoy her body until the waves stopped.

Before she knew it, it was all over and she was floating gently down the river again. She twisted around and saw Denise floating alone behind her with a huge grin.

“That was so fun!” yelled Denise. “I wish I could do it again!” She sounded like a kid that had just come down a roller coaster.

Katie grinned back and swam towards her kayak. She was still holding tightly to her paddle. Somehow, she managed to climb back on. By the time Katie was seated firmly again, adrenaline had exhilarated her body with a sense of accomplishment. That wasn’t so bad, she thought.

She paddled over to Denise’s kayak and pulled it towards the laughing girl. Once Denise was back on, they both paddled back to watch the others come down Moccasin Gap. Out of twenty kids, only six made it through without falling off, but everyone had a blast.

Jason, one of the ones who made it, finally paddled over to them.

“Did you have fun, Denise?” he asked.

“I was really scared, especially of falling off. But Katie made me feel better right before we went through, and then she even fell off, too!”

Jason winked at Katie, as if he suspected that she had fallen off just to show Denise and the other kids that it was okay for anyone to fall as long as they got right back up again. Katie winked right back.

They made their way down the river, going through one more less aggressive rapid before letting the swift current carry them all the way to the end. Once they neared the final landing in Wetumpka near the Bibb Graves Bridge, Katie marveled at all of the rock formations that had given the town its Indian name: “Rumbling Waters.” As pretty as the scene was, especially at sunset on the river, Katie was relieved to step onto solid ground again. Her arms and legs were numb after so much exertion. Jason stopped her at the top of the hill.

“I just want you to know how great you were today,” he said. “You really made an impression on the kids. They’ve been talking about you the whole trip.”

“Well, they’re great, too,” she said.

“I’ve got some good news. In two weeks, we’re going on the Coosa River Challenge. You’ll love it, Katie. A five mile cycling race through the woods on Swayback Bridge Trail by the lake, then some repelling down the cliff face, followed up by a kayaking tournament. But the best part is at the end: jumping off the lock. It’s three stories up! Katie? Katie?”

As he described the triathlon challenge to her, she felt the ground swirling under her feet. Then everything went black.

Katie woke up in Jason’s strong arms. Her legs were dangling down, and he had a worried look on his face.

“Are you all right?” he asked.

“I think so. What happened?”

“You just passed out. Luckily, I was here to catch you.”

“I don’t remember what happened.”

“You’ve been through a lot today. I’m going to make it up to you, Katie. I’ll take you home and let you get some rest. Then tonight, I’m taking you on a romantic, candlelight dinner at Casa Napoli. Do you like Italian?”

“I love it,” she said. “I’ll get to dress up, then?”

“Sure,” he laughed.

“I’m sooo hungry.”

Jason laughed.

“I love a girl with a healthy appetite.”

“You’re going to love me then,” she said.


"Moccasin Gap" Tourism Guide
For anyone who really enjoys the great outdoors, I highly recommend a trip down the beautiful Coosa River in Wetumpka. I’ve been down the Coosa several times and enjoyed each venture. My first experience with whitewater was on a church youth group trip. Later in life, my office at work went down the Coosa with our family and friends. The larger the group, the more fun the experience.

Drinking is fine, but Styrofoam coolers are prohibited. Please keep the river clean, as so many people get to enjoy it year round.

The scenery is gorgeous. For those scared of a dangerous Colorado River style trip filled with Class 5 rapids, don’t worry. The Coosa is mostly a gentle river with a few occasional rapids, Moccasin Gap being the best. Even if you’ve never been kayaking before, the Coosa promises to be a fun trip for everyone. One of the great things about this river is that you can choose to go as slow or as fast as you want by using the current.

Coosa Outdoor Center and Coosa River Adventures both provide convenient shuttle and kayak rental services for a very affordable price. Check out the links below for more information. The trip normally takes about 3-4 hours. Katie passes out more from the notion of the upcoming triathlon than her trip. Then again, knowing Katie, did she really pass out at all?

Some of the pictures posted with the "Mocassin Gap" story are courtesy of, a wonderful service that specialized in photography of paddlers on the Coosa. The rest of the pictures come courtesy of Amanda Brasington, the former Elmore County Tourism and Recreation Coordinator. Note: click on the pictures for larger views, especially the one of "Katie" hitting her first rapid--the one with the red kayak and yellow life jacket. Some pictures are copyrighted by

Wetumpka offers many more attractions, both indoors and out, from art to theater to other scenic parks and trails on the water. Please stay for the weekend. For a more complete listing of entertainment, visit the county’s tourism page below. Included are a few links about local attractions. The links in the Tourism Guide are purely for information, such as hours, prices, etc. Casa Napoli is highly recommended, once you’ve had a chance to clean up from a fun day on the river. So the next time that you’re looking for a new place to get away from it all, try out Wetumpka.

Tourism Links
Elmore County Tourism Council

Coosa Outdoor Center (kayak/canoe rentals, sales, shuttle service)

Coosa River Adventures (kayak/canoe rentals, sales, and shuttle service)

Swayback Bridge Trail (hiking, bicycling-includes virtual tour!)

Casa Napoli Restaurant (with detailed review)

Key West Inn

Jasmine Hill Gardens

Fort Toulouse Park

Special Note: The beautiful bridge in two of the pictures is the Bibb Graves Bridge in downtown Wetumpka. This is a wonderful landmark and a gorgeous site when paddling down the Coosa River. Just to the right of the bridge in one picture, notice a white church steeple above the tree line. That is the First Presbyterian Church of Wetumpka and is also the inspiration for another tourism story called "The Last Confession." If you liked "Moccasin Gap," please check out "The Last Confession." WARNING: "The Last Confession" is SCARY!

If you enjoyed this story, please take a moment to register as a fan by clicking on the "Follow" link in the top left of this site. Following this site is free and only requires setting up a username and password (takes about a minute). SELTI will always provide free stories, but the more registered followers and comments there are, the more stories I can provide. So join up, post a comment, and spread the word. The next story may be inspired by your town!

Photos:Copyright Click to enlarge!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Mississippi Magnolia

Here's a rising literary star from Tupelo! Meet Patricia Neely-Dorsey. Her first book, Reflections of a Mississippi Magnolia-A Life In Poems, is already brightening up the Magnolia State with many positive reviews. Her uplifting poems promise to bloom in the rest of the South as well. Here is an excerpt she provided for SELTI:

If you want a glimpse of Southern life,
Come close and walk with me;
I'll tell you all the simple things,
That you are sure to see.
You'll see mockingbirds and bumblebees,
Magnolia blossoms and dogwood trees,
Caterpillars on the step,

Wooden porches cleanly swept;
Watermelons on the vine,
Strong majestic Georgia pines;
Rocking chairs and front yard swings,
Junebugs flying on a string;
Turnip greens and hot cornbread,
Coleslaw and barbecue;
Fried okra, fried corn, fried green tomatoes,
Fried pies and pickles too.
There's ice cold tea that's syrupy sweet,
And cool, green grass beneath your feet;
Catfish nipping in the lake,
And fresh young boys on the make.
You'll see all these things
And much, much more,
In a way of life that I adore.

Copyright 2008 Patricia Neely-Dorsey
poems from Reflections of a Mississippi Magnolia-A Life in Poems

To watch Patricia read this poem, please visit:
Note: when visiting the above link, scroll down to find the video!

Check out Patricia's web site at the link below. Also, if you're in the mood for a fun getaway, check out everything that Tupelo has to offer at the city's tourism web site. You'll find all the right information on where to stay, what to do, and where to eat. After reading the poem above, I'm ready to "step into" the work and try out some of Tupelo's finest southern cuisine!

Reflections of a Mississippi Magnolia-A Life in Poems

Order an autographed copy at this local MS store:

Tupleo Convention and Visitors Bureau

Mississippi Division of Tourism

Visiting Mississippi/The Official Website of Mississippi

Learn more about Tupelo!,_Mississippi

The small town where I am from,
Gets its name from the Tupelo Gum.
No matter where in the world
That I might roam
This is the place that I call home.
Though I've been northeast for my education,
I've stayed fiercely southern in dedication.
In Memphis, I lived for many years,
By my own election,
And even still, there was that Tupelo connection.
At Elvis' Graceland fans come to mourn
But it's Tupelo, Mississippi, where he was born.
Tupelo is known as an All-American city,
If you've never enjoyed it, that's quite a pity.
It's so warm, so hospitable and so neat,
Everything about it to me is so sweet.
I love the trees, the flowers and the birds,
I can't really describe all its beauty in words.
Though many places in my life
Have played a significant part
It's Tupelo, Mississippi, y'all
That still has all my heart

Copyright 2008 Patricia Neely-Dorsey
poems from Reflections of a Mississippi Magnolia-A life in Poems

Makes a great gift idea, especially in a gift basket!

Reader comments on Mississippi Magnolia:
"Your poem (Southern Life) made me want to move to Mississippi."
Tracie Loveless-Hill
Waterloo, Iowa

"Sweet tea, caterpillars and fresh boys on the make . . . where's my airline ticket?"
Mentor, Ohio

Top Tupelo Tourist Attractions in FY 2009
From Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal Article- Nov 5, 2009
Source :Tupelo CVB
Tombigbee State Park, Natchez Trace Visitors Center, Elvis Presley Birthplace, National Fish Hatchery, Tupelo Buffalo Park and Zoo, Health Works! Kids Museum, Tupelo Automobile Museum, GumTree Museum of Art, Oren Dunn City Museum, Tupelo Veterans Museum, Elvis Presley Lake and Campground , Brice's Crossroads National Battlefield.

Also, check out some of Mississippi's best independent bookstores--where literary tourism opportunities abound!

My official review of Reflections of a Mississippi Magnolia-A Life in Poems

I had high expectations for this book, and they were all surpassed. I lost count of how many times I laughed. I felt so good inside, the kind of joy one feels as a six year-old who is still delighted with the simple things in life. When people get to their mid-thirties and older, they haven’t felt that joy in so many years. They have forgotten. Her book brings them back to that special time. That is the real magic here.

This book is sure to be recognized for preserving through literature a quickly disappearing way of life and culture in the country. This is a diverse collection that covers everything from love in marriage to the festival atmosphere of hog killings. The country scenes are very authentic. She moves with incredible ease from the deeper inward joys of life to the many social and light pleasures of the outdoors.

Most writers have thoughts and images in their heads. They try to translate those pure thoughts into the right words and rhythms. They agonize and obsess over how to do this. She writes purely what’s in her heart with no hesitation. This book offers a series of unedited glimpses into her soul. Without a doubt, her soul is beautiful and inspiring.

Her literary style is unique in the ability to use simple, positive expressions that even non-poetry readers can quickly connect with. Her written thoughts are not bound by any strict rhyme schemes or poetic rules; nor should they be. There is a natural rhythm here, one that she might say “springs from the Mississippi ground.” The style is as natural, sweet, and perfect as a magnolia in full bloom. Who would try to improve upon such an experience?

This book makes a perfect gift. Reflections is a quick, fun, and endearing read.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

"The Heights"

Story By: Patrick Brian Miller
Tourism Attraction: Capitol Heights historic district
Location: Montgomery, Alabama
Photos by: Patrick Brian Miller (click to enlarge!)

IT’S OLD, texted Joanna Beaumont.

MAYBE IT WILL BE A MANSION popped up on the small cell phone screen.

DOUBT IT, Joanna texted back.


LOL. DON’T THINK SO, texted back Joanna.


“Put that thing away,” said her father. “We’re almost there.”

Joanna scowled at him.

GOTTA GO, Joanna texted.


As Joanna snapped the phone shut, she felt the last link to her friends in St. Louis close tight.

“There’s a lot of history in this neighborhood,” he said.

Joanna sighed and crossed her arms defiantly. She turned her face away from him and gazed out the window. The historic homes of Capitol Heights continued to slide by, each one a reminder that she was in a strange, new place. Her green eyes widened in surprise when a large banner fluttering in a small park came into view.

"Capitol Heights Welcomes You Home!" the banner read in bold red letters.

“Is that for us?” she asked.

Her father gazed over at the banner.

“Sure,” he said.

“You’re teasing me,” she said.

“Yep,” he laughed. “Come on; it’s a good omen. You’re going to like it here, honey.”

“I told you I won’t,” she said.

“Give it a chance.”

“I want to go back home. Mom wouldn’t have made me come here.”

“You want to go back to a place where our house gets broken into?” he asked.

Joanna felt a painful lump swell in her throat.

“It’s not about the break in,” she said. “Every time you talk about the break in, you just remind me of losing her necklace. I wish you’d just stop and admit this is about your job.”

“Honey, you know that’s not true. I’m sorry they stole your mother’s emerald necklace. I know it meant a lot to you.”

“It was the last thing she ever gave me . . . and you keep bringing it up,” said Joanna. Her voice began to shudder with anger. “You don’t care about me or my life!”

“I’m sorry, honey. Of course I care about you. I just wanted to find a safe, quiet neighborhood where things like that won’t happen to us anymore.”

“You could have kept looking for another job in St. Louis. But you didn’t try.”

“It’s not easy finding work after being laid off in this economy. We were lucky that this architectural firm hired me so soon. I have to go where the opportunities are, and there aren’t that many. Maybe if you weren’t fourteen, you’d understand that. There are a lot of families that are worse off than us right now.”

Joanna decided that he didn’t deserve any more conversation from her. She pressed her lips together and turned away from him again. Soon, the car turned onto a tree-lined avenue and made its way into the neighborhood. She plugged in her headphones and pulled up the playlist that Bobby had made for her trip to Montgomery. She tuned out her father and the houses moving by, allowing herself to slip into memories of her friends back home.

Joanna awoke the next morning to a loud ringing at the door. Her bleary eyes struggled to focus on the clock: 7:16 a.m. Who could be bothering them at this time of the morning? She slowly slid out of bed as hazy memories of crying herself to sleep last night blurred through her brain. The ringing continued to annoy her in consistently timed intervals. Joanna dragged herself across the wooden floors and slumbered towards the front door. She was still wearing her jeans and T-shirt from the car ride yesterday. Her father met her with equally bleary eyes in the foyer. She stood in confusion as he opened the large door to reveal three bright-eyed women with beaming smiles.

“Good morning, new neighbors!” began one in a soft, purring voice. “We’re here to welcome you to Capitol Heights. My name is Sidney McCall, and I’m president of the Neighborhood Welcome Committee.”

“I’m Ellen Patton,” jumped in another woman in an irritatingly high-pitched tone.

“And I’m Janie Elway; so nice to meet you!” chimed in the last. “We brought you this welcome basket to start off your first morning just right.”

Joanna tried to hold back a scowl as the three women continued to gleam with joy. No one should be that happy this early in the morning, she thought. Her father grinned sheepishly in his housecoat, boxers and undershirt. His hair was still disheveled, and his face and chin bristled from not shaving since they left for their long drive.

“That’s so kind of you ladies,” he said. “I’m Lance Beaumont, and this is my daughter Joanna. We just arrived last night from St. Louis.”

“Oh, what a darling little girl,” purred Ellen with amazing sincerity.

Joanna winced with skepticism, for she could still feel the streaks of heavy mascara around her tear-stained, puffy eyes.

“The basket has all kinds of goodies,” said Sidney with pride. “There’s my homemade cinnamon cream cheese banana nut bread for breakfast. It’s my special recipe. And there’s some gourmet coffee.”

“And don’t forget the gift certificates for the Renaissance Spa in downtown,” said Ellen. “Joanna, you’ll just love that. It’s just a few minutes away, and they will pamper you like a princess!”

“Thank you,” replied Joanna.

“I also included my card,” said Sidney. “If either of you need anything, anything at all, you just call me right away. We want all our new neighbors to feel welcome in Capitol Heights.”

“Is there a Mrs. Beaumont?” asked Ellen.

“Actually, I’m recently widowed,” said her father.

“Oh, I am so sorry,” said Sidney.

“Well, we hope to make a new start here in Montgomery,” said her father. “I’m glad to see that this is such a friendly neighborhood. It’s a lot different than our last neighborhood.”

“Here in Capitol Heights, we believe that community is very important,” said Ellen. “We try to be one big family.”

“I see that,” said her father.

Joanna forced back a sarcastic smile.

“We would also like to invite both of you to dinner tonight at my house,” said Sidney. “I’m having a party for some of our friends, and we would just love to have you.”

“That would be great,” said her father. “We would be delighted to come.”

“My address is on the card. I’m just a few blocks away across from Armstrong Park. It’s the big yellow house with the curved porch out front. You can’t miss it. Would seven o’clock be okay?”

“That would be wonderful,” agreed her father. “It will save me from having to cook tonight.”

“Be sure and bring your appetite because I don’t like to send anyone away hungry,” said Sidney.

“Maybe we should let them have breakfast now,” suggested Janie. “I’m sure they have a lot of things to do.”

“If you need any help, just give me a ring,” said Sidney. “I can send over a team of people to help, whether it’s moving furniture or just putting things away.”

“That’s very considerate,” said her father. “I think we’ll manage for now. But we’ll sure keep your number handy.”

“Well, enjoy your breakfast,” said Sidney. “And welcome to Capitol Heights.”

Once her father had finally shut the door, Joanna sighed in exasperation.

“What’s the matter with them?” she asked. “Are they on some sort of drugs?”

“No, honey, they’re just friendly. That’s not something we had in our old neighborhood.”

“We hardly talked to our neighbors before. That lady doesn’t even live on the same street. It’s weird.”

“You’ll get used to it, honey. After a while, you might even like knowing your neighbors.”

“I doubt it. I wish they would leave us alone. At least until eight o’clock. I was trying to sleep in.”

“You haven’t even checked out the new house. Don’t you love it?”

“Well, it’s different.”

“Did you know the same architect who built the house lived here also? He built it in 1908. Look at some of these features. You won’t find these in modern homes.”

“That’s all your stuff, Dad. I’m not into it. I’m going to get in the shower and then take Max for a walk.”

“Don’t you want to try some of this banana nut bread?”

“No, I’m not hungry.”

“Suit yourself, honey. But don’t wait too long or I might eat it all.”

Joanna hesitated. The basket did smell delicious. She hadn’t eaten dinner last night. But she decided to take a shower before any more “friendly” neighbors showed up to welcome her.

Thirty minutes later, Joanna had showered and dressed. She felt like a new person by the time she strode out into the living room. Joanna stopped in front of an old, gold-engraved mirror. She couldn’t help but notice the contrast of her youthful image bursting out of a reflection surrounded by the elegance of the past. Her sparkling emerald green eyes shined brilliantly against the backdrop of an aged staircase with original oak balusters standing as solid as time itself. The warm light of a spring day cascaded through the front door’s beveled glass windows, highlighting the youthful flame of her long red hair. Her skin, washed clean of the heavy makeup, seemed to breathe fresh air into the polished pine wood floors beneath her feet.

Joanna had never lived in an old house, certainly not one more than a hundred years old. A sense of comfort and stability seemed to run through the oak beams adorning the ceiling above. She could see the care and passion crafted into the wooden mantels and low, oak picture moldings. This was not just a house; this was a home.

Feeling refreshed and reinvigorated, she walked onto the back porch. Max, her Golden Retriever, jumped up from his spot in the beautiful yard and raced to greet her with joyful leaps. She put on his collar and led him out of the back gate and around to the front of the house. She turned for a moment to admire the dark green stucco walls with a high pitched roof and finely crafted gable. Stone steps led through a walkway lined with green shrubs to a shady porch fronted with cool white columns. The bungalow was right out of a story book, and she could hardly believe that this would be her new home.

Max was eager to begin his walk, so she turned again and started down the sidewalk of St. Charles Avenue. Even the well-worn, hexagonal stones of the sidewalk seemed to be alive with character. Each street name was carved into the beginning of the path. The yards were lined with lush landscaping that teased her eyes with the beauty of a mid-spring bloom. A wide variety of dogwood trees greeted her along the way with pink and white blossoms. The fragrant scent of cultivated wisteria competed with the sweet aroma of wild honeysuckle draping from wooden fences.

Joanna noticed a soft white, late-flowering camellia amid the beautiful array of pink, purple, and red azaleas that lined almost every other yard. She stopped across from a large, red brick church fronted with tall, white columns and a towering spire. There was something cozy about a church set back into the neighborhood, where the noisy traffic lanes of highways could never interrupt the slow, peaceful dance of the day. A line of cut back crape myrtles along the church’s street side promised a sweet summer bloom when the joy of spring faded. The many magnolias also seemed to smile in anticipation as they prepared to fill the neighborhood with their rich, lemony blossoms. Even a few rose bushes had burst forth their bright colors, as if they were too eager to wait for the others.

“Max!” chided Joanna. While she had been admiring the magnolias, Max had been busy digging up a carefully arranged, beautiful display of Rembrant tulips. Joanna jerked him away and rushed him down the sidewalk before they were caught.

The streets were also lined with the cool shades of water oaks and even occasional live oaks with their strong Southern limbs spreading canopies of charm from one beautiful yard to another.

“Hello there,” said Joanna. She stopped to stare with fascination at a rare ginkgo tree sprouting up from a yard. She reached out and felt its smooth, soft, fan-shaped leaves. “You’re going to grow very tall, little one.” Next to the ginkgo tree was a thick, planted Rosemary herb, and she bent down to breath in its rich, spicy scent.

Joanna also began to notice the unique designs of the bungalows lining the streets. Many had historic markers proudly displayed on their porches. She was used to the cookie-cut house plans of modern neighborhoods, but these houses were distinguished by a wide variety of finely hewn features. She studied with appreciation the many exposed, ornamented roof rafters that supported low pitched gable roofs over shady porches with brick and wood columns. Even to her untrained eyes, the artistry of these houses was unmistakable.

Every turn in this neighborhood seemed to offer a new and inspiring sight. As she made her way onto Madison Avenue, a gorgeous, dark brick church came into view. The windows were arched at the top and flanked an intricate brick arch doorway with stylish wood designs. Stones set into the brick arches and corners offset the lines with a Tudor flair. She was filled with a sudden vision of getting married at this pretty church. A silly fantasy, she knew. Maybe someday.

As Joanna continued down the main avenue, the homes became grander in size and splendor. She stopped across from the lush green of Armstrong Park to gaze wistfully at a large, pretty yellow house facing the opposite side. The two-story house was lovingly restored with white columns supporting a beautifully curved, wooden porch that wrapped around the corner of the house and was covered with a new tin roof shining in the morning dew. This must be Mrs. McCall’s house, she realized. Joanna was suddenly filled with a burning curiosity to see the inside, but she knew that she had to wait until dinner that evening.

On her way back to her house, Joanna passed a pair of limestone lion statues facing each other and guarding the entrance to one of the neighborhood streets. “CAPITOL HEIGHTS” was carved into the concrete base. She reached out and smoothed her hand across one’s proud, worn stone mane. She wondered how long they had quietly rested there absorbing the sweet, shady Southern days into their porous stones.

A few minutes later, Joanna was back in front of her house. Before she could take Max through the gate, a tall, thin, older woman strode up to her. Joanna turned and flashed a beaming smile, but the woman’s icy blue eyes froze her in her tracks. The woman wore a pale green dress, and her iron-gray hair was clenched into a tight bun.

“Hello, I’m Joanna Beaumont; we just moved in last night.”

“I am Francis Tillwater,” replied the woman. Her sharp voice was cold enough to match the frost of cruelty in her eyes. She held up a small bunch of tuplis ripped by their roots. “I believe your dog is responsible for these.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, ma’am. He got to them before I noticed. I was so caught up in how pretty the landscaping was, I wasn't able to stop him until it was too late.”

“Yes, I’m sure. This is a very dog-friendly neighborhood, Miss Beaumont. One of the reasons for that is because everyone takes responsibility for their pet. We also take great pride in tending our lawns. I am sure that everyone would appreciate it if you took responsibility for your dog.”

Joanna felt tears welling up in her eyes. “I can replant them for you.”

“That would be too late, I'm afraid. It will be next spring before I can get another bloom like that. Good day, Miss Beaumont.”

Joanna stood in stunned amazement as Mrs. Tillwater strode away without another word. Joanna led Max into the back yard. By the time Joanna had gotten back inside, the tears were streaming down her face.

“What’s wrong?” asked her father.

“I hate this neighborhood!” Joanna yelled.

“What happened, honey?”

“The people are mean!”

“How can you say that? You saw how friendly they were this morning.”

“Not all of them are friendly.”

“Come on and sit down. Tell me what happened.”

Joanna followed him into the kitchen, where she scrubbed her hands clean in the sink and then sat down. Her father offered her some of the banana nut bread that the other ladies had brought earlier. She began telling him what had just happened as she munched on the delicious banana bread, followed by occasional gulps of the freshly-squeezed orange juice that the ladies had brought over as well.

“Well, no wonder they need such a high power welcoming committee with neighbors like Mrs. Tillwater,” said her father.

Joanna laughed and brushed away some of the crumbs from the corners of her pouting lips. Slowly, a smile began to creep back up. Her smile widened when her father suggested that he take her down to the Renaissance Spa that afternoon to use the gift certificates before dinner. An afternoon at the spa was just what she needed to sooth her frayed nerves. Joanna already wished that she would never have to see Mrs. Tillwater again. Little did she know that she was headed for an even more dramatic encounter with Mrs. Tillwater later that night . . .

“So who is the banner for in the park?” asked Joanna later that evening. She leaned back in the wooden swing on Mrs. McCall’s wide porch.

The full moon bathed the streets of Capitol Heights with cascades of soft, ethereal beams falling through the treetops. Joanna rocked back and forth after one of the most sumptuous meals she could remember: butter lettuce salad with grapes and walnuts, pork roast with Carolina gravy, herb-marinated grilled vegetables, topped off with a dessert of strawberry-fruit toss with cornmeal shortcakes. She sipped on her peach iced tea and felt the cool spring breeze blow through her hair. After an afternoon at the Renaissance Spa and a full meal, her body and mind were completely relaxed now.

“The banner was from the party welcoming home two neighborhood boys back from the war,” said Dr. Bradshaw. “Well, they’re not boys anymore; one used to mow my yard years ago. Thank God they both came home safe.”

Although the dinner had been wonderful, the guests were a little above Joanna’s head; an English professor, two history professors, a novelist, a playwright, a museum curator, and an artist, among others. Even her father, who was a fairly smart man in her eyes, had barely held his own. Fortunately, one of the professors, Dr. Bradshaw, had taken a liking to Joanna and kept her in the conversation. The two were enjoying the quiet evening on the porch while the rest continued heavy discussions inside.

Dr. Bradshaw was a professor of medieval history at one of the local universities, but rather than being stuffy and dry, she was wonderfully alive with amusing conversation. The last time Joanna had laughed so hard was with her mother, and she already felt like one of Bradshaw’s daughters. Bradshaw was short and portly with cropped gray hair and very thick glasses, but she was filled with more energy and vitality than most of Joanna’s teenage friends.

“That was a wonderful meal,” sighed Joanna. “I had always heard about Southern cooking, but Mrs. McCall sure does show out. She could sell her family recipes in a cookbook.”

“If she did, she would get sued,” said Bradshaw with a snicker.

“What do you mean?” asked Joanna.

“Most of her ‘family’ recipes come right off of from Southern Living magazine. Oh, she’s a wonderful cook, no doubt. But last year, Sidney’s son got her online for the first time. Sidney’s very old-fashioned, mind you, so she never saw much need for the internet. It started out with e-mail and sending photos of her grandchildren around, but it didn’t take her long to find her way onto And ever since then, her dinner parties have been growing in attendance.”

“How did you find out?”

“One of the ladies in the garden club matched up one of the dishes. Once that happened, the sun hadn’t set before everyone in the neighborhood knew. But don’t dare let the secret out or she might stop hosting these dinner parties.”

“Oh, I won’t. I promise. I wouldn’t spoil another meal like that for anything. I feel like I could sleep a week.”

“But do suggest the idea of the cookbook when we go back inside; I would love to see her face when you do.”

Joanna grinned in amusement and continued to rock.

“I’m glad that there are so many nice people here. I was scared after meeting Mrs. Tillwater this morning.”

“Oh, that old bird watches everyone like a hawk. There’s hardly a thing that happens in this neighborhood that she doesn’t know about. But don’t you mind her, sweetie. She’s harmless. But I wouldn’t step foot in her yard again.”

“I won’t.” Joanna sighed with satisfaction. After such a wonderful afternoon and evening, the incident with Mrs. Tillwater didn’t bother her a bit. Joanna was starting to feel very good about this neighborhood. “There seem to be a lot of professors and artists living here. Are there more?”

“Sure, we have a large group of intellectuals here to keep us entertained. But not everyone’s an academic. If you have any plumbing problems, just call Stanley Watson over on Vonora St. Or if your car is acting up, you can give Henry Worth a call; he’s one of the best mechanics in town.”

“They actually come over to your house?”

“Of course; we’re all neighbors.”

“That must be convenient. Are you able to do anything for them?”

“I tutor Henry’s kid in history. Henry Jr. is going to Harvard next year on a scholarship; so you can bet I don’t have to pay top dollar for car repairs. And Mark inside tutors some of the kids in English. And Sidney occasionally drops by with a homemade pie, so when she needed help repainting a few months ago, plenty of volunteers showed up. Someone in the neighborhood always knows how to help out with whatever you need. That’s what neighbors are for, other than to bug you.”

“In my old neighborhood, we barely knew our neighbors at all.”

“There've been times when I would have liked to have had that kind of anonymity; but not when my car needs a $3,000 repair that Henry can fix for $300.”

“That’s a big difference.”

“That’s also a summer cruise to Jamaica. There’s something to be said for knowing your neighbors.”

“I’m starting to see that for the first time.”

Later that night Joanna stepped out onto her front porch. The full moon had climbed to the center of the sky, giving the entire street a brilliant glow. She had stayed up late texting her friends about her new neighborhood.

A lone figure walking quietly through the grass down the street caught her eye. At first, Joanna thought the dark figure might be walking his dog, but then she realized that he was alone. He jumped behind a row of bushes when a car pulled around the corner farther down the road.

Joanna froze in terror when she realized that he was not one of her friendly neighbors. He was here to do bad things. Her whole body began to shake as she knelt lower behind the railing and crawled over to the door. Joanna slid the front door open and slowly slipped inside, shutting it carefully back. As soon as she was in, she twisted the bolt and raced to her father’s bedroom.

“Daddy! Daddy!” she whispered urgently.

“What is it, honey?”

“There’s a burglar down the street.”

Lance Beaumont instantly jolted up.

“What did you say? Where?”

“He’s hiding in the bushes a few doors down. I saw him, Daddy.”

Her father leapt out of bed and quickly opened his bedside drawer. He pulled out a pistol.

“No one’s breaking into our house again or anyone else’s on this block,” he vowed.

Joanna grabbed his arm and pulled him back.

“Daddy, no! Please don’t go outside. Just call the police. Please!”

The rage that had instantly filled her father’s cold eyes seemed to melt away slowly as he gazed at her worried face. He could see not only the terror of danger in her pleading eyes but a fear of abandonment, a fear that began with the loss of her mother.

“All right, honey. Don’t worry. You stay in here while I call the police. Everything’s going to be okay.”

“No, I want to stay with you, Daddy.”

“Okay. I’m going to get the phone.”

Joanna followed him closely as he strode into the dark living room and got the phone. A small sense of relief flowed through her as he dialed 911 because now she knew that he wasn’t going to rush outside to confront the burglar. However, her mind was still racing with terrible images. A sudden thought burst into her mind. She raced to the refrigerator and pulled off a card. Joanna’s trembling hands barely managed to dial the number from the card into her cell phone.

“Hello?” came a sleepy voice over the line.

“Mrs. McCall?” whispered Joanna. “This is Joanna Beaumont.”

“Yes, is everything all right, dear? What time is it?”

“It’s late. But you said if we ever needed anything to call right away. I just saw a burglar down the street from our house.”

“A burglar? Where?”

“About four houses down from ours. He hid in the bushes when a car came down the street.”

“Have you called the police?”

“Yes, ma’am, my father is on the phone with them right now. But I thought you might want to know.”

“Yes, dear, thank you for calling. You just stay inside and keep the door locked. I’ll activate the neighborhood watch.” Mrs. McCall’s pleasant Southern drawl suddenly turned hard and menacing. “Don’t you worry, dear; we’re going to get him.”

“Yes, ma’am, I’ll stay inside.”

“I’ll call you back soon.”

Mrs. McCall hung up, and Joanna walked back to her father, who was still on the phone with the police. Now all she could do was wait and worry. She slid down by the corner of the window, but her father instantly warned her away. However, he took guard against the same window, peering out watchfully and still clenching the gun.

As Joanna waited, she felt a well of anger begin to build up. Memories of the afternoon when they came back home to find their house broken into started flashing through her mind. Joanna vividly recalled rushing down the hall and into her room. One fear had raced through her mind in those sickening moments: Please, God, don’t let Mom’s necklace be gone! But when she frantically searched through her jewelry box, the heirloom necklace was nowhere to be found.

Another memory flashed through Joanna’s mind: she was standing in the mirror, admiring the sparking green necklace paired with her first Homecoming dance dress. Her mother’s kind face beamed proudly behind her.

You’re prettier than Scarlet O’hara, honey,” her mother had said.

And with a temper to match,” her father had added.

By now, Joanna’s anger had overwhelmed her fear. This burglar could not be allowed to steal the joy away from anyone else’s precious memories. She hoped the police caught him.

A distant sound of barking dogs pulled her out of her angry thoughts. There was a group of dogs, she realized, and they were on the move. Their barks were getting louder and closer with each moment.

“Where are the dogs coming from?” she whispered.

“I don’t know,” said her father. “It sounds like from both directions.” Her father strained to hear. “What the hell?”

Joanna sneaked a glance through the window. Her father was so stunned that he didn’t push her back. She saw the same black-clad figure coming down the street. But instead of being in the shadows, he was in the middle of the street, running for what seemed like his very life. Not far behind him was a pack of dogs and their angry owners. Joanna counted at least five pairs. The burglar skidded to a stop right in front of their house and darted back and forth in several directions before stopping again.

That’s when Joanna noticed a second group of dogs and owners approaching from the other end of the street. As the two packs of dogs and owners closed in, a flash of blue light and a loud siren stopped them. Joanna breathed a sigh of relief when a police squad car screeched to a halt at the corner and two policemen jumped out.

“Everybody back!” yelled one policeman, waving them away.

“Stay here,” said her father as he went outside. Joanna continued to watch through the window in amazement. She slid the window open just a tad to listen.

“On the ground!” hollered the policeman. The burglar, almost in relief, slowly lowered himself to the ground as the other policeman quickly cuffed him. “Get back, people! Let us handle this!”

The officer was forced to yell over the barking of the dogs. Joanna counted two German Shepherds, one Doberman Pinscher, two pit bulls, a Pug, a Pomeranian, and even a small but loud Chihuahua. All were on leashes, which was a good thing for the burglar because they were growling and barking as if they were ready to tear him to pieces. All of the dogs had male owners, except the Pomeranian, who was barely held in check by an older woman in her nightgown.

“Mrs. Tillwater?” whispered Joanna to herself. Even amid all the ferocious dogs, Mrs. Tillwater’s fierce glare was intimidating.

“What kind of neighborhood is this?” the burglar asked the policeman.

“You’re not the first punk who’s made the mistake of coming into this neighborhood,” laughed one of the policemen as he jerked the man to his feet. “Guess you didn’t know that this area has one of the most active neighborhood crime watch organizations in the state. You’re lucky we got to you first. Keep those dogs back!”

Joanna’s worried face slowly broke into a smile. Mrs. McCall was as good as her word: they got him.

Early the next afternoon, Joanna, her father, and a small group of neighbors walked through the halls of the Montgomery police station.

“Are we in trouble, Daddy?” she asked.

“I don’t know, honey. The Lieutenant just asked us to meet him down here at two o’clock. He didn’t say why.”

The group was led into a large conference room, where a tall policeman greeted them.

“Is this her?” asked the policeman, pointing to Joanna.

“Yes, sir, this is the girl,” replied another policeman.

“Well, then. Nice to meet you, Miss. Beaumont. I’m Captain Thorsby.”

Joanna hesitantly shook Thorsby’s thick, strong hand.

“Hello, sir.”

“Miss Beaumont, I wanted to personally congratulate you for your quick action last night. While we were processing that perp, we came across some very interesting information that I thought you’d all like to know about. It turns out that he was wanted in several states for burglary, and we finally caught him here, thanks to Miss Beaumont’s call. It seems that every time things got too hot for him, he would move on to another state and start over again. In fact, because he was selling his stolen items across state lines, the FBI has even taken an interest, and that means that he’ll be doing some federal time if convicted.”

Mrs. Tillwater surprised Joanna by putting a comforting arm around her.

“Even our young ones won’t allow these thugs to get away with crime in our neighborhood,” said Mrs. Tillwater. She gave Joanna a warm, affectionate smile, causing more than one neighbor to open their mouths in awe; no one had ever seen Mrs. Tillwater smile at anyone.

“Yes, Mrs. Tillwater, this isn’t the first time you and the Capitol Heights Neighborhood Watch have assisted our department with capturing criminals.”

“You sure took your time getting there,” said Mrs. Tillwater.

Thorsby continued as if he hadn’t heard her last remark.

“And since the program has been so successful, the mayor has decided to honor your neighborhood with an achievement award at the next city council meeting. I’ve alerted the media to cover the event, and we’ll be giving a special citation to you, Miss Beaumont, for doing the responsible thing and calling us first.” Thorsby cast a warning glare at Tom Jackson, one of the loudest members of the pack the night before. “However, I want to also take a moment to advise you of the dangers of taking the law into your own hands. We don’t want to encourage neighborhoods to form vigilante groups with packs of dogs. It’s important that you let us handle the enforcement of the law from now on.”

“Speaking of our dogs, what about their citation?” demanded Mrs. Tillwater. “If it weren’t for my Winston and the other ones, you might not have caught that thug at all.”

Thorsby sighed in frustration.

“I don’t see how we can recognize the dogs without sending the wrong message,” he said.

Joanna felt a sudden leap of inspiration.

“What if they were just out walking their dogs?” she suggested. “I was just about to walk my dog before I saw the thief. There’s nothing wrong with walking your dog is there? I would really like the dogs to get an award.”

Joanna could see the conflict on the captain’s face as he debated her idea. She could tell that he didn’t want to involve the dogs but also didn’t want to disappoint her, either. She put on her best pouting face.

“Please, Captain Thorsby,” she pleaded. “I would feel awful if the dogs didn’t get any credit at all.”

“All right,” said Thorsby, after a long hesitation. “But everyone needs to stick to the story: you were out walking your dogs, not hunting for a burglar. Is that clear?”

“Yes, sir,” they all said at once.

“By the way, you should all take a look at this, too,” said Thorsby. “Lieutenant.”

Another policeman stepped forward and unlocked a large plastic case. He carefully slid the contents onto the table, revealing a large collection of expensive jewelry.

“These are what we recovered from the perp’s vehicle that was parked just outside the neighborhood,” said Throsby. “It’s probably just a small slice of what he’s stolen over the past three years, but at least we might get these pieces back to their owners.”

A shimmer of green immediately caught Joanna’s eyes. She squeezed her father’s hand before stepping forward and lifting a necklace out of the pile. The large green emerald stared back at her in almost joyous recognition.

“Joanna, that’s your mother’s necklace,” said her father.

Joanna couldn’t reply; tears of relief had already seized her voice up. She turned and hugged Mrs. McCall tightly.

“That was her mother’s,” said her father softly. “She gave it to Joanna two weeks before she passed away.”

“I don’t understand,” said Thorsby. “I thought we caught the guy before he got into anyone’s house.”

“It was stolen from our house in St. Louis just before we moved here,” said her father. “Joanna thought she had lost it forever. And if it weren’t for all of you, she would have.”

Thorsby turned back to the Lieutenant, who nodded in confirmation.

“He was last reported in St. Louis, Captain. I’m sure there’ll be a record, if they reported it stolen.”

“We did,” said her father. “Joanna?”

He put his hand gently on her shoulder, but Joanna still refused to let go of Mrs. McCall. Joanna wanted desperately to thank them, but she still couldn’t speak. All she could think was: Capitol Heights is the best place to live in the whole world.


“The Heights” Tourism Guide
Although the characters are fictional in “The Heights,” all of the buildings and places are part of the real neighborhood of Capitol Heights in Montgomery, Alabama. Capitol Heights is a charming neighborhood designated as a historic district for its architectural significance, especially in the Arts and Crafts style of the early twentieth century. Capitol Heights was also recently named one of the best real estate buys in the Southeast by This Old House magazine. The value of Capitol Heights is increasing every year because it offers attractive, safe, and quiet housing located just minutes away from the the riverfornt area of downtown Montgomery. In the past few years, downtown Montgomery has experienced a burst of tourism and business investment with new restaurants, hotels, shops, and entertainment venues.

Capitol Heights also offers candlelight and walking tours during certain times of the year. Please contact the Capitol Heights Civic Association at the link below for more information. A walk through this beautiful area will reveal a sweet Southern charm not found in more modern neighborhoods. The surrounding attractions make a visit even more worthwhile.

The Beaumont home is actually the Belser House on South Lewis St. and was built by prominent architect Richard S. Whatley in 1908. The “pretty yellow house” on Madison Ave. was built in 1914 and still offers a picturesque view across from Armstrong Park. The Capitol Heights Church of Christ is a sight to see, and yes it does offer wedding services! The Capitol Heights United Methodist Church is set back in the neighborhood away from the traffic, and its sanctuary is beautiful to behold. A detailed guide to the many historic homes in the Capitol Heights historic district may be obtained from the Capitol Heights Civic Association.

During my research into the Capitol Heights area, I learned that the neighborhood really has aided the police department on more than one occasion in catching criminals. The residents of Capitol Heights are also very passionate about their dogs, and one such pet also aided in the capture of a would-be thief, which gave rise to the inspiration of this story. The purpose of this story is to show how much better all of our neighborhoods could be if there were a stronger sense of community and responsibility to each other.

A mouth-watering part of this research involved from Southern Living magazine. If you would like to add more “family” recipes to your collection, please visit the link below.

To learn about other attractions on the Montgomery area, please also visit the full list of links below. I should note that any posted links or travel information related to this story do not mean that the tourism attractions listed have endorsed this story or sponsored the Tourism Guide. However, any tourism article about the Montgomery area's tourism opportunities would be remiss not to mention larger tourism attractions like the RTJ Golf Trail or the Alabama Shakespeare Festival. Listing these sites are just my personal recommendations to anyone enjoying the story who wants to add a little more fun on a trip to the area.

Although I cannot vouch for all of the services in the Renaissance Hotel & Spa (located in downtown Montgomery), my wife and I did enjoy a couple’s massage and overnight stay there for our anniversary, and I quickly decided to make that a tradition. The Alabama Shakespeare Festival is in beautiful Blount Cultural Park and offers classic and modern plays throughout the year. The Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts has a large, impressive art collection on display and is located next to the Shakespeare Festival. Both are linked to below. If you (or your spouse) are interested in golf, the Legends course is very close by in Prattville. The Legends is part of the national award-winning Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail and is highly recommended for any golf enthusiast. The Rosa Parks Museum is located in downtown Montgomery and offers an unforgettable presentation of the Montgomery Bus Boycott of the 1950's.

To learn about even more attractions to visit in the Montgomery area, please visit the Montgomery Convention and Visitors Bureau at the link below.

If you enjoyed this story, please submit a short comment on your reaction at the end of the Tourism Links. Perhaps you could share a short post about how knowing your neighbors has helped your family in some way. I hope this story encourages readers to get more involved in their neighborhood crime watch program with their local police department or maybe even start one if none yet exists. Follow the link below in the Tourism Guide to learn how to connect with your local police department for community involvement.

If you are interested in learning about real properties for sale in the Capitol Heights area, please contact local real estate agent Cindy Keeping, who specializes in the area. You can learn more about Cindy and how to contact her by clicking this link for Partners Realty.

Tourism Links

Capitol Heights

Capitol Heights Civic Association

Capitol Heights on Facebook!/profile.php?id=100000039810294&ref=mf

Capitol Heights Church of Christ

Capitol Heights United Methodist Church

Learn how the real neighbors of Capitol Heights pull together to save a house

Crime Prevention: Learn how to get more involved or even start a neighborhood watch program by working with your local police department.

Montgomery Police Department Crime Prevention site

National Crime Prevention Council Website


Renaissance Hotel & Spa

Alabama Shakespeare Festival

Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts

Rosa Parks Museum

Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail

Montgomery Convention and Visitors Bureau

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