Three expressions describe a special lady named Minnie Fox. They are: “What you say?”, “gal baby,” and “sister girl!”
This portrait of Minnie was sketched with a pencil and pastels during the murder trial of 13-year-old Tyler Edmonds. The murder happened at Longview, and he was on trial for his life in being part of the murder of his brother-in-law. When I did Minnie’s portrait I was inside the old Oktibbeha County courtroom on July 23, 2004. I was the courtroom artist. It is one of the best portraits I ever created. I caught her in a split second as she was speaking. Look closely at her expression and the exact likeness of the profile of her face on a piece of white paper. I have loved her portrait for years, and I have the special opportunity to share it with you.
I invite you as my viewer and reader to go “be-bopping” with me, as Polly Bryan used to say. She was my second mama after my mama died, and Polly was the mama to Patsy, Dolph, Carolyn Sue and Bill Bryan. We are “be-bopping” underneath the hill to our Oktibbeha County jail. The day is Dec. 19, and we are going to see and visit Minnie Fox before she retires from her job on Jan. 1. Each of you are going to be with me as a fly on the wall. We will share Minnie’s life and stories.
Minnie Louise Fox was born in Oktibbeha County in the Blackjack Community on Blackjack Road. Her daddy was Charles Fox, and her mother was Lu Bertha Tate. She was born on Jan. 13, 1947. She graduated from the county school, Moor High School. Her beloved church is Blackjack Church, and her minister for 40 years is the Rev. R.T. Branson. She is the mother of four sons: Patrick Fox, Danny Neal, Julius Neal and the late Jeffrey Neal. Patrick and Danny live in Starkville, and Julius lives in Pheba. Julius is a minister. She has seven grandsons. Minnie now lives on 188 Fox Road in Blackjack. She has been the cook at the jail for 14 years.
We enter the double glass doors of our jail, say hello and ask to see Minnie. The folks at the desk knew I would be here since I had been there earlier to see Minnie who was out delivering food to shut-ins, and I told them my reason for coming. Minnie appeared, and we headed to the jail break room where we could have a nice table and comfortable chairs in which to sit. Immediately we smile because Minnie’s million dollar smile is so inviting.
I said, “Minnie, what are your two loves in life?” She said, “Why, they are cooking and decorating. You should see all my decorating. I love to make door wreaths and decorate my home and yard.” I ask, “What is you favorite thing to cook?” She said, “I love baking, and it takes a lot of patience. I love to make shepard’s pie and anything that pertains to casseroles.”
Frank and I had been invited as special guests to this year’s 2011 Sheriff’s Christmas party down at the Shrine Club, and I have never tasted such delicious turkey, dressing, gravy, creamed Irish potatoes and Boston Butt. Each dish she prepared for the party melted in our mouths. You could taste Minnie’s love of cooking in every bite.
I asked, “What have you loved best about your 14 years here at the jail, Minnie?” She said, “I have loved working with the trustees and deputies. I love Sheriff Dolph Bryan very much, and he is a real Christian gentleman. I can go through this whole jail and into the offices of everyone, and I can say that Sheriff Bryan and retired Deputy James Lindsey are the only two who have The Holy Bible visible on their desks. Both men read their Bibles each day. I enjoyed taking up money to help others down here at the jail. One day a deputy said, ‘Minnie, you need to take up money for me today because I don’t have any money today to buy my lunch. Will you take it up for me today?’ I enjoyed laughing and kidding as well as crying with the folks here. I became fond of many of the trustees who got to have their meals in the kitchen.
“Carole, do you remember Mr. Laurence Johnson, also called ‘James Brown’ because he could do the James Brown dance? Laurence told me that you painted a beautiful and portrait of him and gave him food when you would see him on the streets.” I replied, ”Yes, I did, and he loved his 2008 portrait called ‘You Cling to Every Thread That Clings to Me,’ one of my most moving portraits.” She said, “Well, as you know, Mr. Johnson was a poor homeless man. When the nights got cold, Sheriff Bryan would find him a room in the jail to stay warm. Laurence is no longer in Starkville because he is down in Meridian in a nursing home. You see, Sheriff Bryan practiced his Christian beliefs in his own quiet manner without fanfare or knowledge of what he did for others who needed his help. We are going to miss Mr. Dolph.”
She continued, “I applied for an extra job, and the Sheriff gave it to me. The job is called “Are You Okay Calls” (AYOC). I have an opportunity to call 89 senior citizens every morning when they tell me the exact hour that they want to be called. We get about $5,000 of federal grants each year to finance this program. I see them twice a week. One sweet person is 100 years old. Another is 94. We give them fire extinguishers and signs with their addresses to go in their yards.We make sure they get hot meals. I become so fond of them that when one dies I grieve for them, too. Pray for me as I go about this AYOC program. I am provided a car to go see them daily. I do this with God’s help. When they don’t answer I send a deputy to their home to see if they are okay and give emergency if needed. I have their medical doctor’s name and telephone number, their pastor’s name and number, and I know where their hidden key is so that a deputy can help them. I will miss not coming up here to cook for everyone, and I will miss the older folks in the AYOC. I always take goody baskets to them for Christmas. When they die I go to their funerals, and I try to console the families. We make sure the families have food for the funeral guests.”
I wished everyone could do what Minnie was doing. She is doing missionary work here in Oktibbeha County. I bet Minnie will check on these senior citizens after she retires.
“What will you do in your retirement?” I asked.
She said, “I am going to write a cookbook titled ‘Fox’s Fixings.’ My book will feature recipes that I love best, especially my good old soul foods.” Then I said, “We’ll give you a book signing one at the Main Street Book Mart and Cafe.”
We had fun getting a peep in the heart of Minnie. On our way out, we stopped and talked to people who have had the opportunity to love and work closely with Minnie for 14 years as the cook and head of AYOC.
Minnie, when you retire, you might get an early morning call from me, and I shall ask, “Are you okay? What are you cooking for dinner down in Blackjack? I can smell your cooking all the way here in Starkville. What decorations do you have on your door?”
I said to her on the phone, “Hey, Minnie, are you still going to see all those 89 senior citizens?” I can bet you are. Did you like your 65th birthday gift I presented to you on Jan. 14 of your large portrait I did in back in 2004 and the story I wrote about your life that I read that same night to you and your guests? It was my honor to give you this small gift, for you, Minnie gave to so many people in Oktibbeha County. They needed you.” Everyone down at the jail, and all the senior citizens and everyone who knows you thanks you, Minnie.
Minnie, my gift to you is this column and this picture. See, I did wear a ladies’ black tuxedo with a platinum bow tie and matching vest. Just look at you, the diva of the night with your beautiful black dress. I dig that beautiful platinum necklace and those tasteful earrings. Your big golden glasses are your trademark, and your hair do is absolutely the greatest. Look closely at your portrait and see my signature and its date of 2004. You have not aged one bit, gal baby. I want to especially thank two wonderful new friends, Tracy and Gail Miller, whom Frank and I love. They came to our home on Jan. 17 and captured the very moment forever in film when I presented you with this story and portrait. A painting is worth a million words, but the love that your family and friends have for you is priceless you are my sister girl.
Carole McReynolds Davis is a local artist. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org .