Carole Davis COLUMN: 'Are you gonna paint all them bottles?'
It was an absolutely beautiful day on April 12, 1971, and I was on my way to Bradley out in Oktibbeha County, just seconds more like a few minutes away (ten minutes give or take few from my home) to paint to “my heart’s content” for the entire day ahead of me on an early spring morning in the middle of April.
Did y’all know that we live on this “side of heaven?”
We do because in our Northeastern part of this great and beautiful state called...Mississippi, we have three sides of “Heaven On Earth?” We do! Oktibbeha County consists and exists with the largest university in the state— Mississippi State University— with the largest town that we now call a city, Starkville... known as “The Hometown Of MSU!” and all the little rural towns, Bradley, Sturgis, and Maben, and Sessums, and others I am not even remembering or naming. Oktoc is a pretty farming community just off the MSU campus.
Just a day or so before April 12, 1971, I had spent the last few days, in fact, painting out on the MSU campus. Students and professors would stop by to see me as I stood with my easel, art supplies, and subject right before our eyes to chat and visit with me. I really enjoyed “being back on campus,” my old university, and I noticed how “intelligent” everyone seemed to be!
I would ask each student as I kept sketching and painting my subject before us... “and what are you majoring in, and what do you really want to do in your life?”
Occasionally, a professor would drop by, “Hey, Carole, how is it going today, happy to see you out here on campus painting!”
As I left the house that day, I thought, “I’ve been on campus these last few days...I am leaving my own home with my car packed up for the day to do what I love best...creating a new painting...and I am heading to my third ‘side of heaven’...the rural side!”
Where is the rural “side of heaven?” It is country life existing in the country sides of Oktibbeha County, Mississippi.
To be honest, this side of heaven maybe the very “best side of our heaven!” Why? Because it is filled with country people who live both rustic and simple lives in an agricultural and pastoral setting.
Years ago when MSU was established...it was established as Mississippi A and M College...(Agricultural and Mechanical College). This was a perfect name for MSU which later became Mississippi State University because think of all the wonderful graduates who attended four years obtaining degrees from the College of Agriculture, (my own sweet husband, Frank of 46 years, has all three degrees from MSU in Entomology, (College Of Agriculture).
Some graduated from the College of Engineering, College of Education, College of Liberal Arts...as I did in 1964 in the College of Liberal Arts as an English major with a teacher’s license to teach English...College of Business and others that I am not even naming.
MSU offers a bachelor of science degree, a master of science degree, Ph.D. degrees and post doctorates.
Starkville is the proud, “Hometown Of MSU” and all these other rural towns surrounding both MSU and Starkville—they are, in a way, “Good Neighboring Towns” as well.
How fortunate we all are because you see we truly do “live on this side of heaven!” We have the very best living on three sides of heaven!!!”
My car was heading me to the tiny spot called, Bradley, on that very early (before daylight) April day to create a great and fun painting to be placed on my cotton canvas.
Since we also live in the “land of cotton”...I always try to paint on “cotton canvas!” A fine piece of linen canvas is nice too!
Where in the world was I going? I was headed to Quinn’s Feed House...to Reginald S. Quinn and his sweet and pretty wife, Mildred McIntosh Quinn’s little country store. The store was on one side of Quinn’s Feed House... and their home was on the other side located at 2891 Highway 12, West in Bradley.
We are definitely headed to the community of Bradley, however they may or may not have had a post office, but now they are using the zip code of Starkville, Mississippi.
Sessums use to have its own post office. I have a painting that I promise that I shall share with you one day of the Sessums Post Office Drop Box years ago when they did operate a post office there in that rural Mississippi community.
I pulled in first at the Quinn’s Grocery Store to say hello to Reginald who was simply called, Reg, and Mildred McIntosh, his very pretty Scot/Irish wife and mother of his lovely family!
Some of you may know Jeannie Quinn who is a fine hair dresser in Starkville and sweet as her mother too!
Reg has died, and Mildred as we say... “is still going strong!” I phoned Mildred to “chat” about old times just yesterday, and thought... “who would not love and adore, Mildred Quinn because she is one loveable and adorable lady!”
She was so nice when she said to me, “Carole, I am reading all of the columns you are writing about your paintings in our Starkville Daily News...I am reading every single word, and I just can not put the column down until I have read it completely to the very the last sentence, and I want to say to you, ‘Thank you!’”
I appreciate her telling me this, and I love her very much!
Mildred said that Mrs. Quinn ran the store for years after Mr. Quinn died (her in-laws)...and “she and Reg stayed up all night long discussing and trying to decide if they should purchase the store from the Quinns. They talked about families who could pay... and those who could not pay on what they called, “credit”...after all, times were hard...and when are times not hard...even today in 2010...with so many people just looking for jobs and employment?
That night they made their decision and purchased the little store on the corner on a very busy Highway 12 in 1954 and kept it open till 1981 when they sold the store to Bobby Blankenship.
This little Quinn’s Country Store is still standing, and it is now a little antique shop.
The Quinn’s Feed House was later sold to Buddy Betts and he took it down plank by plank and each piece was as “solid as a rock.”
Buddy Betts was going to make a camp house with the lumber, but Mildred was not sure Buddy ever did build the camp house.
This painting from 1971 is the only memory we have left of Quinn’s Feed House. It’s gone forever, but the memories are “sealed” in my pencil marks, and within the paint itself on my cotton canvas for us all to enjoy forever!
I was fascinated with “all them bottles” to one side of Quinn’s Feed House.
Mildred said, “this is when you could get a Coke Cola for 5 cents a bottle. They came in cases of six ounces.”
I well remember, Mr. George Henry, down the road from the store came in one day.
“Carole, don’t you know George Henry and his mother, Mrs. Ora Henry?”
I quickly said, “Oh, yes, Mildred...Why they are cousins of mine, Grandmother, Miss Mary Edwards McReynolds, just loved “Cousin Ora Henry,” and they use to talk with each other for hours on a telephone together!”
Then Mildred continued... “Well, when the Coke Cola went to six cents a bottle, George Henry came in the store and when he heard that the coke cola had gone up one cent...he said to us, ‘Mildred and Reg, I just wont drink another Coke Cola again in all my life!’”
I suppose one could say, Cousin George was “pinching pennies” or was he just “tight with his pennies?”
Every afternoon men would arrive in the tiny store to play checkers, and one of Mildred’s fondest and lasting memories was of... “Miss Mittie Hudspeth spending the entire afternoon every afternoon after her special soap opera had finished (she loved As The World Turns) at the store.
“Miss Mittie” also know to the Quinn children as “Aunt Mittie,” would cross over the busy Highway 12, dodging cars to make her way, to Quinn’s Grocery Store to sit and talk all afternoon long until supper time.
We all call our night meal supper time...but to most people (up north) it is dinner time.
When exactly 5:30 p.m. arrived, “Miss Mittie” Hudspeth would “find” her way down her beaten path to her own home again.
One late afternoon, Jan Quinn told her Moma, “I want to go an have supper wtih ‘Aunt Mittie.’ She has invited me...may I go?”
“Of course, Jan, go ahead just be careful getting across Highway 12 and coming home again after you have finished eating supper. Hold tightly on to ‘Aunt Mittie’s’ hands now!”
Well, Mildred thought Jan would be home about an hour from then, but to her surprise, she looks up and Jan is home quickly from “Aunt Mittie’s” place.
“Jan why are you home so early, did you even eat supper?”
Jan quickly answered her Moma back... “Moma all ‘Aunt Mittie’ had to eat were peas, cornbread, an onion, and plain water to drink...I wanted your sweet tea with lemon instead of water...so I told her I would come again one day for supper...and I said, ‘thank- you”’ for inviting me...but I am going home to get my Moma’s sweet tea to drink instead. What a supper—peas, one onion, cornbread and water to drink...I just had to come on home to your good cooking instead, Moma!”
Mildred’s fondest memories were of the other ladies in the community coming to Quinn’s store to visit and tell each other all the news about what was going on in Bradley.
Sometimes after the “house wives” would finish their morning chores and work around the house around 10 a.m., they would hurry down to the store to get one of those five cent Coke Cola’s for a “pick me up” and a package of nabs (peanut butter spread between two Ritz Crackers) and chat, laugh, and giggle together until it was time to go back to their homes to “fix dinner” for their farming husbands who would be coming home for dinner at noon on the dot!
In Quinn’s Store, they sold every thing you could imagine. Aspirin for headaches, Ben Gay for sore muscles, Listerine for your mouth and good breath, flour, sugar, corn meal, coffee, and you name it...they had it available for sale.
It was hard to get into Starkville some days, so this was the beginning of a “Quck Stop — Buy And Carry Out Little Store On The Corner!”
Mildred said, “On Saturdays and the weekends, it took Reg, my sister, brother-in-law, and me to wait on people. Lots of women would buy all of their groceries from us in Bradley cause nine out of 10 women did not work, so they had time to shop with us locally.”
Mildred said, “We opened early at 6 a.m. and stayed opened until 7 p.m. at night...it was a long, long, long day for sure!...We opened up so early cause we did not want to miss the ‘milk truck run’ or ‘the bread truck run.’ We wanted to hit the busiest times of the day when folks were headed to MSU to work or headed towards Starkville. And when MSU let their people out at 5 p.m., they would head home to Bradley, and always stop by the store for something they really needed...it might be gas for the car, or bread and milk for the supper table that night!”
Mildred said, “Running the store and running the Feed House next to it was really hard, hard work. I tried to keep it all very clean and spotless!”
One of my own memories was seeing Mildred sweep, sweep, and sweep some more...the front of the store entrance way as well as coming next door to sweep, sweep, and sweep a “pathway” as she called it into the Quinn’s Feed House! She was one busy lady back then and still today remains as “busy as a bee!”
Mildred McIntosh Quinn was bred, born, and has spent her long and enjoyable life — every day of her life — has been lived, spent, and enjoyed in this tiny spot on earth called, Bradley!
I can still hear that broom with its certain sound of “swish, swish, swish” as she swept and I painted that April day so long ago!
Quinn’s Feed House was my subject that I painted, and I was simply overwhelmed at all of those soft drink bottles carefully stacked and stacked high on the end of the feed house and on the entrance way leading into the porch itself.
Mildred said, “I stacked them neatly and in order since we got drinks the next time the ‘drink man’ came by the number of bottles we had for him to take on with him back on his truck. We did not charge for bottles, but simply got them replaced each day. People were really good about bringing back their soft drink bottle so that I could stack, stack, and stack them on the side end of the Feed House for him to pick up. I would stack them from the last post to the right to end of the porch and down on the ground too.”
Look at the right side of this painting and see “all them bottles!” See the cases and all!
Right behind these stacked bottles find the old pump and handle on it...this is the Kerosene Pump that she sold coal oil to her customers.
See the large box that says, EGGS in large letters, and stuff piled inside this egg crate as well.
Look to the left side of this feed house, and see the old dollie on wheels, the two folding chairs, and one dark green “leaning” lawn chair, that must have gotten bent or is on “its last leg, “empty cans, and two straw brooms with their red thread “holding” them together.
Mildred Quinn has absolutely “sweep them to death”...and they have “seen their day” ...sweeping, sweeping, and sweeping this clear passage way into the front door, and have found their “final resting place side by side.
Look at all the soft drink signs. Coca Cola, Nehi, and Dr. Pepper.
Look inside those old windows and you can see stuff inside too!
Go to the right side and see the large soft drink bottle sign with the bottle itself. Wonder which one this is? I love it, don’t you?
There is a little step up to the porch, don’t you just know you have now been up that step and on to the Feed Store Porch of the Quinn’s?
Lets go inside the door cause inside ‘lives” all the feed “for sale!” Feed for cows, hogs, horses, dogs, cats and any animal you might have...there is food inside for each and every animal you might have!
Next door is food and everything you can only imagine for sale for humans...and in Quinn’s Feed House...food for the animals.
I tried to capture a beautiful cat named, “Boo” as she would quickly come and go inside a broken window to the right side. She would hurry so fast in and out that I could not possibly “catch” Boo’s portrait, so you can imagine with me...a beautiful yellow cat named, “Boo” in and out constantly moving from her regular pathway to and from the Feed House all day long!
I ask Mildred about “Miss Boo”, and she said, “Oh, Carole,... ‘Boo’ was our favorite cat of all of our cats. We loved her cause ‘Boo’ kept mice out of the Feed House for us, and we petted and adored, ‘Boo.’ One day I just could not find ‘Boo’ anywhere around, I called, ‘Kitty, Kitty, Kitty’ all day long, but no ‘Boo.’ I got into my car and begin to ride up and down all the country roads one after another road I would ride slowly and carefully looking everywhere for ‘Miss Boo!’ Suddenly I spotted her bright red/pink collar she was wearing on the side of Highway 12, and then I found ‘Miss Boo’ in a ditch. She had been hit by a car or a truck, and her bright red/pink cat collar was slung to one side of the ditch. We buried ‘Miss Boo’ in our cat and dog cemetery across the road. It was really hard to keep pets on such a busy highway 12, but we had ‘Miss Boo’ and she was our favorite cat for years and years until she had met her own fate that day. We missed ‘Boo’ for years later too.”
The day was beginning to end, and 7 p.m. was approaching. It was nearer 6 p.m. when I signed my full name at the left side of my canvas and the date of that day, April 12, 1971.
Right behind me I could first hear a huge logging truck pulling up, and then a logger got out, and came very almost silently and quietly right behind my back. I was completely exhaused...I heard the old logging truck’s brakes as he pulled them, and the big door slam behind him, and his footsteps coming towards me. I turned to see his face which looked as if he had been working in the woods near by all day long. He looked as tired as I was beginning to feel.
With all of his sincerity and feeling he said to me...and gave me the title for one of my favorite paintings I have ever done...“ARE YOU ‘GONNA PAINT ALL THEM BOTTLES?”
He then looked into the finished painting I had signed and dated...and said...“GOSH...YOU PAINTED EVERY BOTTLE!”