Phonetically pronounced: YOCK – UH – NOOK – UH – KNEE
…a series of short stories all told from the southern perspective.
THE NATCHEZ GARDEN CLUB
Yockanookany Ned here.
A few words about Southern culture and the Natchez Garden Club, but first…, I love history. I have always loved history, especially Southern history. To me, Natchez is the city that embodies and reflects history more than any other city in the State of Mississippi. The story I’ve always heard (true or not) is that in the early 1800’s there were twenty millionaires in the United States, eight of which lived in Natchez –all cotton planters and speculators. In the early nineteenth century, the Natchez-New Orleans connection was the cotton exporting capital of the world and made the cotton barons of Natchez extremely wealthy men, as demonstrated by their majestic houses.
Of course, today, Natchez no longer claims the title of ‘King’ of the world of cotton. Those days are gone. What remains is history and a glimpse of an era, a way of life ‘Gone with the Wind’: what is left are the magnificent houses of Natchez… and ‘The Natchez Garden Club’. And, if there is anything more stately than a Natchez ante-bellum mansion, it would be a Natchez Garden Club matron.
The Natchez Garden Club sponsors a ‘Pilgrimage’ every Spring and the palatial homes of Natchez are opened to the public. A few homes are exclusively owned by the ‘Club’ and can be toured year round, but most of the homes on the ‘Pilgrimage’ are private residences and are only accessible to the public during the ‘Spring Tour’. The word ‘pilgrimage’ has a connotation of travel to a mystic and holy place. To Natchezians, that place of pilgrimage (mystic and holy) would be no other than Natchez (Mecca being a distant second) and the name ‘pilgrimage’ is, by Natchez standards, more than an appropriate name. However, the words ‘Spring Pilgrimage’ are an aphoristic title for a deluge of tourists, some even bused in, just like at Disney World. But, in Natchez, they are all called ‘guests’.
In our younger years, my wife and I would visit Natchez during the ‘Pilgrimage’. We haven’t been back in quite some time, but I vividly remember the day the bus deposited a wandering herd of LOBHYLs (Little Old Blue Haired Yankee Ladies) in front of Montaigne –one of my favorite houses. They (and we) were met with Southern hospitality at its finest and Southern contempt at its worst. (The problem is the two are almost indistinguishable. It is very difficult to separate the paradoxical pair. It takes a keen ear, for the words of contempt are strikingly identical to the words of hospitality, and the mannerism of their delivery is almost indistinct. Only the slightest of voice inflections and body language separates the two, and one must always consider the context of the conversation.)
Case in point: The Natchez Garden Club hostess and matron greeted us most reverently at the front door of Montaigne, proceeded to give a brief history of the house, and to gloriously laud the ‘Club’ for making this and other homes available (to the masses). Not to be left out, and in her closing remarks, the matron issued a coded Southern message, stating in the finest of Southern accents: “One needs to be on their best behavior when visiting our homes… here… in Natchez.” Translation: “Don’t touch anything or risk verbal torture and humiliation.”
Never was there a day of such impudence, as when the leader of the clutch of LOBHYLs, after a short conference with some of the more important and influential members of the touring group, and their thinking the Natchez Garden Club was similar to an AAA membership or a subscription to ‘Good Housekeeping’, asked aloud, “How does one become a member of the Natchez Garden Club? Can we join?”
What horror. My wife and I shrank in disbelief as we waited for the retort. Southern mouths gaped open. Southern eyes dilated. I can still see the ‘Club’ matron dressed in her flowing pink and white antebellum gown, with hooped petticoats, a white top with a huge pink rose centering her abdomen, an adoring set of pink earrings and a matching necklace, along with a look on her face as if she had been slapped with an open palm. She bowed ever so slightly and irreverently toward the Yankee invaders, defiantly raised her chin, closed her eyes to avoid any contact with such corruptness, and slowly, gracefully shook her head in the horizontal plane – all gestures of incredulity. She then folded her right hand over her heart, arched her shoulders forward, and gave her verbally camouflaged sarcastic, euphemistic, and deeply accented reply: “Well…, my dear…, one is BORN into the Natchez Garden Club. Really…, I do delcare. I mean…bless your heart.” She then stood erect, opened her eyes, gazed at some distant vista only seen by her, promptly smiled, and unfolded her right arm toward the inside of the house.
Translation of her reply: “I don’t believe it. What a stupid question. End of conversation. I’m certainly not talking to you people anymore. No further questions entertained. Get in the house and don’t touch anything.” We did.
I believe the LOBHYLs are still struggling with the response.
* BORN – for you non-Southerners, phonetically pronounced BOAHN – one syllable.