Thursday, December 13, 2018

Life in Highland

I can’t believe it’s been so long since I’ve written on my blog.  Approach—avoidance.  I’ve missed writing my blog, just as fiercely as I’ve resisted writing it. I’ve been busy, but not every minute of the day.
Queenie of Highland
(image by
I’m involved in a variety of community projects at the moment. I currently chair the nominating committee for the board of directors of my neighborhood association, the Highland Restoration Association (HRA). The neighborhood organization is an all-volunteer, non-profit organization that has existed for decades, dedicated to preserving our historic central city neighborhood, home to two nationally recognized historic districts. 

We recruited youthful, energetic board members for the neighborhood association next year, but HRA has no paid staff and much work to be done. We host events, monitor property standards and zoning issues affecting our neighborhood, have monthly clean-ups, complete physical improvement projects and beautification of gateway sites, and partner with other groups to address neighborhood challenges.
A neighborhood association potluck
 at the local fire station to honor first responders

Volunteers pull weeds at a neighborhood gateway
beautification location
Abandoned duplex

Sidewalk beside above home--an emailed complaint
to the city did get the lawn mowed

Picking up litter on a Saturday morning

Before we picked up and organized trash from eviction

After we organized the garbage for weekly trash pick-up
We need all the help we can garner. We must deal with complacent and bureaucratic city officials, property owners and state laws that allow “demolition by neglect”, renters who don’t care, and a youthful criminal element with easy availability to firearms. I’m making it sound like Gotham. My passion for preservation makes me hyperbolic at times. I also serve on the board of the Louisiana Trust for Historic Preservation and assist in the local revolving fund effort where we are trying to save homes from demolition by acquiring them through donation or by paying affordable price. We stabilize the homes to prevent further decay, fix up the exterior, draw up historic easements, and sell the property to save it and return it to the tax rolls. The money earned is returned to the revolving fund for future restorations.

A classic Craftsman bungalow, adjudicated by the city
and with no marketable title available, is allowed to fall down
even though the revolving fund has money and expertise to restore it.

Another property, an apartment building,
 that the owner and the city are allowing to decay.
Even with the significant challenges, most days I feel blessed to live in this vibrant and diverse neighborhood. A friend once described our neighborhood residents as hippies and hipsters.

A little bit of color looking down our driveway toward the neighbor's house
We have awesome neighbors on our street. One young dad makes homemade bread, and we’ve been the fortunate recipient of warm, straight-from-the-oven loaves, as well as homemade cakes. We care for one neighbor’s cats while they are out-of-town, and another neighbor watches our house and gets the newspaper and mail when we are gone for a few days. When I had my knee replacement surgery, women I only knew from the HRA Facebook page showed up with meals. I’m humbled by their kindness.

There is one thing you can say about Highlanders—we like to have a good time!
For art lovers, we have Highland Open Studio Tour Sunday, or HOSTS, the quarterly studio tour where local artists offer artwork for sale in homes and studios throughout the neighborhood. HOSTS is a rolling party, a progressive dinner, and an arts and crafts fair meshed into a single event.  

Ricky and I hosted our second Highland Open Studio Tour Sundays (HOSTS) on December 9. Local artists set up in our home (and half dozen other sites) to sell their original art. My husband Ricky offered blacksmithing demonstrations and displayed some of his wares to sell.  All the tour locations serve free food to shoppers and guests. Our fare was red beans and rice—a Louisiana Monday meal served on Sunday!
In the cottage getting ready for December HOSTS

Tree in our foyer before HOSTS 
My friend Melissa ( set up in the foyer

Author Ann Marie Jameson
signed books in the plant room at HOSTS.

Caddo Candle Company set up their display in my heavily decorated library.
Loretta displayed her collages and other products
in the dining room

Sarah E and her daughter shared a table.
One special item that was for sale at HOSTS was the third issue of the literary magazine for Northwest Louisiana, Fleur de Lit, that my friend Melissa founded with some help from the women in my writing group. Usually in Louisiana, everything focuses on Baton Rouge and New Orleans. It's like the state of Louisiana stops at I-10, but this literary journal focuses on the northwest part of the state. I've been fortunate to have poems and articles published in all three journals. Copies of the journal can be ordered at

Three issues of Fleur de Lit
During our previous HOSTS event, our friends in the Fiddlin’ Tim Trio played in the cottage.  This time our friend Joanie Nerrittig played her guitar and sang, then she went with Ricky and me to Fairfield Studios where the Fiddlin' Tim Trio and friends were showcased in the Shreveport House Concert series. A creative circle of sorts.
Monty Russell played original songs.
Kevin Gordon of Monroe, LA is another talented musician.

Introducing the Fiddlin' Tim Trio!
Fairfield Studios is a small recording studio that features singer-songwriters and musicians who perform concerts in an intimate-sized, listening room. The space accommodates about 100 people. Local musicians perform the opening act, and during intermission, everyone can enjoy a buffet meal before the primary talent takes the stage. The main acts are singer-songwriters who are touring small venues, or who have Shreveport musical connections. The music may be folk, country, pop, or an eclectic mix, but always interesting. 

Highland is a neighborhood that supports live music. Music lovers flock to the neighborhood’s free admission, two-stage Highland Jazz and Blues Festival held each fall in the near-by park. Attendees bring chairs or blankets and spread over the hill in front of the picnic pavilion or around the gazebo at the other end of the park to listen to the bands. Scattered throughout the park are food, drink, and crafts vendors.

Highland’s biggest weekend is the Sunday afternoon before Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, when the Krewe of Highland parade snakes through our neighborhood. The marching krewe, Blanc et Noir, and a brass band lead off the parade.  Then, cries of “Throw me something, mister” echo through the streets as elaborate professionally-constructed Mardi Gras floats, modest homemade floats, vintage cars, marching high school bands, performers on stilts, and people on bicycles pass by for a couple of hours. 

Krewes are social groups, usually non-profit organizations that put on parades and balls during Carnival season (Mardi Gras in Louisiana) before Lent. In Shreveport, the krewes also perform community service.

I’ve been selected to serve as Mardi Gras Queen of the Krewe of Highland for 2019. It’s an honor and a responsibility to represent the krewe and the neighborhood. Other royals include a king, a captain and co-captain, and a royal court of dukes and duchesses. The theme for our Krewe of Highland Mardi Gras 2019 is Under the Big Top (coronation) and the Greatest Show on Earth (ball).  Highland’s coronation and ball feature costumes, but not the elaborate outfits associated with Mardi Gras in New Orleans. 

Dressed for coronation and waiting to be presented

Me and my consort, i.e., husband

Presenting the King of Highland
Royal Court of the Krewe of Highland
Krewe Captain Sydni

Co-Captain, Captain, and Queen
My friends Tina and Sheila
(who doesn't always dress like a creepy clown)

The Krewe of Highland held the coronation this year at an outdoor venue, which was the wintering grounds for the Mighty Haag circus around the turn of the 20th century. Ghosts of the Mighty Haag Circus may have wandered among us that night. Not even a rainstorm at the beginning of the event, where revelers had to huddle under tents, marred the festivities.

Queen JoAnna of Sobek
Besides the unveiling of the royal court, we had a buffet of hors d’oeuvres, a deejay, a silent auction, and performers entertaining the guests.  Our circus entertainment included a fire-eater, young women gyrating with hula-hoops of fire, a man who lay on a bed of nails while a party goer broke a cinder block on his abdomen, a photo station where you could have your picture taken with a mermaid and merman, plus games of chance.  My alter ego for the coronation was Queenie, a circus attraction that’s part-leopard/part-woman.

The  krewes often host teas for the queens, so far I've attended two that have allowed me to get to know some of the other queens and members of their krewes. (You may have to be from a Mardi Gras part of the country to understand all this.) 

Krewe of Elders tea

Krewe of Sobek tea
I like to have fun, I like art and music, old houses, my old house with its hidden cottage, healthy neighborhoods, reading and writing and travel and spending time with my family and so many things. It's hard to fit it all in.  I'm grateful for the year that was 2018, and I look forward to more adventures in 2019.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Separating Children From Their Families, Part 2

Lisa Wingate's compelling work of historic fiction, Before We Were Yours, is based on the true story of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society and Georgia Tann, the director of the Memphis branch of the organization. From 1924 until 1950, Tann and her agents "stole" over 5,000 poor children from their families, or conned parents into signing away their parental rights.  Tann then sold these “orphans” to people who could afford to pay for a child. 

I know many of you read Wingate's book when it first appeared in 2017 or have seen the made-for-TV movies based on Tann's actions, but the topic was relevant to me and also seemed timely to current events. 
Georgia Tann, proprietor of Memphis Children's Home Society
When I read Before We Were Yours, I read it with the knowledge that I, as a former social services worker, had one time tried to take a mother’s children from her because I thought it would be better for the children.  I'm not saying I was wrong or right in my actions, I just remember that it wasn't a decision I made easily. You may read about it here. 

During the Great Depression, an estimated 50,000 people lived nomadic lives on the waterways of the country.  The shanty boat families often camped along the riverbanks when they  weren't moving back and forth on the water. These poor families were one group that Tann and her henchmen preyed upon. 

Wingate’s fictional narrative tells the story of one shanty boat family. Rill Foss and her siblings are taken from their river gypsy parents, Briny and Queenie Foss, through trickery and strong arm tactics.  When Queenie, the mother, has trouble delivering twins with the aid of a midwife on their houseboat, Briny rushes Queenie to the hospital in Memphis. The doctor tells Briny and Queenie that the twins died, a common ploy that the Memphis Children’s Home Society uses to obtain newborns for adoption. Hospital personnel then trick Briny and Queenie into signing papers that terminate their parental rights for all their children.

While the Foss children are home alone on the houseboat awaiting the return of their parents,  men board the boat, abduct the children and take them to a boarding house for children in Memphis, which is part of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society. The oldest child Rill tries desperately to watch after her four siblings, Camellia, Fern, Lark and Gabion in the harsh conditions of the boarding house filled with other children. Rill soon discovers that children disappear from this facility; some children are adopted after adoptive parents pay the proprietor of the enterprise, Georgia Tann, a substantial fee, while others just disappear and are presumed dead.

Friends of Briny and Queenie from the river shantytown, Zede and Silas, try to help the children escape, but by then the family has been destroyed. Rill and her sister Fern are fortunate to be placed together, adopted by a wealthy family who loves them, treats them kindly, and provides them with many advantages growing up. Rill resigns herself to being May Weathers, the name given to her by her new family.

The story of the Foss children unfolds in alternating chapters in Wingate’s book. Rill’s voice details the horrifying circumstances she and her siblings face as they are forcibly removed from their riverboat home and taken to the Memphis Children’s Home Society.  The next chapter switches to present day and is the voice of Avery Stafford, a young woman from a prominent political family in Memphis. Avery is searching for answers about her beloved grandmother Judith’s life as Judith Stafford’s memories and words are lost to dementia. Eventually the lives of the women, Avery Stafford, May Weathers, and Judith Stafford, intersect.

Georgia Tann’s contemporaries were either ignorant of her nefarious network or willing to ignore her methods of procurement and treatment of children. At one time, Tann’s contemporaries praised her as the “mother of modern adoption.” Because Tann catered to prominent men and women who desperately wanted children, the stigma of adoption began to disappear.  Actors Joan Crawford, Lana Turner, June Allyson and Dick Powell used her agency to adopt children. Eleanor Roosevelt sought Tann’s advice on issues of adoption and child welfare during the Depression.

Actresses Joan Crawford and June Allyson
with the children they adopted from
the Memphis Children's Home Society
In 1945 between 40 and 50 infants in Tann’s boarding homes died of dysentery.  However, Tann and her network were so embedded into the circles of power and control that when the Tennessee legislature passed a law requiring that all boarding houses for children must be licensed, they exempted her establishments.  

When a Tennessee governor who wasn’t a friend of Tann was elected, her lucrative empire began to crumble.  A 1950 study of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society exposed the horrors of the Memphis operations, and the report was submitted to the Tennessee governor. 

Many parents whose children were stolen from them tried for years to find their children.  Authorities made this next to impossible. Even after the horrors committed by Georgia Tann were exposed, Tennessee public officials sealed the records of her homes until 1995!  

During the years Tann operated her series of boarding houses for “orphans,”  it’s estimated that 500 children died in these institutions. In recent years, Tann has been described as the most prolific serial killer of children in US history.

Wingate consulted multiple sources to confirm and tell the story of the Memphis Children’s Home Society: books, articles, plus the 1950 report to the governor of Tennessee. 

Once again, an ugly chapter involving the treatment of poor children is being written in the United States. Along our southern border from April--June 2018, Border Patrols agents and immigration officials separated an estimated 3,000 children from their parents, immigrants from Central America, who are trying to enter the US from Mexico. 

According to parents, government immigration agents told the parents that their children were being taken to another space for a shower or bathroom break but in reality, the children were removed to large holding facilities until the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) could take custody of the children. The adults were sent to detention centers without seeing their children. Some immigrants report that they were pressured to sign forms waiving their reunification rights, others were told if they agreed to deportation, they would be reunited with their children more quickly. This was a lie.  

When the president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Colleen Kraft, toured a Texas holding facility for children, she found children in great distress. Kraft wrote after her visit, “Separating children from their parents contradicts everything we stand for as pediatricians – protecting and promoting children’s health. In fact, highly stressful experiences, like family separation, can cause irreparable harm, disrupting a child’s brain architecture and affecting his or her short and long-term health.” Long-term toxic stress bathes the brain in hormones that can permanently alter the  "wiring" of a child's brain.

On July 20 President Trump finally ended the wholesale separation of children from their parents, bowing to intense political and public pressure, and US District Judge Dana Sabraw gave the government until July 26 to reunite children with their parents. The government says it reunited 1,820 children with their parents or close family relatives by the deadline.

As of July 29, 711 children had not yet been reunited with their families. The parents of 431 children have already been deported, making the reunification process more difficult. Immigrant advocacy lawyers continue to work on behalf of these children and their families, trying to reunite children with parents or other family members.

I think of the Memphis Society Children’s Society Home when I read of the horrors these immigrant parents have endured. 

Wingate dedicates Before We Were Yours, to  “… the hundreds [of children] who vanished and for the thousands who didn’t. May your stories not be forgotten.”  

I hope the stories of these immigrant families are not forgotten, because the United States is a better country than these incidents indicate.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Separating Children From Their Families, Part 1

In the early 1970’s I was working as a caseworker for the county department of social services (also known as the welfare department) in my Appalachian hometown.  My assignment was an Aid to Families with Dependent Children, or AFDC, caseload.  The AFDC program, in effect from 1935 until 1996, provided federal assistance to children whose family had low or no income.

I don’t recall how many families I served, but it was enough that making home visits to each family was hard to accomplish.  I would read the file on the family and if it appeared that the adult caregiver(s) and the children were doing well (even though they were living in poverty), a phone contact might suffice—if they had a telephone.  

However, several days a week I drove the back streets of my hometown or the mountainous county roads to make home visits to the families on my caseload. Typically, I would check on the well-being of the children, see what services the family might need, and try to match their needs with community resources. 

In my early days as a "welfare worker"
While I worked for social services, a few families took an inordinate amount of my time. The challenges might be a large number of children in the family; adults in the home who had mental health or other health issues; or I suspected that the children were neglected. I returned repeatedly to these homes trying to monitor the situation and to promote a healthier environment for raising children.

During the two-plus years I worked my AFDC caseload, I went to court one time to ask that the courts remove children from a mother’s custody.  This single mother had at least eight children. I worked with the mother for months but she never made much of an effort to comply with the department’s suggestions. The house was filthy. I remember the interior walls had food stuck to them. It appeared there had been a big food fight at some point but no one bothered to clean up afterwards.  A loaf of bread and peanut butter and jelly sat out on the table all the time and the children would wander by, fix something to eat—if they were tall enough to reach the table--and keep moving. One of the younger boys in the family frequently had cuts and bruises on his arms and legs, and occasionally his face. When I asked what happened to him, he said one of the older children had hit him or pushed him down, etc. 

At the very least, the children lacked consistent adult supervision and guidance. The worse case scenario was physical abuse also was present in the home. The older children missed school frequently, kept home to babysit the preschool children.

I finally made the decision, with the assistance of my supervisor and other more experienced workers in the department, to take the mother to court to gain temporary custody of the 
children. She had a lawyer, or perhaps the court had appointed the lawyer to represent the children’s interests, I don’t remember.  I do remember testifying.  The lawyer asked me about my previous experience with large families. In another county where I got my start in the field of social services, I had large mountain families on my caseload. I also had served as a substitute teacher in the local Head Start program so I had some job-related experience and sympathy with the problems of poverty.

Mother with infant
I felt these children should be removed from the home with the idea that the foster care worker would then work with the mother to help her improve her parenting skills so the children could be returned to her custody.

After the family services judge heard all the testimony and examined the documentation each side provided, he ruled in favor of the department of social services.  When the deputy went to get the children who were supposed to be waiting in a back room, the mother and her boyfriend had fled the county with the children. I remember being surprised because that was the first time I saw that the mom cared enough about her children to fight for them.  The sheriff didn’t try to apprehend the couple. A warrant for the mom was probably issued.  If she were smart, she never returned to this county.  I know I never saw her or the children again.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Writing Snail Mail

I’m working on a blog post that keeps growing and growing, longer and longer, and I’m fretting over how to deal with it.  Are all the words necessary? Should I divide into parts? As I get frustrated, I think about the writing process.

Homemade envelope from a friend
I remember when I taught middle school and later at various colleges and universities, my students would often become stuck at the beginning of a writing assignment. I advised the students to jump-start their writing by pretending they were composing a letter to a close friend. At this point in the writing process, don’t worry about being perfect, I say.  You’re just sharing information informally with someone. 

This strategy often worked as long as the student fulfilled Part 2 of the process-- revising their writing in accordance with the assignment and editing their grammar, punctuation and spelling, as needed.
I left teaching and moved into administration at the right time, because any effectiveness of that strategy went out the window some years ago.  I can imagine the blank stares of today’s youth.

 “A letter?” someone asks. “I just have to write one letter? I'll take 'T.'”  

“No, I’m not talking about the alphabet. I’m talking about a letter like snail mail.” I say.

“I’ve heard of snail mail, is it anything like email?  My grandmother still uses email,” one student says.

“My grandmother likes Messenger,” says another.

 “I use Snapchat,” a girl volunteers.

“Whatsapp is where it’s at,” the boy sitting across from the girl tells her, flirting a little bit in the process.

“I think Viber is the best,” another girl jumps into the conversation, which is spiraling away from the issue at hand.

“I’m not talking about electronic mail,” I take another stab at it. “I’m talking about letters like the mail carrier brings and puts in your mailbox, the kind you take to the post office.”

Handmade envelope for a friend
“Dr. Edgerton-Scott, we need help writing a critique of this article. Why are you talking about something that no one understands?” another student asks.

“Never mind,” I say. “Who wants to share their strategies for getting started on the critique of the article you’ve read?”

“What’s a critique? they ask. “Are we going to have to think?”

Sunday, June 24, 2018

I Excel at Leisure

I’ve always said my husband Ricky and I excel at leisure. This isn’t surprising because my childhood was filled with enjoyable vacations with my family, mostly at the South Carolina beaches, but sometimes in Florida.
Daddy with family friends' children and my sister (in middle)
Myrtle Beach, SC
My sisters and I (far right) in Florida
My sisters and I (middle) at the beach in SC rocking the sunglasses
and sailor hats!
Since we've been married, Ricky and I have been fortunate to travel to foreign soils, e.g., France, Czech Republic, Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, England. In 2017, we enjoyed a leisurely cruise on the Rhine with our neighbors, explored Guatemala with friends, and visited other friends and family across the United States. 

Feeding swans from our stateroom on the ship

Exploring different countries during our cruise
Volcanoes in Guatemala seen from hotel balcony
Lake Atitlan
Central square in Antigua, Guatemala 
So far in 2018 we are staying closer to home, but still having fun. In May, Ricky accompanied me to the Louisiana Trust for Historic Preservation Conference in Thibodaux, Louisiana. Conference attendees visited two plantation homes to see the architecture prevalent in the mid-nineteenth century. The first night of the conference, we attended a reception at Ducros Plantation in Schriever, Louisiana, about three miles from Thibodaux. This home had recently changed ownership, and was being renovated to feature an event venue downstairs and living quarters for the family upstairs.

Ducros Plantation
(Facebook page)
Madedown Plantation, a former sugar cane plantation built in 1846 on Bayou Lafourche near Napoleonville, provided an example of Greek Revival architecture. This plantation home was significant as the first major work of Henry Howard, an Irish-born American architect, who designed over 280 buildings in Louisiana. Madedown Plantation was recently purchased by American artist Hunt Slonem who is refurbishing the house and grounds, but the guide told us it will remain a bed-and-breakfast.
Arriving at Madedown Plantation
Madedown Plantation grounds
On the way home from Thibodaux, we stopped at the Shadetree Inn, a bed-and-breakfast located on a four-acre hilltop in St. Francisville, La and owned by an old friend of Ricky’s. After we checked in, Ricky chatted with Kenwood, and they filled each other in on their lives since they were last together. We ate supper at the Magnolia CafĂ©, a local hangout, and after a little shopping the next morning, we were ready to head back to northwest Louisiana.
Shadetree Inn
St. Francisville, La
Shadetree Inn patio
I love our historic Highland neighborhood, so I don’t feel deprived when we stay home in Shreveport. My friends Sarah and Howard opened their garden for our Northwest Louisiana Master Gardener Le Tour des Jardins in May, so I volunteered to work there during the two-day tour. I greeted and guided the public through my assigned section of the garden and answered questions—I learned a lot quickly. Mainly I relished the beauty of their garden the whole weekend.
Corner of Sarah & Howard's garden
Another perspective of "my" corner of Sarah & Howard's garden
Window frame re-envisioned 
While our neighborhood has some spectacular homes with curb appeal and lovely outdoor spaces, it’s a never-ending struggle to keep the entire neighborhood presentable. Many people litter or let their garbage can overflow. I can’t understand people who throw trash on the streets and sidewalks or who don’t monitor their blocks for litter. I prefer to be surrounded by beauty.

Toward this goal, the Highland Restoration Association picks up trash and does landscaping of selected beautification areas throughout the neighborhood.  If I am in town, I try to participate in the monthly trash pick-ups. It’s not a task most people enjoy, but I like coming together with other concerned citizens to improve the appearance of our neighborhood and hopefully to teach by example. One member of the HRA board involves his three young daughters in every clean-up.  They are diligent, cheerful workers, and it does my heart good to see them participate as a family.

A young volunteer pulling weeds
Another worthy initiative in our neighborhood is the quarterly Highland Open Studio Tour Sundays (HOSTS), which promotes art and artists in the neighborhood. June marked the fifth anniversary of HOSTS, and Ricky and I decided to open our house and showcase his blacksmithing “studio” under the camellia tree in our backyard. Ricky sold his LazyR wares, and I invited other artist friends to display and sell their art at our house during HOSTS. We ended up with six artists, including my multi-talented friends Melissa and Loretta. We also had the Fiddlin’s Tim Trio (Tim, Bruce and Randy) playing their mix of standards, swing, and jazz in our guest cottage.

Ricky at his forge, Lazy R Ranch
Ricky's horse head hooks

Ricky displays his hooks on our patio during HOST

Horse head hook in my library
Since HOSTS started at noon on Sunday, all the studios served food and drinks. We offered a variety of finger sandwiches and cookies, washed down with either lemonade or Moscow Mules. One studio had gumbo, another jambalaya. While attendees browsed and purchased the art, they could essentially eat a meal, especially if they went to every studio.

We paid the Fiddlin’ Tim Trio by buying them tickets to the Shreveport House Concert scheduled for later that night and featuring renowned New Orleans drummer Johnny Vidacovich.  OffBeat magazine in its Best of the Beat Awards has named “Johnny V” as Best Drummer/Percussionist on numerous occasions. Drummerworld called Johnny V “the quintessential New Orleans jazz drummer, with all the exuberance and skill befitting one who grew up in the birthplace of jazz.” 

Johnny V lived up to his reputation. Our friend Bruce Gay of the Fiddlin’ Tim Trio described the concert afterwards:  Johnny V "was a gnome on a throne--he twisted, turned, bounced to rhythms he felt. He WAS the different drummer people dance to. He was rhythm itself. His band was great--better than great- engaging, funny, chops like you hear about.”

Beautiful serene gardens, original art, volunteer activities, live music, good friends—they are all part of the View from my Highland Cottage, and I feel so fortunate.