Want to tag along with me to a sleepy little town is 15 minutes away from Starkviille and is our sister town? It is filled with folks who are kind and friendly. Let’s go. It’s a beautiful, early morning on May 23, 1995, and we’ll spend all morning and afternoon discovering a peaceful life and a real adventure together. I promise we’ll have fun.
Where are we going? We are going to a special spot called Antiques, with its homemade, curved wooden sign that has fallen off its hinges and landed just below the window pane I am going to create on my canvas. Let me tell you about this tiny town, Sturgis. In Mississippi, we have two expressions when we first meet a stranger: “Where do you stay?” and “Who are your folks?” We’re really asking, “Who are you?” We wonder, “Do you belong here?” We’re trying to decide if you are one of us or not. I’ve found so many subjects down at Sturgis and out in the country through the years of my searching for a subject near to my heart. I am from here, and my people belonged here. Daddy was raised near Sturgis, and my roots are right here.
The tiny Sturgis Cemetery is filled with folks who have all gone before me to Heaven. The cemetery is next to their earthly church, the First Presbyterian Church where they were all faithful members. This church is now closed because every member except one is deceased. Mr. Pete Thomas - to me, “cuddin Pete” - is still living. Several years ago, after they all died, the building was given to the city of Sturgis to be used as a community center. The economy got bad, so it stands empty. Maybe there will again be some grant money when the economy improves to get such a project going again. Daddy’s old home place joins this cemetery and church, and it, too, still stands. My ancestors are all resting in peace in this sweet cemetery, as are other beloved folks of Sturgis.
Only a few hundred wonderful citizens live in Sturgis, a place that could be called antique and quaint. “Antique” means that something has existed for a long time. Sturgis’s Main Street is old-fashioned, and the antique store Sturgis is a special shop with a wooden sign that looks as if it is warped and bending inward. “Antiques” is written on it in black lettering. It, too, is an antique. Inside this shop are relics, furniture, china and many other things such as what-nots and junk. Antiques are always in the eye of the beholder. Quaint means attractively strange or odd in character or appearance, curious, mysterious, or obsolete. The quaint town of Sturgis is filled with fastidious, prim people who are wonderful and beautiful. This tiny town and its citizens are quaintish with quaintly ways, and they call this quaint place home.
I am thrilled to have you with me to share this fun adventure. We park, and it looks as if we are the only ones around. It is down the street before we get to Adams Hardware Store, where Mr. Walter Turner, a grandson of Mr. Adams, inherited this old family store. He is also the mayor. This store is down from the antique store. We’ll drop by to see Walter, who is my cousin. My folks have such deep roots here that I feel very welcome here. My granddaddy, John Andrew McReynolds I, graduated from Roanoke College in Virginia and spent his whole life back here teaching in a one-room school house, traveling on horseback from tiny community to the next in Oktibbeha, Choctaw, and Winston counties. He spoke seven languages and had a real love for learning and teaching. Daddy, John Andrew McReynolds II, rang the church bell each Sunday.
I unpack my supplies and get ready to paint. It seems that I brought the whole studio down here to set up on the cracked, old sidewalk of this little town. The bottom of this painting reads along with my full name and date, “Miss Cain Hannah’s old hat shop, Sturgis, Mississippi.” There is an old well inside this shop, which is next door to my Granddaddy’s bank, Sturgis Bank. Grandaddy McReynolds was president of the bank. He was a teacher, farmer, and banker. He was beloved in both the town and county. I feel like I am standing on hallowed ground where he once stood. I am walking the walk and talking the talk of my ancestors.
Let’s peep inside the window of my painting. Our eyes naturally go to the blown glass window. We’ll start looking at this window from left to right. At the bottom left, we see two what-nots, which are things that sit and collect dust and are useless but beautiful, too. Miss Raggedy Ann and Mr. Raggedy Andy sit, dressed in patriotic colors. They are placed on top of a box that reads “fresh eggs” and another box that says “sunflowers.” Next to them is a fat cat with a big black hat on, and he is joined by a cow wearing a red bandana and overalls, standing up like a person would stand. Next to this cow are two soldiers also dressed in red, white, and blue. Look into the window’s reflections and see the greens, blues, blacks, and greys. As the sunlight mingles these reflections, they dance in the window. Hanging up is a heart-wire wind chime. Can you hear it singing in the wind? Let’s go to the top of the windowsill. There is a cute rabbit sitting there. Next to this rabbit is a wooden block with a figure on it. At the end of the window pane is a tall, chubby angel dressed in blue with black hair. Above all of these are some lovely Irish lace curtains. These curtains give a soft, feminine touch to the window.
I love the wooden window, worn at the bottom of the frame. The top has the curved grey and weathered wood that has aged with grace. I wonder if I too am becoming an antique? I think I am. Maybe I too, can try to age with grace and dignity. The hinges at the top of the windowsill are interesting. The colorful, old bricks are neat. See how I built up each brick as I built this window sill with my own brush strokes? Look at all the reds, oranges, greys, blues, and browns within the old bricks. Notice the weeds that have grown up at the bottom of the window and near the “Antiques” sign. Nobody has bothered to pull up the weeds lately, and they give this painting life. I left the top and one side white so that your eyes can travel from left to right and up and down this canvas. The window is the most important part of this painting, and the old brick gives it so much character and color.
We stop to give ‘Cuddin’ Walter Turner a hug. The men hugged the old pot-belly stove, even though there was no fire inside. The men are so used to sitting in their favorite straight-back chairs that they still hug the stove from habit every day as they gossip about the town, discuss the weather, and wonder if the turnip greens in the crack right in front of Walter’s store might be ready for cooking up a mess in a week or so with some hot buttered cornbread to go along with the pot liquor and some cold buttermilk to drink.” The men have fun making small talk for hours, just passing the day away. I can see Walter leaning back to the side wall in his special spot. This is what one does in a laid-back, sleepy town until August rolls in for the bike rally. Things get lively for a while, and then Sturgis settles back down into her traditional quietness.
Time for us to head home with our new painting as we end this creative production of another painting to add to my home collection of artistic projects. I feel comfortable here in my backyard in Mississippi doing my art. It all comes from deep in my heart, and I get to share it with you, my viewers and readers. What a day, down at the Antique Shop Window in Sturgis, Mississippi.
Painting and story by Starkville artist Carole Elizabeth McReynolds Davis.