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INSIGHT Behind the Book Secrets of the Southern Shells

10/17/10, AUTHOR AND THE SOUTH — The Ole Miss law journal is named after my first cousin. This sentence makes me feel quite southern although I’ve never lived in the deep south. Our mothers were sisters. I have lots of cousins, most of whom I don’t know since I grew up in Florida and most of them are considerably older than I. I experienced the south for a few weeks during summers from the back seat of a Cadillac or Lincoln driving between family homes. I have memories of looking for family names on head stones in Shiloh and visiting the courthouse where my grandfather’s photo hung. He was mayor of his small Tennessee town and a state senator a few terms, as well as the banker and lawyer.

Nostalgia beckoned me the past few years as the last of aunts passed away from both of my parents sets of six siblings. The Southern Shells book theme inspiration was “Southern” personified by my father’s family and “Shells” or belles epitomized by my mother’s family. Two of the aunts capture the essence.

On my father’s side, 92-year-old “Mama Faye” passed in Dec. 2009. People in the south have nicknames. My dad called me Tinkerbell.

Faye Tennyson Davidson was a freelance writer, poet, columnist, historian and genealogist. From her obituary: She was a member of West Tennessee Historical Society. She was listed in Tennessee Belles’ Letters 1977; a member of Hatchie Chapter Daughters of the American Revolution serving three terms as Regent; National Society Colonial Dames XVII Century, Founders of Manakin in the Colony of Virginia, National Huguenot Society, U.S. Daughters of 1812, National Society Sons and Daughters of the Pilgrims, Daughters of the American Colonists, United Daughters of the Confederacy. Faye contributed articles to their quarterlies.

The sheer size of the lengthy list of affiliations conveys her patriotic passion. She spent nearly a century researching it, recording it and writing about life in the south. As a genealogist, she traced our family to Alfred Lord Tennyson, Poet Laureate of the Victorian Age. She was destined to be a writer. So am I.

My Aunt “Cabozy” (Cathryn Rose Carter Clayton), one of my mother’s sisters (and former mother-in-law to Senator Thad Cochran), passed in Nov. 2006 at 88 in Mississippi. When her only son Buzzy died of Leukemia, my mother reported from the funeral visit that my aunt was a lady, that she was warm and gracious and didn’t cry. Not in public anyway. I was ten. Until I was 30 and my mother passed on my son’s first birthday, my mother held my Aunt Cathryn as the prime example of a southern lady.

As a young adult, I married an Ole Miss Law School graduate, and have since divorced. That wasn’t in the southern girl handbook. My own children have reached their 18th birthdays, officially adults now, and are at college creating their lives.  They are the focus of my desire to document the southern advice from mothers and aunts.

The book starts with the starfish wishing upon a star. My son was about 7-years-old when he questioned if he should tell me what his wish was after a twilight “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” wish session. He said that he had learned that you were supposed to keep your wishes a secret. I told him and his kindergarten age sister that if I was to help their wishes come true, I needed to know what the wishes were.

My wish for them is that if my children are called upon to live boldly, that they will follow their heritage and be willing to create a life of purpose. They should have a little twinkle of a memory of a mother who knew who they could be in the south or in the world, a Southern Star.

. . .

6/4/11, PEN OR PAINT?

Secrets of the Southern Shells readers have been asking me if I am an artist. No. I can paint but don’t consider myself an “artist.” My daughter has natural artistic talent with pen and paintbrushes. I communicate better with other art forms, primarily writing, photography and film.

I did get in the Winer Park Art Festival student exhibit as a child and did take some classes in art. When I authored the shell book summer 2010, I asked the Chart-ists for shell paintings. I didn’t get quite enough from therm. I needed a marlin painting. I needed Starfish Star personified. So, being a Type A as well as a creative type, the paints were pulled from the shelf.

Trio of Wishes acrylic on canvas on the back cover of the book shows the three stars in the heavens, which for me are the Holy Trinity. Those stars reflect and exchange energy with Starfish Star in the water who is identical in form to the stars above.

Fish On and Bahamas Full Moon in the same series, captured my love of the Bahamas island experiences.

The photos of the sea glass and shell collection from the Ritz Carlton in Palm Beach (Eau Palm Beach), I assembled while on a weekend there. Again, needing more illustrations for the book, I shared my private photos and called them “very temporary mixed media.” Shell collectors I believe will appreciate the beauty of the X and O shapes of the shells and the word “Love” spelled in a second photo.

So, we all have an inner artist! Pick up your own paints and capture your own Star!

NOTE: The insights could take longer to write and to read than the shell book itself. Check back for more insights from the author and comments from readers.