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The Literary Corner: Renegade Writer’s Guild

“Bellingrath”

By Linda Barnette

The first time that John and I traveled to Biloxi, Miss. we passed a sign that read “Bellingrath Gardens.” After I checked it out on the map, we realized that it was close to Mobile, Ala. and only about an hour’s drive from Mobile to our destination. I will be forever grateful that we decided to take that particular detour.

Both the house and the gardens are stunning. There are 65 acres, and many of them are planted in all kinds of flowers and shrubs and those most spectacular of all Southern trees, live oaks, especially near the river.

In the gardens there are paved walkways and numbered signs showing visitors where to go next. We were there that time in late spring and saw many of the hundreds of thousands of azaleas, camellias that were as tall as trees, as well as lilies, tulips, daffodils, and many others. The most beautiful flowers to me were the roses in the rose garden—all kinds of pinks, reds, whites, yellows, and hybrids. In the middle of the garden is a fountain and then a hothouse for all kinds of tropical plants.

The house itself is also lovely. It has 15 rooms, so it reminds one of Reynolda House, for example, more than it does the Vanderbilt mansion. It is only a little more than 10,000 square feet, with 15 rooms. The exterior is covered with bricks from an old mansion in Mobile, and the architecture is much in the style of the Gulf Coast with a central courtyard, balconies, and covered galleries. What I liked most about the inside of the house were the “modern” 1935 bathrooms and kitchen with German silver countertops and sinks. Mrs. Bellingrath’s collection of silver, crystal, and china was also impressive. She had 16 sets of china which she used for entertaining their many guests.

The house is on a little knoll right above the Fowl River.  We went down to the river and boarded a large boat and toured the area along the river and loved the array of wildlife there, such as ospreys in their nests in some of the tall trees and herons flying through the air or standing in the edge of the water. There were also other fine homes along the river.

Beside of the house there is a small chapel where the family worshipped and also displayed their world-famous Deschamps Gallery of Boehm Porcelain. The Deschamps were friends of the Bellingraths and gave their priceless collection to them for the Bellingrath-Morse Foundation in the mid 1960s. I especially loved all of the porcelain pieces of species of birds.

But more than a beautiful home and gardens, Bellingrath is a love story.  Walter was the first Coca-Cola bottler in Mobile and became wealthy in that business. He married Bessie Morse, and they had no children, so everything he did was for her. She loved gardening and actually planted or supervised the planting of several things when the house and gardens were in progress. When she died unexpectedly in 1943 just a few short years after they had moved into the house, Walter was devastated. He wrote the following tribute to her on her tombstone at Magnolia Cemetery:

I shall always think of you

Wandering through a lovely garden,

Like that which you fashioned with your own hands.

Where flowers never fade and no cold winds of sorrow

Blight our hopes and plans—And on your face,

The peace of one whose whole life through

Walked with God.

Your loving husband.

We went to Bellingrath each time we visited the Gulf Coast and loved it in every season of the year.  The loveliness of this place is forever etched in my mind’s eye, and sometimes I look through the postcards from the gift shop and think of Walter and Bessie and of the beauty they created for all generations to enjoy.

“Dark Dilemma”

By Kevin F. Wishon

“Come on. Get in. It’s cold out there,” Ted called out.

The door swung open, and a man of medium size build fell into the passenger seat of his sedan.

“I’m Ted,” he said, holding his hand out, waiting for the stranger to notice and reciprocate.

“Oh, you can call me Chuck.” Shaking Ted’s hand, he continued, “How far are you going?”

“Not too much further, just to the other side of Millburn where I live.”

“That’s fine. You can drop me off before we reach the town. I want to surprise a friend of mine. Thanks for the ride, by the way,” Chuck said with a smile.

“No problem. I almost didn’t see you,” Ted explained as he drove the vehicle back onto the blacktop. As they traveled, Ted engaged the stranger in conversation explaining his life in Millburn.

Reaching the outskirts of town, Chuck pointed to an approaching driveway.

“You can drop me here. I’ll walk to the house.”

Watching the hitchhiker exit the car, Ted wished him well and continued driving into town.

Five miles from where he had dropped off Chuck, Ted found himself in a sea of flashing blue lights of a police checkpoint. Once the car in front of Ted pulled away, he pulled forward to the waiting officer.

“So, you’re a local,” the officer said, handing Ted his license and registration back.

“Yes. I’ve been out of town on a business trip.”

“We need to see the inside of your trunk.”

Flipping a lever in his glove box, Ted opened the trunk. Moments later, he heard another officer say, “Nothing here but the spare!”

The officer held up a paper and shined his flashlight on it for Ted to see.

“Have you seen this fellow before? Look closely.”

The man in the image was a few years younger and clean-shaven, but it definitely was Chuck. Ted stared hard at the picture, but his mind furiously considered the interaction the two of them had had earlier.

“Who is this fellow?” Ted asked.

“This is the serial killer, Charlie ‘Blood’ Tulano. He broke out about a week ago, and we believe he may try to visit this area for unfinished business. He’s a slippery one, but we will get him in the end.”

Ted gulped hard, hoping the officer didn’t notice.

I told Chuck everything about me and where my family lives. If I tell the police now, and Chuck escapes, he will know who told and where to go for revenge.

“I’ve never seen that man before,”

“Are you sure?”

“I’m certain.”

The officer waved Ted onward with his flashlight, and the flicker of blue lights in Ted’s rearview mirror faded away. After the shock receded, Ted came to his senses.

I may live to regret letting that man escape, but how could I risk putting my family in harm’s way?

Ted recited that question repeatedly trying to justify his actions to his guilty conscience.

“What Was I Thinking?”

By N.R. Tucker

I recently returned from a hiking trip with my daughter. We had an extra day and decided to bike the Virginia Creeper Trail. This was my idea. I loved biking when I was younger and thought it would be fun. The entire trail is a 34.3-mile multi-use trail. For those of us who haven’t peddled in a while, it is common to do half of the trail by biking from Whitetop down to Damascus or from Abingdon down to Damascus, renting bikes from one of the local shops that also provides shuttle services.

My brilliant decision was to take the shuttle down to Damascus and bike up to Abingdon so we wouldn’t have to wait for a scheduled pickup time. After all, it’s only 17 miles with a gentle incline. If I can hike 15 in a day, I can bike 17. That’s what I was thinking.

I should point out that I hadn’t ridden a bike in 25 years, but, as it turns out, riding a bike isn’t something you forget how to do. It was easy. Sitting on the bicycle seat was hard. Even with the poorly named comfort seat and the breaks we took to look at the scenery, take pictures, and eat, by mile 10, my backside announced it wasn’t having fun anymore. The main problem was that since the trail inclined, I had to peddle, and I discovered that I no longer have the ability to stand up on the bike and peddle as I did in days gone by. I guess those muscles are underutilized when hiking.

In the end, we hiked three of the last five miles pushing the bikes. Hiking with just a half pack and pushing a bike? No problem. We met a couple walking the trail near one of the many access points, and the gentleman offered to push my bike for me. I guess he thought I was worn out. When I explained the problem, his wife laughed. She had experienced the same issue the day before. My daughter kindly refrained from grousing about pushing her bike as we opted to stay together on the trail.

Don’t think I didn’t enjoy myself. The Virginia Creeper Trail is beautiful with lots to see along the way, and I recommend renting bikes and hitting that trail the next time you’re in that part of Virginia. Perhaps you will consider taking one of the downhill options so that if you need to stand on the bike, you can.

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