By CAROLE MCREYNOLDS DAVIS
Just yesterday it was March 4, 1942, and today it’s March 4, 2012. Where have the years gone? It’s my big “0” birthday, and I invite you to celebrate as my special guests because you are my special viewers of my paintings and the readers of my column. It’s my honor to write for the Starkville Daily News. I get to come into your homes and hopefully come into your hearts telling you about who I am, what I did and where I’m going. I want y’all to come over to my house, sit on the porch, swing in the old white swing and we will get a glimpse of the past 70 extraordinary years.
Thirty-six years ago I got out my baby book, slipped out an old black and white photo that my daddy made of me in 1942 with his big Kodak camera in the backyard of our two story white clapboard faculty home on the Mississippi State University campus. Let’s take a peep at this painting I did 36 years ago on a large 24-by-36-inch stretched canvas. I had just started to take my very first steps. I am sitting on an old brown tin can cuddling my favorite Madame Alexander doll in my arms, Daddy’s camera lens caught me giving her a kiss on her cheek. My doll’s dress was a soft yellow with a hat to match, and she was barefooted. Mama dressed me up especially for my first birthday party in a red frilly dress with a white collar around my neck. She used a bobby pin to hold a red bow on my head. I had on high topped laced up white polished leather shoes with white turned down socks. Look in my green eyes. Do you see a twinkle of happiness? Look at the background. Can you see how my eyes contrast the dark and light green grass as it sways back and forth on this windy, chilly March day? The shades of cobalt mixed with light violet in the sky tell us it was a sunny day. Now look at my doll. I loved her. I still love playing with dolls. Today my two favorite dolls are “wo-mannequins,” Dottie, who is a sitting grandmother and Mollie Golly who is a standing granddaughter. They live on our wraparound porch at 501 Louisville Street, our family home for six generations and has inside many of the antiques that have remained here for 100 years. Some are even older going back hundreds of years. Starkville celebrates 175 years this year getting its charter as a city on Sept. 11 175 years ago. Dottie and Mollie Golly are dressed stylishly and differently for each month. I refuse to grow up, and I love playing with dolls.
I was beginning to walk with my unsteady baby steps in my new, exciting world living life. Who am I? I was born March 4, 1942. I was delivered by Dr. Jim Eckford and his son Dr. Feddy Eckford in an old two-story home called a hospital located behind Welch Funeral Home in Starkville. My mama was Elizabeth Janette Lewis McReynolds, and she was 30 years old when she gave birth to me. My daddy was John Andrew McReynolds II, and he was 35 years old when I was born. Daddy always told me,” Carole (he also called me “Baby” and “Sister”), the first time I saw you your eyes were wide open as if you were about to conquer the world. You were looking around everywhere at this colorful, beautiful and wonderful world you had entered.”
I was petted, worshipped and loved very much. I was an only child for four years until my only sibling, John Andrew McReynolds III, was born. I adored my brother, Johnny, and suddenly I had a real live doll to play with.
Look again at the portrait at the tiny colored photograph of me that appears each Sunday as my byline. I have on a big red picture straw hat, and see the contrast of years from being a toddler to being a lady toddler. I am still wearing my favorite color red. I think back to my surprise 7th birthday party on campus. I lived on campus until I was in third grade, and we moved uptown to Granny’s home. Mama was our Brownie Scout leader, and she took a tiny plastic standing doll and handmade her an entire brown Brownie dress outfit and a matching Brownie cap on her head. After school my fellow Scouts appeared out of nowhere singing “Happy Birthday.” I was so surprised and happy. I still have mama’s Brownie Scout Doll standing on a hanging shelf in our second guest bedroom. She is one of my most treasured dolls. I’ll never forget my Sweet 16 party that Mama and Daddy gave me down at the old Stark Hotel which was the most elegant place in town to have a huge dance. Everybody in my entire class was invited to come to my dance party with the sounds of the top 1950s records playing loud and clear, and we danced the “Jitter Bug” for hours. It was my greatest birthday party, and I wore a long light pink net dress trimmed in black velvet that my grandmother, Mary Elizabeth Edwards McReynolds, designed and made especially for me. My date was a visiting cousin and gentleman, Bill Stark, who later became a lawyer in town and is married now to Donna Stark. He was in town to visit his aunt and my beloved cousin, Betsy Stark, on Greensboro Street. It was a fabulous party. At our 50th Starkville High School class reunion out at Johnny and Ann McWhorter’s restored barn on the Oktoc Road, several of my classmates came up to me and said, “Carole, we never forgot your Sweet 16 party, and thanks for inviting us. Not a single classmate was left out. You included everyone and made us feel welcome.”
I graduated in 1960 from Starkville High School and from Mississippi State University in December 1964. I married Dr. Frank Marvin Davis Sr. on March 21, 1964. Mama died Dec. 24, 1964 at the young age of 53. I shall never forget the year 1964 with all the life changing events. Daddy lived on for years as a widower saying, “I never found another best friend.” He died June 27, 2003 at the age of almost 97. Johnny, my brother, lives in Russellville, Ala. with his sweet wife Patsy and their now grown son and daughter and four grandchildren. He is vice-president of a lumber company in Fulton. He has for years made the daily trip from Alabama to Mississippi. He too is a MSU graduate in the colleges of Forestry and Business. The Governor of Alabama appointed Johnny to serve on The Forestry Commission of Alabama where they meet several times a year in Montgomery, Ala. I am so proud of Johnny.
I became a “Carole.” “Mom”, and “Mama” to three babies. Each one calls me a different name. They are Frank Marvin Davis Jr., age 44, Lewis McReynolds Davis, age 37 and Miriam Elizabeth Davis Williams, age 32. Frank and I have four granddaughters and two grandsons. I was a stay-at-home mama. I have never held a job, but I have had a blast doing several community projects around town. I am Starkville’s and Mississippi’s Queen Rat for the American Cancer Society. I dressed up like a real rat and collected over $12,000 to help with cancer research. I accepted this challenge to honor my friend Geneveve Carter who died of cancer. It took me 28 days to earn this money. I took up over $10,000 to build the Dr. Feddy Eckford, M.D. Memorial Arch with the old step that was worn down by thousands of footprints that went in and out of the Eckford Clinic. It will be replaced again this spring on the OCH Regional Medical Center grounds to pay tribute to the thousands of citizens that both he and his beloved father brought into this world. I sketched as a court room artist here in our Oktibbeha County Court House for two murder trials. I had the opportunity to be a member of the first Chamber of Commerce Better Race Relations Team to bridge the gap in our city and county. I enjoyed these projects as I tried to make a difference locally. Between diaper changes I painted portraits, places, and everything else. I appreciate my husband. Frank is my soul mate. I love that mama, daddy, Johnny, Frank, Little Frank, McReynolds and Elizabeth have allowed me to just be me. Who else would I be anyway?
I used to dress up every Easter as a rabbit, and I would unexpectedly slip down to my children’s schools to pass out Easter candy eggs during recess. I decorated my car once with a large artist canvas painted pink of an oversized band aid. I had gotten a dent on the driver’s side of my car, and that other driver had driven off without my knowing who he or she was. I used my artistic talent to draw, paint and cut out this huge bandaid and glue it on to the driver’s side. I stuffed the middle of the band-aid with black garbage bags to make the dent look as if it were infected. One Christmas I had real black Santa’s rubber boots dangling from the trunk of my car, a big red bow on the top, Rudolph with his blinking nose on the hood, a stuffed life-size doll riding in the passenger seat with fishnet string holding up her hand waving to passing cars. My three children who were now in Starkville Elementary, Junior High and High School said, “Mama, we’ll just walk to school today. We love walking. You don’t have to pick us up.” Do you blame them for walking instead of riding with their mama?
I have had a love affair with hats since infancy. I never leave the house without a hat on my head. My grandmother McReynolds and her daughter Parthenia McReynolds Dodds designed hats. Parthenia lived for years in Jackson, and she often designed hats for the Governor’s wives when hats were in style. I now create and design hats. It is so much fun to be in love with hats. I create paintings, I design hats and I write. I stay busy.
We live in our 100-year-old home, which is on the National Historical Homes of America. It was built by my great-grandfather, Wiley Bartley Pearson, in 1911. Mama was born in this home as well as married daddy in the parlor on Dec. 22, 1935. We have ghosts in our home, and three of my ancestors died here — Papa Pearson and my maternal grandparents, William Elmer Lewis and Daisy Pearson Lewis. We’ve heard footsteps come up and down the stairs and dishes crashing in the cabinets without a dish broken. Friendly ghosts live with us, too. We love our ghosts. They are just family members checking the house out, and they wonder how life must have changed since 1911.
I love to play dress up daily. I love dolls, and I sincerely love people, my hometown, my county, and my university. I am so happy to be born an American citizen and a native Mississippian. I circled the world in 1980 and 1981. We spent six months in Los Banos, University of the Philippines, in The Philippine Islands when Frank, a research entomologist was sent on loan from the U.S. Department Of Agriculture to IRRI (International Rice Research Institute) to set up an insect rearing laboratory for the Ford and Rockefellow Foundation. I, along with the MSU geology and art departments have traveled to San Salvador, The Bahamas, Scotland and Ireland to paint. Just a few years ago, we traveled to Beijing, China in 2009. In the Philippine Islands we experienced a dictatorship, though the Philippines are now democratic. In China we experienced Communism. We love democracy, and we love America. I’ve been all over our world, but the best place to be is here in Mississippi.
Where am I going? I’m going to get up early every morning before daylight, and I shall dance in the morning when the world was begun and dance in the moon and stars and the sun.
I’m off flying in an airplane with my pilot, Dr. George Bennett of Starkville, and I am looking down at my beloved city, county and university with wings on my back in a peaceful glider. If you read about a 70-year-old artist/creator/writer/bag lady/collector of hats, junk, hub caps, red bottle trees, antique bottles and outrageous things crashing into a bush in Starkville Daily News, know that I lived each day to its fullest and breathed each breath with unique fun and great excitement. I never planned on growing up, I just mellowed with age. Someone asked me recently, “What are you doing? My answer wa , “I’m just chilling, thinking that attitude each day is our choice.” There was once a Schlitz beer can, and on it was a globe. Their logo was a simple and like a visual painting worth a million words. There was one word — “gusto.” I reached for the gusto knowing in my heart that we only go around this world once.
My viewer, reader and friend, go for the gusto. Look at this portrait. I was a 1-year-old baby toddler sitting on a tin can with a red dress on and a red ribbon in my hair. I was giving a peck on my baby doll’s head. Look at the tiny photo in the Starkville Daily News today. I am now a grown up toddling around day after day with a red polka-dotted dress and a big straw matching red polka-dotted picture hat with an art palette pin with many colors and a real brush. I am a daughter, sister, wife, mother and grandmother. I thank God for my blessings. I thanks each of my viewers and readers, and I hope you have had a wonderful time helping me celebrate my birthday today.
Carole McReynolds Davis is a local artist. Email her at email@example.com .