Friday, August 13, 2010

Miss Margaret on My Mind

I first visited Margaret's Grocery in Vicksburg, Miss., when I started working at the MAC. I made the quick drive over from Jackson and met with Lesley Silver of Attic Gallery. She drove me over to the "Castle," along with two curious tourists who'd learned all about Vicksburg on At the time, both Rev. Dennis and Miss Margaret were still living at the house; both age 93 at the time. Rev. Dennis started our tour with a lesson on the Ark of the Covenant, which sits on his front porch. I don't have a picture of the Ark, but I'm sure there is one out there on the world wide web. The tour continued onward, but I stayed back and spent some time with Miss Margaret.

We talked a bit about the name Margaret, about the unique way they'd chosen to decorate her one-time grocery store and about the upcoming Easter Sunday. She was one of the kindest people I'd met in a while. She reminded me of the salt-of-the-earth Delta people I knew as a girl growing up in Drew, Miss. There was a certain kindness in her demeanor that reminded you of the good in the world. Miss Margaret died about six months later, on October 5, 2009, and Margaret's Grocery hasn't been the same since.

I attended her funeral on a cold, wet Saturday. It was unlike anything I'd ever experienced. The church members invited me to sit with the family. We sat for a bit, then everyone walked outside. I wasn't sure what was happening. Four ladies in what looked like old-timey nurses uniforms guided us back into the church. That's when I understood that I was part of a procession. We followed the pallbearers back into the church as they gently moved Miss Margaret's casket to the front of the sanctuary. We each had a moment to touch her cold hands, peer at her peaceful face, admire the pink satin lining on the pink and chrome casket.

During the service I learned that Miss Margaret had been a pillar there at Cool Springs Church, which sits directly behind her home, Margaret's Grocery. She hadn't missed a meeting in 50 years. Several of the present-day deacons recalled Miss Margaret teaching them their alphabet and subsequently, teaching them to read. The service was long. It was sweet. It was sad.

Rev. Dennis didn't make it to the service. He told the nurses at the nursing home where he and Miss Margaret had been living for the past month that he was sick and couldn't' go. I'm sure he was. Grief will make you physically ill; we all know that.

The following January a young film-maker from LSU screened his documentary, God's Architects, at the Southern Cultural Heritage Center. Rev. Dennis was a featured artist in the film, and a deacon from Cool Springs made sure he was in attendance. I started to cry when Rev. Dennis called out at the sight of Miss Margaret on the screen. It was the first time he'd seen her since they took her away from the room they shared at the nursing home on Cherry Street in Vicksburg.

Since then, a small group of folks have been working together to organize a grassroots effort to save Margaret's Grocery. You can see some bright and vivid images of Margaret's Grocery in its prime here. You can see images from this past December on the Facebook page I created to draw interest in this preservation project.

We have organized a community forum around Margaret's Grocery on Thursday, Aug. 19 at 5:30 p.m. at the Southern Cultural Heritage Center, so please join us if you can.

If you aren't familiar with Margaret's Grocery or the Rev. H.D. Dennis, or the late Miss Margaret, then please take some time to put them into the "google machine" and learn a bit more about this fantastic folk art site on old Highway 61. A good way to get started is by reading this article by an Atlanta-based photojournalist.

1 comment: